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November 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



Seeking the best

Entrepreneurs Jason Smith and Jim Lyons carried out extensive research and mill visits in advance of setting up their new $18 million high tech sawmill in Oregon, with the goal of bringing together the best ideas and technology available.

By Jeff Mullins

The flashing sign at the glitzy Mill Casino in Coos Bay, Oregon, is a stark reminder that in recent decades the forest products industry that once dominated the Pacific Northwest has languished, and other economic bases have been sought out.

However, companies like Southport Forest Products (SFP) are combining innovation with efficient state-of-theart technology to achieve enviable results, perhaps indicating the proverbial pendulum is swinging the other way. Southport Lumber Company (SLC) sawmill, a sister company to SFP, has been in full operation less than a year but already has become an industry trendsetter.

Southport Forest Products began in 1998 when Jason Smith and Jim Lyons saw an opportunity and a purpose: to recover lumber from logs being processed for pulp. Partnering with a local whole log chipping operation, they built a sawmill, purchased low value logs four to 12 inches in diameter and proceeded to process them into their highest value use.

At the Southport mill operation, logs are automatically bucked into prescribed lengths of between seven and 16 feet by four PSI bucking saws (right) and decked at the mill’s infeed.

At the SFP yard, logs are sorted according to species and quality with a John Deere 330 and two John Deere 200 machines, bucked to length by LogMax 5000 dangle head processors on John Deere 160 machines, and then run through a Nicholson A-5 dual ring debarker. Blocks exiting the debarker are scanned for lumber solutions and sorted into bins. Sorted logs are batch fed into the sawmill—which features Optimil equipment—and sawn into green lumber. As an example of innovation, Smith points out that two portable sawmills (Lucas Mill) are being used to most efficiently process some logs.

“The operation produces 40 million board feet annually and is best viewed as a forest products recycling centre. We evaluate each log, mill some, chip some and resell some based on the highest value use.”

Today, some of those logs are sold to Southport Lumber Company, SFP’s new high tech sawmill that began turning out lumber in late 2005. “As SFP began to evaluate upgrading the first Southport mill, we concluded that the current site lacked the transportation infrastructure to support increased production,” Smith explains. “This led to considering other sites and the conception of the idea to build a commodity and chip and saw log mill to augment, rather than replace, our existing operation. Southport Lumber Company is the result.”

The new mill, constructed on a site purchased from the Port of Coos Bay, will have a new rail line built by the Port, and a barge slip that SLC is upgrading.

Lyons and Smith—the latter an engineer whose family heritage includes running the now non-operational Coos Head Timber Company—sought to bring together all the best ideas and technology available for processing lumber today in their new mill. Extensive research and mill site visits throughout the United States and Europe led to equipment selection and a mill layout to produce high quality lumber as efficiently and inexpensively as possible. Designed to process logs between 3-1/2 inches on the small end and 18 inches on the large end, the mill produces planed dimensional green lumber from 2x3 to 6x6 for direct shipping to a wide variety of markets.

“With monthly production approaching seven million board feet, our goal to produce 100 million board feet of lumber annually is within reach,” says Smith. These production numbers are even more significant considering that the entire operation only employs 35 people, including office and yard personnel.

Five operators turn the full length logs into stacked bundles of green rough cut lumber on the primary line which is operating two shifts. The secondary production line planes, grades, sorts, stacks, bundles and labels the lumber for market with nine employees working a single eight-hour shift. One forklift operator supports the swing shift crew, but when the planer line is operating, four forklift operators perform the additional tasks of feeding the planer, decking finished products, and loading trucks.

Trucks deliver presorted logs to SLC’s yard where they are weighed or scaled as needed before a LeTourneau 2594 loader sorts them either directly onto the deck feeding the Nicholson A-8 debarker or decks them in the yard, depending on the sort being run. “We only use one loader at this operation compared to having about 10 ‘rolling stock’ machines at SFP,” Smith says. “Our operation is very streamlined here.”

A Southport operator (above) observes planed lumber as it enters the trimming/grading scanners.

The mill processes 90 per cent Douglas fir and 10 per cent hemlock originating typically from industrial timberland within 125 miles of the mill, but they also purchase some timber from Canada. “A mill on the coast has a limited supply side because logs are only available in a 180 degree radius. However, the ability to barge in logs and ship out lumber directly, even to international customers, eliminates the middle man and more than compensates for that disadvantage.”

