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October 2007 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



Gogama Forest Products seeks efficiency at every turn in its operation, and is also being very creative at handling the balsam fir going through the mill.

By Tony Kryzanowski

The Gogama Forest Products sawmill installed two Nicholson A5B debarkers at its infeed as part of a general modernization several years ago.

Ask any softwood lumber mill manager about economically manufacturing lumber from balsam fir and it’s quite likely he will take on the expression of someone who has just been asked to drink some Buckley’s mixture cough medicine.

Given its high moisture content, drying balsam fir lumber economically so that it can be mixed with spruce and pine has resulted in a variety of mill level formulas. These have included segregating out balsam fir in the forest or in the mill yard to mixing green balsam fir lumber with spruce and pine, then tweaking drying prescriptions to ensure that the balsam fir meets National Lumber Grading Association (NLGA) standards.

A north-central Ontario sawmill, Gogama Forest Products Inc (GFPI), has developed one approach that has allowed the sawmill to achieve over 80 per cent stud or better grade, despite having a softwood log diet of up to 30 per cent balsam fir. The sawmill is now aiming for 90 per cent. “Creativity has played a big part in gaining efficiency among Canadian softwood lumber manufacturers,” says Don Drouin, Domtar Nairn Centre mill manager. “We’re going to places we have not gone before.” Domtar is part owner of GFPI

The sawmill’s strategy for economically producing lumber from balsam fir is one of those creative approaches. Drouin says that it typically takes between 24 and 27 hours to dry spruce and pine down to 19 per cent or less moisture content, whereas it takes up to four days for balsam fir.

The balsam fir logs that arrive in the Gogama sawmill yard are segregated and processed through the sawmill as a single run. After processing, stacks of green lumber are placed in the yard to air dry. A 3/4-inch space is left between each level so that there is adequate airflow and to encourage consistent drying.

For those considering this method, Drouin says naturally dried lumber can not be reintroduced straight into the dressing facility. Companies must follow a regulation that states that a piece of green construction lumber destined for export markets must be dried for a minimum of six hours at 130 degrees Celsius to ensure that any larvae or bugs are destroyed. Export markets have strict regulations to ensure that lumber entering their countries is bug free.

After the balsam fir is left in the yard to air dry for three to four months, it is then kiln dried for about 12 hours to meet both NLGA moisture requirements and export regulations. “Now, instead of taking four days to dry, it takes 12 hours,” says Drouin. “So we are able to take a wood product that normally costs us more to dry and dry it more cheaply.”

New, in-line moisture detection technology called Saptek has proven extremely effective for sorting out green balsam fir, spruce and pine boards with similar moisture content on the production line, so that it can be segregated for specific drying treatment. Marketed by Autolog, the Saptek unit is situated between the trimmer and sorting table. A chemical re-agent is sprayed to the ends of each freshly sawn board and it changes colour based on the lumber’s species and moisture content. A camera then reads the re-agent colour and sorts the lumber accordingly. Drouin says Domtar was the first company to put a Saptek unit in production in Ontario and now has more than 10 installed within its operations.

He adds that another way to market balsam fir is to sell it into the green, dressed, domestic market. “You can still build with green lumber in Ontario,” he says. “That’s how we used to do it in the past.”

Automation has significantly reduced the amount of manual labour required at the sawmill. Significant investments have also been made to improve recovery and introduce greater optimization.

Gogama Forest Products Inc itself is yet another creative approach to conducting business in today’s lumber market. It is a joint venture established in 2004 between Domtar and Sudbury-based, William Day Construction, formerly sole owners of the Gogama, Ontario sawmill. The partnership creates a closer association between the two companies, which have had a long business association. Before the partnership was struck about two years ago, the Gogama sawmill was a contractor to Domtar, taking the tree top sections averaging between 4.5 and five inches in diameter, to manufacture studs for the construction market, with larger logs transported to Domtar’s sawmill in Timmins.

The joint venture now owns and operates the Gogama sawmill, about 150 kilometres north of Sudbury, and also invested about $2.5 million in a new drying facility and planing mill at Nairn Centre, located between Sudbury and Sault Ste Marie, in 2004. It features a Coe dry kiln and a Gemofor planing mill that is specially designed to process shorter lengths of 2x4 studs. The major difference with the partnership versus the previous situation where the Gogama sawmill was a contractor to Domtar is that the sawmill and planing mill’s production is now sold under the GFPI brand, with income going to the partnership.

