By Tony Kryzanowski
The Spruce Products sawmill in Swan River, Manitoba is proving that it pays to invest in targeted efficiency and optimization when faced with a constrained wood supply—a similar challenge faced by many Canadian sawmills these days.
Their log supply has been constrained for years mainly because of the distance factor, yet they’ve always adapted—with the result that their business has remained incredibly stable. The sawmill has never taken significant downtime over its long history, even during the 2008 recession and industry downturn.
“At one point, we were basically the only sawmill running between northwestern Ontario and Alberta,” says Mill Manager Rod Pidskalny.
Most recently, the sawmill has increased its log throughput at the front end of its main breakdown line by 20 per cent with a $3 million investment. They can now process about 4,000 logs per 10-hour shift, as compared to about 3,300 logs per shift previously, with a new log sorting system supplied by mill equipment manufacturer, Carbotech.
But this is only one of several efficiency and optimization capital projects the company has implemented over the past decade. In 2018, they made the leap from manual grading to computerized lumber grading in the planer mill.
Considering all efficiency and optimization projects combined over the years, from the sawmill infeed to the planer mill, Spruce Products has increased its annual lumber volume production by more than 10 per cent, up to 50 million board feet from the same log supply.
Pidskalny says that they are also capturing significantly greater volumes of higher value #2-and-better lumber.
These investments have not only paid off in higher log throughput, production volume and value uplift, but it has also provided a stable work environment in this north central Manitoba community where the two biggest industries are forestry and agriculture.
Spruce Products is privately-owned by the Marvin Family and was founded nearly 80 years ago, in 1942, by Frank Marvin. Second generation family members now guide the company.
It provides about 100 jobs and operates on a 10-hour shift, single shift basis.
They are an SPF mill that manufactures lumber in dimensions as small as 1” x 4” in 6’ lengths to as large as 2” x 10” in 16’ lengths. All production, which is a combination of green and kiln-dried lumber, is sold exclusively in Canada which allows the company to avoid paying softwood lumber duties by shipping lumber to the United States.
They also manufacture specialty timbers, bag wood shavings from their planer mill and produce wood pellets by chopping up their planer mill trim blocks. Hog material is used as fuel to generate low pressure steam from three boilers for use in their two American Wood Dryer dry kilns and also for under-floor heating in all their buildings. Excess hog material is sold to the CKP pulp mill in The Pas.
About 75 per cent of their log diet is spruce and the average log diameter is about 7”. The mill consumes about 170,000 cubic metres per year. The current log haul distance is within 150 to 200 kilometres.
They also operate an in-woods chipping program for pulp wood using three Peterson Pacific 5000H chippers with chips transported to the CKP pulp mill, as well. This program began in the 1990s.
Louisiana-Pacific operates an oriented strand board plant in Swan River with about 150 employees. And so logging contractors working for Spruce Products also contract their services to Louisiana-Pacific, so that the forest is harvested efficiently, benefitting both companies.
Spruce Products is a two-line sawmill. They use a Rosserhead debarker on the front end of their large log line and a Nicholson A5A debarker capable of debarking up to a 22” diameter log on the smaller log line, which is equipped with a Sawquip canter twin breakdown unit. Logs measuring less than 14” in diameter are processed through the Sawquip line, which was installed in 1999. Larger diameter logs are processed using a Cardinal single saw carriage unit installed in 2013, followed by a Comact straight sawing gang. When it was purchased, the carriage was a manual system so Spruce Products installed additional Autolog optimization to improve efficiency and recovery. The large log line also features a Cardinal board edger for remanufacturing as required, before the lumber is sent to the trim line.
About 80 per cent of lumber manufacturing occurs on the Sawquip line.
Lumber produced on both lines merge onto the same trim line featuring a Carbotech trimmer and TS Manufacturing 40-bin sorter with Autolog optimization and controls. TS Manufacturing also provided their stacker.
Pidskalny says that greater log throughput has obviously had an impact on production downstream. Luckily their Sawquip can handle the extra production and they also had extra capacity available on their trim line.
