Tembec's new $10 million value added centre is a good fit with the company's sawmills in southeastern British Columbia.
By Rick Crosby
The official opening of Tembec's $10.7 million value added centre in Cranbrook, British Columbia this past fall was the culmination of a project that was years in the making. In addition to getting more value out of the wood, one of the goals was to offset the job losses that resulted with the shut down of a sawmill, says Barry Laidlaw, a plant manager who worked in the sawmill planer mill complex for 29 years.
The value-added, secondary manufacturing centre was built on the site of a sawmill that was shut down by Crestbrook Forest Industries-now owned by Tembec-in 1998. The shutdown was due to a reduction in wood supply in the East Kootenay region. Laidlaw believes the new value added centre will give a boost to the economy of the region. "It's very significant," he says. "With the restricted log supply here, if there's any chance for growth it's definitely going to be on the secondary side.
This plant is expandable and we can branch off to other product lines." The centre produces finger jointed studs, but Tembec is also looking at going into structural boards used in horizontal applications. "If there's going to be expansion, this is the area it's going to be in," Laidlaw continues. "In our operating area here in the East Kootenays, the timber is just not there to develop sawmilling any further." In the first year of operation, the centre will produce 37 million board feet of lumber, with production rising to 50 million board feet within two years. The facility will operate on a three-shift basis and employ 41 people directly.
If Tembec develops more projects that yield a good return on investment, the operation could expand which would increase employment in the region. The new operation should be a progressive place to work. Tembec is working with the IWA union on what is called a "high performance work organization"-a partnership between the union and the company. It's a program where employees have more involvement in the decision making process on how the centre operates. With this higher level of involvement in projects, employees have a better grasp of the overall operation. "The whole essence of the high performance work organization is to increase employee satisfaction," Laidlaw says. "We have one supervisor in the plant running three shifts so each shift is run by an hourly employee. From that station, we go into work groups where each group will be responsible for their own area.
Over the next few years, the involvement process will increase. It's a long term employee involvement program." The thrust of the program is to get workers more active in the operation, have them involved in budgeting and cost analysis and achieve more job satisfaction. This also results in a multiskilled work force. The value added centre is a highly automated facility, with 14 people per shift. The grading station ahead of the finger jointer is a fairly intense position but overall each employee's job is to monitor the performance of the machine centres.
The operation yields higher grade finger jointed and solid sawn dimensional products from low grade low value lumber from three other Tembec mills: a planer mill on the Cranbrook site, Elko Mills 50 miles south of Cranbrook and the Canal Flats mill about 50 miles north. "Right now, we're making precision end trimmed vertical wall studs," Laidlaw says. The next project will be 2 x 3 and 2 x 4 inch structural products used in applications such as floor joists. "That will be our next move," Laidlaw says. "We've got the testing equipment and it's just a matter of getting the plant fully up to speed."
The value added products are sold to markets in the United States, primarily to Texas and other southern states. Recovery is key at the operation. "We'll run 2 x 3's to 2 x 12's through the plant through an optimizing system," Laidlaw says. "The wood is ripped and chopped so we can recover finger joint blocks. We take as much good wood out of the process as possible, then chop the balance." There are several main technological innovations that enable Tembec to process low grade/low value lumber into higher-grade finger jointed and solid sawn dimension products.
Economy lumber is put through a fully optimized grade scanning system capable of identifying a full range of lumber characteristics including knots, split, shake, and wane. The grade scanning system, developed by Lucidyne Inc and in-house by Tembec, is state-of-the-art technology that has the equivalent computing capability of 50 desk top Pentium 800 PCs. "Different sensor technologies are combined into the computer room where they do image analysis to identify defects," says Gord Dunwell, technical manager for Tembec. "It's unbelievable," Laidlaw says. "You can actually see the knot inside the wood." A grader can't see inside the board but with this technology, he can see the image inside the board. Once defects are identified, optimizer computers do full ripchop utilization which is unique in the industry.
A piece of lumber can be ripped, chopped or a combination of the two operations. The scanning system that sits out on the infeed deck comes up with an optimized solution for ripping or chopping, then the solution is downloaded to one of three chop saws or a rip saw to implement the solutions. Solutions can take up to 60 seconds to generate. "Between the scanner and these processing machine centres, we have to be able to store the lumber for up to 60 seconds or longer while the solution is being developed," Dunwell says. The distribution system installed in the value added centre is similar to a lumber sorting system in a sawmill or planer mill. After a piece goes through the scanner, it's tracked wi
th programmable logic controls, loaded into lugs and sent through the distribution sorter. If the solution is not developed, the piece can be recirculated back through the sorter. The chop saw takes the defect out of economy lumber. A knot in the middle of the wood, for example, can be chopped out on either side resulting in two pieces of good lumber. The curve sawing ripsaw, which was also developed in-house, can take defects such as warp out of the lumber. "We wanted to be able to saw to a narrower width along that curve," Dunwell explains. "One of the beauties of finger joining is you can take a longer warped piece and chop it up into smaller pieces.
If there's too much warp, you can finger join it back together and end up with a straight piece. Anything that's ripped is re-circulated back through the scanner for rescanning if we're not confident enough in the integrity of the piece." Rot, crook split and bug holes are just some of the defects that can afflict economy lumber-but between the defects there's perfectly clear wood. The challenge is to identify the defects, chop the good wood out and put it back together again. "We're targeting an 80 per cent recovery from economy lumber," Laidlaw says.
When a piece of wood is ripped it could break into two pieces and be impossible to track. To get around this problem, technicians at Tembec decided that everything that was ripped would end up being recirculated back through the scanner and rescanned for entry into the chop saws. The rip saw gives finished products an eased edge similar to results from a planer. Defects are chipped and sent to Tembec's pulp mill a half hour north of Cranbrook. "So the pieces are chopped into finger joint blocks or long lengths," Dunwell continues. "Long lengths eight feet and longer can be grade stamped and go directly to market.
If it doesn't make an eight foot piece, it gets chopped up into finger joint blocks to a maximum length of 36 inches." Economy lumber is inputted to the plant in 2 x 3 to 2 x 12 dimensions in eight to 20 foot lengths. Finger joint products represent two thirds of production. Eight foot and longer dimension lumber represents one third of production. The finger joint, block storage, transport and singulating system were also developed in-house. Once the pieces are chopped, they're stored in one of seven walking floor bins. Each bin holds about half a shift's production. "We developed our infeed system from the walking floor bins to the finger jointer," Dunwell says. "The objective is to get the pieces presented to the finger jointer in an efficient manner."
From there the pieces are profiled on each end and glued together, then go through a continuous press to produce one long strand of lumber. A flying cut off saw cuts wood into lengths up to 32 feet followed by a precision end trim saw that cuts to various lengths. Eight-foot studs are transferred and wrapped for shipment. Quality control is a priority at the value added centre and is monitored continuously by the Interior Lumber Manufacturers Association. Beyond the startup period, the plant will consume about 62 million board feet of economy lumber a year and produce 49 million board feet of finished product.
Laidlaw believes there's enough low grade lumber in BC for remanufacturing into high value products. "This is a large plant," he says. "It's a good example of a secondary facility that primary operators can get into. It's a good example of what can be done if you can sit down with the unions and employees and put a plan together that's going to sustain employment."
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