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June 2003 - Mill Upgrade

Apollo shoots for improvements

The $11-million first phase of a planned three-phase upgrade at Apollo Forest Products includes the first ScanWare scanning system in North America.

By Jim Stirling

British Columbia’s forest industry is in a state of flux. But recently completed capital upgrades at Apollo Forest Products’ manufacturing plants reflect the company’s commitment to the future. And the Fort St James-based stud manufacturer’s long-term planning approach to progressive improvement is good news for its employees, its customers and the community. Apollo’s successful $11-million first phase project involved the installation of innovative equipment into an expanded planer operation and key machine centre changes in the sawmill. Extensive groundwork preceded the projects.

Apollo Forest Products general manager Scott Shettell: “The same family ownership has run Apollo for nearly 30 years and we’re planning for the next 30 years.”

Apollo directed its consulting engineer, Stolberg Engineering of Vancouver, working in concert with HALCO Software Systems Ltd of Vancouver, to develop a projected understanding of the company’s wood basket and analyze existing manufacturing facilities. Examination of fibre supply revealed piece sizes were not changing as quickly as anticipated, despite increased volumes of wood infested by the BC Interior’s mountain pine beetle epidemic. That finding helped reinforce Apollo’s position to stay with 2.4 metre stud lumber lengths and widths for the first phase. “From base case analysis of the plants, we determined there was some room for improvement in the planer in grade recovery, length recovery and for an increase in export volumes,” says Scott Shettell, Apollo’s general manager in Fort St James. “As a company we want to develop the ability to produce a varied product line in trims and lengths and do it accurately,” he says. “We want to produce and deliver a consistent quality product to our customers and utilize the best part of each piece of lumber.”

Consequently, the project goals were established to improve grade recovery—including value recovery—and improve length recovery, which in turn improves overall lumber recovery and an anticipated increase in export volumes. “This project included an infrastructure investment. We had to get the infrastructure to where we could expand, improve and build on for the future.” says Shettell. Work was concentrated from the outfeed of the existing Coastal planer downstream to the stacking system. Lumber that makes the main line grade is directed straight to the one dedicated stacker for shipping. Defect lumber, economy and trim material is manually graded out.

The grading/sort line at Apollo Forest Products. The grading system was specifically programmed to the mill’s production of stud and related grades.

It is fed by an unscrambler to a PLC lug loader and board turner for presentation and processing through a ScanWare BoardMaster (FinScan) Visual Defect Grading Color Scanning and Optimizing System. Apollo’s was the first installation of the ScanWare system in North America. “We analyzed all the grading systems out there,” recalls Shettell. “We went to Finland, looked at it in mills there, and were quite impressed with the company and their dedication to making it work for us.” He says the machine was specifically programmed to Apollo’s production of studs and related grades. Most of Apollo’s grades are visual for items like knots, wane and stain. Enhancements to the software after installation have moved Apollo close to where it wants to be in terms of stud grades. Fitzi Tamayo, Apollo’s quality control lead hand, has worked closely with FinScan’s and ScanWare’s people to ensure programming the system’s grading capability recognizes the complex grading rules in North America.

FinScan and ScanWare have also trained Apollo’s crews in controlling grade output from the ScanWare BoardMaster system. After the grading scanner, a Comact paddle fence pushes boards requiring defect trimming on one side to delivery in the appropriate sort bin. Upon exiting the bin, boards are lug loaded for processing in a Bid Comact variable precision end trimming (PET) system. All the lumber handling equipment down to and including the stacker is from Bid Comact. “They’re a local company—in Vanderhoof—and we’re getting good service from them,” says Shettell. A second PET system trims the defects on the opposite board end and can trim from 1.2 metres (4-feet) to 2.4 metre (8-feet) lengths. Shettell says the PET trimmers are more accurate for stud production and have the capability to end trim to 0.5 millimetres, as required by some export markets. The new trim line is equipped with a Samuel ink spray system and bar coding. The old 10-bin sorting system was expanded to a 28-bin, delivering more flexibility to meet customer requirements in product grades and trims.

 Although the improvements were not designed to significantly improve lumber production, there was a 10 per cent boost, bringing output up to 135 million board feet a year.

The planer building was extended by 1,440 square metres to accommodate the new bin sorter and provide space for future expansion. The whole system has been designed to operate at 200 lugs a minute in the future and the electrical infrastructure is also in place to accommodate Apollo’s other phased improvement projects. The planer building extension makes attractive use of wood in beams, ceilings and walls. New installations in Apollo’s sawmill include a Comact single length infeed two-sided chipping canter with auto log rotation. It’s equipped with a Porter Engineering scanning and control system. The purpose is to improve the LRF and value recovery. “We’re really happy with the more consistent quality of cants right now. We believe that’s helping with our 2.4 metre length recovery. It’s improved the straightness of the product and decreased the snipe,” says Shettell.

The mill has had to process a larger percentage of dry grade three-bug wood than in the past. “We have not seen a reduction in LRF and we credit the canter for that.” He says the Comact machine is still being fine-tuned. “We’ve been very happy with the service and commitment of Comact and Porter. The start-up on the machine was good and we’re basically hitting our production target goals.” Apollo purchased and installed a used Optimil edger with a clam shell charging system from West Fraser Mill’s Chasm Division. The edger has a Dynavision scanner while G L C Controls Inc of Prince George provided the optimizing package and PLC software controls.

The mill is handling increased volumes of wood infested by the mountain pine beetle epidemic in the BC interior. But despite this situation, an examination of fibre supply revealed piece sizes were not changing as quickly as anticipated, helping to reinforce the mill’s position to stay with 2.4 metre stud lumber lengths and widths for the first phase of the upgrade.

The machine is the same model as one previously in the mill and Shettell says it has increased edging capacity significantly and relieved a bottleneck in the mill flow. The new technology installed in the planer plus the sawmill upgrades have contributed to an improvement in grade recovery of between two and three per cent and a length recovery improvement of about 1.5 per cent. Other key individuals contributing to the successes so far include Roy McCaig, Stolberg’s project manager; Dale Slorstad, plant manager; Jack Hoffert, sawmill superintendent; Mark Trainor, maintenance supervisor and Tamayo. Apollo has also been active recently at Tl’Oh Forest Products, the joint venture it operates with the Nak’azdli band.

The operation takes low grade trim ends and finger joints them, processing about 30 million board feet of lumber annually. A second finger jointing line was installed at a cost of $2 million. The plant’s finger jointing capability permits Apollo access to the 2.7 metre and 3 metre length stud markets. Apollo’s new production is 135 million board feet a year. Total current production is boosted to 150 million board feet a year when Apollo’s 50 per cent share in Tl’Oh is added. The ventures represent close to 230 jobs on the manufacturing side, making Apollo hugely important to the Fort St James economy. Shettell notes Apollo’s phase one improvements were not designed to significantly improve production despite the 10 per cent boost achieved.

Phase two will see a new small log line added to the mill and a production increase to around 165 million board feet. Phase three will see a further production climb to the 210 million board feet a year range. Timing of these phases is dependent on markets, among other factors. Apollo has changed its logo to Quality People - Premium Products and designed a clean new teal-coloured lumber wrap. “Company principal Bill Stewart says we’re trying to send the message that we care about what we do and we’re dedicated to our employees and our customers,” says Shettell. “The same basic family ownership has run Apollo for nearly 30 years and we’re planning for the next 30.”

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