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--  Mill Profile  --

Crown Jewel

The new Crown Pacific sawmill in Port Angeles, Washington has a smooth start up.

By Joni Sensel

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The scent of sawdust has yet to overpower the odour of fresh paint in some parts of Crown Pacific Partners’ new sawmill in Port Angeles, Washington. The plowed lot between the greenfield mill and the site office still sports nary a weed. But after only months of operation, the mill is running smoothly at a pace on target to meet its planned capacity of 100 million board feet per year.

"We reached capacity production levels in our fifth month," says Port Angeles mill division manager Jim Davis. Davis was the mill’s first employee in April 1998. Aformer Pacific Forest Products employee, he joined Crown Pacific and crossed the border from Nanaimo, BC, to help set up and run the mill’s equipment, much of which was made in Canada.

The $23 million (US) stud mill was engineered by HCMA, a Tigard, Oregon firm not far from Crown Pacific’s Portland head-quarters. The decade-old forest products company, which enjoyed 1998 sales of $667 million (US), wanted to build a low-cost, high-speed, high-recovery operation that could capitalize on the small logs harvested from its 34,800 hectare Olympic tree farm. These timber operations, about an hour’s drive west of the mill, provide predominantly hemlock logs up to 14 inches in butt size and down to four-inch tops. Approximately another quarter of the mill’s furnish is Douglas fir.

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The new $23 million (US) Crown Pacific stud mill is on target to meet its planned production capacity of 100 million board feet a year. The goal was to build a low-cost, high-speed, high recovery operation that capitalizes on the small logs harvested from the company’s 34,800 hectare tree farm located about an hour west of the mill

The Canadian influence starts on the north side of the mill with a New West Industries log ladder and VK Brunette 17-inch debarker, along with an Exco unscrambler. Logyard operations them- selves are contracted out to save the capital costs of equipment and maintenance. A contractor also pro-vides and maintains the mill forklifts. "We just didn’t see a need to do that ourselves," notes Davis.

Once debarked, logs run through a four-saw optimized bucking line with Syst-M merchandising controls. The mill can run up to four-metre or 13-foot lengths to serve potential Asian customers in the future. For now, the double-chop saws buck the logs in lengths from seven to 12 feet.

Then the curve-saws take over. The new operation is one of a number of mills in North America using curve-saw technology, which maximizes product yield and grade recovery by following the natural curve of the log. Canadian manufacturer Sawquip provided the curve-saw equipment installed at Port Angeles. There, an optimized Sawquip quad system laser-scans the bucked logs and auto-rotates them, usually into a "horns-down" position. The log is re-scanned to determine the relation to the centreline, and side boards are removed. Finally the cant is scanned again to be chipped and sawed on the curve. The gang saw makes up to seven boards, depending on the log size. Davis says the fast, efficient Sawquip line has run as many as 9,000 blocks in a shift.

The mill’s CAE Newnes four-saw board edger and high-speed table, which can handle 40 pieces per minute, have an even better record of 11,500 pieces in a shift. ACAE Newnes 12-bin automated lumber sorter and Lunden automatic stick stacker handle the piece count—up to 38,000— with ease.

The planing operation includes a Stetson Ross planer and a Precision planer trimmer with a Lucidyne grade mark reader. A Claussen high-performance grade stamper, Convey Keystone end stacker and end press, and Orgapack bander round out the handling equipment.

Nearby, a McBurney 40,000 pound-per-hour steam boiler runs three 68-foot American Wood Dryers steam-dry kilns, which were installed as a turnkey system. Construction on a fourth kiln, which was anticipated in planning the boiler capacity, begins this summer. At 77,500 square feet, including the attached cooling shed, the mill interior offers plenty of addition-al space for other future expansions. Along with another new mill in Idaho, the Port Angeles operation increases Crown Pacific’s total lumber production capacity more than 25 percent.

Although it runs like silk now, mill manager Steve Kroll says that at one time or another during the start-up, nearly every piece of equipment caused headaches. "The hardest thing was trying to start it all at once and the time it took to get it all to work together," he says. The sawmill, kilns and planer start-ups were staggered as material was available for each. Start-up ran through last fall, with the mill’s second shift beginning work in October 1998. The Port Angeles operation brings Crown Pacific’s annual lumber capacity from its six mills to 570 mil-lion board feet.

Kroll is proud that the mill’s 70 employees launched operations and have continued to work without a serious injury. Davis notes that the start-up safety performance is indeed remarkable, since "90 per cent of the employees had never even seen a sawmill before". Kroll handled all of the mill’s first-round hiring process, looking especially for attitude, willingness to learn and eagerness to come to work. As a result, on-the-job training was crucial.

"The employees grew with the machinery," says Davis. "I give a lot of credit to the five members of the supervisory staff." That includes Kroll, whom Davis says "single-handedly masterminded our safety program".

The mill team, which works five days a week in two shifts, is not represented by a union. Production employees recently began participating in a new quarterly incentive plan based on productivity tar-gets, safety and attendance. "There were some big smiles over that," says Davis. Though the incentive plan has not yet been in place for a full quarter, employees have already earned a bonus under its first month, and Davis is confident the mill’s speed and efficiency will soon make it a low-cost producer and ultimately a financial success.

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Product at the Crown Pacific mill ranges from 1X4 to 2X6 dimensions in 7 to 12 foot lengths for the US market. The mill is also configured to cut metric dimensions but with a healthy US market, and Asian economies still in recovery mode, export markets are in the future for the operation.

Already the high-recovery operation runs virtually waste-free. Through the work week, excess bark is stored to feed the boiler at night and on weekends, when the 24-hour kilns run but the sawmill doesn’t. An Acrowood slant disc chipper with chip screen, Western Pneumatics residual handling system and VK Brunette Grizzly hogger take care of residuals, which power the boiler or are sold to nearby papermakers.

The mill’s 60-acre site even incorporates a biofield to accommodate outflow from the boiler blow-down, as well as a 1.4 million gallon storm water storage area. In fact, the calm blue water in the mill’s fire pond and storm water storage areas — which Davis calls "enough to handle most any emergency" from raging fire to a 25-year rainstorm — echoes the mill’s distant view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which separates Washington from Vancouver Island.

Despite its location near the US/Canada border and deep-water harbours, the Crown Pacific mill currently exports none of its product, which ranges from 1X4 to 2X6 dimensions in 7- to 12- foot lengths. All its appearance grade, dimension grade and utility economy lumber ships south or east to Crown Pacific’s wholesale marketing operations in the western United States or directly to customers across the country. Though the mill is also configured to cut metric dimensions, with the current healthy US demand and the Asian economies still in the doldrums, they have ruled out inter-national trade for the time being.

That’s all right with Davis. With the satisfaction of a solid start up behind them, he and his employees are still settling into routine. Even the floor shines, still spotless. Computer screens in each control room glow with color and reflect the smiles on many faces. The mill hums with the efficiency and precision of new technology. Says Davis, "it’s a real little beauty."

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