Wood Business

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US mill retires Fortress metal detector after 25 years of service


January 24, 2022
By Fortress Technology

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After 25 years service the first ever Fortress metal detector built by company founder Steve Gidman – serial number 0001 – has been retired by Toney Lumber and a new model installed in November 2021. Photos provided.

In the ultimate sign of equipment longevity and reliability, 25 years after the Toney Lumber Company in Louisburg, N.C., installed its original rugged Fortress Technology lumber inspection metal detector – machine serial number 0001 – the 19-acre southern yellow pine saw mill has upgraded to a fresh model. The original inspection machine remained fully functional until the switchover.

After processing roughly 500 million board feet during its 25-year lifetime, president of the family-run sawmill, Roger Melvin, cites business continuity as the primary driver for retiring the robust Phantom Lumber Metal Detector and making the new capital investment.

Come rain or shine, the long-lasting metal detector, located outdoors under a sloping roof, has endured heat waves, snow blizzards, driving rain and damaging hurricane winds.  Yet the machine, which was only upgraded from analogue to digital in 2017, continued to reliably identify and kick out between 10 and 30 logs daily that presented with an embedded metal contaminant.

Metal contamination in wood can be very costly, notes Roger. Aside from mitigating damage to saw blades – which can cost thousands of dollars each time to replace – the downtime caused by re-sharpening blades or production coming to a standstill can be an even bigger drain on the company’s production yield. Protecting workforce welfare and safety is another critical rationale for identifying and removing metal contaminants from logs before processing. “When metal strikes the saw blades it can cause hazardous flying shrapnel which puts our employees in danger of injury,” explains Roger.

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Inspecting 16- and 12-foot logs before debarking and processing up to 20 million board feet of decking, quality stair treads and stringers annually, Toney Lumber estimates that their upstream legacy metal detector paid for itself well within the first year of installation. Mostly by abating damage to expensive sawmill equipment. The company anticipates a similar, if not faster, return on investment with its newest Fortress metal detector installed in November 2021.

Fortress has kept the slice of the 2nd test log inspected by the now retired lumber metal detector.

Fortress Technology is a privately owned Toronto-based company. Founder and president Steve Gidman was there on the ground when the first metal detector went in 25 years ago. He recalls: “The logs are so immense and everything’s shaking as the log is conveyed down the line and through the detector. The Toney Lumber team did an excellent job of installing the system, following all the instructions perfectly. This had a lot to do with the performance of the metal detector.”

In that moment, Steve never imagined a metal detector could last 25-plus years in a sawmill environment. “It’s such a rugged application and being beaten up every day as well as being exposed to the elements.”

Turning trees into logs

The second-generation North Carolina business manages the primary processing of pre-cut logs. On arrival in the Louisburg yard, all deliveries undergo rigorous visual inspection and weight checks at the scale house. The logs are then unloaded by a knuckleboom loader and separated by dimension.  Logs that don’t meet the quality specification because they are regarded too crooked or knotted are rejected and sent back to suppliers. Good logs are then sorted into two sizes, storing on decks in preparation for inspection.

During summer months logs are saturated with water to prevent a fungus forming and causing irreversible staining to the wood. Just like any other product application, this added moisture can affect the performance and sensitivity of metal detectors. To overcome this, Fortress is assisting the yard to establish wet, dry and mixed calibration settings. The goal, explains maintenance superintendent Chris Buchanan is to reduce false rejects. “The maximum sensitivity of this metal detector is 100 and we are currently operating at around six which is a fantastic result,” he states.

Finding metal in a log can be equally challenging. Especially given the mix of contaminants that can range from screws, spikes, signs from fences, barbed wire and even bullets.

Inspecting felled timber logs before debarking, metal detection helps to mitigate machine downtime and costly damage to Toney Lumber’s sawmill equipment.

When the metal detector picks out a contaminated log rarely will the entire log be discarded. “Most of the time we can cut out or around the metal if it is close to the edge or end of the log,” notes Chris. Toney Lumber has one person allocated full time to performing this task. With up to 30 logs rejected daily for metal contaminants, the savings soon add up.

Seeding the Fortress sustainability concept

Securing a reorder to install another Fortress Technology metal detector during the company’s 25th year is especially poignant for Gidman. “Toney Lumber played a big part in our development, taking calls from other customers to report on the functionality and performance of our systems. Their endorsements have been a huge help for a young company when building an international reputation for product inspection technologies,” he recounts.

Reflecting on an exciting journey from literally hand assembling circuit boards for the lumber company’s metal detector at his kitchen table and building the detector in his family garage, the inspection pioneer concedes that he didn’t anticipate the machine lasting more than 10 years. “We were wrong. Nobody touched that system for over a decade. It lasted 21 years before it got its first upgrade from a Pinpoint to a Phantom, and it’s still functioning 25 years later” divulges Gidman.

Throughout the years of robust growth and expansions, Gidman always revels in recollecting this first ever install. “During the testing on site the alarm went off on the second log being inspected and the belt stopped. It was a bit surprising. Visually there was no metal present. Removed from the conveyor the log was cut open. Sparks flew off the chainsaw, confirming the presence of a metal fragment,” expands the Fortress founder. The slice removed continues to take pride of place in the company’s Toronto HQ.

Gidman continues: “Hearing someone at the sawmill state that the system just paid for itself there and then was a ‘happy dance moment’. It was a good omen of things to come for Fortress.”

Roger and Chris reassert that their original metal detector would likely be plugging away for another few years. Yet, from a business continuity perspective their latest install, which looks, feels and operates in virtually the same way, provides the assurance they need to maintain a sustainable sawmill business.

“Metal detection supports our quality control and sustainability strategy by helping to mitigate machine downtime. It also helps to deliver a better yield for the timber and logs we purchase, predominantly sourced from local landowners. As a forestry certified company, any measure that helps to improve yield and stops valuable timber being wasted is a more sustainable practice,” emphasizes Roger.