Sweed machine nicely aligns with the efficiencies that Tricon Timber aims for and ensures that steel banding with sharp edges will be quickly removed from the mill.
ST. REGIS, Montana — Waste not, want not. Economy is a virtue. Choose any proverb or adage that speaks to the prudent use of resources and find it played out each day at Tricon Timber LLC.
Vertical integration guides activities at Tricon Timber, a company with both a stud mill and a roundwood mill. Michael McDonald, who has been with the Tricon Timber for more than nine years, shared with us some of the ways his employer extracts value from timber – and also from every bit of ancillary material used during sawing and processing that fiber.
Michael has several roles at the 21-year-old Tricon Timber. He is Purchasing Manager, Project Manager and does engineering when time allows. Just how committed to maximum use of raw material is his employer? Michael pointed to a particularly illustrative example: Several years ago, a banding chopper from Sweed Machinery, Inc., Gold Hill, Ore. was put into service.
“It’s one of the best on the market,” said Michael of the Sweed banding chopper. The chopper reduces banding scrap into manageable pieces, which drop into a 55-gallon drum. When two or more drums are full, they are taken to Pacific Recycling in Missoula, Mont.
The Sweed banding chopper in use at Tricon cuts scrap metal in the form of one-half to three-quarter-inch steel metal strap. (It has the potential to cut 1 ¼-inch wide strap.) The scrap comes from bands that are used to consolidate boards as they move between planer and stacker stations.
“We’ll band some 1” x 4” together that are used as stickers,” explained Michael. The stickers are used on the 2” x 4” and 2” x 6” automatic stackers. The stickers are placed between each layer of boards en route to the kilns. After the green boards have dried in the kilns (Tricon has 3 kilns), the stacks are taken to the planer, where the boards are automatically unstacked and sent to the planer. The stickers are pushed off, and recycled again, where they will be stacked and banded again, to be reused in the stacker.
The banding chopper from Sweed could not be more convenient, said Michael. “It sits right on top of the 55-gallon drum” that will be used to transport scraps to the recycling facility. “One person to operate it.”
The Sweed machine nicely aligns with the efficiencies that Tricon Timber aims for at every juncture, but it was adopted because it ensured that steel banding with sharp edges would be quickly removed from the mill. “The biggest reason we have it around the sawmill is safety,” said Michael.
The fact that the Sweed banding chopper has been performing its task so reliably for so many years demonstrates one important component of its tenure. “It’s a good product,” said Michael. And he added that when he needs parts from Sweed Machinery, he gets them promptly.
With its durability and strong performance, the older Sweed banding chopper, a Model 450AB, will see service for some time to come at Tricon Timber. But Sweed Machinery does offer a newer model, the 450WM banding chopper, which has a 3 ½-inch infeed opening, designed for wider materials. The chopper cuts steel band as well as plastic (PET) strap.
When a band is inserted in the chopper, pinch rolls grab it and pull it toward a rotating knife. The feedworks pull at the rate of 106 feet per minute on the Sweed model 450WM. The machine operates with an economical ¾ -horsepower electric motor.
The sawmill that Tricon Timber operates in St. Regis, Mont. spans 16,000 square feet, an original building accounts for three-quarters of the space and a recent addition for the remainder. It’s a busy mill that takes in both small and tree-length logs.
When we spoke to Michael in February, a big change was about to take place among the saw lines. An older vertical cant line for small diameter logs and a headrig for large diameter logs are staying. (Michael demurred when asked about the vintage equipment. He said the equipment is “nothing special,” except that it works well and consistently.)
But the time-tested equipment in the mill will soon be joined in service by a fully automated Optimil from Optimil Machinery Inc., Delta, British Columbia, Canada. “We’re just finishing up,” said Michael, noting the system was running and being fine tuned. He explained the Optimil will literally take in a log and convert it to 1×4, 2×4 and 2×6 dimensional product.
Tricon Timber uses a variety of species. Douglas fir, Larch and Lodgepole pine predominate in the nine-foot stud mill. Lodgepole pine is also the main source of raw material for the roundwood mill, but blue ponderosa pine is also used. Current projections for the stud mill is about 75 million BF/year.
