SORTING OUT C-T-L
Grande Prairie, Canfor targets improved sorts, more accurate log lengths, better wood flow
to the mill and reduced costs by processing at a satellite yard instead of in the
By Tony Kryzanowski
Copyright 1997. Contact publisher for permission to use.
Over the past few years, many sawmills have steadily increased
their use of cut-to-length harvesting equipment.
On the plus side, the machines are environmentally friendly and
can extend a working season. Arguing against these systems, however, is their high capital
cost compared to a 'conventional' setup, and significantly reduced production. They also
pose sort and wood flow problems for some operators, and some mills, such as Canfor at
Grande Prairie, haven't been happy with log processing accuracy at the stump.
retain a C-T-L system's environmental benefits while solving some of these other problems?
Canfor is hoping a pilot satellite processing yard and wood exchange program will provide
the answer. On launching the pilot project last fall, the company planned to move about 15
per cent of the total wood requirement for their Grande Prairie, Alberta dimension sawmill
from cutblocks to the satellite processing yard, located 50 km south of the city. Half
would arrive with limbs and tops, and half would arrive rough-limbed, for comparison
They hired a single log haul contractor, D& J Isley and Sons
Ltd. - Alberta's largest log haul contractor - to ship logs from cutblocks to the
satellite yard. Once in the yard, the contractor processes and sorts the logs, then trucks
half to Canfor's Hines Creek stud mill 100 km north of Grande Prairie, and half to their
Grande Prairie dimension sawmill. If the pilot project works, it could take woodlands
management in a new direction. Here is how the system works.
Harvesting contractors cut the wood and skid or forward it to
roadside. D&J Isley sub-contractors load it on to five-axle trailers and transport the
trees to the satellite yard. The wood is then deposited according to various Canfor
sorting requirements. There could be as many as five different sorts at one time.
Generally, their main concern is that trees up to 28' long, and 15'' butt size get
delimbed and cut to length in the satellite yard, then sent to the Canfor Hines Creek stud
mill. Oversize trees are processed to 16' lengths and sent to the Grande Prairie dimension
D&J Isley uses B-trains to transport logs to Hines Creek
because of weight restrictions on bridges and roads. Once they deliver a load to Hines
Creek, they re-load with oversize 16' length logs to transport back to Grande Prairie.
Trucks never haul empty.
There are four reasons why Canfor adopted this system. Firstly,
they needed to have a steady diet of wood arriving to each sawmill year-round. Therefore,
they needed the wood stockpiled in a location where it was quickly accessible, including
during breakup or extended periods of rain (the satellite yard is located near a major
Secondly, they needed an efficient way to sort and ship logs to
the Hines Creek stud mill, so that Hines Creek could send back wood for the Grande Prairie
dimension sawmill. Thirdly, they needed more accurate sorts and onsite cut-to-length
harvesting just was not accurate enough. Finally, they needed a system that was more
economical and so far it has paid off. Instead of several log haul contractors, now they
deal with just one.
"We believe we will save a couple of dollars a tonne,"
says Canfor Woodlands Operations Supervisor Doug Frith. That represents a $120,000 saving
on 15 per cent of their total cut. If they converted their entire harvest to this method,
that translates to a $1 million saving a year. Reaction among Canfor's stump-to-dump
contractors has been mixed. Some were unhappy to relinquish the haul portion of their
contract, while others appreciated it because they saw themselves as wood harvesters.
Hauling the wood was a hassle.
Frith and D&J Isley co-owner Morgan Isley spoke plainly about
their experience with on-site cut-to-length harvesting. "Cut-to-length in the bush -
everybody has tried it and it's very, very expensive," says Isley. "It's not
something you jump into. Output is 70 per cent less than your normal conventional type
logging, and the expense of buying the equipment is 100 per cent more." He says for
Canfor to hire all cut-to-length contractors, they would need "100 contractors out
there" because they harvest such small volumes.
While on-site cut-to-length harvesting has its uses, Frith says
Canfor believes their satellite yard system is a better method.
