Automating the fileroom
By Treena Hein
March 31, 2015 - The shortage of saw filers in the forestry industry is a big problem, especially in Western Canada. Putting all the reasons for the shortage aside for a moment, let’s focus on solutions.
One way to take some of the strain off the filers who are still in the mills is through the use of automation systems. Equipment companies have recognized this and have been hard at work developing new automated systems, many of which are either currently available or will be very soon.
One company that has experienced a surge in interest and demand for new automated sharpening solutions is Vollmer.
Shannon Fox, manager of sawing technology for Vollmer, says that his firm offers a wide variety of automated machines for the servicing of cutting tools, such as circular saw blades, band saw blades and polycrystalline diamond (PCD) tooling. Different levels of technology are also available within the Vollmer line-up, from cam-driven sharpeners up to field-proven fully automatic service centres.
A sharp increase in sales
Cut Technologies of Penticton, B.C., has seen interest in automatic sharpening machines increase significantly in recent years.
Mike Weckel, vice-president of operations and sales manager for Cut Technologies, says sales have increased by 200 per cent on Vollmer automated products in both 2013 and 2014, and he expects 2015 to be a record year.
The Vollmer CHD 270/CHF 270-ND 340 Service Center – an automatic computer-controlled cutting (CNC) machine that loads and sharpens all the sawmill saws, and will run “lights out” is one of the company’s top sellers.
These machines feature four loading carriages and a data input station, are extremely reliable, and offer excellent repeatability on saw geometry angles and kerf, says Weckel. One of these units is going to be installed at a West Fraser mill in Quesnel, B.C., in the near future.
Cut Technologies has also experienced an uptick in sales of the Sawmill Kahny round saw tipping (tip-brazing) machine.
“These machines are fully automatic and allow the labour for re-tipping saws to be allocated to a different task in the filing room,” Weckel explains.
The Sawmill Kahny possesses extreme precision and speed, he notes, and has been recently redesigned. There are 40 of these units now running in major Canadian sawmills.
Williams & White of Burnaby, B.C., will be rolling out an automated saw filing machine in the near future, the patent-pending RoboSharp Multi-Function Saw Sharpening Center. The unit is the result of two years of development and is able to top and face, dual side and plunge grind a circular saw blade with a single setup.
The Robosharp’s robotic loader retrieves the saw blades from the carts magnetically and can retrieve two blades at a time, explains Riley Kufta, director of marketing for Williams and White.
“The saws are then loaded into the machine, where they are fed into the grinding area,” he adds.
The automated tool changing system is a combination of a large tool bay, where grinding wheels are stored, and advanced probing technology. This technology monitors the grinding wheels in use, and when wheel wear reaches a specific level or wheel damage occurs, a new wheel is automatically retrieved from the tool bay.
“The entire process, from detecting the need for replacement to completing the change, is done automatically with no human intervention,” says Kufta.
Pennsylvania-based Oleson Saw Technology also offers an automatic bandsaw leveller and tensioning centre.
The computer-controlled Iseli RZ-1 is programmable by the operator to automatically produce consistently levelled and tensioned band saws.
“The computer touchscreen and technology are user-friendly and make inputting instructions straightforward and uncomplicated,” says Mat Harris, Oleson product manager. “Tension, levelling and back are adjusted as the saw is fed through levelling rolls controlled by the feedback from the electronic non-contact sensors connected to the RZ-1’s computer.”
The sensors control the proportional hydraulic rolls quickly and quietly, notes Harris, and the end result is a finished saw, benched completely to customer specifications. The RZ-1 will accommodate saws that are three to 16 inches in width, and 20 Ga. to 14 Ga. in thickness.
Tuning up the band
Simonds International, which has Canadian offices in Granby, Que., and Langley, B.C., also has a new automated product, the 090 Automated Bench (090 AB).
This unit replaces the original 980 model and is designed for processing bandsaws used in high-production softwood mills, high-production hardwood mills and mid-sized hardwood mills.
Simonds has sold over 100 Automated Benches all over the world since they were first introduced in 2013.
“The Automated Bench has allowed current staff to keep up with their duties in the filing room – even with the staff shortages,’’ notes Simonds product manager Ray Eluskie.
The 090 AB follows the success of the original Simonds Automated Bench, says Eluskie. It simultaneously levels and tensions the bandsaw blade while measuring to .0004 inches across the entire area of the saw – length and width.
The machine performs all scanning via a contact sensor. The measurements made via the sensor are fed into the computer, and the machine performs all calculations, and adds the appropriate back, tension and tire line to the band.
The 090 AB features a touchscreen control panel that can be operated even while saw filers are wearing gloves.
“It has a unique ‘Learn’ mode feature that allows the filer to load a ‘Best Practice’ saw,” adds Eluskie. “When instructed, the machine will scan the saw and record all the measurements in memory. Using the memory function, the filer can recall a stored saw and duplicate the specifications from the stored saw on all saws in
The 090 AB has the capacity to store up to 999 different saws. Watch a CFI video of Simond’s Russell Barrett explaining this machine on our video carousel at www.woodbusiness.ca.
In Charny, Que., B.G.R. Saws says the Kirschner L1 automated tipping process machine highlights its automated line-up.
B.G.R.’s president, Sylvain St-Hilaire, says the unit’s perfectly centred tip brazing maximizes grinding accuracy, as well as workload on the grinding centre.
The L1 also provides consistency in the brazing quality because of the pyrometer, which precisely controls when the proper temperature for brazing and annealing is reached.
Another benefit is found in the high-frequency generator that does not affect steel structures. This technology is available in a semi-automatic version as well as a fully-automated version with automatic loading and unloading.
Automation for safety
In addition to speeding up saw filing tasks and allowing saw filers to focus on other duties, automation is also being used to create safer saw filing environments. Williams and White has created a robotic Babbitt pouring machine.
“The concept of the Auto Babbitt is quite simple,” says Kufta. “It is to end the days of manually pouring Babbitt in the filing room. Handling molten metal, regardless of cautions taken and experience of the operator, is an unsafe task. Our hope is that with the help of the Auto Babbitt, burns and fume exposure will be things of the past.”
The fully enclosed robotic machine replaces having an employee for the task of Babbitt pouring, which is used in most saw mills to create Babbitt pads that are bolted to saw guides. Babbitt wears quickly and needs to be melted down and moulded and reshaped regularly.
“Much like the RoboSharp, we do not yet have an estimate on how much time the Auto-Babbitt will save, although it will be considerable,” says Kufta. “The main selling point for the Auto Babbitt is safety, as it eliminates Babbitt burns, which are quite common, and fires, which are less common but still happen.”
To complement the Auto Babbitt, Williams and White has developed a tabletop robotic screw-fastening machine, which is designed to decrease repetitive motion injury caused by fastening Babbitt pads to saw guides, while speeding up the task.
Automation in the saw filing room has come a long way, and companies are continuing to innovate. This automation is making various tasks quicker and freeing up saw filers to do other things, allowing fewer people to handle the workload. Automation is also making things safer and preventing injury. Stay tuned for more automation innovation to come.