West Fraser Timber is bucking the current industry uncertainty with an $80-million investment in its Chasm operation in BC.
By Jim Stirling
The wisdom of playing to company strengths is paying off handsomely at West Fraser Timber's new Chasm sawmilling and planing operation in British Columbia. The rebuilt two-line mill was running at 80 per cent of its 400,000 board feet a shift design capacity within three months of start-up.
The impressive achievement is testament to sound management team planning, the right equipment decisions, having good consultants and installations and by no means least the ability of West Fraser's production and maintenance crews to be fast and effective learners. The Chasm sawmill complex is located near the community of Clinton, in the southern Cariboo region of BC. The Chasm reference is to a stunning phenomenon nearby: a 120 metre deep, 1.5 kilometre long gash carved through lava bedrock by glacial melting about 10,000 years ago.
Today, these examples of nature's power and man's technology are side by side. West Fraser's latest sawmill project represents good economic news, continuing employment and an investment of $80 million. That figure includes West Fraser's $29 million acquisition of the plant from Ainsworth Lumber Co, in a complex deal consummated in April 2001. (Ainsworth itself had spent $30 million on a plant expansion in 1998).
It cost $46 million to rebuild the mill to West Fraser's specifications and $5 million in working capital. BC-based West Fraser is one of Canada's largest integrated forest products companies and has earned a reputation as one of the lowest cost lumber producers in the province. "Our success has been in cutting dimension lumber," says Grant Johnson, general manager at Chasm Sawmills. "We've done well, with all our mills running efficiently and generally viably. We decided to stick with what we know and have a log profile that dictated that was possible."
Striving for high recovery values is a West Fraser mantra, he adds, and the operation's guiding light. The log profile is drawn from an annual allowable cut of about 700,000 cubic metres, supplemented by a small wood purchase program. Timber is drawn from the 100 Mile House and Kamloops timber supply areas and is approximately 10 per cent Douglas fir, 20 per cent spruce and 70 per cent lodgepole pine.
Out in the expansive log yard, loaded trucks converge on the weigh scale from three directions. Logs are in full length and cut to length in highway and off-highway configurations. West Fraser uses the experienced logging contractors and haulers who previously worked for Ainsworth, having adapted to West Fraser's fibre specifications. Some peeler stock is sorted out in the bush, the remainder at the mill. It's trucked to Ainsworth's veneer plant in nearby Lillooet and on to Savona for plywood lay-up as part of the acquisition deal between the two companies.
The strong pine component means large volumes of badly misshapen stems. But West Fraser was again able to draw on company experience. They have wood with similar characteristics at their Joyce, Louisiana mill, points out Johnson. (West Fraser owns two sawmills in the southern United States.) The knowledge from the Joyce mill helped them make better equipment decisions toward maximum recovery from the most challenging of stems. The consulting engineer in what Johnson describes as a well-laid out mill is Anthony-Seaman, led by Greg Fairburn.
Although the mountain pine beetle epidemic is not as serious here as it is further north in the BC interior, it is still the subject of fairly aggressive harvesting. Green attack wood arriving in the mill yard is hot milled. All wood is aligned butt first on to the infeed decks and to three 72-inch Linden cut-off saws. Logs are scanned for size, with stems 7.5 inches and smaller aimed to the 22-inch canter line and the balance up to 30 inches through the 28-inch canter line. Oversize and peeler stocks are removed from the flow.
VKB Kodiak 622 and 627 machines equipped with dual rings perform the in-line debarking. The 22-inch debarker features a 27-inch counter rotating ring and the 27-inch machine has a 36-inch ring. Johnson says the VKB dual rings were chosen because high bark removal standards are paramount for the mill's chip customer (Canfor) and because the debarkers have a high lineal feedspeed. Johnson also notes the dual rings provide the control to deal with misshapen logs with considerably less jamming. The double length infeed on the 22-inch line leads to a four-sided Optimil canter close coupled to a twin band saw.
Side boards are delivered to a 10-inch Optimil vertical double arbor edger with slew, skew, tilt capability, says Johnson. Both the 22- and 28-inch lines use Porter Engineering electrical control programs that are working very well, he adds. The slew, skew, tilt double length infeed to the two-sided 28-inch Optimil canter is also close coupled to a twin band.
It feeds a CAE Newnes QuickScan 10-inch curve sawing gang. Johnson says the curve sawing gang delivers a highly satisfactory 15 to 20 points of recovery above a straight board edger. Right now, the board edger processes side boards from both lines, which means it's handling 10,000 to 11,000 pieces a shift in two shifts a day.
There are plans to add another, perhaps next year, Johnson says. Outfeeds from the gangs deliver material to the two prime sort stations on each line. Boards requiring re-edging go to a CAE transverse re-man edger. "A CAE unscrambling system feeds a new rotary lug loader with scanning and trim saws, all from CAE Newnes," says Johnson. The CAE customized 20 saw trimmer optimizer systems-there's also one in the planer-are high speed with air lift actuation of saw ladders.
The systems have an additional low profile benefit: they take up less space and there never seems to be enough of that particular commodity in a sawmill. The trimmer optimizer can custom cut even and odd lengths at one foot saw centres, says Johnson. Boards from the trimmer pass under an NMI moisture sorter to remove the wets from the mid-range before being sorted and dropped in a 72-bin CAE Newnes J-bar system that can run up to 117 lugs per minute.
On the drying side, two new 130-foot Salton kilns, to be operational this fall, will supplement four Coe dry kilns on site. The planer is fed by a 36,000 pound Taylor forklift to activate a self-indexing CAE Newnes tilt hoist and Linden pineapple roll feed system. The mill's strip system from the tilt hoist runs in a continuous loop on transfer chains back to the sawmill stacker.
The Stetson Ross 614 planer has been modified with frequency drives, feed rolls and planer heads giving it the capability of running more than 1,900 feet per minute. From the planer, lumber is transferred to a CAE Newnes linear high grader optimizer.
The machine provides super accurate primary grading for length, width, thicknesses and edge wane at up to 2,000 feet per minute, explains Johnson. Graders at three grading stations assess the lumber for things like splits, rot and blue stain unacceptable for J-grade. Two neat and unusual features complement the CAE trimmer. A CAE grabber can scan and position a piece within one-eighth-of-an-inch in order to attain the longest possible length of lumber.
A cut-in-two program unique to the high grader manipulates lug space to allow a board to be cut and trimmed to its maximum value length. A CAE 48-bin push sorter system has the operating capability of 150 lugs per minute. A CAE system stacks the lumber that's packaged with an Acme Samuel press and bander.
It's wrapped at a CAE wrapping station before delivery to the dressed lumber yard. As with all sawmill operations, there is a strong effort to maximize the use of all wood fibre. Sawdust generated by the operation goes to Norske Skog and bark waste is currently burned in an Olivine burner. Planer shavings fire a hot oil energy system for lumber drying and plant heat.
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