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MILL ON-SITE: A Dimension Gem

Summary: Sunpine Forest Products doubles lumber production — and improves recovery by a striking 20 per cent — with a $21 million all-Canadian high-tech upgrade.

By Tony Kryzanowski
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Sunpine Forest Products in Sundre, Alberta is just completing a $21 million investment into its lumber operations. The company is doubling lumber production capacity and now has the flexibility to change direction quickly, producing dimensional lumber for either domestic or export markets.

Their most noticeable advancement, however, is a huge leap in recovery and the potential for value-added wood products . The mill has expanded from a single chip-and-saw line to two lines.

Stems entering the large wood line are from 10'' to 20'' diameter, while the small or ‘pee-wee’ line will use wood from 3'' to 9'' diameter. Sunpine will measure the strength of logdepole pine 2 X 3s and 2 X 4s produced by the peewee line in order to penetrate the market for wood I’s on I-beams.

The wood’s natural strength gives Sunpine an advantage over others, as they work to break into this growing market. Sunpine will produce about 120 million board feet of dimensional lumber per year, as opposed to about 65 million per year with the old line. But most significant is the high-quality equipment that they have purchased. In addition to higher production speed, they expect a 20 per-cent gain in recovery.

The plant is highly mechanized, with some of the most advanced sawing, edging, scanning and trimming equipment available today. Greater mechanization often means job loss. But Sunpine expects a net increase in employment from 145 to about 165 with the sawmill and planer retrofit.

Sunpine is a smaller, independent company that has witnessed considerable growth since its owners purchased the Sundre sawmill 10 years ago from Revelstoke. They started with 40 employees and focused on treated wood products during those lean times in the lumber market. Now they have 650 employees directly working or on contract in woodlands, the sawmill, the veneer plant in nearby Rocky Mountain House, in treated wood operations, and in the sales force and administration.

The sawmill upgrade, says co-owner Bruce Buchanan, is only the first step. "We are definitely going to be in the engineered wood products business," says Buchanan. "With the high-density, high-strength lodgepole pine, it makes it possible to make a lot of MSR lumber for structural applications."

They have their eye on manufacturing laminated beams for Japan, which are replacing hemlock beams. They are also looking at finger-jointed studs, by chopping up their trim blocks and downgrades. Maximum recovery and value-added principles top the list at Sunpine, and always have.

"We have been in the value-added business for a long time," Buchanan says. "We probably make over 200 different products in the treated wood side of the business. I think as a small company in the framing lumber business, you have to look for those value-added opportuni-ties in order to get the greatest gain from your resource."

In addition to more employment at the sawmill, they also expect a 30 per-cent employment gain in harvesting their Forest Management Area (FMA) due to a higher utilization of a greater variety of small stems. They earned their FMA in 1992, winning out over other companies because of their record for providing local employment and manufacturing more value-added products.

Sunpine built their first sawmill production line in 1988. A couple of factors encouraged the owners to upgrade the mill. First, the veneer plant took a significant bite out of their base of better logs, leaving the mill with a lot of small tops and large butts.

The old sawmill also had low recovery by today’s standards despite the staff’s best efforts. They were asking a lot from one production line. One of the new sawmill’s wood supply lines will be butts and tops from the veneer plant. They will also receive tree-length and cut-to-length wood harvested in their FMA.

About 90 per cent will come from the FMA, and 10 per cent from other sources such as private woodlots. The large log line began production in June, while the peewee line will start pro-duction in September. There have been few additions to the mill’s bucking system. It is a Murray Pacific design that was upgraded in 1990.

Prior to entering the debarking system, the logs pass through an X/Y sizing scan-n e r. Small logs encounter a 17' ' Nicholson debarker and large logs a 22'' Nicholson debarker. They are then scanned by a diameter scanner so that the logs are kicked into one of six bins on either the large or peewee line, depending on their size.

MPM supplied the sawing system’s electrical controls, featuring the Hermary Opto laser profile scanner at the production line’s front end. Sunpine’s new Hermany Opto LPS 2016 laser profile scanner has two scanning locations, prior to entering the Optimil saw lines, and a second set integrated into the Optimil on the large log line, as a double-check system.

This is the first Hermary Opto LPS 2016 scanner in a full commercial application, and it shows great promise as an instrument for mills to improve recovery. First, rather than the standard X/Y scanner that scans four points on a log and then fills in the rest, this laser scanner can scan as many as 256 points around a large log.

It is easily installed into existing mills using X/Y scanners. The Hermany Opto scanner produces a true shape for opti-m i zed log utilization. But it has other advantages. "The big advantage is that the Hermary Opto scanners are what they call a co-planer scanner," says Sunpine electrical superintendent Renny Ceccato.

"Your laser and CCD camera take the image back from the log both from the same plane. The other scanners on the market lay horizontally."

The problem with horizontal scanners is that mills lose a large portion of the bottom of the log where defects could exist. The Hermary Opto scanner, produced in Burnaby, BC, provides more and better information, Ceccato says.

"All the scanning technology that’s where the optimization is going to be a big boost to us," says Ceccato, "rather than now where we have a person up there doing the sorts by eye, and people also trimming by eye." The large log line will average about 300' per minute, while the small line will have throughput of 450' per minute.

The large line saw system is an Optimil double-length infeed, auto-rotation variable-speed system. It has a 16'' horizontal quad sawbox behind the chip and canter. The canter is a Mark II.

Side boards will be directed to the large saw line’s Newnes optimized edger prior to reaching the landing table, while boards from the centre cant will encounter a 12'' vertical arbor gang edger and then reach the landing table.

We can manoeuver from domestic to export products very easily," says mill manager Wayne Moore. "The reason for the Optimil equipment is that they have very sound equipment, well tested and proven, with very good backup on parts and service. And they are Canadian." Sunpine has some sweep and crook on their logs, but have a bigger concern with taper, given the source of wood on the Rocky Mountain eastern slopes.

They investigated curved sawing systems, but found that most were still just entering the market. They liked Optimil’s proven track record, and they have addressed the curved sawing issue on their smaller line.

The small log line is an Optimil curved saw line, but it is not true curved sawing. Their method is to press curved logs straight and then saw. It is not variable speed, but has a hydraulically driven canter to operate flat out at 450' per minute.

It has auto rotation but does not require an optimize edger as there are no side boards.

After the Optimil saw systems, Sunpine has installed a Newnes scanner and new TruEdge board edger. Its main benefit is speed and was designed almost specifically for this sawmill.

"Its a smaller edger built for smaller logs," says Ceccato, "designed to go faster, which is really what we needed." Sunpine built a top head into its design so that they could trim from 2'' t o 1'' thickness at the same location.

After the Newnes edger, the boards proceed to the back end, which includes a Newnes 50-bin sorter, a high-speed J-bar system, and stacker. Once kiln dried, the boards enter the planer mill where the most significant addition is a Newnes XLG MSR machine to verify strength, with an optimize trimmer and p a ck aging system.

Sunpine has planned their new sawmill with considerable care. Both Moore and Ceccato visited several mills with newer equipment over the past several years before settling with the current equipment. Speed and flexibility are the underlying principles behind its design.

"With the quota allocations coming under the Free Trade Agreement, are we going to be able to ship all of our product to the traditional markets in the US, or are we going to have to find offshore markets?" asks Buchanan. "I think the sawmill that we are building will allow us to have the flexibility to be completely focussed on Japan some months and completely focused on the US in other months."

And Buchanan says they purposely bought Canadian. "This is a high-technology, high-productivity, high-recovery mill with all-Canadian technology, suppliers and people," he says. "I think that says a lot about the Canadian lumber industry."

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