February 2007 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
SMALL LOG LINE TAKES ON BIG VOLUME
The installation of a new small log line at Tolko Soda Creek is helping the operation to more efficiently handle the large volume of small diameter bug-killed wood in the BC Interior.
By Jim Stirling
The lowest quality fibre is welcome at Tolko Industries Ltd’s Soda Creek Division. Extracting the best from the worst defines the precision end trimmed stud mill in Williams Lake, British Columbia.
The recent installation of a new small log line further enhances the mill’s ability to deliver high speed processing efficiencies to small diameter wood killed and damaged by the BC Interior’s mountain pine beetle epidemic. Tolko operates three sawmills in Williams Lake, allowing the company to gain rare levels of operating synergies between them for the best end uses of the available wood basket. The Creekside Division (the old Jacobson Brothers sawmill) is a three-line head rig mill suited to processing bigger logs. The Lakeview Lumber Division (the old Lignum Ltd, operation) is a two-line dimension lumber mill. And then there’s Soda Creek.
“We’re taking the lowest quality, smallest fibre into this mill. We target nine-inch tops and lower,” says Ryan Oliver, Soda Creek’s plant manager, with not a little pride. The average log size is around five inches diameter. The log diet places a premium on high throughput and better lumber recovery. It’s an expectation being met and exceeded by the new breakdown line of primarily Comact and Coe Newnes McGehee (CNM) equipment. It complements nicely the existing double-length infeed Comact canter twin followed by an in-line CNM curve sawing gang.
“We’re a 100 per cent small log mill taking delivery of nine- and 18-foot log lengths,” says Oliver. The bucking and sorting system specifications, which are responsive to market shifts, are made by Tolko’s log harvesting contractors in the bush.
The Soda Creek Division mill is interesting apart from its specialized fibre diet. It’s a four-shift operation, running 24/7. “The only time we regularly shut down is for a 10-hour maintenance window on Saturdays,” explains Oliver. Depending on wood flow, it’s also possible to take portions of the mill down mid-week in non-bottleneck sections, he adds.
The round-the-clock action puts pressure on good millwrighting and other maintenance skills. But that type of aptitude is prevalent throughout the operation. “There really is a good work ethic here,” notes Oliver.
The operation employs about 180 people altogether, an increase of about 25 since the installation of the new small log line, mainly in the mobile equipment/yard and planer areas.
Oliver says the small log line is expected to boost production in 2007 by about 40 per cent to 285 million board feet a year. The mill is humming with major machine centres operating at 650 feet a minute, 45 cants a minute, says Oliver. “That’s what we wanted: a high speed line that would work well on beetle-killed fibre with improved lumber recovery a major factor,” summarizes Oliver.
A new debarker was added subsequent to the installation of the rest of the small log line. A 17-inch Brunette Kodiak, high speed, single ring machine was chosen, which Oliver feels is well suited to the mill’s short blocks. A Comact wave feeder deals logs efficiently into the canter infeed section. One of the features of the log turner is the use of knurled rather than spiked rolls, points out Oliver. The rationale there is achieving a more accurate and controlled turn in the dry, beetle-killed wood.
The Comact canter section takes a maximum six-inch cant and there are no band saws on the machine.What there are, however, are electrical actuators rather than hydraulic setworks downstream of the log turner.
Oliver says the Exlar electrical cylinders are manipulated by computer and are very fast, accurate and predictable. Although more expensive, they contribute to a cleaner, leak-less system. The Exlar cylinders are supplied by PQ Systems of Vancouver.
Once two-sided, cants are turned 90 degrees to a flat face and on to a precision scanned belt for delivery to CNM’s RoboGang machine. The equipment incorporates a fixed arbour to slew and skew the saws and guides on an optimized curved path. The Soda Creek installation was the first RoboGang application in a horizontal rather than vertical mode. “We had the physical space to do that and we are able to rescan the log and improve the lumber recovery factor,” Oliver continues. After the gang, the flow joins material from the original line and on toward the lumber sorter.
Oliver says the new small log line enjoyed a better than anticipated start-up ramp, thanks in part to a good working relationship with the major equipment suppliers. “We’re still working out some fine-tuning issues but the line is a huge improvement over and above our expectations and is doing an excellent job.”
There’s no shortage of fibre for the Soda Creek Division to process given the vast scope of the beetle epidemic. And the wood quality is getting worse, notes Oliver, especially with spiral checking and an earlier onset of rot, compared with previous beetle infestations.
The more efficient small log line means Soda Creek can continue processing the tops and low quality small diameters from further afield and remain viable. Chips are another issue. Bug-killed wood tends to splinter and the blue stain characteristic can affect the brightness preferred by the pulp making industry.
Tolko hasn’t finished this round of investment at its Soda Creek Division. Oliver says the installation of a high speed, multi-saw trimming system is in the planning stages. Further down the line is the possibility of a major revamping of the planer mill. It’s something they need to address with the advances in planer mill technology and scanning optimization systems, he observes.
Celebrating a landmark
Tolko Industries Ltd, commemorated its landmark 50th anniversary celebration in 2006. The company demonstrated its philanthropic disposition and appreciation by supporting many worthwhile causes in the communities where it has operations. Tolko divisions were also encouraged to prepare a time capsule reflecting the past and present for opening in 2031, when the company plans on recognizing its 75th anniversary.
Peter Priestman, a 30-year employee in the log yard, did the honours for preparing Soda Creek Division’s contribution. A local history aficionado, Priestman detailed how Gabe Pinette and Dollard Therrien built a planer mill in 1955 on the site now occupied by Soda Creek. That was one year before Harold Thorlakson established his first mill near Lavington, just east of Vernon, starting the family-owned Tolko dynasty that continues in 2007.
The Pinette and Therrien mill—still called P & T by those mired happily in the past— has gone through several incarnations. Sawmill operators on site included BC Forest Products, Fletcher Challenge, TimberWest and Riverside Forest Products, reflecting 25 years of changing aspirations and forest industry reorganizations.
Tolko bought Riverside in 2004 and runs three sawmills in Williams Lake. And interesting from a historical perspective, the Soda Creek mill is run again by a family-owned, private company—just like P & T was back in 1955.
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Saturday, July 21, 2007