"In the past we have used traditional types of cut-to-length
systems, mostly the Scandinavian type equipment, and the accuracy on those was not very
good," he says. "Many times, the lengths could be out 30 per cent of the
time." D&J Isley are using Target and Limmit delimber processors on John Deere
and Komatsu carriers. Frith says Canfor has reduced the incidence of faulty measuring to
only three per cent, "and that's on a 28 footer."
satellite yard system, Canfor begins to earn benefits starting in the cutblock. When
cut-to-length harvesting occurred in the cutblock, contractors had to manage up to five
sorts. That is a lot more difficult to manage in the cutblock, says Frith, than in a
controlled satellite yard. And sorting is a major concern because of the exchange program
Canfor operates between Grande Prairie and Hines Creek.
A major complaint about the satellite yard system versus on-site
cut-to-length is removal of indigenous cones from the cutblock. Some argue that
contractors operating cut-to-length in the bush cause less environmental damage because
they use branches as a mat to crawl on. Secondly, by leaving limbs in the bush, companies
create the opportunity for natural regeneration, using cones containing genetic material
from that site. The theory is that by seeding with indigenous cones, there is a chance of
better regeneration. But Frith says that cut-to-length is site-specific.
"Where you want to do cut-to-length and leave the limbs in
the bush is on nutrient-poor sites," he says. "That is the benefit of leaving
the nutrients, limbs and cones. Where we are taking the wood, it's not nutrient-poor, it
does not need that extra slash load, and we will be planting it."
Regardless of whether or not the limbs are left onsite,
"we'd still be planting it. It hasn't changed our silviculture prescription."
Contractor Isley says there is no doubt this system makes the
cone picker's job more difficult. "But there are so many options," he adds.
"The cone picker can come in the yard, because it is a controlled environment."
The question now is how to deal with wood residues. The
experiment has demonstrated that a considerable amount of residual wood accumulates in the
yard. Canfor's priority is for better utilization. Right now, seven to 10 per cent of each
tree brought to the satellite yard is waste. One possibility is to bring in tub grinders
to produce feedstock from tops for nearby OSB and pulp plants.
Canfor could burn the non-marketable remainder in a power
generating plant, creating electricity for themselves or to sell on the open market.
Isley says operating the satellite yard has been a learning
experience. They have had a solid, 25-year working relationship with Canfor, and it helps
to have good communication. They review the operation weekly with Canfor staff.
What the satellite yard system requires is good communication
between harvesters and the log haul contractor. "I think there needs to be more
communication between contractors and ourselves," says Isley, "as the main
contractor for the load and haul, on maybe different ways to help each other out." A
downside to the system, he says, is dealing with people issues, such as finding enough
skilled equipment operators to handle a large fleet of satellite yard equipment. The
upside is that the system works.
The wood exchange program between Grande Prairie and Hines Creek
is only the first step, Isley adds. An expanded wood exchange program among competing
forestry companies could benefit everyone in the area. There is potential for companies to
realize lower haul rates through more co-operation. A number of new OSB and pulp plants
have sprouted in the vicinity over the past decade, completing the framework of a
multi-company wood exchange program.
"The wood exchange program among all the mills is very
exciting," says Isley. As a haul contractor, he says, "you can make that loop
all the time, and your trucking costs could basically be cut by 30 per cent."
But that scenario is down the road. Canfor's focus now is to
evaluate the costs and benefits of operating the satellite yard system.
"To this point, we have a good opinion of it," says
Canfor's Frith. "The only thing that would change is if we could do something better
in the bush. Right now, the pilot project is looking pretty good."
He says he doubts Canfor would ever return to onsite
cut-to-length harvesting on a large scale. But they would consider a modified approach if
someone can prove that it is cost-effective.
"There's always newer and better ways of doing things,"
For now, its seems they have hit upon a more efficient, more
reliable, better managed, year-round system. They will review the outcome of the pilot
project this summer.