New Turner & Conyer Mill Meeting Goals for Production and Quality

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Lyons Sawmill & Equipment Designs New Mill for Kentucky Hardwood Manufacturer

“Every hardwood mill has its own little niche,” said Martin Quanci, senior mill designer for Lyons Sawmill & Logging Equipment and Supplies. “They each do something a little different from the next guy, and they’ve developed customer bases that expect certain things from them.”

When it comes to designing sawmills for smaller companies then, designers need to discard preconceptions, according to Martin. Designers must put a lot of effort into examining and understanding the needs of a particular company and then working accordingly.

In the modern forest products industry, especially in the hardwood business, the unique approaches that sawmill businesses have developed both to their wood processing techniques and to the markets and customers they serve preclude a ‘one size fits all’ approach. “If you try to just plug in something you think ought to work without first carefully examining the mill’s approach to business and its product mix, you’re doing the mill owner a disservice,” said Martin.

Bobby Martin agrees. He is president of Turner and Conyer, a hardwood sawmill company located in Marion, Kentucky. Bobby decided in 2000 to build a new mill to replace the company’s outdated facility.

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Turner and Conyer had special requirements. To some mill owners or managers, they may have seemed a bit out of the ordinary, but Bobby viewed them as important and necessary to improve production and efficiency. It was important to have the assistance of a company like Lyons Equipment, which was willing to propose ideas and alternatives while remaining flexible in working to achieve ownership’s goals for the mill. Bobby considered that kind of approach to the design process to be important to the long-term success of the mill.

Turner and Conyer serves customers within a radius of about 200 miles. It does business in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee. The company saws red oak, hard and soft maple, hickory, ash, poplar, and other species. The mill’s primary product is furniture grade lumber, which is produced at the rate of about 225,000 board feet per month. An additional 125,000 board feet of lower grade wood is manufactured into dunnage — such as blocking for transporting and storing pipes, canisters and storage tanks — and other industrial products.

The sawmill that became Turner and Conyer was founded in 1955. Today it is one of the oldest continuously operated sawmills in the region. Bobby bought an interest in the mill business more than 25 years ago and a larger interest a few years later, and he became the sole owner in 1998. His wife, Patricia, is secretary-treasurer of the company and his son, Turner, is vice president and oversees production.

The predecessor company installed new mill equipment in the early 1960s. It had been improved only sporadically since then and was significantly outdated by the time Bobby acquired sole ownership in 1998. Modernization was badly needed. After carefully considering a number of alternatives, Bobby decided to build a new mill instead of improving the existing mill.

Bobby chose Lyons Sawmill & Logging Equipment & Supplies Inc. in Little Valley, New York to design and supply the mill. Lyons, which also is an equipment distributor and dealership, is well known in the region for working with moderately sized mills. “I knew pretty much what I wanted, and I wanted to work with mill designers who are responsive,” said Bobby. “I knew I would get that with Lyons.”

A commitment to work closely with clients is central to the Lyons philosophy, according to Martin. “We don’t do turn-key operations,” he pointed out. “We sit down with the mill owners and work very closely with them throughout the process. We help them develop a sawmill suited to their individual needs through a building process that usually utilizes local contractors and quite a lot of participation by the mill owner. That saves the mill owner a lot of money and helps ensure the final product is what they wanted and needed — not something we imposed on them.” In the case of Turner and Conyer, Martin said, the consulting and design process began the same way it has for other clients throughout the years. First came an examination of the existing mill and an analysis of its production capacities. It is a crucial step, continued Martin, because he believes that you need to know where they are coming from in order to understand where they feel they want to go.

Building a new mill allows an owner to improve his company’s operations. “I always ask the owner what they hate most about their old mill,” Martin said. “It’s just as important to eliminate things that were keeping the old sawmill from performing well as it is to keep the things that were working well.”

Once Martin has a clear idea of what made the old mill successful and of what impeded progress, discussions move on to what the ownership wants to accomplish with a new mill. There are many reasons for upgrading equipment, and mill owners have different goals and objectives they want to achieve. Goals may include increases in production, product quality and value, yield, stabilizing the mill workforce, or some combination. These kind of parameters for a new mill and many other details — such as the company’s budget for capital improvements — are hammered out in a series of meetings and discussions with the owners. Then Martin and Art Engels, another mill designer at Lyons Equipment, begin the design work.

Lyons makes the design process easier, said Art, because it is a distributor for numerous manufacturers instead of being ‘married’ to a single manufacturer for a principle machine. “We’ll have two or three choices in each product,” he said. “That’s important to a designer because we can match machine quality, capacity, and price to the needs of the mill owner rather than being restricted in what we can offer. That allows us considerable flexibility in our design process.” Lyons Equipment provides extensive design and construction prints for the equipment manufacturers and building contractors. “We do all our work on computers in autoCAD,” said Art. “This allows us to make sure that all the equipment fits like a glove. The same goes for footers, columns, and support steel.”

The mill that was built for Turner and Conyer illustrates the results of the Lyons approach: planning and designing a mill that is efficient, productive, and — above all — reflects the requirements of the owners.

