EACOM Timber’s Nairn Centre focuses on recovery gains to capture the most from improving markets.
QFIC unveiled a study at its recent annual meeting showing the province has the highest log costs in North America.
Having survived more than seven years of nasty markets, veteran sawmiller Real Arsenault, from Manning Diversified, is upgrading his small-log technology.
Both single-family and multifamily housing starts are expected to post double-digit gains over last year. However, headwinds continue to hold back even stronger.
Canadian Forest Industries looks at the options available to cut trees and process the logs.
What's Happening in our Forest?...
What's Happening in our Forest?
New VAB Lineal Grading Optimizer at Sexton Lumber...
New VAB Lineal Grading Optimizer at Sexton Lumber
Eltec harvester at work in the Quebec forest...
Eltec harvester at work in the Quebec forest
USNR log loader minds log gap, improves throughput...
USNR log loader minds log gap, improves throughput
May 24, 2013 – Progress in technology and machinery has increased the efficiency of felling operations, but replanting is still a manual, time-consuming process, but not for much longer according to a new project. The use of modern digital technology and drones for aerial photography can lead to major gains, says Hans Thunander. He has developed a new tree-planting concept that envisions a 50 per cent increase in efficiency within ten years. “I’ve spent my whole life in silviculture and these ideas have been germinating for a decade,” he says. “But now I feel the technology is far enough advanced that it can be used to make replanting more efficient.” His method can be likened to a two-stage rocket: Vision 2015 and Vision 2023. The first stage, Vision 2015, involves combining GPS technology with a remote-operated flying drone, which photographs a new clear-cut area. The image is then interpreted on a computer – making it possible to plan the replanting process in detail – to decide exactly how many plants can be planted, how densely, and precisely where. Because all the facts about the terrain and soil conditions are included, it is possible to achieve the optimal plant density. For example, a three-metre clear strip can be left along a stone wall, 2,500 plants per hectare can be put on a fertile slope and 1,400 plants per hectare can be used in an area of thin soil. “Too many plants are used unnecessarily today because they are not optimally planted according to the soil fertility and type of terrain,” Thunander says. “It’s also hard to know now precisely how densely you’re planting when you just look around as you go. GPS gives you better control.” Another important aspect of the technology involved in Vision 2015 is scarification, which he says can also be made far more efficient. Instead of the current procedure of carving out two parallel rows on the clear-cut area, the scarifier can be equipped with the same kind of autopilot as used in agriculture and be driven in a new driving pattern designed by Thunander. If the scarifier drives along every second strip on its outward journey with precise control of the centre-to-centre distance between the plants and then takes the omitted strips on its return journey, the optimal strip density is achieved. Backing on the turn strip is also unnecessary and the total operating time is significantly reduced. “Autopilots have existed in the agricultural industry for a number of years and are cheaper now,” Thunander says. “The precision along the forest edge has not been ideal but that’s no longer a problem. A detailed image of the clear-cut area makes it easy to design such a driving pattern.” He will demonstrate the whole process step by step at Elmia Wood, right up to the final stage when the planters take over the GPS track and can start to input each individual plant, so that the exact number of plants per site can be planted and verified. By itself, Thunander says that Vision 2015 can make replanting about 25 per cent more efficient. Time and technology will then quickly work towards the next stage, Vision 2023. By then it will be possible to have 3D photos from the drone. The images will be transmitted immediately when the drone lands and much of their interpretation will already have been done automatically so the scarification and planting can begin directly. “There’s already a multitude of drones, the software is easy to use and the whole field is developing incredibly fast,” Thunander says. “Fully automatic image processing will lead to major benefits.” Not to mention fully automatic planting, which is the most innovative aspect of Vision 2023. This involves a remote-controlled machine, which Thunander is working fulltime to develop now. The machine is not yet ready to be presented. All he can say today is that first “molehills” of loose soil are “screwed up” using a minimum of energy and then prepared for a planting tool. The tool then makes a hole in the heap and inserts a plant. A small amount of wet, fertilized planting soil is then automatically dropped along with the tree plant into its hole. He calculates that this method can make tree planting a full 50 per cent more efficient. “These screwed-up molehills and the planting soil are decisive factors in my concept,” he says. “Much of the benefit depends on knowing that the plant will survive.”
