Tamar Atik

Tamar Atik

March 28, 2017 - WHAT: OptiSaw Mill Optimization & Automation Forum

WHEN: April 25, 2017 from 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

WHERE: Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel, Richmond, B.C.

WHY: OptiSaw is a time-effective and affordable learning and networking opportunity for those driving the future of sawmilling in your operation. The focus is on the future of optimization and automation in our industry, including challenges and opportunities on the cutting edge of this side of the industry. 

REGISTER TODAY at: https://www.optisaw.com/
March 24, 2017 - The province of British Columbia is setting aside nearly $750,000 to help people living in the Revelstoke and Shuswap areas find jobs in the forestry sector.

Up to 16 people will be trained and prepared for employment through this opportunity.

“This is a great opportunity for local people to gain new skills, which will help them find work in the forestry sector through hands-on experience,” said Todd Stone, MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson and Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, in a news release.

The funding is being provided through a paid training opportunity with Okanagan College.

The training provided will include skills such as tree falling, machine work, forestry technology, and risk management, as well as practical job preparation skills.

“Forestry is an industry that brings great opportunities for people to build their careers through knowledge and hard work, and I’m excited to know the future is bright for the industry and for the participants in this project,” said Greg Kyllo, MLA for Shuswap and Parliamentary Secretary for the BC Jobs Plan, in the release.

B.C.’s forest industry employed nearly 60,000 people in 2016 and contributed $5.5 billion to the province’s economy in 2015.
March 24, 2017 - A fire destroyed the Elite Forest Products sawmill in Malakwa, British Columbia on March 9.

The sawmill, located in the Shuswap Lake area, was completely destroyed along with half of the buildings on site, Global News reported.

The planer mill was not damaged.

The sawmill was closed for the winter, but was set to resume operations one day later on March 10. | READ MORE.
March 22, 2017 - Ontario Provincial Police announced that a woman was arrested in Sudbury on Monday at a logging road blockade.

The 60-year-old protester was detained and charged with causing mischief and failing to comply with conditions of an undertaking, The Canadian Press reported.

OPP said the woman is scheduled to appear in court in Sudbury on April 5. | READ MORE
March 15, 2017 - According to some forest industry observers, Canada is in a better position to handle a softwood trade war with the U.S. today than it was a decade ago. But that doesn't include the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

A new report says they are likely to experience struggles if lumber duties are put into place in a few weeks. 

Some B.C.-based companies, including West Fraser, Canfor and Interfor already bought sawmills in the states during a period of peace on this issue.

“The big players in the West are now in a more comfortable position than they were 10 years ago,” head of the Quebec Forest Industry Council Andre Tremblay told the Canadian Press. “We are in a much more delicate situation now than during the last conflict.”

Read the full story at CanadianManufacturing.com
March 22, 2017 - A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That proverb is the main recruiting philosophy at EACOM’s Elk Lake sawmill. Here, hiring is based on values, not just skill-set.

“It's like a secret club, you have to be taught the secret handshake and you have to be the right type of person. It’s all about the outcome, whatever it takes,” mill manager Mark Everard explains.

Dedication to the job is the reason why Everard says new hires will never be recruited on a whim at Elk Lake, despite a town population of just a few hundred, and a consequent need to find people from nearby areas in the Timiskaming District of northeastern Ontario.

“We can teach anyone how to run a canter, we can teach a lot of people how to maintain a canter. We can't teach the attitude of staff getting a call that, ‘It's nine o'clock at night, we're in trouble here; I don't know what happened here but every log is jamming,’ and the reply is,  ‘Hmm, well I'll put the kids in bed and I'll be in in a half an hour to help out,’” Everard illustrates.

Everard says. “We have a pretty good group here. We have several vacancies but we are not in a hurry to fill them. We will wait until we get what we want.”

Some potential employees can on occasion be lost to other sectors like the mining industry when they are doing well. Still, Everard says the sawmill will never settle for less than what it’s looking for in a new recruit.

“There have always been good people here and we're helping to direct those energies in a productive and focused way,” he says.

As important as work values are to Everard, he also places some weight on the kinds of values that would make a person appreciate a northern lifestyle. Those are the hires that tend to stick.

“[If you ask the canter operators], they'll talk about Lake Trout fishing last week and how good it was… and the Speckles were biting too! That's the type of lifestyle people enjoy here, hunting and fishing. If you like that, this is paradise,” Everard says with a laugh.

He says chances are high that once someone gets through the initial evaluation period, they won’t be quick to change jobs again.

“People come for the money and stay for the people and lifestyle.”
March 14, 2017 - While $13 million invested in new technology since 2012 has helped bring EACOM’s Elk Lake mill up to respectable efficiency levels, mill manager Mark Everard explains that ongoing work on culture and performance management have been just as important.

