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--  Mill Upgrade  --

Sprucing Up

Manitoba’s Spruce Products sawmill in Swan River gets a $10 million upgrade.

By John Deitz

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A long with milder weather, this year’s spring heralded the most recent phase of a major upgrade for the Spruce Products Ltd. (SPL) sawmill in Swan River, Manitoba. Its new equipment improves recovery through state-of-the-art technology and represents the heart of a complete upgrading that began four years ago. Spruce Products president Dick Walker says that when the project is complete, the entire upgrade will have cost well in excess of $10 million. It began in 1996-97 with the rebuild of the planer and construction of a new boiler and dry kiln. A new sorter-stacker facility followed in 1998, supplied by TS Manufacturing Co. of Lindsay, Ontario.

Three more construction projects will complete the upgrade over the next two years, according to Walker. A second wood waste boiler from KMW Energy Inc. of London, Ontario, is scheduled to arrive this fall, to be followed by a second kiln and a large log sawmill line.

The 1972 sawmill is dwarfed by its 1999 replacement. The earlier mill was in a building measuring about 50 by 100 feet and continued operating until the new system was ready, just behind it, in a two-storey building approximately 650 feet long by 100 feet wide. Downtime for the switch over was about seven days.

SPL chose TS Manufacturing for design engineering and material handling needs. Sawquip Inc. of Lavaltrie, QC was selected for the main saw line for its new mill and the result has been a substantial increase in production. Volume for the old mill was about 15 million board feet per year of air-dried lumber. Completed, the new facility will be able to produce up to 40 million board feet per year of kiln-dried lumber on a single-shift basis.

Lumber recovery was the key element for SPL’s management as they considered options for replacing the old sawmill line. "You have to achieve the best utilization of the wood you have and conserve the resource. It’s a matter of efficiency and becoming economically stable for the future," says Walker.

Equipment manufacturer Sawquip had what they wanted. The 250-foot line, con-trolled by a single operator, saws for both maximum recovery and value. The choice is made by computer software when each log is scanned.

"In our old mill, our recovery was about 180 board feet per cubic metre, which was very poor," says Ward Perchuk, SPL general manager. "In our second month of operation here, we were already as high as 250 board feet per cubic metre and we have a vision of reaching 275 board feet per cubic metre."

An improvement in lumber recovery was the key element for Spruce Products as they considered options for replacing its old sawmill line. The company chose Sawquip to supply the new main line for the mill and the result has been a substantial increase in production. The mill will be going from production of 15 million board feet a year to production of 40 million board feet a year.
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Outside the north end of the building, logs are fed onto an overhead chain about 100- feet long that takes them inside the building. A kicker pushes oversize logs into a holding bin where, for now, they await processing at the old mill.

Beside the log infeed at ground level, a conveyor moves chips to a paved pad with concrete retaining walls where it waits for loading on to chip vans.

Logs are first delivered to a 22-inch Nicholson A5B single ring debarker. In the new series of debarkers, feed cylinders have been moved from below the debarker to the roll ends and to the middle of the machine. Repair and replacement time has been cut from several hours to an estimated 20 minutes.

The debarker’s tool arm also uses a recent feature, called ultrasonic sensing and proportional control. The sensor measures log diameter as each log enters the machine and adjusts the pressure, in proportion, over an infinite range. The system reduces fibre loss and provides much better debarking, according to Perchuk.

An operator’s cab overlooks the chain infeed, waste line, debarker and deck where logs enter the Sawquip line. The operator handles waste conveyors throughout the mill, runs the debarker, and monitors the step infeed system.

Logs entering the system can be centred and offset automatically by Sawquip’s sharp chain infeeds. Hermary scanning heads at the front of the line feed an X-Y profile into Syst-M optimization software. This software evaluates each log for maximum recovery by volume or value, based on current market value inputs from the mill. Curvature and defects are also taken into account. The log is then rotated for initial breakdown with a unique, precise 3-roller system.

Three spiked rolls maintain a firm grip on the log as it rotates and is propelled for-ward. The turning accuracy is within plus or minus five-degrees from optimum. Sawquip achieves this with a hydraulic motor connected to a chain around the complete rotor.