MAY 23, 2013, Brantford, Ont. – Tigercat is continuing to develop and refine its skidder product line, its latest technology is the EHS drive system. Similar to the hydrostatic drive system that Tigercat developed and released in 1996 with the first 630 skidders, EHS consists of two variable displacement motors as inputs to the Tigercat transfer case. Front and rear output shafts are connected directly to the front and rear axles. The EHS is capable of providing the tractive effort of the deepest gear ratio offered in Tigercat's standard transfer case as well as the top speed of the shallowest gear ratio offered in the standard transfer case. This is accomplished with sophisticated computer logic and the ability to take one of the drive motors offline when high tractive effort is not required. In this case, all pump flow is directed to one hydraulic motor, increasing both travel speed and motor efficiency. When operating conditions demand high tractive effort, both hydrostatic motors are working. When tractive effort requirements are minimal, all of the pump flow is directed to one motor for higher travel speeds. Tigercat is offering EHS standard in the 610C and the new 615C and expects end users to see higher productivity and improved fuel efficiency in the majority of applications. For more information visit, www.tigercat.com.
May 24, 2013, Que. – Jean Berube, president of VAB Solutions, announced the signing of two new contracts to benefit the Canadian sawmilling industry. One contract covers the sale and installation of a complete Planer Mill Lineal Grading Optimizer for Resolute Forest Products Mill in Senneterre, Que, and the other, covers the same equipment sale and installation for Carrier & Begin Lumber, also in Quebec. The Carrier & Begin planer mill is being rebuilt after a fire earlier this year.
May 22, 2013 – Focus on recovery, and the remaining problems solve themselves. That's how EACOM Timber Corp.'s Mel Lemky summarizes the spate of recent projects and investments at the company's Ontario sawmill operations (see a primer on its integrated Ontario operations here). Lemky, a graduate of the B.C. Interior sawmilling school of hard knocks, is EACOM's vice-president of operations for Ontario. Originally part of the Domtar pulp & paper empire, EACOM purchased its wood products division in 2010, with eight sawmills in Quebec and Ontario. Since that time, the emphasis has been on improving such standard sawmill performance indicators as unit cost and recovery. Lemky says the work his team has been doing at the company's Nairn Centre sawmilling complex reflects that new focus. "We've been working on some targeted upgrades and focusing on some key areas to take a mill that has been underperforming and make it a respectable sawmill again. Basically we've given the team the tools they need to significantly increase recovery." The timing couldn't be better, as a steady recovery in the U.S. housing market and expected supply-side constraints in the lumber market have made recovery gains a worthy goal again. At Nairn Centre both the sawmill and planer mill have seen investments worth more than $7 million as part of a larger initiative that also includes non-capital improvement projects. Adding an edge One of the first steps was to replace a 1980s vintage Esterer board edger with a new USNR optimized edger with Miltrak camera-controlled infeed to maximize both recovery and throughput. Not only did this move solve some obsolescence issues and boost recovery by double digits over the old model, but the enhanced production allows EACOM to target the markets with the highest return rather than being limited by edger throughput. "The old edger topped out at 4,500 to 5,000 boards per shift (employees work four nine-hour and one eight-hour shifts), so we had to be careful of our product mix to avoid a bottleneck," Lemky says. "The new USNR edger has been tested at 40 pieces per minute with no issues, although we have no need for that speed. We can get 11,000 boards per shift without pushing it at all, which opens up a lot of options for us." For example, the mill runs some export products for the U.K., a market it would like to keep to maintain some diversity. The challenge was that the product essentially meant making a single target piece and sending the rest of the material to the edger. That run no longer stresses the board edger. The edger has a three-saw top arbour and