July August 2004
Moving ahead with a major mill investment
British Columbia’s Dunkley Lumber is moving ahead with a $50 million multi-phase mill investment that will allow it to better process the medium and smaller size stems now being harvested in the BC Interior.
By Jim Stirling
British Columbia’s Dunkley Lumber is dedicated to enhancing its abilities to compete in world markets. A new mill designed to process smaller diameter logs is a key element in the company’s strategy. It provides the independent, family-owned sawmilling company with the flexibility to more efficiently process available log types. And it positions Dunkley to compete for wood fibre in BC’s emerging open market system. Dunkley Lumber has registered 53 years of enterprising history. It was in 1951 that Bill Dunkley and family established a small planer at Strathnaver, 40 kilometres north of Quesnel in central BC. The present owners, the Novak family, were loggers in the area before purchasing the operation in 1977.
The Novaks pledged to retain and develop the sawmill in Strathnaver. They have been true to their word. In their 27 years at the helm of Dunkley Lumber, the company and its employees have secured a reputation in the marketplace as a supplier of quality wood products. To help achieve that, the company has pursued a continuous process of mill modernization to keep abreast of changes. Traditionally, the company has manufactured lumber from medium and large size logs. But in the last few years, that timber profile has been shifting. More medium and smaller size stems are being harvested.
The out-of-control mountain pine beetle epidemic in the BC Interior, including Dunkley’s operating areas, has exacerbated the changes to fibre supply. Forest policy reforms introduced by BC’s Liberal government to move more wood to open market was a catalyst for Dunkley to advance its upgrading plans for small log processing. Dunkley’s Tree Farm Licence 53 supplies about 25 per cent of the total wood the operation requires. The company is used to competing on the open market for the other 75 per cent. “We see the government redirecting more wood to the open market as a positive policy move. We can see where wood is going to be and we’re prepared to compete for it,” explains Blair Mayes, Dunkley’s general manager. “For us as an independent mill in the industry, it’s a very positive move forward and hopefully we will secure the position we need to be competitive.”
New technology in small log processing is another aspect of Dunkley’s competitive equation. A processing line running at 350 ft/min has a problem competing with one that can operate up to 600 ft/min when selling products into the same market. At one point, Dunkley considered wedging a new small log line into the existing mill. But it would disrupt what is a well-balanced operation. The onus is on being competitive at processing small logs. The company developed a three-phase development plan. The first phase was the new small log mill and the second was adding drying capacity with a new kiln. The third phase will focus on the existing planer and the possible addition of a second planer next year. Technologically efficient, high speed planer lines are adept at dealing with the larger numbers of shorter, narrower boards Dunkley anticipates producing.
The new mill will produce 2x4, 2x6 lumber with some inch material and small volumes of 2x8. Approximate production is 350,000 board feet per eight-hour shift. The existing mill produces about 600,000 board feet in a nine-hour shift. When the new mill is up and running on a two-shift basis, 35 new jobs will be created. By the time Dunkley has addressed its planer upgrade, about 50 people should be added to the 185 employed now. That’s excellent economic news for the Quesnel - Hixon - Prince George corridor from which most of the new positions will be recruited. When Mayes and Rob Buxton, project co-ordinator, describe how the mill will operate, it’s clear that flexibility has been incorporated throughout its design.
The feature is apparent from the beginning of the process. The stem infeed deck and step feeders can accommodate 24-metre long logs. A dedicated cut-to-length wood deck/step feeder system has a separate bypass to send logs straight to the debarker infeeds. But the main stem deck and its three step feeders also have the flexibility to handle varying percentages of cut-to-length logs. On the first step feeders, logs are scanned by a USNR true shape lineal optimizing system. All the mill’s scanning/optimizing systems are by USNR. On the stem length side, logs go to a Linden Fabricating bucking system with a five-saw, infinite travel merchandizing capability.
