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Taking control

Interfor's Squamish, BC operation finds an upgrade contributes to its broader quality control program.

By Rick Crosby

The project at Interfor’s Squamish operation included upgrading the optimization package and overhauling the mill to accommodate new optimizing technology at the headrig and to change the flow design of the mill.

Whether it involves human error, poor handling of lumber in the mill yard, or packaging that's roughed up on ocean crossings when heavy seas cause cargo shifts, no sawmill sales office wants a call from a customer unhappy with a shipment of wood. That's why quality control in sawmills is increasingly important, especially as lumber markets become more and more competitive. To meet the demands of the marketplace, Interfor's Squamish Lumber Division in Squamish, British Columbia recently completed an upgrade of their sawmill that included adding some of the latest technology to enhance quality control. With the start-up now behind them, sawmill manager Ron Sander says the investment was worthwhile and reports relatively good improvement in production. 

The upgrade represents one of the more significant capital investments that have been made in the company in the last few years, says Sander. The project included upgrading the optimization package on the Newnes optimizer and overhauling the mill this past March to accommodate new ScanMax optimizing technology at the headrig and to change the flow design inside the mill. The $2.5 million invested included $1.5 million spent on sawmill flow modification and just under $100,000 on the Newnes optimizer upgrade. Several other flow-related projects were also completed including modifications to the horizontal resaw and the optimized edger outfeed. 

Principal markets for Squamish are North America, Europe and Japan. Fir products are exported to Japan for use as Hirakaku roof beams, vertical supports and side cuts.

The upgrade on the Newnes optimizer, manufactured by CAE Inc's Wood Forestry Division in Salmon Arm, BC, included new lasers for better intensity. Software and some of the hardware was also upgraded to increase the processing time, allowing for consideration of more options and better recovery decisions. The Newnes part of the upgrade required about four days to modify hardware and software. "A team of four guys from Newnes and a couple of guys from here worked to tune the software and hardware to meet our particular product needs," Sander says. Preliminary tests on the Newnes equipment have already shown steady improvements on better recovery decisions. 

Probably between 70 and 80 per cent of all of Interfor's costs as a business are log costs. That's why the operation considers recovering more lumber fibre out of a log a very high priority. Upgrading a mill operation with new technology can enhance quality control which will in theory yield higher lumber recovery and higher lumber value with preferred products. The ScanMax Carriage Maximizer, made by USNR, should be a big boost in this area. The ScanMax is designed to do two things-recover as much lumber as possible and recover lumber in the right products. Cost of the ScanMax project was $450,000, which included an operator booth, some mechanical modifications and installation. 

"Rather than just recover any size of lumber, the idea is when we're on a square cut (105mm x 105mm Japanese house supports) program, we want to recover as many possible squares of the highest value possible out of a given log," Sander explains. Changing the flow design in the mill during the March shutdown involved cutting three big holes in the roof, then using a giant crane to remove the two main lines. Considerable changes were also made to lumber handling. "Basically, we had three very ineffective sorting stations," Sander says. "We replaced those with three very effective sorting systems where the people who sort the lumber are actually able to sort lumber to specific reman machines: either a vertical twin band or a reman edger." 

Three new drop sort stations allow each operator to make distinct product decisions on each piece of lumber, allowing the right piece to go to the reman centre. "One of the drop stations also allows us to get directly to the timber deck where we can use the optimizer edger to produce lumber," Sander says. "Before, we could only do this through a manually set bull edger." Changes to the drop sort stations will result in better handling of lumber. Surge capacity has also been increased, enabling the mill to run longer if a piece of equipment is down. The sorting system also sorts the chip stock out of the main production flow into a conveyor that goes to the chipper so only good lumber goes to the sorter. Shark Fin turners, made by Timberlake Mill Equipment Ltd in North Vancouver, have been installed at the grading station to turn boards individually, which enables the grader to have a good view of every piece. The Shark Fin is also ergonomically friendly.

"One of the biggest repetitive motion injuries in the industry is to graders who have to turn the boards manually," Sander says. "This reduces the amount of actual turning they have to do and will increase grading accuracy." Columbia Machine Works Ltd in Richmond, BC manufactured the transfer decks and sorting stations. SKS Engineering in Vancouver did all the conceptual designs, components of the mill flow and the final fabrication design. SKS also designed the physical changes to the headrig, incorporating a new operator's booth and modifications to the log loading area. Acculine Construction Ltd of Coquitlam, BC did the majority of the steel construction work, while Applied Technologies Inc of Nanaimo, BC did the electrical work. 

Quality control goes much further than changes made in the mill. Upgrading Squamish Lumber with new technology to enhance quality control is part of Interfor's preferred length program that works closely with fallers in tying the needs of the marketplace right back to the stump. This approach is just a sharing of information where everybody in the process is on board. "It's nothing special," Sander adds, "other than we didn't make the effort five years ago of going out and telling the guys why it's important." In the sawmill, personnel have the responsibility of taking the product and ensuring it's cut in the right lengths. "So the length becomes the first issue," Sander says. "As you get to the barker and the cut-off saw, you have to make sure that the multiples are cut into appropriate lengths. As you go further through the system the optimization systems have to be tuned properly as do all the checks and balances at the drop sorts and grading stations." 

Here's where computer applications and rapid changes in technology can increase opportunities in sawmills. "The processing times come so much quicker now that an optimization system allows for more considerations before making a decision," Sander says. "Previously on the headrig, optimizer basic solution patterns were considered before a decision was made. Now with ScanMax, the best solution is basically there as soon as the log is gone. This is largely a factor of computer speed." Squamish Lumber currently produces about 40 per cent cedar, the balance being fir. "We try to produce 6x6 inch and 8x8 inch cedar timbers with the balance being 4x4 product for the North American, European, and Japanese markets," Sander says. Fir products are exported to Japan for use as Hirakaku roof beams, vertical supports and side cuts. 

Sawmill upgrades and company mergers-Interfor announced earlier this year that it was acquiring BC's Primex Forest Products, which has two mills specializing in the Japanese market-are designed to help revitalize the coastal forest industry in BC. But the future of the sawmilling sector is tied to timber supply and the operating performance of each mill. Sander suggests that if one looks at the industry on the BC coast over the last couple of years, not a whole bunch of capital investment has been made. "It's been really competitive just to get the capital dollars invested in a division because the coastal business is so tough right now," he says. The BC forest industry is as sophisticated as anywhere else in the world. Yet the ongoing softwood lumber negotiations with the US and the environmental movement represent formidable challenges. 

But it is reassuring to know that the technology and equipment needed to achieve quality control are readily available to meet some of these challenges. "Equipment has to get very sophisticated," Sander says. "It has to get very reliable and it has to be user-friendly." 

Quality control personnel are like technicians. They tune machines that have to accept the information being plugged into them and be reliably run. Upgrading existing computer systems is also important. "A lot of the information systems out there can be adapted to suit our needs," says Sander. "And a lot of the computer systems as they're upgraded provide better assistance to the quality control guy so they can work with the systems." But much of quality control is often just knowing the basics: Having good basic standards for every work station, good training systems and follow-up checks to ensure that everything is done correctly, every day.

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