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Clear Lake Adds Another Finger-Joint Line

Canfor's Clear Lake operation in the BC interior is building on its success with finger-jointing production, adding another line which turns out flanged and I-joist material.

By Jim Sterling
Copyright 1998. Contact publisher for permission to use.

They're a resourceful bunch out at Canfor's Clear Lake operation in central British Columbia. They come up with good ideas, know how to implement them and are thoroughly experienced with in-house fabrication and installation. Those attributes proved invaluable during the recent installation of a second finger-jointing line at the Clear Lake Division. "And," adds Dean Doyle with a small smile of satisfaction, "we're notorious scroungers."

Doyle is planer superintendent and was project manager for the new finger-jointing line at the plant, 33 km southwest of Prince George.

Canfor's Clear Lake Division includes a stud mill with an annual production of about 120 million board feet, a planer and now a two-line finger-jointing value-added manufacturing plant. The division employs about 250 people.

When the original finger-jointer was installed in 1989, it was one of the first large-scale plants of its kind in the BC Interior. About 35 people help it produce 27 million board feet of product a year on three daily shifts. The new line contributes about six million board feet on a single eight-hour daily shift, keeping about 10 people busy. "We'd like to double-shift the new line (requiring about 20 people) and maybe even one day triple-shift it," says Doyle. The new line has a value of $3.5 million.

The Doyle surname, incidentally, is a familiar one around Clear Lake. Dean's dad, Don, was a founder of the original Clear Lake sawmill operation before it was acquired by Balfour Guthrie, which was in turn bought out by Canfor in the late 1980s.

The new finger-jointing line produces flanged and I-joist material used in flooring. "The 2X3 is a real growing part of our business. It has a substantial premium compared to studs," explains Doyle. The line can produce 2X3 to 2X8 in lengths to 32'. Most 2X3 lengths are in the 18' to 24' range, and they're sold mostly to North American markets.

One of the imaginative ideas developed at Clear Lake is adding value to studs by drilling holes near the ends to accommodate electrical wiring. The hole driller was designed and fabricated at Clear Lake about two years ago by machinist Wally Steidle and Hughie Bayes, who works in planer maintenance. The sawmill produces about 80 million board feet/year of drilled studs. "It's a value-added product our customers really like," says Doyle. "We're going to continue producing them." A Clear Lake hole driller has also been installed on the finger-joint line.

Raw material for the finger-jointers arrives at the plant from several sources. "We use trim ends from random-length sawmills that we rip to 2X3, 2X4, and 2X6. We use economy 2X4 to 2Xl2 in lengths from 6'to 20', and we rip or chop them into pieces from 16" to 32". And we also buy grade two and better 2X3s which we slash to 2' pieces for the new finger-joint line," outlines Doyle.

The material comes from sister Canfor mills and from the open market. "We've gone as far east as Saskatchewan, north to High Level, Alberta and south to Vancouver. We've had up to 25 different suppliers. Fibre supply is a critical part of the business. As more finger-joint plants come on line, the value of trim ends goes up dramatically," explains Doyle.

Inside the finger-joint plant, long lengths are rip-sawed to 2X4, 2X3 and 2X6 on a unit supplied by Del Schneider Hydraulics of Prince George. Downstream, multi-trim saws cut the pieces to 2' blocks. Four large walking floor bins from Linden Fabricating of Prince George provide a surge-free, regulated flow of blocks.

Clear Lake acquired its Industrial finger-jointing machine from a Canfor operation in Vancouver where it was no longer needed, and it's a good match. The original finger-joint line also has an Industrial machine. Clear Lake's people are very familiar with it operating and maintaining it, which also simplifies parts inventories.

A Del Schneider-built oven is used for heating the fingers in the block ends prior to glue application. Blocks pass through the 34"-wide, 50'-Long oven in about 2.5 minutes at temperature of 3500 F. The finger tips should be at 210' for glue application.

The original line uses a white PVA glue suitable for use in vertical construction applications. The new line creates additional marketing opportunities in horizontal construction applications. It uses a brown phenol-resourcinol glue supplied by Neste. The 2X8 is the most usual horizontal application dimension.

Another in-house innovation is a crowding system used to squeeze the joint fingers together. "We make them absolutely straight and we do it with speed and control within about a 12' span," says Doyle.

The original line can finger-joint pieces down to 8" in length. A speed of 94 lugs (pieces) per minute is optimum for the plant's back-end. The new line finger-joints a maximum of 14" lengths at a speed of 85 lugs/min. A flying cut-off saw produces required lengths, followed by trim sawing and the end-stacking system. A used Yates planer was another piece of machinery rebuilt in-house.

Prior to that, however, all finger-jointed material on the new line is subjected to a tensile tester built by Del Schneider. The mechanical pulling system tests the integrity of the joint and the fibre itself, continues Doyle. "On our tensile testing we're running about two per-cent breakage and most of that is in the fibre, not the joint," adds Doyle.

Canfor's Clear Lake Division has been certified by NASCOR as a franchise supplier of flange material, elevating its status and opening more markets. The operation is checked monthly to ensure the stringent NASCOR standards are maintained. The regional NFPA staff also run weekly checks at the plant. Apart from pull testing, samples are taken off the line and broken down on flat and edge.

"There are minimum standards that must be maintained. If you fail, all production for that day is what's called 'out of control'. In the nine years we've been running this plant, only one day has been out of control," says Doyle of the plant's enviable achievement. "It's very critical you do it right." And clearly they do.

Clear Lake crews liberated a surplus limestone conveyor from Canfor's Intercontinental pulp mill in Prince George, and they installed about 220' of it as an overhead belt conveyor to transport the plant's chip production to a re-located bin. The conveyor system produces better-quality chips than the old chip-blowing system, which would break chips down.

Installing the second finger-joint line was a trying time for the Clear Lake team. Only two outside contractors were involved in equipment installations; the majority of the work was done in-house. That meant crews had to be adaptable, assume different responsibilities while keeping the original line functioning, and going through the start-up process with the new line. "We're most proud that we only lost three shifts on the original line during the nine months installing the new one," says Doyle, giving credit to his colleagues.

The new line began operation in February 1998 and hasn't missed a beat. "It's been performing very well," adds Doyle. And that's not surprising. Clear Lake's hands-on approach has resourcefulness built in.

Finger Jointer

New finger-joint line at Canfor's Clear Lake operation.

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