“You pour a bunch of money into a mill, that’s the easiest part; it’s only the beginning,” Everard says from outside the mill on a crisp February morning. “The real challenge is getting everybody up to speed on how to get the most out of that equipment, and the most value out of our fibre. And that’s what we’re right in the middle of.”

This push to create a culture of continual improvement may only date back a couple of years, but the equipment upgrades themselves began back in 2012 with the addition of two single-pass sawlines. “In 2012, the company elected to refit the sawmill canter lines and they bought Comact DDM 12 and DDM 6 lines at an auction and then refurbished them. They also added a new USNR board edger and a new chipper,” Everard explains. “We kept the same debarkers, we’ve got two 18 inch D-Tec Cambio style and a 22-inch, single ring Nicholson A5A, which is adequate.”

Lumber flows from the canters to a Comact trimmer optimizer and trimmer and a 44-bin sling sorter. The final piece is an older Comact single-fork stacker, which Everard says exemplifies what they are trying to accomplish at Elk Lake.

“You might go ‘Gee whiz, that's an old stacker.’ Then again, if you maintain them, a single-fork stacker should be able to get 12 cycles a minute dependably and smoothly. People will claim you can get more, but day-in day-out, real life, if you're getting 15 you're really doing something special. This stacker will be able to keep up to about 56,000 fbm/hour so we are fine for now. It goes back to that continuous improvement mindset we’re trying to build that not only includes the iron but the people and the philosophy. So when we talk about the stacker — we’re not going to ask for a new stacker until we get 100 per cent of what this one is capable of.”

Where it makes sense though, the mill is happy to invest in ongoing training, as is the case with the two Comact DDM lines. A few years back EACOM felt they should be getting more production through those lines, and so in addition to setting clear targets and establishing accountability, they have invested in significant training from the supplier. The difference in production has been significant Everard explains.

“Part of why the DDMs are running so well is because every three months we have a Comact guy come in and he stays for a week, and he goes over it with our operators, with our maintenance group, and with our leadership group again and again and again. We're now in our second year of this ongoing training. Initial visits precipitated large amounts of work to be done on the canters, now, when Comact concludes a visit they have largely been tuning and training we rarely have issues.”

Overall, through continual tweaking of existing gear, including both operations and maintenance, the sawmill is now producing around 25 per cent more than it did 2.5 years ago. In hard numbers, that means producing about 150 million bdft/year with a wood supply that is 75 per cent 6-in in diameter and below.



Drying better

That same process has been used to extract significantly more from the mill’s existing dry kilns. While the mill plans to produce 150 million bdft in 2017, a number Everard feels they can exceed depending on log diet, until recently the kilns had been struggling to dry 125 million bdft.

The mill runs an older Hemco (USNR) kiln and two newer Cathilds off a Konus hot oil system that until recently was also used to heat the mill. For starters they added a few hot air furnaces to heat the mill, allowing them to isolate the glycol system for lumber drying alone for a 25 per cent gain in drying energy. Then they looked at each step in the process to maximize efficiency.

“We didn’t spend any capital, but instead put a lot of attention on our kiln schedules, repaired the kilns top to bottom, the baffles etc… We also had to re-tube the Konus system. In the end we’ve been drying at 30 per cent over previous capacity for the past six months, so we are comfortable that can dry our current production now.”

The planer mill

Elk Lake’s sawmill isn’t the only area reaping the benefits of upgrades and performance management. Its planer mill, which burned down in 2005 and was rebuilt the following year, is also a big part. As Everard explains, it’s a well-built line that just required some tweaking.

“As the mill cranked up, it caused the need for the planer to crank up, and the planer is really answering the call well. It's a standard horseshoe configuration, with mainly Carbotech iron, but I’ve got to hand it to the guy that dreamed this up, he did a nice job — really nice tilt hoist, really good infeed to the pineapples,” Everard says. “We're going to do some automation in there, but it's a nice set up. Gilbert planer, which is a really nice planer.”

“The back end is basically Carbotech with a PLC lug loader. We did new Autolog controls with the new Prograder which helped as Autolog has some good code people.  After the lugloader we have a real nice Carbotech, dual-trim saw setup.  We've got a standard Carbotech fence with the standard trim saw and then a second PET fence with a second PET trim saw,” Everard says. “The second fence and saw set was never commissioned so we're in the process of re-commissioning that so we can get that extra value. There's a fair amount of value extraction capability in this line and we're going to realize its full potential.”