reman head to help handle the export products more efficiently, and a combination of mill-flow controllers, speed-up chains and positive chargers to maximize throughput without creating jack-pots. Another change made last year was upgrading the optimization system on the mill's single breakdown line to brand new Porter technology. EACOM runs an Optimil double-length infeed with four sided canter and twin bands. This is followed by a McGehee (USNR) gang. It has been a reliable producer, notes Lemky, but the scanning and optimization was a little dated. "With the Porter system we essentially went from 1993 technology to cutting edge. I get a chuckle explaining it sometimes – I'll ask people what was their computer like back in 1993? Think of the changes in computing power and performance in the past 20 years, and then imagine what that means for log scanning and optimization. The improvements have been dramatic." The mill runs two basic sorts to the single line (large and small), handling a log diet that ranges from a 4-in top to 20-in butt. Lumber from the main line and the edger converge on a Comact optimized trimmer followed by a Gemofor/Carbotech 50-bin sorter. Stacking is on a Gemofor double-fork stacker, which Lemky says does the job but with its fair share of maintenance. The mill also added some extra drying capacity last year, with the addition of an FEI-Wellons138-ft double-track kiln. Overall the mill has two direct-fired natural gas kilns and two wood-fuelled kilns with a Konus hot oil system. Automated grading Nairn Centre dries and dresses all its own production, as well as that from the nearby Gogama stud mill, where dual HewSaws produce 100 million bdft. Add that to the 150 million bdft produced at Nairn Centre, and the planer mill has its work cut out. Currently the mill runs two planer lines: stud and random length. Both have been converted to optimized grading using VAB Solutions systems. The stud line was converted in 2010, and after the project exceeded expectations, the random line was upgraded in 2012. The stud line runs graderless, while at the time of Canadian Wood Products' visit in March, graders on the random line had been dropped from three per shift to a single grade checker. Lemky admits that with all the big players in the auto-grading sector, going with a smaller group like VAB may seem odd. Still, he notes that the system is doing exactly what they bought it for, adding that the other systems they looked at were considerably more expensive. "We know what to expect from VAB, we know the principals, and we know they invest in R&D. Regardless of what you buy, that last point is key. Auto-grading technology is evolving so quickly that you're looking at major upgrades every few years." With more consistent grading and a reduction in graders from six to one per shift, he concludes that once you look at the numbers it's hard not to make the investment. And given the expected difficulty in staffing operations, eliminating hard-to-train occupations is a bonus (see more on EACOM's staffing challenges here). More than metal The new and upgraded equipment is great for morale, Lemky admits, and opens up a lot of potential for the mill (see a list of possible future improvements here). Still, he notes that adding equipment is only half the battle. The rest is training the staff and working with them to capture the technology's full potential. "Once the technology is installed, it's a case of making the mill run. As soon as you make significant upgrades, it changes everything and you have to get everyone properly trained and upgrade skills where required. And you have to look at the whole flow and see how the new technology can be used to its fullest." The new board edger is a perfect example. Installed in the summer of 2012, it took some training and attention to key details to get the most from this investment. Following that and a tune-up in January 2013, Lemky says they noticed significant improvements.
May 24, 2013, Richmond, B.C. – Catalyst Paper sold its Elk Falls industrial site and related assets to Calgary-based Quicksilver Resources Canada for $8.6 million. The 1,200-acre parcel includes a fully serviced, 400-acre industrial site and property near Campbell River. The site use to house a paper and pulp mill up until it was closed in 2010. Work has been underway since then to prepare the site for sale and redevelopment for other industrial uses.
