Micromill Adds Diversity to Canadian Logger

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M.W. Miller Logging: Micromill Adds Diversity to Canadian Logger

PEMBROKE, Ontario — Plantation — and plenty of them —needed thinning in southeastern Ontario. For Barry Verch, owner of M.W. Miller Logging, itwas an opportunity.

Barry knew that thinning 5-inch to 8-inch pines would diversify hislogging business, but he needed an outlet for the wood and the proper equipment to processit.

In 1998, Barry discovered Micromill Systems and bought a Micromill SLP3000D, a modular sawmill designed especially for smaller operators. The Micromill machinenot only had sufficient power, but the sawmill has worked out so well that it has fueledthe growth of M.W. Miller Logging.

micromill1.JPG (27940 bytes)”I hired on nine people that theMicromill made work for,” said Barry. “We get 22,000 board feet from it in aneight and one-half hour shift. That’s how well production is going.”

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It was the potential for that kind of output that initially sold Barryon a sawmill from Micromill Systems. “For what it can do, it’s veryaffordable,” he said. “The machine is not that expensive when you consider theamount it produces.

Micromill Systems are medium production machines designed to offersmaller operators a heavy-duty, mobile system. The entire mill is enclosed in a 20 footcontainer, and all the components break down to be shipped in a second 20 foot container.Also, the Micromill is a complete stand-alone system that does not require any supportservices or structure around it.

“The Micromill is ideal for processing logs in a burn area,”said Don Causton, owner of Micromill Systems. “You can set our machine up reasonablywell in the wilderness. Setup takes about two days; run the mill for six months in a burnarea. And then transfer it somewhere else. Our mill is reasonably mobile, but it is notportable.”

Micromill Systems sawmills are designed to saw logs up to 12 inches.Available in several models, including an electric version, each Micromill Systems sawmillis equipped with a four-head chipping system and a double horizontal arbor saw. Theoperator has the option of producing cants and-or dimensional lumber in a single pass.

“The whole secret to making money in small mills is to handle thelog once and do all the processing in one pass,” said Don. “The Micromill doesthat.”

Micromill Systems Inc. is based in Summerland, British Columbia. Donsaid Micromill Systems sawmills are popular in the U.S. and in Eastern Europe, such asLatvia, and also Siberia. According to Don, Micromill is particularly attractive tocompanies in Russia because it allows them to produce marketable lumber out of the smalland reject material that Japan and other trading partners will not accept.

Many of Micromill’s customers move into an area where there is notany use for the smaller material, and it is too far to take the logs to a mill. Whenoperators start looking at five inch tops, a lot of times they are just chipped up in thebush or pushed into piles and burned.

“From an environmental perspective, loggers are taking out treesthat must be removed for thinning, but with the Micromill, they can actually makemerchantable lumber from it,” said Don.

The Micromill has been a perfect fit for M.W. Miller. Currently, theMicromill handles one-third of M.W. Miller’s business. M.W. Miller uses the Micromillto process logs into “squares” — 4×4, 4×6, 6×6, 6×8 and 8×8 that are soldfor guard rails, decks and retaining walls; most of the material for those applications ispressure treated.

Bark is removed with a Morbark peeler. However, the Micromill does notrequire that logs be peeled before processing. Logs are sorted according to four diametercategories prior to sawing. “If we pre-sort logs before we mill, we get moreproduction,” explained Barry, who plans to build a roof over the Micromill so that hecan keep it going in snow and rain. “I know we can get up to 30,000 board feet perday with the Micromill. I’m working on it.”

All headset adjustments are electronically controlled and users canprogram 14 presets in the machine, which helps speed up production. By simply hitting onebutton, the chipping heads will adjust to the cant size that will optimize recovery fromthe log. Headset adjustments are accurate to within one millimeter.

micromill2.JPG (32073 bytes)”Our Micromill has a 250 hp Caterpillarengine and can process 65 linear feet per minute if the logs are pre-sorted and wedon’t have to do the head-set adjustments,” said Barry. The chipper knives aredouble-sided and can be sharpened four times; they are changed once each day.

With its chipping system, the sawmill produces small fiber chipsinstead of slabs; M.W. Miller generates a trailer-load of “pin” chips daily. Thechips are blown into a bin and then emptied into a trailer. The company sells them to anearby plant that specializes in medium density fiberboard.

M.W. Miller follows in the tradition of the Pembroke area, a region of70,000 people that lies in the Ottawa River Valley and is a center for logging andsawmilling. Pembroke is about 150 miles northeast of Toronto. Home base for M.W. Milleractually is about 25 miles south of Pembroke.

Barry has owned M.W. Miller for 13 years. He got his start in loggingby working as a log scaler for his father-in-law, who owned M.W. Miller & Sons, Ltd.

The centerpiece of the logging operation is a Timbco 450 feller-buncherthat feeds three Timberjack 240 skidders. “We log the equivalent of 50,000 to 75,000board feet per day to keep five trucks — all Western Stars — full,”explained Barry. “Our main logging is 40 percent Crown.”

M.W. Miller has 15 employees on the payroll. Depending on conditions,sometimes the company has up to 21, including contract workers. M.W. Miller has a garageand a full-time mechanic to service all its equipment.

Barry buys standing timber and timber land; he usually resells the landafter harvesting the trees. “At any time, I own between 1,000 and 2,000 acres,”he said. In addition to processing small logs on the Micromill sawmill and a Board Bandit,M.W. Miller also delivers a lot of pulpwood and sells saw logs to other mills.

“We build all our own roads,” he said. “We have a 300Komatsu excavator. We do all our own lumber hauling…chip hauling…custom floating. Andwe haul a bit of gravel, too.”

Barry enjoys the forest products industry. “I like being outdoorsand get satisfaction out of doing a decent job in the forest,” he said. “I meeta lot of nice people because we must log 1,500-1,700 acres a year to keep inbusiness.”

Adding the Micromill Systems sawmill has allowed the company to diversify and expand.”We had to diversify,” said Barry. “The government gave so many peopleearly retirement, many of them started cutting trees.” The sawmill adds anotherdimension to M.W. Miller. “I enjoyed the way we were operating,” said Barry.”But now, when one thing is slowing down, the other is picking up.”