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February 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal


Staying Competitve

Mid-sized producer Midway Lumber Mills is employing technology and automation through equipment upgrades to ensure the family-owned operation stays efficient and competitive.

By Marg Turner

In 1948, the lure of Northern Ontario’s vast timber stands enticed John B Morgan to leave his southern Ontario roots in Muskoka, and bring his family to a new life near the shores of Lake Huron.

When Morgan was young, he experimented with bush lots. Cutting and selling logs from these small lots convinced him to get involved in logging more aggressively. He purchased a sawmill in Hastings County, and in 1921 incorporated the company. By 1932 (during the Great Depression), he was able to survive with the resources he had built up, and in 1936, he started a small mill in Dorset and in 1938, another one in Vankoughnet, about 20 miles east of Bracebridge, Ontario.

In 1940, he incorporated Midway Lumber Mills Limited and when he began to run out of timber, he set his sights on the north. Morgan bought the rights for two northern townships in the Algoma District: McMahon and Morin. He packed up his family and headed north where he built his mill in Thessalon Township (about 80 kilometres east of Sault Ste Marie) in 1948. Fifty-eight years later, this family owned and operated mill is still considered a source of industrial and economic pride.

In 1970, John’s son Hubert took over the mill’s operation, and today his grandson Bruce is the president of Midway Lumber Mills. The mill’s general manager and the latest in the succession of Morgans is Mike, Bruce’s son and John’s great-grandson. Mike will be assuming the role of president some day.

This medium-sized, multi-species facility consists of a sawmill, eight dry kilns and a planing mill. It produces approximately 20 million board feet on average per year.

The past five decades have seen a lot of changes as the Morgan family strives to increase production in the face of increasing costs and other challenges.“We are impacted by the countervailing duty, rising electrical costs, the price of fuel, a stronger Canadian dollar, and cheaper offshore wood,” explains Mike.

The automatic sorter from TS Manufacturing provides a lot of flexibility for Midway Lumber. In recent years, installation of new equipment and automation has made Midway more productive, efficient and competitive.

In the last few years, the installation of new equipment and much-needed automation has made the facility more productive, efficient and competitive.

“Automation and upgrades have increased our production but lowered our manpower,” says Mike. “We are operationally more efficient, but we have to stay efficient and get more efficient. The only way to stay ahead is through technology.”

One of the larger upgrades was the addition of a computerized bin sorter at the end of the grading chain. Before arriving at the bin sorter, freshly cut lumber follows a logical flow through the mill. The overall lumber manufacturing process is almost completely computer controlled now in order to optimize lumber recovery and return on capital.

It all starts in the log yard where truckloads of logs from as far away as Wawa, east to Massey and Sudbury are unloaded and stick scaled. Nine to 10 truck loads of white pine a day are unloaded at the mill, resulting in the production of 46,000 to 50,000 board feet of lumber every nine-hour shift. Hardwood production translates into 23,000 to 27,000 board feet per shift. The mill is currently running two shifts and has between 85 and 100 employees. Occasionally a third shift is scheduled when there is an excess amount of logs in the yard.

Two recently purchased Caterpillar 966 loaders have been added to Midway’s fleet in the log yard. They are used to sort logs according to species, length and diameter prior to bringing them to the log decks. At the log decks, chains carry the logs to a dumper which feeds the logs one at a time into a Morbark rosserhead debarker. Smaller diameter logs make a second pass through a Cambio ring debarker. The bark is fed into the boilers to produce steam for the dry kilns. Excess bark is stockpiled outside and sold to a local paper mill for fuel.

After debarking, the sawyer operates a Forano carriage and retrofitted Cardinal turner at the headrig to turn and cut the logs. Slabs from the outside of the log go to the chipper to be made into chips. The boards then travel to a Sanborn edger to have any wane removed. The bull edger, one of the main pieces in the mill, receives the cants from the headrig and saws the cant into approximately seven boards in one pass. Cants that cannot be handled by the bull edger, because of size or shape, are cut at a Hardy resaw.

The bull edger tailer places any slabs and other debris into the chipper. Any boards that have to be edged from here are returned to the bull edger operator. He feeds them to the edging side of the bull edger. If they don’t require edging, they go to the main grading chain. Heavier slabs thick enough for cutting are returned to the resaw operator.

“We cut for grade and squeeze everything out of it we can,” says Mike. “We just refurbished the infeed and part of outfeed of the resaw.”

The boards fall on the grading chain and pass through an unscrambler to be fed one at a time to the grader. The separated boards travel along the grading chain to an automatic Shark Fin Systems board turner where the grader can view both sides of the board without actually handling the lumber. The grader marks the grade and trim. The board then goes through a Cypress grade mark reader with controls from Autolog and through the trimmers and into the new bin sorter.

William Turner (above) checks the Autolog controls at the bin sorter. One of the mill’s larger upgrades has been a computerized bin sorter.

The automatic sorter made by TS Manufacturing of Lindsay, Ontario provides a lot of flexibility as it sorts and stacks the lumber. Computer-aided sorting ensures maximum accuracy. The system can set any combination of parameters within a sorting pattern and each sort can be assigned to a particular zone in the sorter.

Going by the markings on the lumber, the scanner tells the computer how much to trim, from which end and in which bin to sort the lumber. Each sort is defined by thickness, width, length, and grade.

Once the bins are full, the lumber is dropped onto a set of chains where it travels to another unscrambler where it is properly matched and stacked. The stacker operator determines how many boards per course (layer) based on the width of the lumber. Sticks are dropped automatically between each course. As the courses are built, the lumber drops down to another set of chains and the full bundles travel outside where the loader operator tags them and carries them to the yard for storage. A new metal fabricated building was constructed to house this hulking piece of machinery.

After leaving the sawmill, 85 per cent of the lumber goes through the dry kiln. Midway Lumber has eight Coe dry kilns with 350,000 board feet of drying capacity. The dried lumber is stored in the yard and in sheds. When it is ready to be finished, it is transferred across the yard to the Newman 660 planer where it is planed to customers’ specifications. The surfaced lumber is then piled, strapped, wrapped and stored for shipping. Midway focuses its sales in Canada with only about 23 per cent US bound.

The Midway mill has two debarkers, a Morbark rosserhead for larger logs and a Cambio ring debarker for smaller diameter logs.

“We produce a lot of value-added wood,” says Mike. “Our tongue and groove flooring, wall paneling, bevel siding, channel lap siding, and decking is destined for southern Ontario.”

Most of the lumber is sold by the truckload to distributors who then divvy it up to the outlets. Mike notes that they are not big enough to ship the product themselves so they rely on freelance trucks to move their lumber. “We have good solid customers working for us,” he says. “We service a lot of niche markets.”

Midway recently started a new fiveyear cut plan. Twenty-eight licensees have agreements with Midway Lumber Mills to bring wood to their mill, which makes Mike breathe a little easier. The mill was facing a tight wood supply in the fifth year of their last plan.

With a new cut plan underway, Mike is committed to the future and plans further upgrades. He just installed a new Carbotech stick stacker in the planer and was planning on installing a new Cardinal carriage drive.

With a commitment to long-term excellence and a good relationship with the Sustainable Forest License companies (North Shore Forest and Clergue Forest Management), logging contractors, employees, and customers, this family sawmill is looking to be around for the next generation of Morgans.


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This page last modified on Wednesday, June 07, 2006