Roy O. Martin Lumber Stays on Leading Edge

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In Latest Investment in State-of-the-Art Technology, Company Turns to Perceptron for Carriage Optimizing

LEMOYEN, Louisiana — Roy O. Martin Lumber Company is one of the largest and most diverse privately held companies in the U.S. forest products industry. It has some of the most extensive land holdings of any similar enterprise in the country and trades in lumber, oriented strand board (OSB), plywood, and other products on the worldwide stage. The company’s operations include a wood treating plant. It also is the managing partner in three major production facilities, the Martco Partnership Sawmill, Martco Partnership Plywood, and Martco Partnership OSB.

Roy O. Martin Lumber Company, the umbrella firm for the Martin interests, was founded in the late 1920s by the grandfather of today’s president and CEO, Jonathan Martin. It has been managed to be environmentally conscious and economically viable, and it is known throughout the forest products industry as a world-class business. While each of the individual enterprises might be managed as a separate company, the overall goals — in terms of technology and product quality — are common to each.

One important hallmark of the Martco plants is extensive investment in the most modern equipment possible, according to Jonathan. Each plant features state-of-the-art technology, and it is continuously updated as newer and more advanced technology becomes available. “Martco chooses to operate at a level that most other sawmills cannot afford,” said Jonathan, “but with the success of our customers at stake, we cannot afford not to. We take great pride in our product so that our customers can be proud to buy, sell, or use Roy O. Martin’s Lumber.”

By way of example, Jonathan pointed to the Martco Partnership Sawmill in LeMoyen, Louisiana. The mill was built from the ground up in 1984 to be one of the most modern sawmills in the nation and has been upgraded several times since to keep it at the top of the industry in terms of production and product quality. The mill recently was equipped with Perceptron’s new MillExpert Carriage Optimizer, coupled with Perceptron’s LASAR 3-D scanning technology to provide log scanning ‘on-the-fly.’

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Similarly, the Martco Plywood plant, a new state-of-the-art facility in Chopin, Louisiana, is the most advanced facility in North America, the company believes. It is equipped with the latest in high-speed lathes, computerized veneer dryers and stackers, composers, automatic lay-up lines, sanders and presses. The Martco Partnership OSB plant likewise is technologically up to date and was the first mill in the South to use hardwood pulp in its manufacturing operations.

The recent upgrades to the Martco Partnership Sawmill make it one of the most advanced hardwood sawmill facilities in the U.S., according to Jonathan. Located near central Louisiana some 140 miles west and slightly north of New Orleans, the Martco mill manufactures lumber from a dozen or so hardwood species. Eighty percent of the production is red oak, white oak, ash, sap gum, and cypress. The oaks predominate but the Martco mill is one of the largest single suppliers of Southern Ash in North America. The mill’s total production exceeds 52 million board feet per year.

Martco mills a wide range of random width and random length lumbers in a variety of thicknesses up to 12/4. Lumber, which accounts for 75% of the mill’s production, is sold through distribution channels to wholesalers and directly to end users, including furniture, cabinet, and recreational vehicle manufacturers. The company also sells extensively in export markets; about 10% of the mill’s lumber production goes overseas. The remaining 25% of the company’s overall production is in timbers, railroad ties and pallet cants.

The company’s acreage includes a diverse mix of Southern yellow pine and hardwoods which is managed as sustainable, mixed-age forests that support balanced ecosystems and produce high quality timber. The land holdings provide a base of 140,000 acres of hardwood timber and 300,000 acres of pine with ongoing company initiatives to expand further.

One of the company’s major objectives is to ensure the future supply of logs. Jonathan explained in a company newsletter recently why expanding the timber supply is so important. “We must find ways to grow our timber base,” he wrote. “We can either acquire more timber or improve the yield from our current supply. Actually, we need to do both. Today, we can supply one-half of our timber needs from the lands we own or control. If for some reason we cannot grow our timber supply, the equation is quite simple: no timber, no jobs.”

