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December 2005 & January 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



Bringing Up Production

Millar Western has modernized its Boyle, Alberta, sawmill—and brought production up—with a $10 million investment that includes a new Comact small log line.

By Tony Kryzanowski


Before Millar Western Forest Products bought the sawmill in Boyle, Alberta, school authorities were looking at closing the local high school. But with things looking positive again, after the sawmill faced some tough times, that mindset changed, and four years ago they actually spent $4 million upgrading and adding rooms to the high school to accommodate an influx of new students.

This story from Gordon Clarke, Boyle operations manager for Millar Western Forest Products, reflects the impact that sawmills, panelboard plants and pulp mills often have on Canadian communities.

Edmonton-based Millar Western purchased the Boyle sawmill in 1993 from Weyerhaeuser, reclaiming an old Coutts head rig and a two-saw scragg from two bush locations, then re-installing them in Boyle, where a planer mill and beehive burner were already established. While the sawmill equipment was functional, at the time it was already in excess of 30 years old. Shortly after starting up the operation in 1994, Millar Western invested in a fully optimized Newnes-designed board edger, as well as a Newnes J-bar trimmer and sorter system.

Each stack of lumber (right) represents product manufactured from one log after it has gone through the Comact DDM 10 single-pass breakdown unit. Boyle sawmill operations manager Gordon Clarke (bottom): “To justify the project, we budgeted a 260 lumber recovery factor. We were thrilled to achieve 290.”

However, the story does not end there. With a corporate history that goes back to 1906, the company has long known that to stay in business in the face of changing market and economic conditions, it has to keep reinvesting in its facilities.

While Millar Western’s effort to establish the sawmill in Boyle was a boon to the community in the early 1990s, the mill fell victim to unfavorable economic conditions in the years that followed. “With the technology we had here, and with our high fibre costs and haul distance, it became debatable whether the Boyle operation should continue to run,” says Clarke. The 27 per cent in combined duties on Canadian softwood lumber by the US, among other factors, encouraged Millar Western to invest in more efficient technology to remain profitable.

Natural forces also played a role in helping make the mill reinvestment possible. Two large forest fires in the Boyle region, which temporarily increased available timber volumes, allowed the sawmill to increase production while reducing the cost of production, thus enhancing the opportunity to spend capital on more modern equipment. So in 2004, Millar Western embarked on a major capital program at Boyle.

With the installation of a new small log line featuring a Comact DDM10 single- pass breakdown unit, Millar Western invested in one of the most efficient log recovery machines available on the market. In addition to the single-pass breakdown unit, Comact also supplied threedimensional log scanning and optimizing technology. Millar Western also installed a new hog fuel processing system. The purchase of an energy efficient Muhlbock dry kiln brought the total value of the capital project to about $10 million. CWA Engineering of Burnaby, BC, provided design and installation review for the project. West Electric of Kelowna, BC, was the electrical contractor on the project.

“In order to survive, we knew we were going to have to be as competitive as anyone else out there in the marketplace,” says Clarke. They were pleased to be able to modernize and ensure the security of the Boyle operations and the jobs there, adds Clarke.

The DDM10 installation has significantly increased fibre utilization and recovery at Boyle. The sawmill is now producing 290 board feet per cubic metre of wood compared to 240 to 250, an increase of about 20 per cent. “To justify the project, we budgeted a 260 lumber recovery factor,” says Clarke. “Needless to say, we were thrilled to achieve 290.”

By retiring its old two-saw scragg and installing the DDM10 single-pass unit, Boyle became capable of sawing down to a 3.5-inch top. The DDM10 can also be set for either straight sawing or curve sawing and when in curve sawing mode, can remove up to two inches of a log’s natural curvature. It can process logs between two and 18 inches in diameter.

On its front end, the DDM10 optimizes the rotation and centering of the log, maintaining absolute control of the log while sawing. It comes equipped with conical chipping heads and replaceable knives. For ease of operation, it offers automatic setting of canter heads and saws, and flexibility with variable geometry of cutting tools based on desired patterns and log diameter. It also features programmability to set the unit to respond to specific lumber wane rules.

The unit is designed for minimal space requirements, and—for maintenance— components are accessible through clamshell openings.