Linden Fabricating/MPM Engineering also supplied the log handling equipment including decks, step feeders and conveyors. After merchandizing, logs are sent to sorting tables ahead of the infeeds to three Nicholson A8 22-inch debarkers. A feature of the mill is the additional log storage built into the flow, notably ahead of the debarkers and canters. The debarkers come equipped with spare rings, and switching from one to the other makes for easier maintenance and more uptime. After debarking, optimized sorting on the outfeeds directs logs towards the two canter line infeeds. With the mill’s focus on small logs, the average sizes will be nine inches on the large log size and six inches on the small side.
The USNR large log canter is an in-line system with an extended length infeed, four-roll log turner and slew/skew and side tilting capabilities. Conical chippers chip only the sides. Side boards are removed by a six-foot USNR quad band. Downstream, cants are re-optimized ahead of a USNR 3-4-6 inch vertical shape gang saw. The machine has full length sawing, top and bottom heads with profiling capability and tilting vertical arbour which together should help improve lumber recovery.
The seven-saw configuration can cut eight boards. Material on the small log side is scanned for passage through a short length infeed and knuckle style log turner. Log sides are chipped but no side boards are produced. After a second true shape scanning and optimization, cants are delivered to a vertical shape saw system. It has the same features as the machine on the large log size, but with four rather than seven cutting saws. Side boards from the large log size pass through an optimized scanning system to one of two USNR board edgers. Outfeeds from the edgers and vertical shape saws transport boards for optimized scanning and the USNR trim line with one-foot saw spacing. An NMI moisture system after the trimmer is scheduled for installation.
The 70-bin sorter has a drag chain delivery system and an operating speed of 160 lugs/min. They like it because it’s simple and gives better control of boards, especially in winter, says Buxton. The bins have soft drop bottoms and are designed to handle boards gently and reduce cross-ups. The USNR stacker with automatic stick placement is expected to increase the number of packages produced each shift. The dunnage placement system when required for package tops is arranged so forklift operators aren’t in and out of their machines as often. The new mill has its own chip system, providing the flexibility of running different species or selling to alternate markets. The residuals collection systems—sawdust, shavings and bark—are co-ordinated with the existing mill.
Acrowood supplied the mill’s 62 and 48-inch chippers, BM & M supplied the screens, Sullair the three 250 hp air compressors and Allied Blower in Williams Lake the dust collection system. Other major project vendors included: R H Jones & Son (heat, air, water systems); West Central Fire Protection (fire protection); Yellowhead Construction (hydraulic systems); and Centre City Electrical (lighting installation) all of Prince George; Versatile Fab & Machine (conveyors); Fab-Rite Services (conveyors); and Allen-Bradley/Westburne (major controls supplier). The conceptual design work for the new mill was Dunkley’s, and Woodpro Engineering of Prince George completed the detailed engineering work. Although USNR supplied the major mill equipment, much work was sourced in the local region and elsewhere in BC. “We’re proud of that and we’re very pleased with all our suppliers,” says Mayes.
Apart from the suppliers above, Heartland Steel of Prince George erected the mill building and Admiral Roofing put the top on it. NewWest Industries of Winfield was responsible for foundations and footings, including fabrications on decks and conveyors. Electrical contractor was K2 Electric of Prince George and United Concrete in Quesnel set up a batch plant on site. Dunkley credits Buxton and Joe Kristan, construction supervisor, for their job performances throughout the project and plant manager Randy Wilson for keeping the mill producing and maintaining a safe work site during construction. “Those guys did a great job of co-ordinating and handling all activities on the work site. We also want to give a tremendous amount of credit to all our employees for their suggestions, co-operation and efforts as we went through this project,” says Mayes. “We are very fortunate to have a great group of people working for us.”
Dunkley did its own mechanical installations—as it has on other improvement projects—and looked to expertise there from Kristan. The additional drying capacity the mill requires is being supplied by Coe. Two 150-foot long kilns will be installed under one large roof. New load restraint devices are built into the kilns to prevent board warp. The kiln configuration and the ability to go five packages high will boost capacity by 25 per cent. Dunkley’s three-phase project represents a significant capital investment, in excess of $50 million. “But we have to ensure we stay competitive as a single mill,” continues Mayes. “Dunkley will do the work to keep Dunkley where it is for our customers and all the people who depend on us for a place to work.” Now that’s a sentiment Bill Dunkley would have appreciated and applauded 53 years ago.
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