Like the city where it's located—which lays claim to a fistful of NHL’ers—the Tembec Timmins mill features its own solid line-up, but on the equipment side.
By Ray Ford
Hockey metaphors come easy in Timmins—the Ontario city that claims Bill Barilko, Frank Mahovlich, and a grapple-load of NHL stars as its own. So it’s hard not to see the new Coe Newnes/McGehee saw line at Tembec’s Timmins mill as a very big, very powerful line-up. The saw line is the centrepiece of the mill’s recent $8-million upgrade and a big part of the mill’s efforts to up its save percentage. Backstopping that effort is an automated double-arbor curve gang saw that shifts from side to side, reading oncoming cants like a goalie setting up for a wrist shot.
Thanks to scanner technology, it patrols the crease flawlessly, angling to make cuts that extract the optimal mix of value and recovery from each piece of wood. “We want to stay competitive by getting the most out of our logs,” says mill general manager Pierre Corbeil. The upgrade, undertaken this past summer, is designed to make Timmins an efficient, low-cost producer of quality lumber for the construction trade and help it weather the difficult trade environment afflicting softwood lumber.
When the saw line gets into game shape, it will boost the mill’s efficiency—it will go from using five cubic metres of fibre for every 1,000 board feet produced to requiring just 3.8 cubic metres per 1,000 board feet, after planing. The end result is 25 per cent more lumber from the same amount of logs. Along with the boost in recovery comes an increase in overall production. Thanks to the new line, the mill will turn out 150 million board feet of SPF per year, up from the 110 million board feet the old random-length line cranked out.
All tolled, that’s an average of 6,000 16-foot logs per eight-hour shift—600 logs more than the old line pumped out before the upgrade. “At this stage, we’re looking for recovery. We’re trying to get the maximum board feet we can,” says Corbeil, a University of Toronto forestry graduate who’s worked on everything from timber harvesting to mill operations during his 20 years in the business. “Once we get this line in gear we’re going to be set for good production and a high-quality product.”
The mill was originally built by Malette Lumber in the late 1960s and, by the time Tembec took it over in 1997, it was a two-line operation, producing SPF random lengths and eight-foot studs. The stud line was shut down as part of the firm’s efforts to rationalize its northeastern Ontario production and the remaining line was slated for a major upgrade. The changeover began this past summer. Crews laid foundations for the new equipment in July and cut three huge holes in the roof. While the random-length line continued to churn out lumber, cranes removed the old stud line. When the mill shut down for a two-week break in early August, the upgrade got under way in earnest, with a feverish effort to lift out the old line and get the new one in place for the mill’s August 19 start-up.
The result is a state-of-the-art line from Coe Newnes/McGehee (formerly CAE). “Basically, there’s very little operator management with the new system. Everything is computerized,” says Corbeil, as he climbs up to the operator’s booth, high above the saw line. In the booth, operator Oscar Fortier scans a bank of closed-circuit television screens that monitor the mill’s operations. While the line’s computers control the movement of the wood and the actions of the saws, Fortier ensures the work continues smoothly and scouts for areas where the machines—or the software controlling them—need to be recalibrated.
The log diet consists of timber with a minimum diameter of six inches, and a maximum of 25 inches. The logs are slashed to 16-foot lengths in the forest, delivered to the mill and stockpiled by species. “The longest haul is 200 kilometres and the shortest haul is just a few kilometres away,” Corbeil says. Logs are fed into the mill through three ring debarkers: two 18-inch Foranos or a 27-inch Nicholson. After the bark is removed, the logs are conveyed onto an accumulation deck or re-routed to a stockpile outside. “We concentrate on separating our green end off from our saw line to make sure the saw line never runs out of wood,” Corbeil says. “We always have at least one shift’s work in a stockpile outside, but we try not to have too much inventory because we don’t want the wood to dry too much.”
