Wood Business

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Saving Your Business

In the current tough climate, managers and foremen can help their businesses survive (and later thrive) by reviewing their normal operating procedures to recuperate here and there what I call “Money lost in the routine.” In most operations there is a lot of work that can be done in this field, and quite a bit of money that can stay in your pockets. In fact the savings mentioned below represent the minimum amounts for each change made (and consistently adhered to). This money is real; money I have seen in past efficiency projects.

November 16, 2011  By Sylvain Périard

In the current tough climate

After the anomalies and procedural weaknesses in your normal operating procedures have been itemized and documented by an expert, it’s time to establish a list of priorities, as taking it all on at once is a recipe for failure. Whether at the landing or in the mill yard, the same principal applies. To create a positive “culture of success” and generate some buy-in from the crew, start by tackling challenges that require little or no real investment, and that can bring immediate results.

When it comes to felling, skidding, and/or processing, seemingly negligible actions can eat away at your operation’s margins. For example, damage inflicted on butt logs, excessively high stumps, a few poor bucking decisions, or leaving good wood on the ground next to the slasher or processor are more than just potential infractions against your Crown license – they can add up to tens of thousands of dollars at year end.

Overs and damage
At the processor or slasher, the measuring systems in a production environment may be deficient or poorly calibrated. Put crudely, each time you make a log that is 2 cm too long, you’re looking at losing a 2.5 m log with each 125 cuts you make. Spread that over an entire shift, and you’re looking at $5,800 each year per processor in lost volume.

In another example, what seem like small tears or bruises on a log out in the field may stand out to a grader in the sawmill. The tips of a loader grapple may crush or tear the surface or sapwood of a log, which may not seem significant to the operator. However, regardless of the cause, such little “bruises” will be considered as defects that will reduce the grade, and thus value of that piece of lumber at the mill. The more valuable the resource, the higher the costs, with some eastern hardwood operations paying dearly for minor mistakes at the landing.


If for example, damage on a three-bdft piece of hardwood or pine lumber drops that piece one grade down, say from select to 1 common, in that case the loss is $1.50. Five like it each day means $1,575 per year. All that from one poorly-maintained or operated grapple. How many grapples do you have? Or processor feed rolls?

The log haul is another point you don’t want to neglect. Here too it pays – literally – to determine whether the overweight fines you are currently paying (as well as any lost haul weight by erring too far the other way) might justify the cost of an on-board scale system.

Of course the design and size of landings or sort yards, as well as where to place them compared to your various mill customers, is another art form worth considering carefully. A little planning, or retooling, on this front can dramatically improve the traffic of machines and trucks along forest roads, which can easily net a logging operation $4,355 a year in fuel savings alone.

Yard tricks
Once the truck makes it to the mill yard, the organization and management here can have a major impact on log costs, both in terms of the haul from the woods and storage and transport in the yard itself. The circulation of rolling stock is the priority. A key step is to make a really big, clear sign telling all visitors the CB channel used for on-site communication, the yard layout, the location and numbers of the piles, the traffic flow and routes, any key internal rules, and safety procedures. This sign should be installed in a high visibility location, near the entrance, allowing the trucker to communicate effectively with whoever is in charge of his load being transferred. Just by making simple, inexpensive, but crucial changes like this, your operation can easily save $2,892 per year, as well as reduce the risk of accidents and time lost (and no doubt frustration).

The identification and documentation of all work done by the loader operators, in real time, allows you to develop a management strategy for both normal and extraordinary circumstances (e.g. just before spring break up). The information can also be used to measure for each load, the time to unload depending on the equipment used, sorting time, scaling, recuperating and bringing various species to the appropriate piles, as well as time spent feeding the production lines. Once analyzed, this can help identify dead time and better organize the work flow, saving $9,042 per year.

Log inventory piles also require vigilant planning and reconsideration. A laminated document showing the location and number of each pile must be available at all times. Seasons will have a major impact on pile location for mills dealing with a variety of species. Species that are sensitive to heat or sunshine, like maple, birch, or others, will benefit from watering or a faster, more rigid inventory rotation, all to the tune of $1,256 to over $15,000, depending on species.

Laying poor quality or damaged squares or stems under the base of certain piles can eliminate damage to the bottom layer of logs stuck in winter ice, an economy of $1,767 per year.

Determining the annual volume of each species used by the mill may allow you to dispose of the species more strategically, thus minimizing loader movement, and saving another $1,150 per year. Also when training new loader operators, it’s worth the effort to give them a method of easily and quickly identifying all your species (more important for hardwood mills), cutting training time in half for an economy of $767 per new employee.  

Finally, it will often make sense to pre-sort logs by dimension in order to improve sawing efficiencies, for another $2,303 a year. Also note that the position of the log as it enters the infeed conveyor can have a significant impact on the maintenance needs of the conveyor. Again, another small action that can have costly consequences if not done properly.

In the end, for a logging operation or small mill, such steps can indeed make all the difference.


Sylvain Périard is a consultant in logging and primary transformation based in the Montebello region of Quebec. speriard@videotron.ca.

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