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Optifor Fills Role in Rebuilt Weyerhaeuser Mill;

Supplies Lumber Grading Optimizer for Revamped Big River Mill to Determine Trimming Solutions for Best Value

By Jack Petree
Date Posted: 10/1/2001


BIG RIVER, Saskatchewan — Some of the world's great forests are found in Canada's north lands. To conserve these forest resources and to tap the wood fiber they contain, Canadian provinces like Saskatchewan manage the government-owned lands, issuing Forest Management Licences for timber harvesting under carefully determined parameters.

The government issues licenses to Weyerhaeuser and other forest products companies, and they are expected to conduct harvesting operations — under the supervision of Crown foresters — in ways that conserve natural resources. The companies also must provide the infrastructure, directly or indirectly, that is necessary to process the wood efficiently.

Last year Weyerhaeuser decided to rebuild a mill in Big River, Saskatchewan. The company wanted to increase the mill’s ability to recover the maximum volume of wood fiber. In addition, the company sought to maximize the value of its wood products.

Weyerhaeuser’s use of an Optifor Lumber Grading Optimizer (LGO) in the facility's planer mill shows how mill improvements can enhance recovery and benefit a company, the community it serves, and natural resources.

Forest products have been a staple of the Big River economy almost since the region was settled, and Weyerhaeuser has been a significant player for decades. The company wanted to remain in the region, but the aging mill grew more outdated. With an ample supply of wood in the region, the company decided to rebuild the mill. It embarked on an ambitious plan to upgrade the plant and to make it one of North America's most modern SPF (spruce, pine, fir) dimension lumber mills. The project is nearing completion.

The new mill will use optimization throughout. Angela Davis, a project engineer at the new mill, said Weyerhaeuser chose to fully optimize the rebuilt mill because of the company’s dedication to the environment and to increase the value of lumber recovery. Optimized mills are more environmentally responsible, she noted, because they increase the recovery of lumber and other products from the wood.

And increasing value helps a mill to compete successfully, especially in challenging economic times. A profitable mill provides important jobs and infrastructure to the community and region.

The planer operation is one area were significant value can be added to the wood that is processed in the mill. It is a good example of how incremental benefits in optimization can allow a mill to make big improvements in efficiency and profitability.

Weyerhaeuser's Big River mill saws spruce, pine and fir into dimension lumber for markets throughout North America. The mill produces a large volume of 2x4, but it also saws all dimensions through 10 inches in lengths from 6 to 20 feet. The lumber is stress tested at the planer mill so it can be sold as structural lumber. Finished lumber is shipped throughout North America and to overseas markets, too.

The heart of the optimizing effort in the Big River planer mill is an Optifor Lumber Grading Optimizer (LGO) that is capable of grading lumber accurately at speeds up to 2,100 feet per minute. The Optifor Lumber Grading Optimizer has substantially improved the value of Big River’s lumber because of its speed and its ability to scan and calculate values for almost unlimited combinations of grade and length.

Optifor's LGO system uses four cameras and lasers to measure all four sides of a piece of lumber. The system measures length and width every ½-inch and overall length. It analyzes the data, including market values for demand and price that are entered in by the user. The optimizer then decides how to trim the board to achieve the highest value.

Weyerhaeuser chose Optifor to supply the system because of its speed and accuracy, according to Angela. A mill’s best graders can do a remarkable job of inspecting each piece of wood and getting optimum value from it, but they cannot approach the speed of the Optifor system. Nor can they make adjustments in grading that match the variety of solutions the LGO can offer.

"We can update weekly for market values on all the length and grade combinations we might want to — or even more often if we need to," said Angela. "Optifor assures us we can have accuracy to a ½-inch scan density, although we're finding that in actual operation it is accurate to 1/8-inch."

Another advantage of Optifor's system was its compatibility with other equipment. Stress testing is very important to Weyerhaeuser's marketing program, Angela noted, and the Optifor LGO system fit seamlessly with the stress testing equipment.

Optifor also demonstrated an unusual willingness to go to great lengths, working as a partner with Weyerhaeuser to help it achieve success in the planer operation, according to Angela. "You can tell they developed out of a research company," she said. "They have really gone the extra mile to determine what we need from their equipment and then make the equipment work for our situation. They don't just install the equipment and leave it up to you to adjust to it. Their chief goal in working with us was obviously to make their equipment do what we needed it to do in our specific situation. We appreciated that."

By utilizing the best, most up-to-date equipment and technology, Weyerhaeuser and other companies enhance their efficiency and profitability, which also benefits the communities where their operations are based and conserves natural resources. The revamped Big River mill, when fully operational, will be one of the premier dimension SPF mills in North America. It will play an important role in processing and recovering wood from the region’s managed forests. Optimization technology will help to ensure that the most lumber possible is recovered.

For more information, contact Optifor at (418) 688-4760 or e-mail optifor@criq.qc.ca.




 






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