Upgrades by Thompson Appalachian Hardwoods

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INOVEC StereoScan 3D Head Rig Carriage Scanning System Results in Gains in Accuracy and Production

HUNTLAND, Tenn. — Thompson Appalachian Hardwoods has been in operation for less than 10 years, yet already it is becoming known throughout the hardwood world as a pace setter in meeting the present and future needs of its customers through a high tech approach to lumber production.

The firm produces in excess of 30 million board feet of green and kiln dried hardwood lumber each year in a plant that is being consciously upgraded each year with the goal of creating a mill that will be state-of-the-art in the near future.

“I believe in good stewardship of all that we’ve been blessed with,”said owner and president Nordeck Thompson. “State of the art technology allows us to profitably get more high quality product out of a given amount of fiber, and that is good stewardship of the resource.”

Thompson Appalachian’s most recent upgrade was the installation of an INOVEC StereoScan 3D head rig carriage scanning system. It has brought dramatic improvements in both the mill’s grade recovery and production speed, according to Nordeck.

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Huntland, Tennessee is located about 100 miles south of Nashville, just a few miles from the Alabama border. Located on 15 acres near the town, Thompson Appalachian Hardwoods mills a wide variety of the region’s hardwoods, especially red and white oak, cherry, ash, walnut, poplar, maple and cypress in a variety of thicknesses up to 16/4. Timber is acquired both by buying wood from independent loggers and purchasing standing timber from landowners. Timber is harvested by logging contractors with which the firm has established relationships. Wood can come from as far away as 200 miles but generally is harvested within a radius of 80 or so miles from the mill. Logs generally are purchased according to the Doyle scale although sometimes according to weight. In either case, maintaining a good relationship with the area’s loggers is important to Nordeck. “We work hard at giving good scale, price, and grade,” he said.

Logs are brought into the mill by the harvesting companies and unloaded using one of two Caterpillar loaders. The stems are then merchandised by grade, species, and size. Proper sorting is vital in realizing the greatest value from each log, Nordeck said.

The milling process begins when the logs are debarked with a Fulghum Rosser head debarker. Logs are then forwarded to a Salem linear positioning carriage; the carriage formerly was equipped with INOVEC’s YieldMaster scanning system but has been upgraded to an INOVEC StereoScan 3-D Log Scanner. The entire system is fed using a Tyrone hydraulic shotgun feed. The head rig is a 7-foot double cut system updated by Denis Comac beginning with an old C-Tech rig once used in a mill in Arizona and purchased by Thompson Appalachian some years ago. Cants are reduced using a Sherman thin-kerf gang saw. Newman technology is used in the edging and trimming process then the lumber is graded, marked, packaged, and tallied. On request, lumber can be prepped for export, end waxed, covered with paper, marked with logos, or otherwise prepared to meet specific requirements.

While his firm is relatively new to the business, Nordeck is not. His father, Bill, owned and operated a sawmill company, so Nordeck spent much of his youth working in and around the mill, especially during summer vacations. In 1980 Nordeck’s father needed him in the mill, so Nordeck left college to work as night shift foreman in the family’s plant in Forsyth, Georgia, one of two mills his father owned. Nordeck eventually became foreman of the mill until it was sold. He then moved to the family’s second mill in Hazlehurst, Georgia and continued to work with his father until 1991.

Nordeck ventured out on his own in 1993, purchasing the Huntland mill from the Ray M. Johnson Company. When he bought the mill, the systems were old and outdated. Nordeck has been upgrading with the goal of moving to the front of the optimization curve ever since. He is currently working on optimizing the trimming and edging operation. When those improvements are complete, “All of the original equipment in the mill will have been replaced or rebuilt, and we will be a fully optimized operation.”

Nordeck is not dedicated to optimizing his mill because he likes to play with the newest toys. He has worked with INOVEC since about 1994, when Thompson Appalachian Hardwoods installed a Salem carriage equipped with INOVEC’s YieldMaster Scanning system. The dramatic improvements in production, yield, and value increases that resulted convinced Nordeck that he was on the right track.

Nordeck’s perception is that when it comes to the dollar value of a mill’s lumber out the door, a mill owner is paying for optimization — whether optimization has been installed or not. If the equipment is installed, he commented, a balance sheet can be run, the improvements the mill experiences can be measured, and a payback can be calculated. “It’s surprising how quickly that payback can come,” he said.

