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Enhancing RECOVERY

An $11 million upgrade has enhanced lumber recovery at the Pacific Inland Resources mill in British Columbia.

By Jim Stirling 

n appropriate business adage for Canadian sawmillers is "we have to learn from the past". Costs will continue to rise, the spectre of US competition will continue and taking on modernization projects to achieve better flow and recovery is essential to staying in business. That sentiment was expressed by the late Sam Ketcham in 1977, the year West Fraser Timber built its Pacific Inland Resources (PIR) dimension sawmill in Smithers, British Columbia. Some things don't change, though. For now, in the year 2000, the mill has undergone a major upgrade. Costs-of everything-are continuing to rise, as Ketcham predicted. West Fraser invested $7 million to build and equip a complete modern new mill in 1977.

When the new equipment is working as designed at the Pacific Inland Resources mill, it will produce around 890,000 board feet a shift, two shifts a day. Fine kerf sawing and improved optimization are expected to significantly enhance the mill's lumber recovery. 

This year, a recommitment to the mill's two-line configuration and installation of high-tech equipment cost about $11.2 million. The spectre of US competition remains a preoccupation, with rampant speculation on the latest incarnation of the softwood lumber quota issue. And modernization, to achieve efficiencies and improved recovery from available wood fibre, is an essential ingredient for the long-term viability of the operation. Some other things don't change. People run sawmills. 

And that's why the upgraded PIR plant is in good hands. "This mill has always run well and has had good employees and supervisors. The reality is the mill works because of the quality of the people on the floor," says Dave Walgren, the mill's general manager. 

When crews have the new equipment working as designed, the mill will produce around 890,000 board feet a shift - with two shifts a day - and fine kerf sawing and improved optimization will significantly enhance the mill's lumber recovery. The new mill's layout was a primary motivating consideration for West Fraser. 

"My understanding is that when we looked at our wood profile and how the quota affected it, we felt there was wood available to upgrade the sawmill," says Walgren. The question then was should it be rebuilt as a one-line mill or retain its two production lines. The company opted to upgrade on a two-line basis. PIR holds forest licences for harvesting approximately 311,000 cubic metres a year and 185,000 cubic metres a year respectively and buys supplementary volumes. 

The reconfiguration and upgrade program at West Fraser's Pacific Inland Resources mill was completed in short order thanks to PIR's crews and their consultant/contractor teams. The mill was down for only two weeks, no one was laid off and the planer was running three shifts. 

Logs up to 62 feet in length arrive in the mill yard on highway truck hauls and are prepared for processing by scanning and passing through one of three cut off saws, one located off line. The logs in 16foot lengths down to 3 7/8inch tops are sorted for delivery through one of the mill's three debarking units. An 18inch Cambio machine feeds logs under 10 inches in diameter to the small log line. 

A 27inch Valon Kone Brunette machine, equipped with turning rolls and a Kodiak debarker also manufactured by VK Brunette, can handle logs from 10 inches to the occasional 30inch diameter stem. There's a built-in flexibility of interchange between these two sort lines. The modular Kodiak debarker was installed in the fall of 1998 and in the words of operations manager Gerry Vandergaag, it has proven to be a super machine. It has a 36inch ring with 27inch feed rolls and it can operate at a high feed speed without plugging up or leaving stringy bark remnants. 

The north and south sides of the new look mill have been switched, with the small log line now on the north side. The barker out feeds have been reconfigured to direct logs to the appropriate bins for feeding into one or the other of the mill's two canter lines. Primary breakdown machine on the small log line is a new double length infeed 20inch Optimil canter with a Porter Engineering scanning and optimization package. This allows the mill to pick up recovery with full slew and tilt optimization, says Vandergaag. 

The system scans each log, turns it and rescans before setting the heads according to the log's full profile and taper. It also produces sideboard solutions. In line behind the canter is a six-foot Optimil twin band. Material from there can be kicked off line to a five foot CAE Newnes band saw or a new eight inch Optimil vertical double arbour with five saw lines, continues Vandergaag. Lumber from the Optimil can either go through edgers-including an older optimized manual machine-or to the trimmer line. Improvements there include a new CAE Newnes system providing closer scanning densities. 

The 28inch Kockums canter with double length infeed on the larger log side was upgraded in 1993 and has provided yeoman service since then. The machine scans and rotates the log before rescanning and processing through offsetting heads. Material is kicked off for asymmetrical sawing through a five-foot band mill for sideboards while larger cants are directed to a new10inch horizontal double arbour Optimil edger with 14 saw lines. Lumber continues to the trimmer line or one of the two optimized edgers. All material passes along a Newnes 76 bin sorting system and an unchanged stacker system. 

The increased use of circular saws in the mill required a corresponding upgrade of sawfiling equipment. PIR's mill has a solid made in BC feel. "All the equipment and new technologies are BC products," says manager Dave Walgren. That's testament to just how far the province's hightech sawmilling equipment manufacturing and supplying sector has come and the reputation it has forged in a highly competitive international market. 

Speaking of testaments, the mill flow reconfiguration and upgrade program was completed in remarkably short order thanks to PIR's crews and their consultant/ contractor teams. The mill was down for only two weeks, no one was laid off and the planer was running three shifts. Anthony Seaman collaborated with West Fraser's own crews on the engineering. Glacier Electric was the electrical contractor and Yellowhead Crane crews maneuvered the old equipment out and installed the new. 

The upgrade results in one job lost on each of the two daily shifts. But PIR predicts on overall net gain of jobs in other areas from the improvements. Production levels and throughput will increase in the planer. The anticipated recovery improvement should help PIR out on another level. Reductions in wood residues mean less material to be disposed of in the mill's beehive burner, a contentious issue in the Bulkley Valley region. 

Citizens' groups are vocal in their opposition to beehive burners, citing long-term health concerns. Finding a viable solution has proven difficult and the most recent extension for beehive burner operation expires at the end of 2000. Alternative uses for and disposal methods of residues are continuing to be examined. Meanwhile, PIR has improved its burning system to considerably reduce particulate emissions. It runs 24 hours a day weekdays and is monitored regularly to ensure that a constant feed of shavings and sawdust maintains a hot and consistent burn. "We always endeavour to run our burner in compliance (with provincial emission regulations)," says Walgren. 

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