One way to improve yield — in both quality and quantity — is to use equipment that enables the Martco sawmill to recover the most highest-valued wood products from each log.

Logs scheduled for sawing pass through a Nicholson dual ring debarker to remove bark and help the scanners do their job efficiently. Logs then go to one of two 6-foot Filer and Stowell bandmills with 60-inch opening Filer and Stowell carriages. The breakdown system is equipped with some of the newest scanning technology available, the Perceptron MillExpert Carriage Optimizer. After breakdown, the fiber moves on to optimized edgers and trimmers. The lumber is planed, dried, and optimized for sale. Each process is accomplished with machinery and technology from leading suppliers to the forest products industry — companies such as USNR, Gillingham-Best, Newman Machine, Lucidyne, American Wood Dryers, and Lignomat.

The Perceptron MillExpert optimization system is typical of the Martco dedication to improvement throughout the mill. In keeping with Jonathan’s philosophy that state-of-the-art technology is required to produce the quality products his customers require, the Martco Partnership Mill had been fully optimized prior to the installation of the new Perceptron system. “We were looking for something more accurate than traditional photocell technology,” said Jonathan, “so when this was presented to us, we took a serious look at it.”

The Perceptron representatives promised real improvements as promised, and the system has delivered over older scanning technology, according to Jonathan. The Perceptron MillExpert system does a better job of delivering an actual profile of the log to be sawn — resulting in a more accurate opening face that allows for more complete recovery out of the log as well as quality upgrades. “It’s very difficult to put an exact number on an upgrade,” said Jonathan, “but we have seen about a two percent improvement. And we’ve also seen an upgrade in the amount of higher quality lumber we are able to produce from the resource.”

Perceptron proved to be an excellent partner in installing and perfecting the new optimization technology and getting the mill up and running efficiently. The level of cooperation from a supplier was important to Jonathan because a considerable amount of customization was required in order to achieve his goals for the mill, which included not only enhanced quality and quantity but also independence.

Jonathan wanted a true overlay system. “We can turn the scanner off and still run the carriage,” he explained. “We can do everything a traditional mill can do with the scanner turned off.” It is an important feature, he noted, because with some scanning systems if the equipment is down, the mill is unable to operate. The Martco mill, like most modern mills, runs to capacity most of the time, and downtime can be extraordinarily costly in terms of lost production. The ability to run the mill without scanners is vital if production schedules are to be met.

A second important consideration was for machine control to be in Martco’s hands as much as possible, so the Perceptron system was adapted to be compatible with the mill’s existing programmable logic controller (plc) systems. Martco benefitted in several ways. Mill employees did not have to learn new plc systems in order to operate the new equipment. Also, the setworks operation can be reprogrammed by Martco staff, reducing the need for service from Perceptron. The changes increase the ability of the mill to operate independently and efficiently.

Independence is important, Jonathan said, because a mill like Martco’s must always be looking forward, ready to respond with new technologies that come onto the marketplace. “The Perceptron equipment was a significant leap in technology,” he said. “We installed it for that reason, but we are not married to any technology. So when new advances come about, we want to be able to readily take advantage of the benefits they might offer.”

Jonathan has some ideas about what those technologies might be. “The ultrasonic detection of internal defects in a log might be the next big advance,” he said. Right now, millers are limited to guesswork in determining where the lines between grades are, he pointed out. With ultrasonic detection devices that are now on the horizon of possibility, a sawyer will be able to determine accurately what kind of opening cut will recover the most high quality material from a log. The technology will combine an internal as well as external scan of the log.

The Martco mill may be one of the top two or three most technologically advanced mills in the country. The company does not invest in technology for the sake of technology, however. The technology is used to achieve goals to maximize yield from a limited resource, provide a stable job climate for employees, and supply customers with products that are manufactured to the highest standards of the forest products industry.

In accomplishing its goals, Martco sets a high standard for the industry, demonstrating that it can meet the requirements of its customers while helping to conserve natural resources.