“On the StereoScan upgrade, we haven’t quite seen enough calculations to be fully confident of a final number, but it appears we’re looking at as little as a one year payback. That’s extraordinary.”

That leads to the second part of Nordeck’s approach, the idea that drives his determination to fully upgrade his mill as quickly as can be economically accomplished. “I’ve come to realize that a mill pays for optimization even if it is not installed. The payment is more hidden, but it is still there because the mill has lost opportunity on every log it processes if it is not optimizing. If you’re running a mill that’s not getting the yield it should be getting, you cannot be as efficient and profitable as you should be.” A dollar lost because a board does not have the value in it that it could have had is a dollar of opportunity wasted, Nordeck said. That is every much of a drain on a mill’s resources as any cash expenditures.

In 1998 Nordeck saw an optimization opportunity that looked so good that he felt he had to act upon it quickly. On an information gathering trip to INOVEC’s Eugene, Oregon research and development facility, he saw something he thought might revolutionize head rig sawing. It was the newly developed INOVEC scanning system, called the StereoScan 3D Log Scanner. It was still in the prototype stage at the time, but Nordeck decided the technology warranted immediate action. After seeing the results obtained in some very large mill operations that had reserved the first systems to be produced, Nordeck’s instincts were proven correct. He arranged for StereoScan to be installed on his own head rig as an upgrade to the already existing INOVEC YieldMaster optimization.

StereoScan is a “marriage of laser and advanced camera scanning technology” that produces a high density image of a log as the log is actually heading towards the saw, explained Jeff Franklin, INOVEC’s vice president of marketing. Small adjustments to the log are made on the fly as the log approaches the saw so that an accurate, consistent opening face is produced. The high density image is produced with a system of dual cameras located in each scan head. The system projects laser lines vertically onto the log at 12-inch intervals which are read by multiple cameras for accuracy. An instant scan is performed when the log is set on the rig so that the log is positioned and ready to move to the saw without hesitation. As the log travels to the saw, the system continues to scan at a rate of 60 times per second, and minute adjustments in taper and face depth are made just before the log reaches the saw. The system provides increased recovery as the result of improved opening face accuracy on rough logs, accurate wane rule optimization of face boards, and vertical axis scan information for vertical sweep, ovality, and offset optimization. What those benefits mean for the mill are increased value recovery and higher production rates, said Nordeck.

Interestingly, when the StereoScan was installed, Nordeck was not really focusing on production increases. His main interest was spending more time with a log while it was on the carriage so that the sawyer could maximize value with specialized cuts or improved cuts. Nevertheless, in addition to the value optimization that Thompson was looking for, the mill also received the benefit of production increases with the StereoScan.

Thompson Appalachian’s chief maintenance supervisor, Mike Cooper, reported that while the mill had a previous goal of achieving 5,000 feet per hour, Doyle scale, in red oak, it has been achieving as much as 6,000 feet per hour. In poplar the mill is seeing 7-7,500 feet per hour with as high as 8,000 feet being recorded; in the past, 6,500 feet had been the norm. The production gains come with an added benefit of improved accuracy. “We went from 70 percent opening face accuracy to averaging in the high 90s,” Mike reported. The improved accuracy is vital, Nordeck pointed out. “If you’ve missed the opening face,” he said. “you’ve missed that log. The opportunity in that whole log is reduced.”

Nordeck was equally impressed by the ease of the installation of the new StereoScan system into his mill. The entire changeover was done on a Saturday, and the mill was up and running efficiently on Monday. There was virtually no learning curve with the new equipment. The quick changeover was made possible because INOVEC’s new and improved packages are based on the old systems, so a mill does not start over every time it installs an upgrade.

To Nordeck, the INOVEC Stereo Scan represents a major advance in scanning technology that has given his mill an enhanced ability to meet its goals. And he is more enthused about the new technology than he has been about most of the other equipment installed in his mill.

“I’m passionate about stewardship of the resource and about improving the ability of this mill to both improve the yield and value of the fiber we are entrusted with,” he said. “As we improve, we do something good for the environment, and we do a better job of securing the futures of all the wonderful people and their families who work here. I think that’s important.”