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Delivering the Goods

Interfor's preferred program with its fallers allows the mill to deliver exactly what the Japanese housing market is looking for.

By Rick Crosby 

t's early morning and Empire Logging in Squamish, BC, a division of forest company Interfor, is buzzing with activity as engineering staff and inventory personnel move from office to office, talking about the day's work to come or setting up in front of computers. The 70 men who work in the company's Tree Farm License 38, though, are long gone. "They leave about six in the morning," says Terry Summers, a quality control officer for Interfor. 

As part of the preferred length program at Interfor, fallers like Alan Woods (below, inset photo) have bucking cards-with information on different tree species and cutting lengths-attached to their shirts. A goal of the program is to work closely with fallers to tie the needs of the lumber marketplace right back to the stump. 


Not too far away, off the Squamish Mainline road at Branch 700 at 33 Mile and a seven-kilometre drive up to an old burn site, fallers Alan Woods and Hans Wafler are cutting second growth balsam and hemlock into preferred lengths for the Japanese housing market. Woods, a faller for 25 years, says bucking wood into preferred lengths makes a faller's job easier. 

He consults the laminated bucking card he keeps attached to his shirt that contains information on different tree species and cutting lengths. "For a while there it took some getting used to," he says, explaining the buck lengths and top diameters for different species on the card. "Now its just part of the job." Terry Summers is positioned on the block a few metres above Woods. His job is to ensure fallers are bucking logs to preferred lengths at the stump. 

This is part of Interfor's cut to length strategy to eliminate waste at the dryland sort grounds and the sawmill in Squamish. After the fallers have bucked the logs, Summers checks for accuracy, working 10 trees at a time measuring preferred lengths. It's a job that comes naturally to Summers who previously worked as a log scaler for J S Jones in Boston Bar, BC, and in logging camps up the coast. 

Essentially what he's doing is working with fallers to tie lumber markets and the needs of the marketplace right back to the stump to get the most value out of the log. This makes the faller's job a lot more complex. Traditionally they've simply dropped wood to get as much volume down as possible. "We've reversed that," Summers says. "We want fallers to manufacture logs in the bush for prime lengths so by the time the wood gets to the sort, we hope 80 per cent of that product is finished and can be tagged and put in a proper sort and then boomed." It's more work for the fallers but saves work in the landing. 

The work is also a lot more dangerous for fallers. "When you cut logs into short lengths they tend to roll," Summers explains, "and that's where the danger comes in." Fallers must contend with all kinds of conditions: unstable ground, where or how the log is sitting and whether it's in a gulley. If there's any danger of a log rolling or coming back on them or if a log is too high up in the air, fallers are asked to leave it alone. When Summers is walking a block, he stays up as high as he can to avoid any problems. A faller or anyone who works on an active block is alert enough that they can actually hear the wood if it shifts. "Sometimes the wood takes off so you try and be as safe as you can," Summers says. 

Cutting to preferred lengths is a meticulous operation where fallers need to lay their tape measures down and recheck where they're bucking. "We don't want anything under length," Summers says. "It's got to be at least 'on' if not over by 0.1 on the metre." There have been difficulties for fallers who still need to make the connections between markets and log lengths where they're working. The cut to length program that began in February, 2000 involves quality control personnel performing random audits on site and making presentations in logging camps about wood products markets. 

When fallers know more about markets they have a better understanding of the need for preferred lengths. Manufacturing preferred lengths at the butt obviously takes longer for the fallers, but yarding and loading costs are saved down the road. The program has been implemented to meet the needs of the marketplace demand for less waste. "When logs are run through the mills, waste is a very big issue," Summers says. "By having a prime length, we have very little waste." Ron Sanders, mill manager for the Squamish Lumber Division, takes the strategy behind the cut to length program to the next level. "It's the customer's perspective that's important," he says. 

"All the mill is trying to do is convert the log into a form the customer wants." Now the program is starting to pay off. The Squamish Lumber Division is beginning to see a difference in the logs coming into the mill that are cut to preferred lengths. The majority of fir cut in the mill goes to Japan where customers like 70 per cent of their lumber cut in four metre lengths. "We're seeing a better outturn of four metre lengths," Sanders says. "It keeps your customers happy." Most hemlock/balsam and fir cut for the Japanese market is bucked to 4.1 metre multiples. 

The bucking card denotes lengths for cypress, cedar, fir, hemlock/balsam, hemlock/ balsam gang and spruce gang. The information on the bucking card is crucial when one considers the cost to a company if a setting is put down wrong on a dryland sort. "What's so unbelievable is that a bucking card costs you six bucks," says Robert Six, a sawmill logging coordinator who works out of Fraser Mills in Vancouver. "A setting can cost $100,000 if the lengths are wrong." It all comes back to accuracy at the stump. 

Summers gives an example of what can happen if a faller comes up short on his tape. "If it's a fir and you have an eight metre log the mill will cut off a 4.2 metre section at the butt," he explains. "The second piece will be 3.8 metres which is too short for the Japanese housing market and so it goes into domestic sales or chips. The company can loose anywhere from $200 to $300 a cubic metre on that last piece of wood." If there's 15,000 cubic metres down on a dryland sort and there's a problem, it can be too late to avoid wasting wood. 

That's why random audits are done where the fallers are working. In addition to frequent random audits, presentations are done in logging camps to cover just about any issue involving falling and bucking procedures. A quality control officer will go into a camp and give slide shows illustrating housing in Japan, for example, and the markets Interfor is working with. The presentations are attended by fallers, second loaders who work on the landing bucking the ends of logs before loading onto a truck, loader operators and quality control personnel. 

The goal of these presentations is to bring people together; to strengthen the lines of communication between the fallers and the sawmill so the highest possible level of cutting accuracy is achieved. Striving for more accuracy with preferred lengths begins long before loggers start falling trees, however. "Onsite, we have what we call a pre-work meeting where we get everybody together including the quality control people, the fallers and the engineers and we review the block," area engineer Andrew Meyer explains from his office at Empire Logging in Squamish. 

"A lot of things are discussed: block boundary locations, special prescriptions around creeks and other special concerns." To achieve quality control requirements for bucking and falling, any decisions that need to be made are worked through with the fallers as a group before any work starts. This is done up on the block and can take anywhere from one and a half to four hours, depending on the issues involved in an area. In spite of spread out logging operations, Interfor's cut to length program is having an effect on fallers. 

"I think the mentality of just going out and falling a bunch of trees and going home has all changed," Hans Wafler, a faller working with Alan Woods says. "You think more about saving wood." In fact the turnaround in cut to length accuracy has been nothing short of phenomenal. "Last year, I think our numbers were 41.6 per cent on prime lengths," Summers says. "This year the numbers are up to 68 per cent on prime lengths.

"That means 68 per cent of all the wood that comes out of the Southern Operations Group from the Sechelt Peninsula to Hope, BC, is on prime lengths. In fact almost all of Interfor's camps are up 75 per cent over last year's numbers on preferred lengths. This year's goal has been to make the preferred length program operational. The goal next year is to keep the accuracy up. "At the end of the day, it's the value returned to the log," Six says. "That's the guts of it." 

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