May 24, 2013, Seattle, Wash. – Both the HFPI and SFPI price indices have fallen by more than 10 per cent since 2011. The biggest declines in wood fibre prices have occurred in Brazil, Canada, the U.S. and Japan. This trend continued in the first quarter of 2013 when the Hardwood Wood Fiber Price Index (HFPI) fell by 1.1 per cent to $103.66 per oven-dry metric ton (odmt), which was 12 per cent below the all-time high in the third quarter of 2011, the Wood Resource Quarterly reported. However, the price trends were mixed in the 1Q/13, with hardwood fibre prices lower in Asia and Eastern Canada and slightly higher in Europe and Latin America as compared to the 4Q/12. Eucalyptus pulpwood prices in Brazil have fallen more than in most other regions the past two years, with 1Q/13 prices being down more than 30 per cent since 2011. This dramatic decline has resulted in Brazilian pulp mills now experiencing the fourth lowest wood fibre costs in the world, behind Russia, the U.S. South and Chile. The Softwood Wood Fiber Price Index (SFPI) in the 1Q/13 was practically unchanged from the 4Q/12 at $99.90/odmt. The SFPI has inched downward for seven consecutive quarters and is currently down 8.8 per cent from the most recent peak in 2Q/11, according to the WRQ. The biggest changes in the 1Q/13 in U.S. dollar terms were the declines in chip prices in Eastern and Western Canada, Japan, and the U.S. Northwest. The biggest increases occurred in France and Germany. There has been an increased supply of residual chips from the sawmilling sector that has turned up the production levels over the past six months. This is the major reason for the declining prices in Canada and the U.S. Prices for wood chips in Canada have fallen more than 15 per cent in just over a year. With improved markets for softwood lumber in the U.S., it is likely that the availability of lower-cost wood fibre for the pulp industry throughout North America will continue through the rest of 2013 and into 2014.
May 23, 2013 – Eacom Timber Corporation reported 18 per cent increased sales from its first quarter results for 2013, and produced 129 million board feet of lumber. During the first quarter of 2013, housing starts in the U.S. averaged 969,000 units, up seven per cent from the previous quarter and 36 per cent from the first quarter of 2012. In Canada, housing starts are averaging 178,000 units, down 13 per cent from both the previous quarter and the first quarter of 2012.Highlights• Recorded net earnings attributable to shareholders of $1.6 million in the first quarter of 2013.• Recorded a negative adjusted EBITDA of $0.9 million in the first quarter of 2013.• Concluded the negotiation of a global settlement with its insurer for the fire at its Timmins mill.The improvement in the U.S. housing activity had a positive impact on lumber consumption and contributed to a strong pricing environment and higher mill realizations for the Eacom.Eacom recorded sales of $70 million for the quarter, up 18 per cent against sales of $60 million in the previous quarter and sales of almost $60 million in the corresponding quarter of 2012.For the full release visit, www.eacom.ca.
May 23, Washington – Sales of newly built, single-family homes rose 2.3 per cent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 454,000 units in April, according to the HUD and U.S. Census Bureau. "Builders are reporting an active spring buying season as consumers become more confident about going forward with a new-home purchase along with steadily firming prices in local markets," said Rick Judson, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Charlotte, N.C. "While the cost of constructing homes is rising due to tightened supplies of materials, lots and labor, to some extent, this may be creating greater urgency among potential buyers." "Today's report is further evidence of the gradual, consistent improvement we have been seeing in housing market conditions over the past year," said Robert Denk, NAHB Senior Economist. "We're now about half-way back to what could be considered a full recovery, and we do expect to see continual, solid gains in both starts and sales of new homes going forward." On a regional basis, new-home sales rose three per cent in the South and 10.8 per cent in the West, but fell 4.8 per cent in the Midwest and 16.7 per cent in the Northeast in April. The inventory of new homes for sale edged up to a still-thin 156,000 units in April. This is a 4.1-month supply at the current sales pace.
A wireless grapple scale improves wood recovery program at Norbord OSB mill.
The recovering U.S. housing market has pushed profit margins up to stratospheric heights for oriented strand board (OSB) producers, whose engineered wood panels are outperforming lumber in the red-hot forest products sector.
Truckloads of raw lumber arrive daily at the Turuss (Canada) Industry Co. Ltd. facility in Chesley, Ont., which opened last summer as part of the China-based hardwood floor manufacturer.
The increasing use of robotics in the manufacturing sector is now being incorporated into the wood products industry.