Tembec has boosted efficiency at its Cochrane, Ontario sawmill with a $16-million capital investment, including a Boreal compact saw line.
By Tony Kryzanowski
Tembec Inc has recently completed a $16-million overhaul of its Cochrane, Ontario sawmill, converting it from a random length mill to a 10-foot stud mill. It features Tembec's own Boreal compact saw line-one of only a handful in existence. The company purchased the mill in 1996 and opted to make the change after an extensive survey of its wood basket. Construction to install both a large and small log line was completed over a six-week period during the summer of 2000. "The biggest impact was on our employees who were used to a low tech sawmill," says mill general manager Mike Gagne. "Suddenly, over a six week period they are now working at one of the highest tech sawmills in northern Ontario."
In addition to creating a better fit between the mill and its wood supply, the installation of new equipment has increased efficiency by nearly 20 per cent. The previous mill consumed five cubic metres of fibre to produce 1,000 board feet of lumber. A recent test showed that the new mill now only uses 4.2 cubic metres to produce the same amount of lumber. "We're actually a little more efficient than we expected," says Gagne. The mill produces about 115 million board feet annually on two shifts, consuming 500,000 cubic metres of softwood.
Its wood diet consists of 80 per cent spruce, 15 per cent balsam and 5 per cent jackpine, with the average saw log measuring 4.2 inches at the butt. The sawmill's quantum leap to current technology required a considerable investment in employee training. "When we installed the new saw lines, we built a team of people who had experience with it," says Gagne. "After the installation was complete, we did some training and we also brought in the manufacturers and sub-manufacturers to do some training as well." Each employee received at least one week of training before stepping into the sawmill, which is now high-tech and low contact.
"There are very few operators actually touching the wood now," says Gagne. "Fewer decisions are being made by employees. The mill is much more automated." He believes employees have risen to the challenge, considering that within three months the mill had met its production target. Among the sawmill's featured attractions is its Boreal compact single pass saw line, putting Tembec in the rare position of a forest products company competing head to head with other single pass saw line equipment manufacturers. The line is unique is that it is entirely electrical, with no hydraulic setworks (see sidebar story).
Its primary function is to produce a high volume of 2x3 lumber, allowing the sawmill to utilize logs down to about a 2.8-inch top. Since it is entirely electrical, Gagne says the saw line is more environmentally friendly. "Hydraulic oil always makes you more involved in the production process," says Gagne. "You have to worry about temperature and filtration. Because this new saw line is totally electric, our maintenance costs are lower." A major production challenge at the mill is the log taper issue. Its logs can taper down more than an inch per eight-foot length, so the mill was designed with that consideration in mind.
At the infeed, logs are loaded onto a twin tree length slasher system supplied by Quebec-manufacturer S Huot. Everything is slashed down to 10 feet with tops conveyed to the drum debarker. Next, the logs encounter one of three Nicholson debarkers-two are 17-inch models, and one is a 22-inch. Once debarked, they are sorted into nine decks.
Five decks feed the large log line, which features a Comact single length infeed with twin canters and twin saws. Cants produced from the large log line proceed down a linear positioning table, and then through a Comact six-inch curve sawing gang edger. Sideboards from the twin cants are conveyed to a PHL edger. Logs 4.5 inches and smaller are sorted into four decks and processed through the Boreal compact saw line.
Lumber from both the small and large log lines merge at two Carbotech trimmer optimizers. Tembec has installed Autolog optimizers on both the PHL edger line as well as the Carbotech trimmer lines. Once optimized and trimmed, the studs are sorted in either the 23-bay section or 33-bay section. Gagne says having two trimming and sorting lines is an important benefit because an equipment failure at this point in the production process could easily create a major production bottleneck. Should a single trimmer malfunction, the mill avoids a bottleneck since lumber from both lines can proceed to either trimmer line.
The mill is equipped with two Moore dry kilns, as well as a planer. "The production quality of the sawmill has greatly increased," says Gagne. "If you look at our products, sometimes it's a shame to send them to the planer. The finish is already really nice." Tembec is also investing in planing technology, making an $830,000 investment for an inline grader to achieve better grade recovery. "The inline grader will take a lot of pressure off our grading staff," says Gagne. "The grader won't have to look at the wane anymore. He will have more time to look for fibre defects.
Currently, he has less than a second to decide what he is doing with a board." Gagne believes that this improved grading system will lead to better financial returns. The sawmill has always had a high utilization factor, in the range of over 98 per cent. Bark is consumed by Northland Power in Cochrane. Sawdust and shavings are sold to MDF plants. Gagne, who became mill manager in March 2001, says he finds the atmosphere is "very, very positive" at the operation. He adds that employees feel that their jobs are more secure and they are putting in a lot of extra effort to keep the mill viable.
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