Canfor's $40-million investment in its Isle Pierre operation is being paid back with a high throughput performer.
By Jim Stirling
Canfor has positioned its Isle Pierre Division to take full advantage of hoped-for lumber market turnarounds and improvements in external operating conditions. Canada's largest softwood lumber producer invested some $40 million to lift Isle Pierre into the technological vanguard and the future. At its heart is a high throughput, automated and efficient sawmill, complemented by a planer with significantly enhanced lumber handling capabilities. Augmenting the revitalized look is a new Salton dry kiln and an expanded Konus energy system utilizing planer shavings.
Installation, training and familiarization phases occupied about 18 months at the mill site, about 50 kilometres west of Prince George, near the geographic centre of British Columbia. But the hard work and challenges have proven most worthwhile. "We've seen improvements every month during our six month start-up curve," reports Randy Kubbernus, plant manager for Isle Pierre Division. "We're on target to producing 42,500 board feet an hour. To achieve that, we need to handle about 6,000 pieces an hour."
It means the sawmill and planer are humming right along. "The job is a success," says Kubbernus. "Our numbers are tough but they have to be to get a rate of return. Canfor set the project up so we could concentrate as much as possible on running a mill, taking care of the house." The mill produces its annual 240 million board feet volume on a new three-shift basis, which translates into 113 production hours a week. The operation produces lumber in 2x3 to 2x6 up to 12 foot maximum lengths. It processes an SPF diet to about 15 inches butt diameter.
Larger material is sorted out in the mill yard for transport to other Canfor mills. The average 6.8 inch top diameters were yielding a highly commendable LRF of 285 (board feet per cubic metre) in the new mill. A Cat 325B with a butt 'n top orients stems to feed the mill's two breakdown lines. Downstream of the cut off saws, the log debarking and processing systems have changed dramatically. The two new debarkers are each fed by a Comact unscrambler/singulator incorporating a star feeder loader. "The advantage of these is that you always have three logs ready to go. There are no gaps. And you seldom get double logs," says Kubbernus.
Photo cells track logs through the unscrambling process and when an empty lug is detected behind the stems in the star feeder, a PLC accelerates the next log to fill it. An identical star feeder system is used inside the mill on three sort lines leading into two Comact four-saw quad canters. "We bought five of them for the sawmill between the debarkers and the canters. We wanted one type of loader for maintenance reasons. They've worked excellently," says Kubbernus. The new infeed delivers logs to either the 17-inch or 22-inch Kodiak VKB debarkers, housed in their own building.
The smaller machine can operate to 400 ft/min and the 22-inch machine to a 350 ft/min speed. "They've been low maintenance from the minute we fired them up," says Kubbernus. Logs from the debarker outfeeds proceed to the three sort lines for the canters. Both canter lines are controlled by a single operator. Again, the star feeder system helps the operator and ensures the non-slip V-flight chains control logs singly. "If we had two logs in there, we couldn't separate them," he adds. The frequency-driven line feeding is further improved by a roll system that even ends logs.
The system continues to help downstream processing by creating gap regulation between logs on the infeed to maximize efficiency and minimize gap compensation downstream. The two Comact quad canters each have a Porter true shape scanning and optimizing system on the infeed. The machines can operate up to 550 ft/min. The average is lower because the slowest saw speed is 250 ft/min on a full depth of cut. But the machines were progressing steadily toward their target of processing 1,000 logs an hour. "Uptime on the Comact lines has been incredible," says Kubbernus.
"They've been very reliable." Side boards from the canters are delivered to a CAE lineal board edger with four saws. It features a five-point wane scanner on the infeed to flip boards wane up for passage through the edger. The fully automated machine can process 2,000 pieces an hour. Fatigue becomes a factor running a high throughput operation for 10- and 12-hour shifts. "Throughout our new mill, we've made it as hands-free as possible. Our codesign with CAE Newnes on the board edger infeed makes it easier on the operator and delivers more pieces," notes Kubbernus. Ergonomic considerations have made it easier for operators during long shifts.
