Upgraded Technology for Truro

by | Apr 25, 2024 | 2024, Logging & Sawmilling Journal, March/April 2024, Sawmill

The J.D. Irving, Limited (JDI) Truro sawmill—formerly known as the Sproule Lumber mill—finished a seven-week shutdown in the summer of 2022, which saw major upgrades to the milling operation. The upgrades included extensions to the main sawmill building, new scanning and log breakdown equipment, and a new stacker and wrapper for dressed lumber.

“The upgrades will provide us with increased lumber recovery from logs, and improve our overall productivity and safety in our operation,” said mill manager Dylan Cook.

While the entire construction project extended over one year—with the installation of new advanced technologies and equipment as well as modifications to some of the existing equipment—actual mill production was completely shut down for only seven weeks. The project extended the sawmill building footprint, and brought the planer processing equipment into the same building as primary breakdown.

Green lumber is stored in the yard at the Truro mill until it moves into kilns. The mill’s Salton and American kilns currently have capacity to handle 115 million board feet annually.

The upgraded mill sports fresh paint and well-engineered catwalks, and safety warnings are prominently displayed. The filing room and millwright shops are located in the basement under the primary saw line. While the basement is currently storage for production supplies, those supplies are scheduled to be relocated to the old planer mill building. Overall, the upgraded sawmill is well-lit, clean and highly efficient.

The Sproule Lumber mill originated as a random length sawmill established by the Sproule Family, and was sold to JDI in 1990. Soon after the acquisition, JDI converted the random length mill to a two-line stud mill, sawing eight- and nine-foot logs, and marketing the lumber primarily in the northeast U.S.

The former mill layout had two separate saw lines with different sawing characteristics and recovery. The sawmill upgrade converted the primary breakdown to a single line, with enhanced scanning and positioning technology and highly efficient sawing technology.

The sawmill updates included enhancing the three infeed conveyors and mechanical updates to the three double-ring USNR debarkers. Debarked logs are scanned and delivered to one of the ten log bins according to size. Each bin load is sawn separately in an effort to control and limit the range of log positioning and saw re-setting.

Logs are delivered from the individual bins to a conveyor which travels the logs, first through a scanner which makes decisions for the Comact saw positioner and sawing solutions. A following scanner confirms the sawing solution proposed by the first scanner, ensuring maximum recovery from every log.

Above, Comact GradExpert technology instructs the trim saw at the Irving Truro sawmill. Delivered logs at the Truro operation are typically piled down in the yard and fed into the mill, oldest first. Truro operates its log yard with two Liebherr L50 loaders (below) with log trailers.

The new main saw is supplied by Comact. It saws slabs off either side of the log, and has the potential to saw one or two sideboards off larger diameter logs in a single pass. Sideboards are directed to the edger, which was in service at the previous mill prior to the upgrade.

For smaller logs, the process is to simply square off the cant with chipping heads. The cants then proceed to and are processed by an eight-saw gang saw.

Green lumber is unscrambled and moved on to transfer conveyors, and the flow is joined with the production flow of dressed lumber from the new Gilbert planer. The coming green and dressed lumber travels through the new GradExpert scanning technology which determines trim instructions for the new nine-saw Comact trim saw. Speed is currently at 182 lugs per minute, with room to increase that as familiarity with the whole mill system matures.

Mill Manager Cook explained that an Irving Forest Products spruce sawmill in Ashland, Maine has a similar production line, which has proven successful.

Both green lumber and ‘trimmed’ dressed lumber are coded with an identifying serial number and continue on to the drop sorter, with the last 14 bins accommodating the dressed lumber.

The sawmill upgrade also saw the drop sorter extended by 14 bins to accommodate dressed lumber, making a total of 71 bins. Prior to the upgrade, the old planer mill had a low efficiency rating, relying on a crew of 17 workers to hand sort and pile the dressed lumber.

Wrapped lumber is loaded on centre rail cars in the millyard. The main market for the JDI Truro mill lumber remains the northeast U.S.

The green lumber is stored in the yard until it moves into kilns. The mill’s Salton and American kilns currently have capacity to handle 115 million board feet annually. Consequently, lumber production at the sawmill is at 115 million board feet, due to limited kiln capacity.

Comact scanners instruct log positioning and log breakdown solutions.

The Truro upgrade included a refit of the biomass boiler which supplies steam to the kilns, as well as heat to the mill in the cold season. The boiler can now burn bark from the mill process, which is fed to the system by wheel loaders.

Planer shavings are sold to regional farmers for bedding. Sawdust and some bark is supplied to a local biomass heating outfit. Pulpwood chips from the mill are trucked to the J. D. Irving, Limited pulp and paper mills in Saint John, New Brunswick.

The wood basket which supplies the Truro sawmill extends to include the entire province of Nova Scotia. Around 70 per cent of the wood basket is made up of small private woodlots, with the remainder made up of industrial freehold. The log supply is a reflection of the forest land structure, with around 70 per cent of log supply coming from private woodlots.

In September 2022, tropical storm Fiona ripped across Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, knocking down a significant portion of the forest resource. Consequently, a good deal of the more recent wood supply has been coming from those wind-damaged stands. J.D. Irving Limited forestry staff associated with the Truro sawmill operation are engaging with woodlot owners to purchase stumpage.

Truckloads of logs entering the Truro mill are mass scaled. Wood produced on JDI harvest operations meet quality standards at roadside. Wood procured from other producers is subject to quality assessment as it comes into the mill yard. All wood producers can deliver to the mill, around the clock.

The spruce and balsam fir coming in on loads are separated in the milling process so that each species can be processed to its specific kiln drying schedule. Other softwood species including red pine, Norway spruce and jack pine, are piled down and batch-fed to the mill, and the green lumber segregated for its specific drying cycles.

Delivered logs are typically piled down in the yard and fed into the mill, oldest first. Truro operates its log yard with two Liebherr L50 loaders with log trailers. On the lumber side there are three Cat 950M wheel loaders.

During the seven weeks that the Truro mill paused production, many of the mill employees worked on the rebuild, handling non-technical work.

The sawmill operates double twelve-hour shifts with work shift rotation, with a union workforce. Its 150 employees include around 20 supervisory and support staff.

The millyard is well-organized with designated walk routes that are well-defined and signed. The mill upgrade included paving the log yard, and future plans include paving the lumber yard. Dylan Cook underlined that clean logs directly impact the efficiency and production of the upgraded mill.

For a number of years, J.D. Irving, Limited has been participating in programs which invite and support foreign workers to work in industries across the Maritime provinces and provide language and skill training. The JDI Nova Scotia mill and woodlands operations have benefitted through the program, employing six individuals from Brazil and 12 workers from Ukraine. The workers and their families intend to become permanent Canadian residents.

For several years, J.D. Irving, Limited has offered a program for newcomers which supports harvester and forwarder operators to transition to independent contractors.

J.D. Irving, Limited, like the majority of Canadian industries, is actively seeking to fill hard manual labour positions, and the Truro mill upgrades will go some distance to reduce the manual labour required in the mill. This will move their employees into better entry jobs and, at the same time, mitigate any soft tissue and repetitive movement work-related injuries.

Wrapped lumber is loaded on centre rail cars in the millyard. The main market for the Irving Truro mill’s lumber is the northeast U.S.

George Fullerton

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