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High Performer

Canfor's Fort St James mill has recently finished a $22million upgrade that includes a new high performance small log line. 

By Jim Stirling 

The year 2000 was a tumultuous one for Canfor's Fort St James Division. Export quota restrictions to the United States, plummeting lumber prices, high stumpage costs and native blockades all conspired to curtail operations for 17 weeks at the company's sawmill and within its log harvesting activities. The disruptions and enforced work stoppages percolated negatively through the economy of Fort St James, a forest industry dependent community in British Columbia's central interior. Canfor made some tough economic decisions in Fort St James, but there was a bright spot. 

When the mill was running, it did so with great promise. And just as well- Canfor recently invested about $22 million into the mill, representing a technological leap into the new millennium. The multifaceted improvements were spread across nine months and the mill kept operating for all but a three-week shutdown. That's difficult to do. The workplace was transformed into an active construction site for the best part of a year while the 26 production people per shift began their learning curves on the mill's new equipment without forfeiting the manufacture of lumber. No time loss accidents were recorded during the approximately 60,000 man-hours of construction in the nine-month span-a remarkable achievement for Canfor's crews, contractors and consultants. 

BID Construction of Vanderhoof -now Bid Comact-was the general contractor and Stolberg Engineering looked after the engineering. "The overall objective is to improve recovery, that is the main payback and driving force. And with that, we forecast an uptake in volume with more production from the same number of logs," says Lyle Disher, Canfor's plant manager at Fort St James. Both goals are being attained. Installation of a new small log line has increased yield in that area alone by about 40 points (from 220 to 260). At the end of 2000, the mill was running 272 and that includes the conversion of Douglas fir into metric size lumber for the Japanese market. 

Improvements at the Fort St James mill included two new merchandising decks, optimized by Porter Engineering (top). Canfor's Tom Paetz  says the new small log line combines the advantages of true shape scanning, log rotation, slewing infeed and curve cant sawing. 

Production was estimated at 470,000 board feet a shift (930,000 board feet per day on two eight hour shifts), says Disher. But the mill was producing one million board feet some days and Disher believes 1.1 million is achievable. Operators at machine centres on the new small log line were greatly helped in the familiarization process. Computer simulation software developed by Pederson Management explains the objectives and function of the new equipment before it's installed. Employees experienced onscreen exactly the way it would work in the mill, adds Disher. The simulations were also useful for training maintenance crews. 

Mill improvements began with the installation of two new merchandising decks, optimized by Porter Engineering. They replace a slasher type deck with electronic eyes. The 110foot and 70foot decks accommodate off highway and highway loads. They incorporate XY scanning on the transfer decks with offset above and below scans that effectively produce a detailed profile of each log at six-inch intervals. The optimum bucking solution for preferred lengths on each stem is determined according to prevailing markets and prices. The information is relayed to two shifting Murray saws on both infeed lines for real time bucking and is coordinated with the small log line canter program downstream. 

Three debarkers handle the evaluated stems. A Nicholson A5 is on the small log line (3.5 inch tops to about nine inch logs), a Nicholson A4 for intermediate size stems and a retrofitted 40inch machine debarks headrig wood for the CAE band mill. In the old mill configuration, all lumber from the band mill was directed to a single sorter. What's in place now takes pressure off the congested sort line and provides the luxury of options, flexibility and an ability to cut for value rather than just production. A resawing capability sits horizontal to a "new" trim saw, 30-bin sort and stacker system. It's "new" to Fort St James Division but the sort/stacker line of primarily Newnes equipment was originally used in Canfor's now closed Netherlands Overseas Mill in Prince George. With deft planning and execution, the entire line was taken apart in Prince George and reassembled, turnkey fashion, from foundations to PLCs in Fort St James. Early this year during a mill visit, the equipment was handling Douglas fir lumber for dressing to 47millimetre size material for the Japanese market. That's good news: a higher valued product and no US quota restrictions/ramifications. 

The mill's high-performance new small log line utilizes a Comact quad canter with Porter controls in concert with Newnes/McGeehee curve sawing and Newnes controls. The line combines the advantages of true shape scanning, log rotation, slewing infeed and curve cant sawing, says Tom Paetz, quality control supervisor. Each log is fully optimized three times within the system: before the log turner, in the double length infeed section and as a two sided cant, he adds. Porter has control on the line to the out feed to the log turner while Newnes optimizes from the angle roll case to the back end of the curve sawing. The system interface has produced no problems, says Paetz, and together the line has contributed large increases in recovery and productivity. Paetz says line speed is impacted by the chipping heads or quad saws depending on the depth of cut at each place. The line runs at the slowest of the two feed speeds. 

The quad line produces about 5,600 logs per shift when running spruce and pine. The slewing infeed ahead of the chipping section can move three inches either side. The ability places the sweep in each log to one side. "You get a good open face on one side and the taper on the sideboard providing a huge Lumber Recovery Factor pickup," he explains. Canfor's planning team looked at various curve sawing equipment before opting for the Newnes/McGeehee system. The team visited Riverside Forest Products' dimension and stud mills in the Williams Lake, BC area. 

They have a steady diet of misshapen stems and use the Newnes/McGeehee system to deal with them. "We were impressed with the quality of the sawing," says Paetz. "And the technology itself. There's lots of motion in the gang but the lumber comes out remarkably straight." The Newnes system holds the log straight and moves the gang around the log. "The movements are fluid and precise for the full benefit of the technology," he adds. It's proving ideal for the two to four board solutions that characterize the line's average log size. The eight saw gang operates with a saw saver mode. It cuts on one side and if tension or teeth are lost it can be switched to the other without downtime. 

Other benefits emerged from the Fort St James mill's nine month gestation. A new lumber line with lug loaders at the trim saws and a stacker contribute to a smoother product flow. A new 120footlong Salton dry kiln allows an increase in charge volume compared to the mill's 104-foot kilns. "We're very customer focused here," says Disher. "We've done some innovative things to satisfy some of those customer needs." They include the addition of new lumber wrapping paper dispensers and bar coding systems at the mill's two planers. Customers require different colours and lengths of wrap, including half pack sizes. 

The mill can now wrap six different papers and print and apply bar coding on line at up to 100 lugs/minute. Customers like Lowe's and Home Depot want proprietary wraps with special bar codes. Acceptable, readable information is part of the electronic product management system important to end users, for inventory control and to the supplying mill. Canfor aims to ensure the customer receives the product the same way it leaves the mill. And that means an eye to details. For example, lining up staples on lumber packages beneath Canfor's identifying white maple leaf on a red stripe but above the bottom of the package. 

The practice prevents wind from catching the wrap lip during transit, causing tearing and damage. Disher is pleased to see benefits accruing from the mill improvements despite the production time lost in 2000. "Overall, it's gone pretty well." And when you look hard enough, there are advantages arising from adversity that make it easier to handle whatever 2001 might deliver. "We have tighter controls in all areas of the industry," says Disher. "Because of the economic times, we've learned to manage our businesses better."

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