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Alliance’s High production investment

Alliance Forest Products has invested $10 million on improvements to its St-Felicien sawmill, including a new high production, small log line.

By Tony Kryzanowski

Quebec-based Alliance Forest Products has had to stick handle its way around a number of recent challenges, the most dramatic being the closure of three sawmills near the St Lawrence River.

The balance of the company’s assets, however, clearly made an attractive package that American paper making giant Bowater Inc—given its recent acquisition of Alliance—couldn’t pass up. Bowater, headquartered in Greenville, North Carolina, paid $1.2 billion for the company in April. Alliance had been seeking a buyer for about a year.

Over the past few years, Alliance has not shied away from making decisions to keep the company current and viable, perhaps the most obvious example being the over $10 million in capital spending at one of its largest sawmills located near Lac St Jean in St-Felicien, Quebec. The end result has been a completely redesigned infeed area to complement the improvements made to its forest harvesting operations and the installation of a new, high production, small log line.

The cornerstone of the line is a Denis Comact DDM4 curve sawing combination canter and gang edger, capable of producing 600 board feet of lumber per minute. The St-Felicien sawmill is also using the DDM4 to manufacture lumber from eight foot logs with up to three-inch sweep.  The DDM4 was supplied by Comact Inc located in St Georges, Quebec.

Consisting of three production lines, the St-Felicien sawmill received its ISO 9002 certification in December 1997. In 1998, it increased its annual production of primarily two-by-eight studs by 10 per cent to 150 million board feet annually when it installed its small log line and acquired the annual timber cut of 29,500 cubic metres previously held by the Roland Castonguay sawmill, also located near St-Felicien. The extra timber became available when that sawmill was destroyed by fire.

Sawmill manager Clement Tremblay says the Roland Castonguay fire occurred coincidentally with the Alliance sawmill’s realization that its average log size was getting smaller and that it needed to install a small log line to achieve better recovery.

Also at about the same time, Tremblay says the Quebec government ordered the company to utilize more of its fibre, asking that it process logs down to a three-inch top from three and a half inches. The DDM4 is capable of manufacturing lumber from logs down to a 2.2-inch top and up to an 8.5-inch butt diameter. Tremblay says having the capability to manufacture lumber from timber three inches and smaller using the DDM4 has delivered a better financial return than simply manufacturing chips and continues to help offset stumpage fees.

The sawmill’s average log size is eight inches and consists of 80 per cent black spruce, the rest being jackpine and balsam fir. Alliance’s annual allowable cut for the St-Felicien sawmill is 734,000 cubic metres. The average log haul is about 120 kilometres.

The small log line accepts logs up to six inches, the second log line takes logs between six and eight inches and the large log line features a band saw that manufactures lumber from logs eight to 20 inches.

The Denis Comact DDM4 is a one pass, high-speed, curve-sawing unit that is particularly suited to environments where space is at a premium.

Sawmill management was so impressed with the speed and recovery offered by the DDM4 that they intend to replace the sawmill’s second log line with another DDM4.  That will add a further 10 per cent to the mill’s total production capacity and will allow them to achieve the same daily production with two shifts instead of three—a considerable cost savings brought about by modernization.

Tremblay says reducing staff is never an easy decision, “but I don’t think we have any choice if we want to be able to compete on the market.”

With the changes brought about in 1998, mill management soon realized that the sawmill’s infeed area was incompatible with the transition to more cut-to-length (CTL) harvesting in the bush and the high production potential of the DDM4. The move to CTL meant that 80 per cent of their logs were arriving in 16-foot lengths. In order to achieve more infeed speed and better optimization, Alliance is spending a total of $7 million to totally redesign its infeed area at St-Felicien. This will result in better compatibility with harvesting operations as well as more and better-sorted fibre fed into the mill’s three production lines. The infeed system was provided by Quebec manufacturer Gemofor. The old infeed system fed 75, eight-foot logs per minute whereas the new infeed will feed 50, 16-foot logs per minute, a fibre intake improvement of 33.5 per cent. As the logs advance along the new infeed system, they are all slashed to a maximum of eight feet in length.

The sawmill manufactures lumber as small as 2x3, but the majority of production is 2x4 between five and eight foot lengths.

After slashing, the logs proceed through one of three debarkers. The mill operates 12- and 22-inch Nicholson debarkers and an 18-inch Cambio debarker.

Once debarked, the logs are scanned for size and optimization, then sorted according to diameter, curve and length, using a scanning system supplied by Quebec manufacturer Syst-M Inc. At this point, the logs are distributed according to their parameters to one of the three production lines.

In addition to the infeed area, a second priority for St-Felicien sawmill management is to use the Denis Comact DDM4 to its fullest capabilities. That includes doing a better job of scanning and positioning of logs prior to the production of lumber. Tremblay says there is a considerable increase in recovery potential. For example, he says they were producing 220 board feet of lumber per cubic metre on the old log line versus 270 board feet on the DDM4 line.

The Denis Comact DDM4 is a one pass, high speed, curve-sawing unit that is particularly suited to environments where space is at a premium. It comes equipped with a log turner with an optimized module for small logs, preset positioning of rolls with servo cylinders and a quad flying log turner to maximize control of logs.

The unit comes with four optional profiling cylindrical heads that are individually set by servo cylinders. Distributor Comact says this allows for a wide choice of profiling solutions.

The two side chipping heads operate at 75 hp and the top and bottom heads run at 60 hp. The vertical arbor gang edger comes standard with one saw and a 75-hp motor, or optional two saws with a 125-hp motor.

Cant size is what most sawmill owners with an increasing volume of small logs are most concerned about. The DDM4 can produce a minimum cant size of 1¾ inches by 1¾ inches. The standard maximum size is four inches by four inches, but a four-inch by six-inch option is also available.

Tremblay says there are only two ways that companies can increase production these days in Quebec and that is either through acquisition of other sawmills, as was the case with the Roland Castonguay operation, or to do a better job optimizing their existing fibre.

Once lumber is manufactured from the three mill production lines at St-Felicien, the boards are visually inspected and either redirected to a reman line or to the Denis Comact trimmer line, where each board is scanned using a Multimeg Electronique scanning system. The line can scan and trim 200 boards per minute.

Tremblay says the Alliance mill closures further south have not impacted on the company’s Lac St-Jean operations. What precipitated those closures was the government’s decision to substantially cut back the annual allowable cut in the area. The company renegotiated its contract with the government concerning harvesting operations in the Lac St Jean area a year ago and was given permission to harvest at current levels for five years.

In addition to capital spending at a number of its sawmills, Alliance has also invested $3 million into its woodlands operations in the Lac St Jean region. This was to develop the infrastructure necessary to enhance the area’s forestry potential. For example, $1.7 million was spent to build Camp Daniel, which can accommodate up to 100 forestry workers. The company also rebuilt Camp Mistassibi, destroyed by fire in 1997, allowing 90 displaced workers to return to work.

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