Any lumber that requires remanufacturing on the Sawquip line kicks over to a Valley Machine three-saw board edger with Autolog optimization and controls.
The planer mill is equipped with a Yates A2012 planer with variable frequency drives (VFDs) on the feed drivers and planer heads, which allows the sawmill to control its shavings size. Planed lumber is graded on their new Autolog Prograder and then fed into a Carbotech lumber trimming, sorting and stacking system.
Equipment supplier Carbotech has been a major partner and installer for several of the sawmill’s recent capital projects. Pidskalny says that they have a good working relationship with them. They supplied and managed the installation of the sawmill’s front end project, which features new scanning and bin sorting as well as the first installation of Carbotech’s new STREAM feeder.
The STREAM log feeder is situated before the scanning and sorting system and singulates the logs. As a step feeder-type mechanism, but with what Carbotech describes as an improved design, the STREAM feeder makes sure that logs in the infeed deck will be sent one at a time in a continuous manner toward the scanning and sorting conveyance system.
Pidskalny says what they like about the feeder is that it helps them lay down their crooked logs straight heading into scanning and sorting. Crooked logs are a big part of their diet.
Eric Michaud, Carbotech vice-president of sales, says that the principle of the STREAM feeder is similar to a step feeder, except for the shape of the steps.
“On a step feeder, steps are straight. On a Carbotech STREAM feeder, the steps have a wavy shape. This shape delivers better results on logs with defects or crooked logs. It also has the advantage of handling any debris that you would need to remove on a typical step feeder to get things going. That’s downtime.”
He adds that the steps on the STREAM feeder are a closed and smooth design, creating an obstruction-free environment for logs, which helps to reduce jams and downtime to zero.
There are variable frequency drives controlling step movements on the feeder as well as on the chain leading away from the unit which gives the sawmill greater control of gaps between logs, contributing directly to the concept of greater efficiency on the entire new front end system.
Spruce Products felt that the Carbotech STREAM feeder and design was simpler, making it easier to maintain as compared to other stepfeeders on the market.
The scanning technology on this project was provided by Scanmeg and electrical work was handled by local supplier, Dee’s Electric.
The front end system is situated outdoors and construction took place from June to September 2019.
Pidskalny describes the front end project this way. Prior to its installation, logs were processed through their Sawquip line in sequence disregarding their diameter as long as they were under 14” in diameter.
“The only kind of sorting we did prior to this log sorting project on the front end was just out in the yard picking out the oversize logs that were too big to go through the Sawquip line,” he says. “It was all scan and set, where we’d have a 7” log followed by a 14” log followed by a 10” log.”
This meant that their main breakdown unit was constantly making adjustments for each log with a lot of stop and go production. Now the logs are first scanned and sorted into one of four bins broken down approximately based on 4”, 6”, 8” and 10” diameters in advance of entering production. And there is also an oversize log bin where a loader will come by and take these logs over to the large log line for processing.
The result is that Spruce Products can now process higher volumes of similar diameter logs in sequence and with better gap control, thus requiring fewer adjustments at the breakdown unit and resulting in significantly improved throughput.
“We still do scan and set but we are processing within a lot tighter sizing more consistently,” Pidskalny says.
Another advantage with smoother production upstream is less wear and tear on downstream equipment. And this front end project has also had an impact on production downstream because they are now operating with consistent flow at 22,000 to 23,000 board feet per hour and not stopping and starting to react to jerky production on the front end.
Pidskalny says that Spruce Products will continue to monitor production flow and make investments aimed at making the operation even more efficient. One area they will likely consider for their next project is increasing their drying capacity, given the production increase they are now experiencing in the sawmill.
On the Cover:
The Spruce Products sawmill in Swan River, Manitoba is proving that it pays to invest in targeted efficiency and optimization. Most recently, the sawmill has increased its log throughput at the front end of its main breakdown line by 20 per cent with a $3 million investment. They can now process about 4,000 logs per 10-hour shift, as compared to about 3,300 logs per shift previously, with a new log sorting system supplied by mill equipment manufacturer, Carbotech. Read all about the improvements beginning on page 8. (Cover photo courtesy of Spruce Products)
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