From a control room overlooking the debarker and bucking saw, a single operator utilizes controls and touch screens to transform raw logs into high value lumber.

Full length logs up to 55 feet long exiting the debarker are scanned by a USNR Perceptron optimizer to determine a bucking solution for the highest yield. Logs are automatically bucked into prescribed lengths between seven and 16 feet by four PSI circular bucking saws and decked at the mill’s infeed. As logs enter the optimized USNR Vertical Shape Saw (VSS) they are singulated, rescanned, and automatically rotated according to the value driven solution. Side chipping and side board profiling chipping occur sequentially prior to the USNR quad arbor saw box removing the prescribed sideboards. The remaining centre cant is rescanned, re-optimized and processed into lumber by the VSS’s last stage. The system is designed to process up to 20 pieces per minute at feed speeds up to 550 feet per minute while maintaining total positive control of the fibre during processing. Chips and sawdust are recovered in a conveyor system for processing and green lumber proceeds to the transfer line.

The lumber—in various dimensions and lengths—is accumulated on a deep pile deck feeding a descrambler, where an operator feeds single boards through a trim saw as needed before they proceed to a Baxley sorter that automatically deposits boards of the same dimensions, but varying length, into one of 26 bins. When a bin is full, lumber units are lowered onto a chain, descrambled, stacked and packaged prior to being decked in the yard or fed directly by a forklift to the planer line.

At the planer line infeed, bundles of uniform dimension and varying length boards are descrambled and fed individually into the Stetson Ross G-14 planer where all four sides are simultaneously surfaced and afterward receive an application of anti-stain chemical. A high speed belt delivers the planed lumber of varying lengths to a descrambler and then a FinScan scanner which automatically positions them for simultaneous trimming of both ends in a Baxley trimmer.

Each board is then scanned for grading by a FinScan system and automatically stamped by a Timberstar grade printer. The stamped boards are then automatically sorted and dropped into one of 32 bins according to grade and length. Full bins are lowered on to a chain conveyer, descrambled and automatically stacked.

Logs entering the optimized USNR Vertical Shape Saw (at right) are singulated, rescanned and automatically rotated according a value driven solution.

Smith points out that the sorter lines for both the green and planed lumber parallel each other so that one operator can control both sets of bins and feed them to the stackers. SLC utilizes Baxley Equipment descramblers/sorters and RS Industries stacking equipment on both lines.

Stacks of finished lumber are banded, labeled, sealed on the ends and placed in the yard for shipping by rail or truck.

Southport’s lumber is marketed through a contract with Roseburg Forest Products and finished products are labeled for direct shipping to customers including other lumber companies— such as Georgia Pacific—and retailers like Home Depot requiring UPC codes on each board prior to leaving the yard.

As a zero waste facility, Southport separates chips, sawdust fines, bark and shavings into one of four hoppers. Chips are sold in both domestic and foreign markets, bark is sold regionally for cogeneration hog fuel or landscape products and shavings and sawdust are utilized to make medium density fibre board.

Smith says that as a small company with approachable and accessible management, Southport has been able to attract and retain good employees even though they pay a little less than some bigger operations. He offers that the biggest challenge is always maintaining a good supply of logs while balancing the cost of the raw materials with lumber prices. “There are trees growing here and the principles of supply and demand are at work. We just need to be as efficient and productive as we can and be able to ride out the swings in the markets.”

As a hands-on owner/manager of Southport Lumber, Smith can frequently be found in the mill, but when requiredto be in the office, he can easily access operational status information and production statistics from a desk-side computer terminal replicating the information in the control booth including prescriptions, optimization solutions and production statistics.

Smith says he is comfortable with their business plan and anticipates increases in production as operational efficiency of the mill’s equipment is fine-tuned. Additionally, upgrades to the existing barge slip in the near future are expected to greatly reduce transportation and handling costs on both the raw material and finished products end of operations.

While many find pleasure in gambling away money at the nearby Mill Casino, Southport Forest Products is utilizing innovation and high efficiency equipment to minimize risk and almost ensure a profitable future. For the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest United States, Southport’s new mill is good news and perhaps a hint that restoration of the timber industry as a substantial economic base in the region is underway.


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