The stud mill produces framing lumber as well as softwood flooring and wainscot. The roundwood product, which ranges up to 21 feet in length, is used in fencing, nursery stock, jumping rails and many specialty products. The roundwood mill used both a Mobark Peeler and a doweling machine.
The St. Regis home of Tricon Timber is part of Mineral County, Montana. The town has approximately 300 residents. It is located in the northwest part of the state in the eastern foothills of the Bitterroot Mountains, made famous by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Tricon Timber is the largest employer in Mineral County.
Vertical integration at Tricon Timber begins with procurement. Among the 150 employees of the company, there are three foresters.
“We get the logs several ways,” said Michael. “Our foresters work with those having private sales. We go where we need to – Montana, Idaho, and Washington.” Tricon Timber then arranges to have the wood cut or sends out its own crews. Conservation of material extends to slash piles that are fed to a D-8 Caterpillar grinder; the grinder yields material for fueling hogs and other power sources.
“Purchasing, cutting, milling, trucking, residuals” all form a fully integrated line, said Michael. The strategy for keeping all the parts of the company interacting at optimal efficiency involves employees. Everyone routinely thinks about ways to do things better and make changes as required to keep moving forward.
“We are small enough that we can adapt,” said Michael. And he explained that adaptation in the hyper-competitive timber market is essential.
To make product for export to China, Tricon Timber modified its Stetson Ross 610 planer. It also recalibrated sawmill equipment to metric measurements.
Tricon Timber relies on three Irving Moore kilns, which it bought at auction, for drying and for heat treating material for export. “We’ll sell wood anywhere,” said Michael.
The first kiln was introduced at Tricon Timber to capitalize on small logs from thinning, logs that could go to a pulp mill or be used in a novel way for flooring. That is, the flooring could be made from small (to two feet) and narrow (to 1 ¾ inch) lengths if it is dried properly. Such drying must be slow.
To get the flooring project going, Tricon worked with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Montana Community Development Corporation (MCDC). The latter helped Tricon prepare a grant application to the Forest Service Economic Action Program for partial funding for one kiln. Craig Rawlings, a small wood enterprise agent with the MCDC, described the venture
in the spring 2005 newsletter of the
MCDC. The full story is available at www.mtcdc.org .
A member of the Intermountain Roundwood Association in Seeley Lake, Mont., Tricon Timber has been among companies working with the USFS and the University of Montana and Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation as they aim to increase gains from biomass to energy conversions. In one recent study, slash piles were evaluated as viable sources of fiber for bio- or co-generation plants. The slash was ground first.
The can-do attitude at Tricon Timber is mirrored in the perspective of Sweed Machinery, a company that has been in business for more than half a century. Sweed’s recycling division encompasses equipment for dealing with everything from bandsaw blades to wire rope.
But Sweed Machinery also serves the needs of sawmills in many ways. The company offers load turners and material handling equipment suitable for wood products. Engineering solutions with small footprints is just part of the assistance the company offers to mills. And in an era of doing the most with the least, the service matters more than ever.
To be sure, it’s interesting to reflect on how closely the philosophy of vertical integration and the philosophy of conservation of resources are tied to each other. The more control a company, such as Tricon, has over each component in its enterprise, the more easily it can make certain best practices are in full use.
In the same context, the moniker “Big Sky Country” is affectionately applied to the home state of Tricon Timber with great aptness. The image of majestic firs against clear blue above and often fast-running rivers below is one memory held tight. With the global competition for rare earth elements becoming fierce, the mineral wealth of the area is likely to get closer scrutiny, too, and deservedly so.
A native of Missoula, Michael spent time in California before realizing how much he missed his home state of Montana. He returned to Missoula, but could not find work there commensurate with his experience. He is happy to be able to put his business and electronics background to work at Tricon Timber.
“I never have two days the same,” said Michael. And the variety of his efforts is something he enjoys. Away from his job, Michael likes to golf and fish.