Gogama mill manager Paul Secord has been on the Gogama payroll through three ownership changes. Originally established by Ben Morin, the sawmill was rescued by the company’s transportation contractor, William Day Construction, in 1988, and then established as the GFPI partnership. Secord started out as the debarker operator before rising through the ranks to become mill manager. He says the joint venture has worked out well and credits good communication between himself and Don Drouin, which has resulted in significant fine-tuning of both the Gogama and Nairn Centre operations. The initiative to achieve 90 per cent stud and better finished product is a good example of that. “You can’t get from 80 to 90 per cent from Saturday to Sunday,” says Drouin. “So we’ll achieve it in small increments.”

CAE-Newnes provided the mill with a trimmer and sort line as part of a mill modernization.

Secord credits the Gogama sawmill’s former owners, William and Shawn Day, for taking steps to make the partnership an attractive proposition for Domtar. They made significant investments in both 1996 and 2000 that improved the sawmill’s recovery, introduced greater optimization, while improving employee comfort through greater automation. At the same time, the sawmill increased production from about 35 to 60 million board feet annually. Today, about 65 per cent of production is 2x4 studs in eight-foot lengths, primarily destined for the United States market. Recovery at this single line sawmill is currently about 212 board feet of lumber per cubic metre.

Because of the sawmill’s fairly remote location, Secord says it has difficulty attracting trades people, although it has three millwrights who have been with the company since 1988, and 75 per cent of its 37 employees have been employed at the sawmill for over 10 years. It is critical to the local economy, providing significant economic spin-offs to logging contractors, road maintenance contractors, and many local businesses. Another 12 GFPI employees are employed at Nairn Centre. “We’re definitely the biggest employer in the area,” Secord says.

Despite the remote location, Drouin says that with production of green lumber near the wood source at Gogama and with drying and planing occurring further down the road closer to markets at Nairn Centre, both operations are located so that transportation is more efficient.

He adds that the advent of communication devices like cellular phones, e-mail, and Blackberries has enabled various stages of the production process to be located in different locations, yet with the ability to communicate instantly. “This kind of operation wouldn’t have worked 30 years ago,” says Drouin. “Industry must look at different ways to be able to adapt to the challenges we face today, compared to the way the process worked yesterday.”

Cat 980G loaders (below), equipped with Paralifts, sort out the balsam when it arrives in the yard; the mill processes the balsam separately. The mill’s HewSaw 200 (right) produces about 212 board feet of lumber from each cubic metre of wood.

Logs arrive in the yard merchandized to eight-foot lengths. Two 980G Cat loaders, equipped with Paralift attachments, unload the logs from arriving trucks and deck them in the yard or feed them directly into the mill. They are fed into the mill using a Maxitour wave feeder that directs the logs through one of two, Nicholson A5, 17-inch debarkers.

Immediately after the debarker, logs are scanned by Prologic scanners, then sorted into eight bins. “The logs are scanned for optimized breakdown, taking such issues as sweep, crook, and flares into consideration,” says Secord.

The logs proceed through a Hewsaw 200 breakdown unit and then through a Newnes trimmer/optimizer line where they are cut to six-, seven-, or eightfoot lengths, before ending up in a 20-bin sorter and finally prepared for transportation using a Newnes stacker.

A Cat 966 wheel loader takes the stacks from the outfeed for storage in the yard. The transportation group of William Day Construction then transports the green lumber to Nairn Centre where it is dried, planed and packaged. Domtar is responsible for marketing the lumber.

Drouin says inventory control is an important aspect of Nairn Centre operations, as Domtar operates its own dressing line under the same roof, producing an additional 130 million board feet of lumber.

GFPI has no set plans for any immediate major capital investment because of uncertainty in the softwood lumber market. Both Drouin and Secord say that lumber overproduction resulting from harvesting of mountain pine beetleinfested trees in BC and escalating fuel
and energy costs are having a significant impact on the bottom line of softwood lumber producers. When spending capital, projects tend to be smaller because of reduced revenues. Companies want a faster payback on their investment. “In today’s softwood lumber business, you have to be an efficient, low cost producer who is also able to achieve high recovery,” concludes Drouin.



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This page last modified on Sunday, January 21, 2007