For example, the booth for the canter lines is much larger and less claustrophobic than most, with room for operators to move around. Floor vibrations have also been reduced. Cants emerging from both quads are optimized by a CAE system for continuation through one of two CAE six inch curve saw gangs. Comact landing decks and unscrambler deliver product to the manufacturer's 39-bin double bin sorter (two packages in each). The Comact hydraulic trimmer line has saws at one foot increments and sorting is Comact-optimized. The CAE Newnes trimming optimization system is one of the first with a double row of laser heads. "What we're after is close scanning to 1.5 inches.
It's important for us because we have random lengths to 12 feet but we're also a stud mill," he explains. Reducing trim losses is important. Boards that don't measure up are dropped out, re-sorted and directed back to the board edger. "That way, everything goes through the optimizer." The mill's product lines necessitate a high piece count. To accommodate that, performance guarantee targets for equipment manufacturers were set for the mill and planer, says Kubbernus. They wanted to trim, sort and load at 160 boards a minute with the option for running at 180 boards/min. "Comact stepped up to the plate and delivered a system that has met those standards."
The same material handling systems in mill and planer means parts are interchangeable. "It's also a big factor for training. We went from 1970s technology to the latest and greatest." A Gillingham Best end stacker takes rough lumber from the sawmill's sort system and makes 10 foot wide loads. The mill supplies its own 1x3 and 1x4 strip material from its board edger and inserts it automatically, eliminating a manual position notorious for repetitive motion related injuries. Kubbernus believes the 10 foot wide packages are one of a kind and knows they contribute considerable cost savings to the division. Simple load numbers are one factor.
And Kubbernus says more uniform kiln drying is achieved with the 10 foot loads. Less damage occurs delivering to and from the kilns and the division's new kiln can be loaded and unloaded from the same side. It's a 150 foot long Salton with nine zones and variable frequency drives that Kubbernus says is performing very well. The 10 foot loads also mean fork lifts can slow down in the yard, contributing to less wear and tear and forestalling new equipment acquisition. Target production for the planer is same as the sawmill: 42,500 board feet/hour, handling about 6,000 pieces an hour. Additional planer equipment includes a Comact optimized sort section with 20 bins and Lucidyne grade marker.
The planer is required to produce nominal and precision end trimmed lengths at the same time. It accomplished that with two sets of hydraulic, non-shifting saws operating at 160 lugs/minute. Lumber is bar coded with an Acme jet system. Off the sorter, a prime stock line containing the square edge material (about 40 to 50 per cent of production) goes to a Comact end stacker with secondary hoist. Lumber from the bins goes to a parallel Comact end stacker. One operator oversees both. Anew Signode banding station and paper wrap area complete the process, again with a single operator. About 70 per cent of Isle Pierre's production is trucked to re-loads and the balance shipped from the mill by rail.
Creating a project team early in the process-including hydraulic, maintenance and electronic specialists-contributed further to success. Project managers for the various phases were contractors Bob Logan, Ernie Redford and Ron Ecker. Hourly employee Al Loring was elevated to project safety manager, co-ordinating contractor indoctrinations and WCB compliance. It worked out exceptionally well. The contractors recorded a remarkable 250,000 man hours of work with one late-in-the-project time loss accident to mar an otherwise perfect record. Principal contractors included JDT Construction Ltd of Prince George on the planer; BID Comact on the sawmill and Milltron Electric Inc for the electrical work.
Isle Pierre Division has since caught its collective breath after the major rebuild but future improvements beckon. The cut off saws on the sawmill's log decks is one area for consideration as is upgrading three elderly dry kilns. In the planer, adding more sorter takeaway chain capacity is appealing and down the road they'll be looking at grader optimizers to better handle increasing feed speeds. It's called planning for tomorrow.
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