The system handles logs up to an 18-inch diameter and 16 feet lengths at feed speeds of 250 to 460 feet per minute. Driven bar rolls and spike rolls send the positioned log into a 100-hp, two-head cant chipping canter with a maximum six-inch depth of cut.

After a second scanning, an extra board can often be obtained by repositioning the chipping heads and saws.

Recovery begins as the cant goes through Sawquip’s 33-inch circular saw headrig. The twin-saw system has thin-kerf guided, self-lubricated saws that climb cut. The saws have a 0.170 kerf, increasing primary recovery. Sharp-chain outfeed tables separate the side cuts, while forwarding and turning the centre cant.

The canter is next in line and can take cants up to 10-inches thick by 32-inches wide. It is also pre-engineered to receive cants from a planned large-log line. The Sawquip canter produces a four-sided curved cant. Curved sawing in the vertical plane allows up to a three per cent deflection. Curved cants can also be processed for half or full taper to maximize lumber recovery in the vertical plane.

Vertical rolls on the canter infeed mechanically follow log contour. The rolls can be positioned, allowing the canter to do offset cutting and further increase recovery. Air pressure in cylinders pressing the rolls against a cant can be adjusted to limit the curvature, or to straight saw within limits. SPL has an option to upgrade to electronic mapping at a later date.

Four-sided curved cants are broken down into lumber in the single arbor gang saw edger with two moving clusters. This machine also curve saws, making it quite special for these cant thicknesses. All Sawquip saw edgers use thin kerf guided and lubricated circular saws, typically with 0.140-inch kerf or less.

The Sawquip system came with a pre-wired operator’s cabin, produced in Montreal. The cab is insulated for sound, air conditioned, has large windows and an ergonomically-designed operator’s chair. Control hardware is mounted on each arm of the chair. Seven video monitors inside the cab enable the operator to follow details of every aspect on the Sawquip line.

"The operator controls the entire line but, in theory, it will run itself. His key function is to monitor the line, make sure everything is going as it should and interact with the system," Perchuk says. An interactive touch screen panel in the cab allows the operator to detect where service is needed in the line and shut down that section in seconds.

Spruce Products chose TS Manufacturing to supply the lumber sorter and trimming equipment, as well as many conveyors in the new system. Sawn lumber is loaded onto lugs, trimmed to length on a Valley trimmer, then scanned and moved into the sorter. The scanning system automatically assigns each piece of lumber to an appropriate bin. Both the old mill and the new Sawquip line supply lumber to the sorter.

A very large, carefully planned filing room is another major element in the new sawmill. About 25 by 50 feet, it is located for easy access on the second level, in the middle of the sawmill area. "Everything is just a few steps away. And down below, we have parts storage with direct access from the filing room," said Perchuk.

All saws and knives for canter heads are maintained on site. Babbit guides are produced in the ventilated filing room.

Good labour relations have been a prior-ity at Spruce Products for many years. There are now 45 full-time workers, up from 38 with the earlier mill. "All the people that were here previously are still here. They’re doing different jobs and they’re facing new challenges, but the working environment is substantially better," Perchuk says.

In the mill, all employees rotate positions. "It’s been a policy here for a lot of years and works really well," says Perchuk. "The employees are constantly trying new things, so their jobs aren’t at all monotonous. As for management, we’re never in a bind when one person isn’t available. Several other people will be able to fill that job."

Perchuk is proud that local people "did it all" on the construction site, from constructing the building to installing machinery, to wiring and welding. "We used lots of our own people, so it was almost on-the-job training for them. When we do run into problems, they’ll know where to look first.

" Virtually everyone works inside now, in comfort. When heavy lifting is required inside the new mill, an overhead crane is available to handle the job.

Results from the initial expansion are excellent, Perchuk says. "We improved the quality of our product by putting lumber through the dry kiln. Inspectors tell us we’re putting out one of the best dry kiln products on the market, and we’ve gone through the past two years without a single claim from a customer."

For the future, though, opportunities will revolve around wood supply. "We have the ability to double the volume we’ve done historically, but wood supply will govern how much we do," says Perchuk.

 


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