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March 2004


High recovery/thin kerf

Canfor’s Fort St John operation has invested $16 million in improvements that include a high speed, high recovery line featuring thin kerf vertical curve sawing.

By Jim Stirling

The new small log line at Canfor’s Fort St John Division ramped up smoothly to quickly meet the performance expectations of the operation. Now the division’s focus is switching to the planer and an upgrading program planned to begin there in 2004. The previous small log line was top shelf technology when Swanson Lumber installed it in 1972-73. And, with various upgrades, it had proven to be a good servant to Canfor since it acquired the sawmill/planer complex in northeastern British Columbia from Swanson in 1981.

The log breakdown line from the infeed to the Valon Kone Brunette debarker to the outfeed from the Coe Newnes vertical quad is optimized and controlled by a Porter Engineering system.

But it was past its time to go. During a five-week period in 2003, the old line and sections of the sawmill building were dismantled through the primary breakdown area. They were replaced with a high speed, high recovery line featuring thin kerf vertical curve sawing. Capital cost for the new line and associated improvements was $16 million. Another factor influencing the new line installation was Canfor’s decision to close its Peace Wood Products Division and run a third shift at Fort St John. Peace Wood is located at Taylor, about 17 kilometres down the Alaska Highway from Fort St John. The planer there is expected to run its last shift by the end of June. About 90 per cent of the people from Taylor have jobs at the expanded Fort St John operation, helping mitigate the negatives of the Taylor closure.

The balance took early retirement or enhanced severance packages. About 250 people, including staff, are directly employed at the Fort St John Division, with a similar number involved in activities like log harvesting. The two-line Fort St John sawmill is capable of running a 28-inch diameter log. “We’ll make 25 per cent of our volume on 2x10 and about two per cent on 2x12s,” says Gary Nielsen, plant manager. The large log side can produce 2x4 and 2x6 lumber if required, but they try to balance production between the lines, points out Nielsen.

The preferred objective is processing logs around 13.5 inches and down on the new small log line. One of the first tasks associated with the project was to increase log yard space. The mill is located in the BC Rail industrial park and Canfor was fortunate to be able to lease an additional 55 acres from the railway to accommodate fibre for a third shift and Taylor division’s wood. About 325,000 cubic metres/year of Taylor’s diverted volumes joins the approximately 720,000 cubic metres trucked to the Fort St John mill last year.

The Fort St John operation has a lot of good employees, people who have plenty of ideas to make improvements in flow, volume or recovery, says plant manager Gary Nielsen. “It’s just amazing. The key is to listen to the ideas.”

In 2004, Nielsen estimates about 1.07 million cubic metres of wood will be used to produce 300 million board feet of SPF lumber in Fort St John. Back in the 1980s, cranking through 185,000 board feet a shift was excuse enough to take the boys out for a beer after work. Now the mill routinely runs above 400,000 board feet/shift. “We’ve got a lot of good people here. People who have taken their apprenticeships here and have grown up and into the mill,” Nielsen explains. They’ve come up with plenty of ideas through the years to make improvements in flow, volume or recovery. “It’s just amazing.

The key is to listen to the ideas.” Canfor has initiated a tracking system for the expanded log yard, detailing log profiles to help direct the right log mix to the mill at the right time, says Nielsen. A new log deck was installed to serve the new small log side. The original deck was converted for use as a second deck for the large log line. Logs are fed to the deck by front end loader. A four-step Linden log loader separates the logs and maintains a steady feed. Cut-off saws trim logs between eight- and 20-foot lengths or to meet market specifications. Logs are fed through a 17-inch Valon Kone Brunette dual ring debarker. Nielsen says the dual ring machine was selected for better debarking at higher speeds (550 ft/min). It also has the ability to handle fire-scorched timber.

About 325,000 cubic metres a year of timber from the Taylor operation has joined the 720,000 cubic metres of timber that had been processed at the Fort St. John mill. The combined volume is expected to produce about 300 million board feet of lumber.

The extent and ferocity of forest fires in BC’s Southern Interior last summer was a potent reminder that no region is immune to wildfires. The log breakdown line from the infeed to the Valon Kone Brunette debarker to the outfeed from the Coe Newnes vertical quad sawbox is optimized and controlled by a Porter Engineering system. “Porter spent alot of time preparing for it and did an excellent job of getting it up and running,” adds Nielsen. Each log on the conveyor is scanned to identify its individual characteristics —such as sweep and curve—before positioning in a USNR auto-rotation module. A flying log turner positions logs horns down prior to transit through a USNR double length infeed with slew and skew capabilities on both axes. A two-sided canter removes and outfeeds one or two side boards depending on log size.

The cant moves on to the close coupled Coe Newnes vertical shape sawing module. Physical space was a consideration with opting for the vertical sawing configuration. A more conventional system would have required a building extension, additional conveyors and the costs associated with them. Keeping the flow as simple as possible was a design priority for the mill, adds Nielsen. “It’s worked really well. The vertical machine is well built and tough. We’re getting our target piece counts of 7,000 a shift through it,” he says. That was achieved in impressively short order despite the learning curve associated with a new line, the influx of people from the Taylor mill and the addition of the third shift. “Again we were fortunate with the strong sawmill background of the people from Taylor,” he adds.

The pieces of equipment were new, but the two mills were under joint management and shared items like safety programs and lock-out procedures. Downstream equipment has been retained from the original line. Lumber goes through transfer and unscramblers for optimized trimming and on to the 48-bin sorting system Side boards from the small log side are fed through an off-line Optimil edger optimizer before re-joining the mainstream. A McGehee edger handles most of the volume on the large log side.

The opportunity was seized to make improvements to the large log line while the small side was being replaced. These included a speed up conversion to the existing chip ‘n saw and five-foot band mill section and the addition of a Coe Newnes sawbox that can handle up to 12-inch cants. The Taylor mill wood and the third shift required the addition of a fifth dry kiln, a 150-foot long Salton. Infrastructure improvements included a new file room. The installation of an Autolog linear grade optimizer in the planer completed in May 2003 kick-started improvements in that part of the complex.

The machine required an addition to the planer building but has delivered benefits of improved grade out-turns and margins. “We know we’re getting a more consistent product out to our customers,” notes Nielsen. The installation also indicates an imbalance between the Autolog and sorting capacities. It’s also desirable for the planer to have the capacity to handle extra volumes anticipated from the upgraded sawmill, he explains. Planned improvements include a new planing machine and an addition to MSR capability. Exactly when a planer upgrade is approved depends on Canfor’s strategic planning and payback assessment, says Nielsen, though he’s hoping for a 2004 project start. “We go in with confidence that this will take us forward.”

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