Not only has this investment increased recovery, it has also opened up more production time so that the sawmill can now process more material. The Boyle sawmill is now producing more than 130 million board feet per year, up from about 104 million board feet, from the same fibre source. It is capable of producing dimension lumber from 2x3 in eight-foot lengths up to 2x10 in 16-foot lengths. It also has the ability to produce one-inch material.

Prior to the project, the sawmill consumed about 460,000 cubic metres of spruce, pine and balsam fir, but is budgeting for 520,000 cubic metres in 2006.

The investment in a hog fuel collection system has also allowed Millar Western to discontinue operation of its beehive burner, which was until recently one of only two such burners still operating in a populated area in Alberta. The other was in Grande Prairie, and both have since ceased regular operation with the accumulated hog fuel now used to generate electricity. The Boyle sawmill sends its hog fuel to generate power at nearby pulp producer Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries. Alberta’s deregulated electricity market now allows industries to use self-generated power for their own operations rather than having to sell it to the provincial power grid.

Another force of nature that has had a positive impact on the Boyle sawmill’s viability is its impressive wood diet. While many other Canadian sawmills are struggling with logs averaging six to eight inches in diameter, the historical average log diameter at the Boyle sawmill has been 14.2 inches. While this reflects the past average, Clarke says the size is highly variable and is now trending toward the six- to eight-inch average, which is why the sawmill needed to have the flexibility offered by the DDM10. Access to that supply is also an issue, as the area north of Boyle is notorious for its muskegs. The annual log haul typically lasts for only about three months in winter, when there is enough frost in the ground to support log haul roads.

Once in the yard, log trucks are unloaded using Caterpillar 350 LL butt ’n top loaders. Clarke says Millar Western appreciates their ability to deck logs higher. The butt ’n tops are also used to load specially configured Caterpillar rock trucks that forward the logs to the sawmill infeed. The sawmill has two infeed lines with lineal cut off saws.

Another infeed line accepts only 16- foot, smaller, cut-to-length logs. The infeed lines lead to one of three debarkers— an 18-inch Cambio debarker, a 30- inch Cambio debarker, or a dual ring, 17-inch Valon Kone debarker—to handle the cut-to-length material. The Valon Kone unit was recently installed to help the sawmill process more logs per shift.

Caterpillar rock trucks with log bunks transport logs to the infeed at the Boyle sawmill.

“The DDM10 can process an additional 2,000 pieces per shift, which the additional debarker capacity of 5,000 pieces can easily provide,” says Clarke.

After the debarkers, the logs are sorted into four bins. Two feed the Comact DDM10 line, one stores logs 14 inches in diameter and larger for processing through the head rig, and one is for pulp material that is eventually processed through a chipper.

Clarke says Millar Western is very pleased with the performance of its DDM10 breakdown unit. It is in the process of installing a smaller DDM6 to complement its state-of-the-art canter quad line at its Whitecourt, Alberta sawmill. He adds that Comact’s threedimensional scanning is extremely accurate. There have been frequent occasions when staff were convinced that a log wouldn’t produce any material, but dimensional scanning discovered, for example, a 1x4 and a 2x4 in the log.

Logs are pre-positioned, optimized to take log curvature into account for maximum recovery, with a profiling feature on the top and bottom head. Once it exits the DDM10, the fresh lumber proceeds directly to the Newnes trimmer optimizer,
and then to sorting bins.

Larger logs are processed into cants using the existing head rig, which has been configured with hydraulic lineal positioning. The side boards proceed through a Newnes board edger, while the cants are processed through a Powell gangsaw. All the material joins the lumber coming off the DDM10 line at the trimmer optimizer.

The sawmill currently runs both a Coe and a Moore dry kiln, but is spending $2 million to install a new, Austriandesigned, Muhlbock kiln. Millar Western has experience with the performance of the Muhlbock kiln from another installation at its Whitecourt sawmill. “The results in reduced gas consumption per thousand board feet were unbelievable,” says Clarke, “to the point where they had the gas meter changed because they thought the meter was faulty. That was the selling feature of this kiln for us. We just couldn’t argue with the results.”

Having another dry kiln will also give the operation enough drying capacity to handle the additional volume generated by the sawmill.

All in all, Clarke says that Millar Western is extremely pleased with the results of its capital project. With these improvements, mill staff feel better equipped to face whatever challenges come next from the marketplace.



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