Dream Come True
Recovery increases of 20 per cent from a recent rebuild are a dream come true for employees of Domtar's Malartic mill, which once faced possible closure.
By Ted Blackman
Domtar's totally rebuilt sawmill in Malartic, Quebec, "is the realization of a dream for us," says mill manager Bernard Gilbert. Faced with possible closure in the early 1990s, the mill's crew rallied and convinced company management to keep the mill running. "We have a sense of family here," Gilbert explains. "We are people who believe in this mill and we told management we would work hard to keep it." Work hard they did. In five days, managers and union workers hammered out a 10-year labour contract.
This launched the start of an investment program which produced the $9-million small log sawmill that started up last year. More modernizations were planned, including machine stress rating (MSR) capability, an optimized trimmer for the sawmill and expanded kiln capacity. It's all part of Domtar's "kaizen" program-that's continuous improvement in Japanese. Domtar acquired the Malartic mill, along with others in Val d'Or and Sullivan, Quebec, from Forex Inc in 1989.
All three mills are in the Abitibi region, about 650 kilometres northwest of Montreal. At the time, both Malartic and Val d'Or ran two sawing lines for large and small logs. The company updated the large-log line at Malartic in 1994, but when the time came to consider additional modernization, managers embarked on a new course. They decided to saw only small spruce logs at Malartic-stems no larger than 20 centimetres in diameter. Larger pieces, all black spruce, are now processed at Val d'Or. This change allows both mills to work more efficiently.
At Malartic, lumber recovery rose from 204 board feet/cubic metre to 245, a 20 per cent jump. Annual output increased from 65 million to 85 million board feet, while log consumption remains around 350,000 cubic metres. Gilbert adds that chip production fell as more of the logs are converted to lumber. The mill still makes a lot of chips: 68,700 dry metric tons a year.
Chips are hauled to the Norkraft pulp mill at Lebel-sur-Quévillon, about 175 kilometres to the north. Another 22,000 dry metric tons of sawdust and planer shavings are sold, mostly to Uniboard's particleboard plant in Val d'Or. At the heart of all this efficiency is a pair of HewSaw R200 automated sawing centres. Logs go in one end; seconds later, high-quality finished boards pop out the other. The fattest piece that goes in is 8.5 inches in diameter, which at 21 centimetres slightly exceeds the official maximum diameter of 20.
The machines can handle stems as thin as 2.4 inches, or a bit under six centimetres-just enough to make a single 2x2-inch board. The HewSaws curve-saw logs according to Domtar's parameters. The mill makes one- and two-inch lumber in widths from two to six inches, and can cut special sizes on demand. Lengths range from five to 10 feet.
Varying lengths are another advance due to the rebuild, Gilbert notes. "We used to buck 10 logs at a time. Now we have a $1-million optimized bucking system that allows the operator to remove defective parts of the log and to cut different lengths. This helps us maximize lumber recovery." Helping the process are loggers, who buck out as many defects as possible in the woods. Harvesting is contracted out; logs are brought from Domtar licences within a 100- to 120-kilometre radius of the three sawmills. The flow of wood is straightforward.
Four Cambio 18-inch debarkers clean logs, which are then conveyed to the two bucking lines. One operator controls each debarker; each bucksaw also has one operator, who relies on coloured stops to indicate log lengths. The actual operation is manual in that the operator decides where to cut each log. Pieces are then fed to the HewSaws. Most of the lumber that comes out is essentially finished. These boards go directly to the end trimmer.
A PHL resaw/edger is available to finish boards that require additional sawing. Trimmed lumber is conveyed to a 42-bin Lerco International sorter. The sorter is a dozen years old, but has been fitted with new Multimeg controls. Perceptron scanners measure length, width and density, supplying data to the controls that send boards to proper bins.
The Marcotte sticker-stacker was installed two years ago, Gilbert says. This brand was chosen because it can handle stacks in two widths, 48 and 52 inches. Stickered lumber is dried in a gas-fired Moore kiln. It can handle only 35 million board feet a year. The rest of the mill's production is trucked to Val d'Or to be dried. This situation is expected to change in 2002 with the installation of a new Cathild dry kiln.
To be heated with a bark-fired boiler, the new kiln will be able to dry all 85 million feet of Malartic's output. Once dried, lumber is surfaced in a Stetson-Ross narrow-width planer designed to handle lumber up to six inches wide and 12 feet long. Forex bought this planer in 1976, Gilbert notes. He should know-he has worked at the mill since 1975. Planer knives are maintained on Berotech grinders. The Amos, Quebec, supplier's grinders have become standard in Domtar mills.
Downstream from the planer is a new Optifor automated grader that scans for board dimensions and wane at a rate of 1,200 pieces a minute. The grader is a result of research at the Centre de Recherches Industriels du Québec (CRIQ, or the Quebec Industrial Research Centre). A Maritonex moisture meter verifies that boards have been dried to the correct moisture content. Additional grading takes place at a PLC sorter with grade station. Two graders make a decision every second, allowing the station to process 120 boards a minute.
The sorter has Syst-M controls. From here, boards go to a 12-saw Gemofor trimmer that went on line in 2000. "Flexibility is one of our major strengths," Gilbert points out. "We can change our production rapidly, so we can focus on customer orders. We run a just-in-time system." Also scheduled for 2002 is installation of a DynaGrade MSR system from the Swedish supplier Dynalyse AB. Gilbert says the DynaGrade uses magnetic resonance to calculate lumber's stress rating, different from the traditional mechanical method.
Part of Domtar's company-wide sawmill modernization plan involves standardizing certain new machinery. To this end, the company is buying eight HewSaws for its small-log mills in Quebec and Ontario. Machine #8 is now at Malartic; operators from as far as Chapleau, Ontario, about 1,000 kilometres west, journey there to train on this machine. Using the same models of machinery makes it easier and cheaper to keep required spare parts and improves training efficiency, Gilbert says.
Training in various mill jobs also helps raise production efficiency, he notes. About 90 per cent of Malartic's 100 workers have participated in cross-training. The training centre offers each student a computer that can simulate all machine functions. Making any kind of mill more efficient often implies that machines replace people. Not at Malartic. Gilbert says no jobs were lost when the mill was rebuilt. "Our idea is to preserve jobs as much as possible if markets permit and to add value to them while making the work environment safer and more pleasant."
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