By Jim Stirling
Diversification, flexibility and sustainability have become buzz words for the forest industry of the 2020s in British Columbia’s Interior region.
The descriptive words have been aptly applied at various times to earlier incarnations of the Lakeview sawmill, a fixture at Williams Lake in B.C.’s Cariboo country since the 1950s.
The latest version of the Lakeview mill emerged in 2019 after a fire-enforced period of re-designing and upgrading by its owner Tolko Industries Ltd., another veteran performer in the B.C. Interior forestry community.
The new Lakeview mill tackles an additional challenge this time around. It has to demonstrate diversification, flexibility and sustainability while adjusting to a differently structured wood basket. Further than that, the revitalized Lakeview sawmill must accomplish that within the high cost operating area that the Interior of B.C. has become.
And the mill is increasing its range of quality wood products and delivering them into keenly competitive international wood products markets. A tall order perhaps, but so far, so good, for the new Lakeview.
“The mill is consistently operating at our expected performance level,” reported Jason Favel, plant manager at Tolko’s Lakeview division at the end of the second quarter of 2021.
The Lakeview sawmill became part of the Tolko family of companies in 2004. Lakeview and its sister operation, the Soda Creek stud mill, also located in Williams Lake, were part of the Riverside Forest Products assets acquired by Tolko that year.
Fast forward to 2017 and what evolved into a pivotal year for Williams Lake and Tolko. The local and regional forest industries were immersed in tumultuous times. The longer term effects of the mountain pine beetle epidemic were coming home to roost. Sawmills were stricken by shutdowns and closures, many of which proved permanent, causing chaos and consternation in the region’s many forestry-dependent communities. Suitable fibre was in shorter supply and prices rose as a result. And then the surrounding forests caught fire. The forest fires burned furiously from July into September, further impacting future timber supply prospects.
But fate hadn’t finished with Tolko-Lakeview. On a cold November evening in 2017, a section of the Lakeview mill caught fire. The flames were soon doused, but the impacts from what happened were much longer lasting. The mill closed down while its future was analyzed and the rumour mill flourished.
Changing timber types in the Cariboo had contributed to the region’s woes. But it was changes to the forests’ composition now—and into the future—that helped influence Tolko’s management decision to upgrade its Lakeview mill.
For many years, Lakeview’s logging contractors had been concentrating on salvaging lodgepole pine, like the majority of other sawmills in the Cariboo. The wood was degenerating in quality, and increasing in costs to harvest and process as the beetle epidemic ran its course. Now the mature and over-mature pine are gone and the remaining forests are changing. The shift is on to harvesting more green timber with an increasing component in the Cariboo of dry belt fir, explained plant manager Favel.
“We’re positioned very well, with a favourable future timber supply, and that was one of the key things in making the rebuild decision.”
It was good news for Tolko’s workers and the city of Williams Lake which hadn’t recently garnered many positive headlines.
The new Lakeview is designed to be a highly competitive operation with a different and smaller footprint than the mill it replaces. It has two main production lines compared with three before. The old wooden Lakeview which was witness to many changes in its era has been retired and replaced with a steel fabricated framework and a concrete basement. Colony Construction Corporation of Surrey, B.C., provided the steel building. Access and lighting have been revitalized. Tolko purchased LED lighting from electrical supplier E. B. Horsman & Son, through the BC Hydro incentive plan.
Favel says the upgraded Lakeview has a design capacity of 245 million board feet annually.
Each of the mill’s two new lines is equipped with a Springer/Microtec screwfeeder system. The screw infeed technology is designed to accumulate, singulate, align and accelerate production logs. “The log handling systems have provided reliable and consistent gapping for both our 22-inch barker and the 10-inch canter line,” said Favel. The 22-inch debarker is a ValonKone Kodiak machine with a dual ring configuration, with a 35-inch Nicholson debarker on the other side.
The mill upgrade provided the ideal opportunity to thoroughly examine the mill’s existing Optimil reman canter line and repair and rejuvenate its components as deemed necessary.
“The canter sections were upgraded to capture the benefits of Optimil’s new feedroll and positioning system, as well as the upgraded chip head designs,” pointed out Favel. “They are all performing exceptionally well.”
The upgrades will help Lakeview to better accommodate the increasing volumes of dry belt fir coming into the mill.
A key part of the upgrade is the addition of a new USNR edger line. One of the line’s features is USNR’s new BioVision scanning system.
“Our USNR Vision scanning system has been very reliable and it has given us the ability to make better decisions around shake and splits, reducing the amount of low grade being made,” Favel added. The edger line was typically operating at speeds of 1200 feet per minute.
“There was a big focus in the mill on dealing with byproducts and residuals,” continued Favel. “A lot of attention went into that.”
The attention to dust control and management measures began in the upgraded mill’s basic design with its 20-foot high ceilings and improved access throughout. There are fewer conveyor systems in the upgraded mill, and those there have been better routed. The new dust collection systems were tailored to fit the mill’s new machine centres.
A single point lock-out system with improved sight lines was introduced into the mill to simplify and improve the process.
The safety record during the mill upgrade process was exemplary despite all the primary contractors and subs coming and going with their equipment. The familiarization and staff training with Lakeview’s new product flow and machinery also proceeded smoothly and safely. That was achieved by design. “Both hourly and staff in all departments have worked together to make the operation an extremely safe and efficient manufacturing facility,” commended Favel. Accountability was apportioned among staff for specific operational sections within the sawmill. “This has created engagement in all areas of the mill.”
The benefits have been maintained as the new Lakeview settled smoothly into regular production mode.
“I believe all our Tolko employees and the different contractors played a significant role throughout this rebuild. However, both Rory McCaig, our project manager, and Duane Doucette from International Quest Engineering were instrumental in the success of this
project,” concluded Favel.
On the Cover:
The last 18 months have been challenging times, with sawmills looking to meet record-high lumber demand. And for a few firms that were expanding, such as The Westervelt Company, they faced the challenge of how to go about building a new sawmill at a time of COVID. But the company was able to meet that challenge, and in fact were able to finish building their new sawmill ahead of schedule, thanks in part to its project partners, such as B.C.-based BID Group, who built the new mill on a turnkey basis. Read all about the project beginning on page 14 of this issue (Cover photo courtesy of The Westervelt Company).
What’s next with the beetle in B.C.?
After a period of exponential growth, and then a slowdown, a big question lingers about the beetle situation in British Columbia—what’s coming next?
A more flexible Lakeview sawmill
Tolko Industries’ Lakeview sawmill in B.C. has completed an upgrade that will result in increased flexibility, while working with a changing wood basket.
Delivering the goods—ahead of schedule
The Westervelt Company was able to build its brand new sawmill ahead of schedule, thanks in part to its project partners, such as B.C.-based BID Group, who built the new mill on a turnkey basis.
Upgrading the family logging operation
Ontario’s Devlin Timber has a proud history—with the fourth generation of the Devlin family now working for the company—and has recently upgraded operations with the addition of new Kenworth trucks that are helping it tackle long hauls in northwestern Ontario.
Low grade wood = high grade benefits
Seaton Forest Products has a focus on utilizing low grade wood at its mill operation in the B.C. Interior, and it’s generating some high grade benefits from fibre that no one else wants—dry, decadent balsam.
Five tips on how to properly maintain your log loader undercarriage
Contractors can extend undercarriage life on their log loaders by following some routine maintenance procedures.
We take a look at chainsaws, bars and chainsaw safety equipment in this issue’s Tech Update.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
Jim Stirling says there seems to be a misplaced calm in B.C.’s forest industry as the winter log harvesting season approaches, as there is no lack of concerns.