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Meeting the standards

Weldwood’s Quesnel, BC operation has established stringent quality control standards and its contractors have taken the unusual move of having dedicated quality control people to ensure these standards are met.

By Jim Stirling

Weldwood’s Greg Johnston says their contractors have really stepped up to the challenge of meeting the company’s quality specifications. “They’ve exceeded all expectations.”

Logging contractor Bob Sales has been around long enough to know you’ve never seen it all before. Many log harvesting systems—and attitudes toward them—have come and gone under the canopy of Cariboo forests since Sales started logging for his dad, Don, in 1962. There have been long log systems and short log systems, to landings and to roadside and multiple variations in between. The latest twist is cut-to-length, where consistent, accurately measured quality logs are the keys to the door of success.

A highly unusual move ensures that happens: dedicated quality control people on the contractors’ side to closely monitor the wood produced. They deal directly with a supervisor from the licensee side to produce logs acceptable to a demanding and diversified client side. That different scenario is now an everyday working practice for Sales’ Marlo Logging, Gary Collins Logging and S & F Construction, the three principal cut-to-length logging contractors harvesting wood for Weldwood of Canada’s Quesnel operations in the interior of British Columbia. Actually, only about 40 to 50 per cent of the cut-to-length wood produced by the contractors is converted into lumber at Weldwood’s Quesnel sawmill.

Some of the volume ends up at Weldwood’s nearby plywood plant in Quesnel, while the rest is cut to other companies’ specifications for sale or trade. Weldwood’s cut-to-length contractors are accustomed to producing and sorting out a dozen different customer specs on a given block. The overall objective of Weldwood’s log buying, selling and trading is to ensure the right fibre flow in species and quality to the company’s sawmill and plywood plant in Quesnel, but they also want to meet the needs of their outside customers through those activities. “We try to be in the customer service business,” says Greg Johnston, Weldwood’s woodlands manager in Quesnel. “Our approach is that we provide exactly what the customer wants when we sell wood.”

In addition to being converted to lumber at Weldwood’s Quesnel sawmill, harvested wood also goes to the company’s nearby plywood plant. The rest of the wood is cut to other companies’ specifications, for sale or trade.

Requirements are precise. For example, one regular customer mill needs wood for producing 2x6, eight inches and better, with little blue stain for the do-it-yourself market. Log supply and quality were understandably major issues when Weldwood began preparation for its new Quesnel sawmill project in the mid-1990s. The single line sawmill requires Douglas fir and lends itself to short wood for diameter sorts. The mill needs about 500,000 cubic metres of Douglas fir annually for its two daily shifts. A fifth of that is supplied from Weldwood’s own licences. The rest has to be acquired. “We have 400 vendors of fir in a given year,” says Johnston. Weldwood is as fussy about the quality of measured wood coming into its yard from vendors as it is of the wood from its own contractors, and in meeting its customers’ requirements.

Johnston says Weldwood’s contractors have really stepped up to the challenge of producing quality wood for the mill and in meeting other customer specifications. They have had to invest in new equipment to make cut-to-length work the Weldwood Quesnel way. “They’ve taken the concept of producing quality logs very seriously,” says Johnston. “I think that’s the success of the whole thing. They’re taking the time to meet the specifications.

They’ve exceeded all expectations.” Since the contractors have their own dedicated quality control people, they can ensure lengths and other quality standards are consistently met. The one-on-one supervisor/contractor arrangement has worked well. Mark Cookson is Weldwood’s logging supervisor point man with Gary Collins Logging; Rick Izzard co-ordinates with S & F, while Jason Trenn works closely with Marlo Logging.

A minimum of one in 50 of contractors’ loads is officially sampled in Weldwood’s mill yard. “But their quality guys find a problem within an hour of it happening and it doesn’t find its way to us,” says Johnston. Weldwood’s supervisors ensure the stringent specs for customers reach right out to those harvesting the wood in the bush. “In today’s markets, there’s a huge difference in the value of logs on- and off-specs.”

Weldwood enforces a bonus/penalty system on its contractors. “We expect our contractors to be at the 95 per cent level and better all the time,” says Johnston. They consistently are at that level and regularly out-perform the mill’s merchandising deck. But bonuses and penalties don’t control log quality on their own; accountability and quality emphasis are required, he adds. “We’ve got an exceptional group of contractors.” Johnston says Weldwood has a core of customers for its logs and is working at increasing the base. The mill would produce home building components for international and North American customers.

The company’s plywood mill was re-configured to produce 3x6 sheets for the Asian market, along with the traditional 4x8 North American product. But the timing was cruel for Weldwood. The world changed and the bottom fell out of the Asian market, recalls Johnston. The whole log supply equation was thrown into flux. An examination of issues surrounding log supply and merchandising—to produce the wood required for the plywood plant and the sawmill—steered Weldwood toward short wood and the cut-to-length system. Volumes have increased steadily since 1999.

The three main contractors produce about 700,000 cubic metres of short wood annually. About 1.4 million cubic metres is required by the company’s Quesnel plants. The plywood plant requires eight inch and better cores pulled out at the merchandiser deck, which handles about 850,000 cubic metres of wood annually. “The better we meet their needs, the more it creates opportunities for fir. And the better we trade, the more work there is for the contractors.” Marlo Logging is into its fourth year as a cut-to-length contractor for Weldwood, a company the Sales family has worked with for 45 years.

For three years running, it has won the quality and safety cut-to-length contractor award presented by Weldwood. “The biggest reason for our success with quality is that all our employees bought into it,” says Sales. “When we first started with the cut-to-length standards, we had to work hard to make them work. We’ve adapted. The guys like the cut-to-length system and they work hard to make sure it works well. They really bear down on that end of it, trying to keep quality up and it’s worked out.” Marlo’s quality control specialist is Don Mackenzie, a former hand faller. “He knows logs and he’s very fussy,” says Sales. “He follows the processors, measures the logs and identifies peelers.”

Sales says the cut-to-length system makes it simpler to accommodate the dozen sorts on one block often required by Weldwood. It sounds like it should slow down production, but it doesn’t, says Sales. “We have a system, our processors have a system and we stagger our work.” A numbering process connects each processor with logs produced. “We try to work closely with the processor operators and let them do the job.” Marlo uses performance bonuses to pay for quality control.

On occasion, many loads of harvested wood sit in the bush awaiting delivery and Marlo can’t risk having the wrong lengths. “With the markets nowadays and the way the mills have to operate, it’s got to be good wood. Margins are so tight,” says Sales. Marlo’s cut-to-length production equipment includes a Madill 220 with a 24-inch Waratah processing head, a Timberjack 735 with a 21-inch Waratah, along with Timberjack 1410 and 1710 forwarders and a Madill 2800 loader. Annual cut-to-length volumes harvested have ranged from 170,000 cubic metres to 220,000 cubic metres. “Weldwood has been very good to us,” adds Sales. Their focus on cut-to-length has been very strong. In fact, Marlo no longer operates a long wood side. “We figure with cut-to-length, we’re better off to go the one way.”

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