Lewis County Forest Products has opened its new stud mill in Washington State, and with strong demand the mill is not finding it hard to gear up towards their production target of 130 million board feet a year.
By Alan Froome
It’s refreshing, to say the least, to see a newly opened stud mill in Washington State, where so many have closed in the last decade, including two stud mills in the last two years. The new Lewis County Forest Products mill opened this past June and is not only running, but had gone to two shifts after only a few weeks to keep up with the demand for their new Titan brand lumber. There is no indication that the mill has only been running a few months at the 60-acre mill site. It’s apparent that these folks know what they are doing and there is a feeling of confidence running through the entire operation.
Phil Johnson, chief operating officer, explained that Lewis County Forest Products is a private company and he is one of eight owners, who also form the board of directors. Johnson himself is a third generation sawmiller, although his background was in manufacturing and he studied law at college before getting involved in the forest industry. Johnson says that five of the eight owners work at the mill on a daily basis and they are all experienced sawmillers. In answer to a question of why open a mill here and why now, Johnson answered that there is a good supply of logs and a number of skilled sawmill people already living in the area. Winlock itself is a small farming community, situated between Centralia and Longview, just west of I-5. There was a planing mill on this site some time ago, but it went out of business.
The new operation came together with the help of the Lewis County Economic Development Council (EDC). Johnson said that Bill Lotto of the EDC was a great help getting the project off the ground. “This area of Washington may be the only part of the Pacific Northwest with a surplus timber resource,” says Lotto. The EDC is, of course, delighted that 80 local jobs have been created by the new mill. The owners of Lewis County Forest Products traveled extensively in British Columbia and the western US, visiting many sawmills before they decided what kind of mill they wanted to build. The logs being processed are 100 per cent Douglas fir, ranging from five inches to 22 inches in diameter with an average of nine inches, and maximum length of 45 feet.
They are purchased within a 100-mile radius of Winlock. The mill turns out eight-, nine- and 10-foot 2x4 studs. Some 2x6 are also produced, to help improve recovery. All the lumber produced is pre-sold by the company’s own sales people and the new Titan trademark and Elephant logo have been well accepted by buyers, including some of the “Big Box” stores in California and elsewhere. “The market for 2x6 studs hasn’t developed as many thought it would, but there is good demand right now for longer studs to suit higher ceilings,” says Johnson. As for the mill layout, it is conventional in most respects, with scanning and computers evident at the main machine centres.
In Johnson’s words, “We feel that
scanning and optimization is essential these days.” Much of the equipment
is used but renovated, purchased from sources up and down the west coast.
Johnson said most of the engineering and design work was done by Phil
Judson of Salem Equipment of Salem, Oregon and Dick Komori of MPM Sales in
Surrey, BC. He was very complimentary about their work, and the help on
controls and optimization from consultant Jim Kelly of Beaverton, Oregon.
Briefly, the Lewis County mill comprises:
Plant manager Jim Woodfin came from eastern Oregon to join the Lewis County Forest Products team and has worked with Johnson before on other projects. He explained that they already have plans to replace the bucking scanner to a Real Shape optimization system, to be supplied by MPM Sales in 2004. Woodfin also pointed out the specially designed sharp chain with its accurately machined guideway. He said they had come to the conclusion that a single thumper roll worked best to spike the logs on to the sharp chain, rather than the multiple hold-down rolls they had seen used elsewhere. They feel that multiple rolls can push the logs over instead of holding them in place.
Woodfin said they can also drop out and recover short lumber using a hula saw for trimming. At present, they are only set up to plane the 2x4’s, but have plans to plane the 2x6’s in the future. There are no dry kilns on site and all the 2x4’s are planed green. One other unusual note: the planer is in the same building and close coupled to the sawmill. The lumber packages leaving the mill are not completely wrapped; only the centre portion is wrapped, Johnson explained, for marketing reasons, to show the new Titan and Elephant logo. Johnson and Woodfin say their mill focus is on accuracy, rather than on super-thin kerf sawing.
The company’s aim is to produce an accurate quality product using tight target sizes. Woodfin said they were at 85 per cent of target production this past November, and were producing around 35,000 board feet an hour, totalling all grades produced. They are shooting for 130 million board feet a year, a target they plan to reach very soon.
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