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Mountain Forest Products Conserving Resources

Chip Line Supplied by Price Systems Enables Company to Cull Low-Grade Wood, Improve Forest Resources

By Jack Petree - Contributing Author
Date Posted: 6/1/2001

CLINTWOOD, Virginia — Few companies are more conscientious about conserving natural resources than those that own them. They understand that forests managed for recovering fiber on a long-term, sustainable basis will provide the greatest economic benefit.

Mountain Forest Products, located in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia, is working to create well-managed forests, a sustainable resource that is both a source of profit for the company and an environmental treasure for the region. In managing its 130,000-plus acres of woodlands for the highest economic value, Mountain Forest Products is improving the forest, said president Randy Toms. It is also providing surrounding landowners a management tool they need to improve their own forests.

Pittston, a multi-national corporation that recently decided to exit the coal business, acquired Mountain Forest Products in 1995 to manage its forest resources. Mountain Forest Products has been harvesting timber on company lands and supplying a grade mill in nearby Abingdon with quality hardwood logs.

The company’s management options were limited, however, by the lack of local mill capacity for processing lower quality material. Mountain Forest Products was ‘high grading’ its forests, explained Randy, harvesting the best wood and leaving the inferior. "We did not have a steady market for the low-grade end of the business," he said. "For both environmental reasons and for the improvement of value in the forest, we wanted to switch our focus and begin taking more of the less desirable trees, leaving the better material to grow more rapidly."

To achieve its goals, Mountain Forest Products investigated the marketplace and decided on a strategy that included building a high-volume chip mill, supplied by Price Systems Inc., for pulp wood and also a sawmill to process low-grade hardwood logs into products for industrial markets, such as railroad ties, pallet lumber and flooring. A plant with the capability to do both would give the company a full range of processing options, allowing Mountain Forest Products to harvest any tree for its highest and best use. The ability to recover fiber effectively and efficiently from low-grade logs would enable the company’s foresters to thin the poorest trees from the forests, leaving behind high-value timber that would be able to flourish and grow faster.

The Price Systems chip line is the centerpiece of the company’s new facility. Since low-grade logs are being culled from the forest, chipping frequently is the highest and best use of the wood.

Mountain Forest Products chose Price Systems because of its extensive experience in the forest products industry. Price Systems has 18 mills of its own operating throughout the East. "Their equipment was a good match with our needs," said Randy, "and we knew they had refined their equipment in their own facilities. I had also had personal experience with them and considered them to be the kind of reputable firm we wanted to work with."

The chip line installed at Mountain Forest Products is similar to that in most of the Price Systems installations. Logs coming into the yard are weighed on Toledo scales, and then the trucks move to an unbinding rack. Truck traffic is controlled by the operator of a 170-degree Le Tourneau radial log crane by means of two-way radio.

After the binders are removed, the trucks move to an unloading area. Drivers leave their trucks and go inside a building where they communicate via radio with the crane operator and help spot the crane’s grapple. Logs are unloaded and placed either onto a conveyor leading to a drum debarker or into log storage. They may be stored three lengths deep in a ring around the crane, depending on the availability of logs and the capacity of the equipment. As the logs are loaded onto the debarker conveyor, the crane operator can remove cull logs or logs that are clearly saw logs.

Chip logs move into a Price Systems drum debarker based on the rubber tire units that Price designed for its own use some years ago. Drum debarking is a technology that has been around for some time but has been underused, according to John Price. It consists of a large, rotating drum. After being filled with logs, the wood tumbles inside the drum. The logs roll against each other, literally rubbing off the bark. The system is gentler on the wood than some kinds of mechanical debarking, according to John. It also is effective with crooked stems, which was a consideration for Mountain Forest Products since it sought to utilize low-grade logs.

In the 1980s the cost of drum debarkers and the associated equipment was too high for small mills, John noted. Reliability also was an issue. He set out to remedy the situation, designing and building a rubber tired debarker for his own mill that was both affordable and strong enough to stand up under the constant pounding of thousands of pounds of tumbling logs. That initial unit was the predecessor of the Price Systems drum debarker of today. By all accounts it is a speedy, efficient, effective way of removing bark from trees destined to be processed into chips.

One modification to the usual Price Systems line is a Huot kick-out unit that has been integrated into the system. In keeping with its commitment to use each log for its highest value, the Huot equipment allows Mountain Forest Products to remove a log from the chip line and route it to the sawmill to be converted into lumber for industrial markets. Similar equipment also was put into the sawmill line, allowing a log to be selected out and routed to the chip mill.

The chip mill is equipped with a Black-Claussen chipper that has a 12-knife, 116-inch diameter disc. Chips exit the mill over one of two BM&M screens. Oversized chips are processed in a Jeffrey chip sizer and then rerouted over the chip screens while undersized material is collected in a trailer for separate sale.

The bark derived from the Price Systems line is removed by conveyor, processed through a Jeffrey bark hog, and then placed in waiting trailers for sale as either raw material for mulch or as hog fuel.

The Price Systems chip mill has been a good investment for Mountain Forest Products, said Randy. The line produces a very high-value chip with very little bark contamination, he said. Paper company customers have been pleased with the chip quality of Mountain Forest Products, he said.

The sawmill, located alongside the chip mill, was designed by MAC Equipment Company. With the exception of a Cleereman carriage, a Fulghum chipper and Webster Industries vibrating waste conveyors, the sawmill uses MAC technology throughout. Throughput is eight cants per minute.

Logs coming into the sawmill are sorted by diameter; the sort point is 12 inches. Depending on size, the logs go to either the Cleereman circle saw head rig or to a MAC/ASM sharp chain head rig. The MAC unit is equipped with chipping heads and two circle saws for removing side boards. The two wood streams then converge, with boards going to an edger and cants moving to a gang resaw. All the boards are routed together and are trimmed before moving to a 20-bay sling sorter with an auto stacker.

Annual production from the Mountain Forest Products sawmill includes as much as 250,000 ties and 3-5 million board feet of hardwood flooring stock. The chip line can produce 1,200 tons of chips per day. Combined annual production is about 300,000 tons of chips and 20 million board feet of sawn material.

The chip mill and sawmill benefit not only Mountain Forest Products but also other landowners in the region. In the past, Randy noted, there was no market in the region for low-grade trees. High-grade logs were harvested, and much of the low-grade material was left either to rot or be burned or standing. "Our own lands only supply about 25 percent of the material we need to run this mill," said Randy. "So we purchase fiber from many of the landowners in the area. Because there is now a market in the area for low-grade logs, landowners can upgrade their own forests, just as we are doing with ours."

The forest products industry needs to continue to demonstrate that conservation and making a profit are not co-exclusive. Mountain Forest Products demonstrates every day that a processing facility set up to utilize forest resources to the highest and best value can be profitable and also can play an important role in improving a region’s forests. As Randy pointed out, the forests and communities of southwest Virginia have benefitted significantly as a result of the decision by Mountain Forest Products to invest in a facility to handle wood that would have once been either wasted or left in the forest.


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