The mill’s new line is a variable speed automated operation that manages the feed speeds and spacing between logs, with flow rates of 120 to 550 feet per minute. Each log is scanned with a CAE laser scanner for diameter and curve. It automatically rotates the log for optimal recovery, based on the log’s physical profile. The optimizer then decides to cut one cant—with one or two side boards, if they’re available—or three cants. The optimizer decision is relayed to the SL3000 canter twin bandsaw and the machine is set up to make the cuts. Cant sizes range from three to 10 inches, and the side boards are one or two inches thick. The side boards go to either a manual feed PHL edger or the mill’s older Swecan edger. A second scanner determines the highest value cutting pattern for the cants and programs the double arbor curve sawing gang.
Packing 38 saws and boasting 700 hp per arbor with two 350-hp chipper heads, the automated saw is an impressive machine by any standards. “It sets the chip heads, puts the saws in place and curve saws along the outer profile of the cant,” says Henry Janssen, the mill’s technical assistant. “The biggest piece I’ve seen go through there would be 13 2x10s in one cant.”
The sawn product is then sent to a trim line controlled by an Autolog optimizer. Lasers scan the boards in one-inch increments, selecting the trim or returning pieces to the edgers. From there, the lumber is moved into a 43-bin sorter. Although the new saw line is the latest upgrade at Tembec’s Timmins mill, the efficiencies gained by the line are supported by earlier upgrades at both the planing mill and in the drying kilns. On the drying side, the key player is a 212,000-board-feet direct gas-fired Salton kiln, installed in 2001. Part of a $1.3-million dryer expansion and upgrade, the Salton’s sophisticated kiln controller does away with the guesswork of drying wood with time-based cycles and cuts drying time by about 30 per cent compared to the mill’s older models.
For good drying, “we need to make sure the product going in is consistent in species and moisture content,” says Janssen. “But the kiln is entirely computer controlled. You have to spend a lot of time developing the cycle, but once it’s fine-tuned, you seldom need to adjust the drying parameters.” Janssen is hoping for similar gains with the mill’s number two kiln, a Moore. The older kiln has been upgraded with the same doors as the Salton, a new concrete floor, baffles and insulated bottoms of the heat transfer ducts.
It is operated by the Salton’s computer controls. “We’ve spent close to $240,000 on a 20-year-old kiln structure and we’re up to the point where it’s top-notch. The floor-baffle work we did in there cut our drying time by four hours.” Given these improvements with two of the mill’s three kilns, the oldest kiln, a 120,000-board-feet-capacity Moore, has been temporarily idled. “We’ve decided to shut it down until we need the capacity.” The other major leap in efficiency has come in the planing mill, with a $1-million upgrade, including the installation of an Autolog linear grading optimizer. “Our graders used to touch and grade every piece, but now our goal is not to touch more than 10 per cent,” says Corbeil. The autograder laser-scans the wood in quarter-inch increments, recording the profile of each board and checking for wane, undersized wood and warp.
The new grading table turns each board in front of the lumber graders, allowing them to concentrate on checking for rot, knots and splits. The result is faster and more accurate grading. “With the autograder, we’ve seen a shift towards the higher grades by about seven per cent, and the trim loss went from seven per cent to below five per cent of total production, ” Janssen says. With the mill setting new daily records for high production—10 records were set during three weeks in late August and early September—“we’re bringing in wood from Cochrane, just to keep them going.”
The gains, he adds, “are all due to teamwork, better drying and consistent target size.” As valuable as the new technology is, Janssen stresses it’s the mill’s 93 full and part-time workers who’ve made the upgrade successful. Workers in the production, electrical and mechanical departments have made the biggest adjustments, as they learn the requirements of the new machines and the nuances of the new technology. To prepare for the changeover, some workers attended a five-day course sponsored by Tembec and Coe Newnes/McGehee. “We have excellent workers—they’re just unbelievable,” Janssen says. The upgrade “gives us the opportunity to concentrate on one thing and get better at it. Twenty years from now, if we’re running this line, we’ll still be tweaking it and we’ll still be getting better at it.”
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