MPM Engineering Advances Optimization

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Expanding Company Focused on Log Break-Down Optimization and Its NextGen Bucking Optimizer

Computerized optimization for sawmills has played an important role in the forest products industry for about a quarter of a century. Over that time, optimization has revolutionized the wood processing industry, providing huge improvements in yield and value that mills can recover from wood fiber.

Historically, new technology paves the way for significant improvements in production. Yet the leaps and bounds in production and efficiency made possible by new technology have often been dwarfed by the continuous, incremental improvements that come later as a new technology matures.

This historical trend is playing itself out again in sawmill optimization. A new wave of innovation is being spurred by forward-looking firms like MPM Engineering Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia. New approaches to optimization are capable of enhancing production in the modern sawmill to levels that were undreamed of when computerized and scanner-based optimization was pioneered in the latter part of the 20th century.

MPM Engineering has been active in optimization almost since the beginning of the technology. Established in Vancouver in 1980 as a sawmill controls and automation company, MPM has evolved from a regional business that served customers in Western Canada into a successful global supplier of scanning and optimization technology. Its focuses today are the original machine control business, scanning and computer software development for log merchandising, log sorting, optimized log turning, primary breakdown optimization, cant optimizing, lumber sorting, and total mill management systems.

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MPM has expanded dramatically in recent years, according to Dick Komori, sales and marketing manager. More than 50% of its business comes from outside Canada, and some of the world’s largest forest products businesses are among its customers. MPM has done projects for companies in the U.S., Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Latvia, Ireland, Scotland and Sweden.

Dick attributed MPM’s success in part to its extensive research and development efforts. They have enabled the company to develop new, state-of-the-art products and to study and prepare for the future requirements that mills will have for grade and recovery.

The forest products industry is learning how to optimize optimization technology, observed Dick. “True shape optimization, optimized solutions for log sorting, optimized log rotation on 5 degree increments, and optimized product fit solutions for log bucking are just a few of the new products MPM has developed over the last couple of years,” he said. These technologies — and similar advances on the horizon — give mill managers the tools they need to remain profitable in an increasingly competitive industry.

Dick pointed to two recent advances that MPM has brought to the forest products industry. “MPM Engineering is focused on log breakdown optimization,” he said. “Recent improvements really demonstrate the advances that are still possible in the industry, include a number of small log curve sawing systems we’ve done in conjunction with firm’s like HewSaw and CAE-McGehee, and ‘product fit’ bucking systems for mills in Washington, Oregon, and elsewhere.”

TimberLine previously reported on an MPM project for a new Willamette Industries sawmill in Chester, S.C. The mill was developed to produce grade lumber from fiber that previously was chipped or converted into low-value products. The MPM project paired MPM optimization technology with CAE-McGehee machinery.

The Chester mill produces more than 38 million board feet of lumber annually, nearly all of it Southern Yellow Pine. Three-quarters of the lumber produced at the mill is sawn from plywood cores that are generated at Willamette’s adjacent plywood mill. The remaining 25% is sawn from green logs processed through the plywood plant but not suitable for plywood production.

The Willamette mill is an example of the tremendous improvements that advanced optimization can provide, Dick noted proudly. Instead of converting the plywood cores into low-grade lumber, Willamette invested in technology to recover more valuable lumber. MPM’s small log scanning system was matched with a CAE-McGehee SL2000 small log processing machine with curve sawing capability. The mill can process 45 plywood cores per minute; when running logs, it can process 24 per minute.

The mill produces 2×4, 2×6 and 4×4. Grades pulled are #1, #2 prime, #2, #3, and #4 on 2×4 and 2×6 and #1, #2, and #4 on 4×4. Grading is to National Grading Rule standards and is certified by the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau.

Given the low-grade raw material the mill uses, one would expect it to produce mainly lower grades of lumber. However, Willamette has reported excellent grade recovery with 85% of its 2×4 and 2×6 and more than 90% of 4×4 graded out at #2 and better.

The Willamette installation and similar projects were so successful, according to Dick, that MPM and CAE-McGehee teamed to supply a number of similar systems at mills throughout North America.

Optimized bucking is another focus of MPM, said Dick, because bucking is an area of mill operations that has been overlooked in the past but can be critical to optimizing succeeding steps in the log breakdown process.

MPM calls its approach ‘product fit bucking.’ The company’s NextGen Bucking Optimizer goes beyond traditional optimization for bucking. Older technologies determine the geometry of a log (length, diameter, sweep, and taper) and then perform a series of calculations based on pre-set formulas to arrive at a log bucking solution. But the solution for two very different logs — one with a substantial number of flaws and another that is clear and well conformed — may be identical if the geometrical data is the same.

Dick explained the MPM NextGen Bucking Optimizer. “It employs X-Y or 3-D modeling of the scanned system and then optimizes based on an extensive product fitting process in each log to determine the most valuable bucking decision based on mill requirements.”

“The NextGen program is designed to determine the optimum recovery possible before the log is bucked,” he added. “That recovery value is based on dollar value or volume recovery, depending on the goals of the mill.”

Successful optimized bucking requires accurate modeling of the downstream sawmill machine centers, noted Dick, including log rotation, primary breakdown, and curve sawing machinery as well as precise cant and board modeling. Mill-wide controls are required in order for the NextGen bucking system to be able to exchange information with other machine centers to facilitate real time feedback, production monitoring, remote setting of the machines, and product scheduling.

“Each stem is optimized by determining the highest value combination of material attainable,” said Dick. “The value of each log is determined using a ‘product fit’ optimization process. It is based on the capabilities of the sawmill’s breakdown equipment and analyzes the log for user-defined products in all valid combinations and positions before actual bucking takes place.”

Bucking optimization at the level that NextGen provides depends on advanced scanning technology, noted Dick. “We’re using scanning systems today that are four times faster than scanners of the past, and they provide many times the information that used to be available.” MPM uses the newest scanning technology available. It examines the log from all angles at 1/8-inch intervals as the log moves through the equipment. Errors that used to be common — because of difficulty in detecting defects like knots, cat faces, and pieces of bark — have been reduced, and more value can be recovered from each log.

Improvements in scanning mean more accurate data and analysis and better bucking solutions. Instead of viewing the log as homogeneous, the MPM NextGen system makes more sophisticated decisions that are based on a more complete analysis of the log. The greater accuracy and truer ‘picture’ of the log allow for a better analysis of what may be recovered from the log and an enhanced ability to position it to be processed for optimum value.

Optimizing systems also are becoming more ‘operator friendly,’ Dick noted, even as the scanning and optimizing technology becomes more sophisticated and complex. Recovering the most value from a log often depends on operator decisions influencing the outcome of a solution. The controls of the NextGen system allow the operator to take into account factors such as rot, breakage, or grade that the scanner does not recognize. Advanced as the system is, combining operator influence and control over these factors ensures even greater success.

MPM will continue its focus on optimization of log breakdown systems, integrating the various operations so they work in conjunction with one another to recover the most value from the wood that a mill processes. The company will continue to make investments in research and development in order to bring the latest technology to the forest products industry. And it will continue to develop systems that are easy to learn and use, and to fully support its products.

Now that optimization has been established as a core technology in the modern sawmill, MPM will continue its progress of optimizing optimization.

For more information on MPM Engineering, contact the company at 1-(604)-574-1397, fax 1-(604)-574-0627, or e-mail