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EACOM adds continuous kiln to Timmins operation

Nov. 17, 2017 - Eastern Canada’s first continuous kiln has found a welcome home in Timmins, Ont., at EACOM Timber Corporation’s sawmill operation. Mill manager Marc Fleury says the kiln has removed a bottleneck in the mill’s production.

November 17, 2017
By Maria Church
Maria Church

The continuous kiln project took just eight weeks

Installed this past summer, the new Wellons continuous kiln is able to handle 93 mmbf a year, which increases the drying capacity by approximately 40 mmbf while requiring the same amount of fuel as the kiln it replaced.

“We wanted to improve the quality and increase throughput with less energy. That was the main reason for looking at continuous kilns. The Wellons technology gave us that,” Fleury says.

The new kiln is part of a multi-million-dollar facility modification investment by EACOM into the Timmins site, which is expected to reach payback in fewer than two years. Combined with other improvements made this year, the continuous kiln will boost Timmins’ production up from 136 mmbf to 160 mmbf a year. But the investment is about more than just numbers, Fleury says.

“When you do a project like this, when employees see that investment, it encourages them. They see that this an environment where people are serious about driving operational improvements. They see the company is focused on resilience and that gives them security in their jobs,” he says.

The right fit
EACOM’s Timmins operation had two kilns on site, one larger Wellons 100 mmbf and another smaller Wellons that held 40 mmbf a year. The smaller kiln was around 40 years old and needed to be fully replaced.

The EACOM team began researching replacement options about a year earlier, which included a trip out to Western Canada to check out some operating continuous dry kilns. “At the end of the day, a Wellons continuous kiln was chosen for a few reasons: for its efficiency, the technology and our installation time constraints,” Fleury says.

A typical kiln replacement from tear down to new installation is about four months. EACOM needed the new kiln to be installed and operating in just eight weeks. It was a demanding job, but Wellons promised to deliver.

Travas Hack, a process control & optimization specialist with EACOM, took on the challenge of project management of the new kiln. He knew it was an ambitious project but that it could be accomplished.

“We had a very tight window to put this in because we couldn’t take production down at the kiln for very long or we would have to shut the sawmill down and send people home,” Hack says.

Hack and the other project staff began planning for the installation about nine months in advance. “The planning process was long and detailed because we had to consider the restraints of the site size and the timing of execution,” Hack says.

As much material as possible from the kiln excavation was to be reused in other areas of the mill yard. The rest of the kiln material was recycled where possible. Planning for safety during the construction phase was crucial since the mill would continue to run. “We had to organize truck traffic, equipment deliveries, and installation activities while maintaining the safety of the day to day mill operations,” Hack explains.

The physical footprint of the kiln is smaller than a conventional kiln, Hack says, mainly because there are no long kiln cars to load. Instead lumber is loaded onto the green cars on the pusher bases and then offloaded at the opposite end as dry lumber ready for the planer. This saves a cooling step in the yard over a conventional kiln.

While Wellons manufactured and installed the kiln, Windsor Engineering supplied the controls and trained EACOM staff to operate. Along with local contractors and EACOM’s project team, staff worked on the project for 24 hours, seven days a week until it was completed.

“This was really a team effort between EACOM and Wellons,” Fleury says.

Four weeks into the project and Timmins stockpiled too much green lumber. As expected, their single kiln couldn’t keep up. To handle the surplus, they shipped a week’s worth of lumber to EACOM’s Elk Lake sawmill – about a two-hour drive southeast.

At the end of the eight weeks they had again accumulated a surplus, this time knowing the new kiln would be up and running to handle the extra green lumber. The kiln started on the expected date and commenced to drying lumber.

Continuous run
Operating the kiln is somewhat similar to a conventional kiln, but there was a learning curve for staff. “We needed to train our loader operators on how to load the new kiln because it’s a 24-hours seven days a week loading process, instead of a batch process,” Fleury says.

“We had to add a loader operator and change scheduling in order to accommodate the new kiln,” he says.

After a few weeks of operating staff learned they must load their eight-foot bundles at the bottom and 16-foot bundles on top. “You can get more warping if the shorter lengths are on top, and this can cause hang ups in the kiln. You have to use the longer, larger lumber to actually secure the smaller lumber in place,” Hack says.

Once a month the kiln will be shut down for four hours for maintenance and to ensure there are no fallen boards, debris or other problems.

New fence
During the kiln project the sawmill itself shut down for nine days as another improvement project took place at the trimmer area: a new USNR multi-track paddle fence. The company moved the lugloader forward to install a newly designed landing table area after the sawline that includes a dropout gate to drop waste out to the chipper and aid the operator in his daily duties. A USNR dual acting drop out gate was installed earlier in the year.

The new fence improves the trimmer’s accuracy, which increases the recovery on each board.

“There is less trim loss and more output,” Fleury says. “It improves that bottleneck to the point where we can produce what we said we wanted to produce. That section of the sawmill is now capable of handling the 160 million board feet.”

Culture of improvement
In 2012 a fire heavily damaged the Timmins sawmill. In rebuilding the mill EACOM chose to make significant investments in new technology to increase production. 

The rebuild coincided with a change in ownership in 2013 when a private equity firm acquired EACOM. “The change in ownership came with a change in culture. The new leadership team has worked to develop a culture of continuous improvement,” says Christine Leduc, director of public affairs for EACOM. “You can see the result of that in the increase in production over the last four years.”

EACOM’s sawmills will have collectively increased production to 960 mmbf in 2017 from just under 519 mmbf in 2013 – almost doubling over four years.

Employees are paramount to the success of mill investments, Leduc says. “For EACOM, it’s just as important to invest in employees as it is to invest in the mills. The company works with employees everywhere so they understand their contributions to the overall performance and encourages teamwork to drive operational improvements. That way you’re able to identify the best opportunities for capital projects.”

There is a low employee turnover at the Timmins sawmill. Fleury points to a combination of the safety culture and the drive for continuous improvement as reasons behind the employee satisfaction.

“We want to say we are a top mill in Eastern Canada and our employees are proud to work here,” Fleury says. He has worked at the Timmins mill for more than 18 years.

“For myself especially, I look at new technologies and I always look for advancement and for ways to get better, and that gives us new challenges. It makes the job much more enjoyable,” he says.

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