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Equipment changes for Northwest's BC mill

For Weyerhaeuser-owned Northwest Hardwoods, integrating the Coast Mountain Hardwoods operation within the company's approach has meant a combination of working with the existing equipment at the mill and doing some upgrades. Coast Mountain had done some upgrading of its own in recent years, such as the installation of a CAE Newnes single board edger. "It's a very good unit," says mill manager Randy Short. "We haven't really had to modify anything with their equipment." 

Since taking over Coast Mountain, Northwest has converted software on a Maximill overhead twin, which is also equipped with scanning. "That's where most of our resources have gone so far." With Maximill, they have established new lumber cutting patterns that fit with their overall program-essentially changing the software so it produces to their particular hardwood needs. 

New lumber cutting patterns were established on the Maximill overhead twin, with a focus on extracting grade lumber out of each log, rather than being production-oriented.

"The software had been configured more for production than for quality," he explains. "Most of the softwood software technology is based around getting the maximum amount of dimensional product out of a given log. Our particular objective is to extract grade lumber out of the log." 

Rather than take the production-focused approach and turn out wood at a high production rate, the mill now opens up a log and extracts grade from the log. "We can now saw either side of the log in a variety of dimensional thicknesses down to the minimal requirements." Central to all this, adds Short, is that Northwest runs its operations based on margin. "We are not production driven. We are value driven." 

Other ongoing changes in the mill proper have been a new Tru-Shape scanning system for the headrig, new setworks from Inovec and new Softac drive for the carriage. More recent additions have been a new CAE Newnes stacker and automatic stick placer. Other changes since the transition have been the completion of three new Salton kilns, which were already under construction. Northwest has also added to the amount of space under cover. The alder is dried to a low moisture content, and keeping it out of the infamous wet BC weather helps sustain that level. 

They have also already started replacing rolling stock out in the yard, with a number of new Hyster units. From here in, Short says changes will focus on extracting further value from each log that goes through the mill. The objective for all Northwest-and Weyerhaeuser-operations is to reach a certain level of return on assets, and just as importantly, achieve high levels of safety. "We understand those objectives and we are all working to get there." With the emphasis on quality and margin, they are not necessarily looking to achieve some set increase in production. 

The mill currently turns out 180,000 board feet a day on two shifts, with 85,000 of that going through the planer. That level of production is the result of efficient, well-run operations, says Short. He notes that the hardwood product that Northwest produces at the BC mill and its other plants falls into the higher end of the marketplace. "Anyone who uses our product understands that their yields will be consistently better. When they are done, their margins are better. Producing quality delivers better margins to us, and also to our customers."

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