Inovec Focused on Appearance Wood Producers

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Supplier Specializes in Optimization Technology for Appearance Wood; StereoScan™ System Gains Acceptance 

Appearance wood is defined by the industry as high-grade solid wood products that are valued according to its appearance. It must conform not only to standard industry grades but in many cases to proprietary grade specifications or special requirements of a mill’s customers.

Mills usually use ‘grade sawing’ methods to get the maximum appearance wood from each log. This generally requires trained operators and historically has not lent itself to automated high-speed equipment and optimization systems. For that reason, many optimized sawmill machinery companies pay little attention to this segment of the industry — until traditional softwood markets experience a major decline.

One company specializes in appearance wood optimization: Inovec Inc. of Eugene, Oregon. TimberLine recently contacted Inovec to discuss new developments in the optimization of appearance wood.

Inovec was founded in 1979 to bring microprocessor-based control systems to sawmill machinery. The company found early that focusing on one thing and doing it well was a powerful strategy. Today, Inovec’s 55-plus employees focus on building optimizers for sawmills, specializing in optimization of appearance wood. Inovec has over 650 systems installed in mills worldwide.

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“We first developed optimization at the head rig carriage to help mills in grade sawing,” said Jeff Franklin, Inovec’s vice president of marketing. “In our experience, that is where grade sawing mills gain the quickest return on investment.”

Inovec’s experience in grade sawing led to further developments in optimization for getting more value from appearance grade logs. In 1990 Inovec introduced the “first true random width hardwood edger optimizer,” said Jeff, followed by hardwood trimmer optimization. Building on those successes, Inovec developed special appearance grade optimizers for shop and molding grade pine and other optimizer systems for specialty products, including export squares and other wood products for export.

“Inovec’s focus on appearance wood has paid off for hardwood mills and grade sawing softwood mills by providing mill management precise control of product quality and product mix,” said Jeff. “Our customers have been able to directly address the needs of niche market opportunities and adjust their products to meet the needs of their changing markets. For the mill, this shows up in increased average sales price.”

TimberLine reported in 1999 on an Inovec installation at Gilkey Lumber Co. in Rutherfordton, N.C. Gilkey invested in an Inovec WaneMaster™ edger optimizer, and Gilkey’s Mike Parton described how it improved control of product quality and increased value.

“We had one of our best graders analyze some boards, then calculated the value we would get from them,” Mike explained. “Then we had the optimizer run solutions on the same boards. What we see is that on some boards there is no difference between what the grader sees and what the optimizer decides is the best solution. But quite often, because the equipment can do the complex calculations almost instantly, we see a solution that gives us more value.”

The optimizer’s solution for one sample board increased the value 78 cents. With another board it was only in the range of 20 cents. “That might not seem like much,” Mike noted, “but when you multiply that out over the number of boards we run in a year, the increased value is substantial.”

Inovec introduced the StereoScan 3D Log Scanning System 18 months ago. Since then it has delivered over 40 systems, including one that was installed last November at Gilkey Lumber Co. Production increased over 5% when sawing the same size logs, Gilkey mill manager Danny Ingle reported. “The higher speed turned out to be very important to us,” he said. “We find that even when sawing smaller diameter logs, we have been able to continue to meet our production goals. That has really made an important difference for us this year.”

Gilkey Lumber also increased yield due to better control over the opening face. “We’re still doing log tests, but our initial results show over 3% increase in yield on red oak,” said Danny. Gilky Lumber built a clear plastic template to test opening face accuracy. “We performed opening face accuracy tests, and it was hard to find one that was not right on the mark,” Danny added.

Another customer, RAM Forest Products of Shinglehouse, Penn., put in an Inovec StereoScan system in December 2000. A few months later, it ordered a second unit for the other carriage. “When customers with multiple carriages install one StereoScan 3D Scanning system, then turn right around and order more systems, that really tells the story,” says Paul Knapp, Inovec’s national sales manager.

John Rees, vice president of RAM Forest Products, said the Inovec StereoScan system allows his company to apply different opening face strategies based on log grade and shape. “The accuracy of the opening face reduces the average slab size going into the conveyor,” he added. “You can see the difference. Just look at the slab conveyor under the head rig. There’s almost nothing in it!”

Speed was important to RAM, too. The first carriage averaged about 600 logs per shift prior to the installation of the new setworks and scanner. Shortly after the new system was installed, RAM achieved a record 825 logs per shift. It wasn’t long before RAM ordered the second system.

Earlier this year TimberLine reported on Thompson Appalachian Hardwoods, a mill processing about 30 million board feet of hardwood lumber per year in Huntland, Tenn. Thompson upgraded to the Inovec StereoScan system last year, and it dramatically improved grade recovery and speed, according to Nordeck Thompson, owner and president.

The Inovec StereoScan system uses lasers and CCD cameras to map the surface of the log as it is dogged on the carriage and heads for the saw. The system models the actual shape of the log surface and uses a proprietary method of selecting and sawing the optimum opening face — either as a grade sawing face or as part of a whole log solution. The system evaluates the shape of every log and considers the log grade, the mill’s special product needs and its proprietary product specifications.

The Inovec StereoScan 3D scanning system at Thompson Appalachian Hardwoods has proven to be a record-breaker in terms of grade and recovery, according to maintenance superintendent Mike Cooper, yet makes no sacrifices in production speed. In fact, production speeds significantly improved. The company’s original goal was to run 5,000 feet per hour (Doyle scale) in red oak; since installing the new scanner upgrade, it has been running 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 per hour had been the norm.

The company also benefitted from greater accuracy. “We went from 70 percent opening face accuracy to averaging in the high 90s,” Mike reported. As Nordeck pointed out, “If you’ve missed the opening face, you’ve missed that log. The opportunity in that whole log is reduced.”

Inovec continues to focus on addressing the needs of appearance wood producers, according to Jeff. “It’s amazing how many machinery companies all of a sudden announce ‘hardwood’ versions of their softwood optimizers when the softwood dimension markets are down, some even copying the names of some of Inovec’s proprietary software parameters. “That’s the easy part. They’ll have a lot more trouble trying to match our experience, our software, and our results.”

“When the lumber market rebounds, and most of the machinery companies refocus their efforts on making dimension lumber machinery, we will still be working with hardwood and grade pine mills and specialty cutting mills to deliver technology that brings them more value from their logs,” said Jeff. Focus is a powerful thing.

For information, contact Inovec at (800) 678-4649 or visit its Web site at