Bobby’s main goal was to increase production while maintaining the high quality and value of the company’s products. The mill he decided to build contains equipment that was specially designed and constructed in order to achieve his goals. After the log exits the head rig, the processing stages that follow are significantly different than most sawmills, Bobby noted.

Turner and Conyer buys most of its wood from independent loggers although it also occasionally buys standing timber. Logs are graded and scaled, then sorted according to species and sometimes size.

At the new Turner and Conyer mill, which became operational in the spring, the first step in processing is feeding logs to a Mellott heavy duty 48-inch rosserhead debarker. While a Cornell bark conveyor carries the bark away for additional processing, the logs go down a Mellott log trough, through an MDI whole log metal detector and then to a Mellott log deck that feeds the carriage. Logs move onto a Cleerman model 48 heavy weight linear carriage equipped with Silvatech linear positioner controls and a Silvatech scanner system; primary break-down is done by a Monarch 8-foot band mill that was rebuilt in the Lyons Equipment saw shop. The Cleerman carriage is pulled by a Jacobson 125 hp DC drive. Bobby put the DC drive in for its speed, response, and energy savings.

Cants and boards sawn by the band mill both go to a one-of-a-kind Crosby 8-inch by 66-inch combination gang and three-saw edger. Both Lyons and Crosby had some reservations about such a system, but Bobby insisted on it.”This was a piece of equipment I knew I needed but was told I couldn’t get,” he said. “I knew I needed it, however, so after some convincing, Crosby designed and built the machine I needed.”

The three-saw edger is critical to maximizing value, according to Bobby. In order to get the most value out of a board, the company needs the ability to split it when quality dictates, he said. Splitting requires a three-saw edger rather than the two-saw edgers that mills ordinarily use.

Cants follow the same line to the same machine. They are moved to the gang saw and converted into lumber even as the operator continues edging boards. The combination edger-gang saw can handle 8-inch by 12-inch cants.

The equipment allows a single operator to edge boards, rip boards for added value, and break down cants. If the operator cannot keep up, material can be kicked off the line to storage and processed later.

Bobby calls his combination gang-edger a “monster.” The machine weighs about 30,000 pounds and promises to be almost indestructible. It enables a single operator to get as much as 25-30% more production than conventional systems.

From the main rollcase and Crosby edger, lumber moves to a collection deck, through an unscrambler with a singulator, and then onto a 25-foot, four-chain grading deck; all three pieces of equipment were manufactured by Mellott. Boards are end-trimmed by a Crosby two-saw trimmer and then proceed to a 100-foot green chain. The entire mill from debarker to green chain is under roof.

The plant collects all residuals, and they are separated and processed for various markets. Sawdust, slabs, and end trimmings are collected by a system of Webster FSH vibrating conveyors located just below the mill floor in a central trench. The sawdust is separated from the scraps and sold to farmers, who use it for animal bedding or other purposes. Scrap wood goes through a Fulghum 60-inch chipper with screens, and the chips are sold to nearby paper mills. Bark is processed into mulch.

The new sawmill has achieved the goals of Turner and Conyer. It has been a success because of its high quality equipment and because it was designed and built around the requirements of the company’s customers.

“We designed this mill to cut the quality lumber that our customers demand, and it does that well,” Bobby declared. “I recently had a customer tell me — unsolicited — that he wished all of the mills he deals with cut material as good as that we deliver. In terms of production, the new mill outdistances the output of the previous facility by a substantial margin.”

The custom combination gang-edger that was designed and built for Turner and Conyer’s new mill is a good example of how a machinery manufacturer, a mill designer and a sawmill company can work together as a team to achieve the best solution, noted Martin. He and Crosby had concerns about the kind of system that Bobby envisioned for the mill, and they let him know their concerns. Mill designers who kowtow to a client do them a disservice, he said. “We have a lot of experience with sawmills, and it is our duty to make the customer aware” of potential problems. “That means we have to speak up when we have concerns, but we also have to listen because the mill owner generally has a great deal of expertise.”

Both Martin and representatives of Crosby met with Bobby to discuss their concerns with the type of equipment he wanted. After the three-way discussions and observing Turner and Conyer’s workforce, Crosby agreed to make the machine. The custom equipment has met Bobby’s objectives for production volume and lumber value. Martin noted that manufacturers like Mellott and Cleerman have always demonstrated the same interest and willingness to build special equipment.

The process of designing and constructing a new mill for Turner and Conyer would not have worked well without a good deal of flexibility from all the parties involved, Martin pointed out. One area many mill owners overlook in a project of this scale is the installation. Lyons Equipment has developed a core group of installers, such as J&G Maintenance, East Coast Millwrights, and Lantz Saw Services. “Bobby found these people invaluable when the time came to set equipment, hook it up, and run it,” said Martin. The process was a true partnership between designer, manufacturer, and mill owner with give-and-take on all sides. The partnership resulted in a successful mill that now operates at production and quality levels that will help ensure its ability to survive and prosper.