The most recent upgrade is the replacement of the original Autolog geometric planer optimizer with the supplier’s latest Pro Grader planer optimization scanning system that adds a wide array of visual defect detection. It was only two weeks old when CFI was on site, but Everard said the retrofit was going well.

“We want it all done yesterday,” Everard says, laughing. “In all honesty it's going well; we're on schedule with our proforma but it's got more and we're going to be several months dialing this thing to get all that it’s got.”

The Pro Grader adds functionalities like knot detection and measurement, slope of grain, stain and rot, but Everard says solving the latter might be easier said than done. “I'm not convinced we're going to completely solve the rot detection problem. But the slope of grain, knot measurement, and sap stain will be a huge impact on our grade recovery; enormous.”

The new unit is designed to sit in the same footprint as the original Pro Grader, which helped simplify the retrofit, Everard notes. While the mill looked at the full gamut of planer optimizers on the market for the project, they felt the Autolog unit gave the best value for dollar in their application.

The planer team has been through a similar process as that in the sawmill, with similar gains. Everard says productivity is up 25 per cent in that same 2.5 year period, with better grade upturns. The latter is expected to improve further still with the new optimizer installed.

‘A good place’

Everard says all the hard work over the past few years is paying off in markedly improved productivity. There is still work to be done, he adds, to turn the mill into an above-average performer. Still, he feels the roughest part is now in the rear-view mirror.

“We're a work in progress; we're about halfway to where we want to be, but we're in the fun part now. The real heavy lifting has been done and now it's becoming easier and easier. Once you get people aligned with the philosophy, adopt it, adjust to it, and then they start winning — the entire site is running at levels it’s never seen before — everyone starts having fun, and that's a good place.”



VIDEO | Exploring EACOM's Elk Lake sawmill
March 14, 2017 – The Government of B.C. is investing $3.6 billion in rural communities in the next year, with some funding also being allocated to forestry. The government says the goal is to strengthen and diversify B.C.’s rural communities with specific attention going into improving local economies, working with youth and partnering with Indigenous communities.

Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson made the announcement, saying the initiative reflects the importance the province places on people living and working in rural areas of B.C. “Creating the conditions for rural British Columbia to grow and thrive is a key priority for our government,” Thomson said in a statement.

A $500,000 investment is going into the Regional District of Mount Waddington to create more forestry jobs there. “The creation of this rural economic development blueprint helps guide strategic investments which connect people, improve the health of our communities and environment, and stimulate business activity,” Rural Advisory Council member Jonathan Lok said in a statement. “These are meaningful initiatives that will make a difference for all of us in rural B.C.”

A $150 million investment is being placed in the Forest Enhancement Society of British Columbia which will be used to save the environment via tree-planting. It will also create more than 3,000 jobs in rural British Columbia, according to a government statement.

“B.C.’s rural economies and natural resource industries are at the backbone of our economy, and are shouldering the risk posed by the global downturn in commodity prices,” Premier Christy Clark said. “These challenges require immediate action to support our rural communities and a long-term plan that builds on our rural advantages to create jobs and diversify our economy.”

The province of B.C. provides more than $2.2 billion every year to help rural areas with education and skills training.
March 10, 2017 - B.C.'s trade envoy to the U.S. on softwood lumber, David Emerson, was recently in Washington for a meeting with U.S. trade officials, senators and representatives of the National Association of Home Builders about the ongoing softwood lumber dispute. 

“We have met with them to make sure they understand that B.C. is going to fight on behalf of our lumber producers," Emerson said in a statement. "We would much rather find opportunities to work together with our American neighbours to find a lasting solution to this long-lived dispute."

Following what he called a "prickly" meeting with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who is also a main advocate of the U.S. Lumber Coalition, Emerson says the U.S. is not yet ready to settle the dispute.

He says the country is likely still adjusting to President Trump's transition into power.

Emerson says he made it clear to all parties that Canada is not interested in a lengthy and expensive dispute but rather in a long-term decision, on which it is ready to cooperate. 

“A stable, predictable lumber supply is good for workers and the economy on both sides of the border," he said in a statement.

“Litigation will only disrupt the market and create artificial constraints on timber supply that will benefit a select few timber barons and sawmill owners at the expense of American workers and consumers."

Emerson was appointed trade envoy by B.C. Premier Christy Clark in February 2017. | READ MORE 
March 9, 2017 - EACOM’s Elk Lake sawmill in northern Ontario has invested in $13 million toward new technology since 2012. But as mill manager Mark Everard explains, that’s where the real work began.

Canadian Forest Industries got a peek at the inner workings of the sawmill, adjacent planer mill and the wood drying process here in Elk Lake.



RELATED | What goes into a $13M sawmill investment?

EACOM's total Elk Lake sawmill investment more than $13 million
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