Collins Companies Upgrades Oregon Sawmill

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Firm committed to conservation revamps mill with high tech optimization equipment.

LAKEVIEW, Oregon — The Collins Companies, a group of inter-related forest industry businesses that includes several processing plants, a small chain of lumber yards and substantial forest land holdings, has garnered high praise from major environmental groups in recent years for its progressive business practices.
The companies have earned the plaudits because of the strong conservation ethic that was in place at Collins decades before most of the major environmental groups were even founded.

In large things and small, Collins has always addressed environmental issues as an everyday part of its corporate culture, according to Kerry Hart, operations manager at the Collins Companies Fremont sawmill in Lakeview, Oregon.

The company has won kudos for highly visible efforts, like management of its 94,000-acre Collins Almanor Forest in California’s northern Sierras. It also has quietly addressed the sustainability of forest resources by improving yield through upgrades of company sawmills, such as the one Kerry manages at Fremont.

Recent improvements to one mill were centered around three Inovec optimization systems. They are an example of how plant improvements, while less visible than some other efforts, not only improve a company’s profitability but also significantly conserve natural resources, noted Kerry.

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In just three years the Collins Companies will celebrate 150 years as a family-owned business. While being one of the forest products industry’s oldest, continuously operated businesses, the company is also widely recognized as one of the industry’s most progressive. The Collins Companies was the first privately held forest products company in the U.S. to be comprehensively evaluated and certified by Scientific Certifications Systems in accordance with the requirements of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Today, all three of the company’s major forests (the Collins Pennsylvania Forest, the Collins Lakeview Forest, and the Collins Almanor Forest) are certified by the FSC. In addition, the company participates in the ‘Natural Step’ program and the Wildlife Fund’s Climate Savers initiative. Its environmental ethic has earned it many awards through the years, including the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development and the Green Cross Millennium Award.

As a prime example of how Collins addresses sustainability from the forestry end of its operations, the company points to its Collins Almanor Forest. The forest has been operated on modern principles of sustainability since 1940, nearly half a century before the concept became popularized. Last year the company harvested its 2 billionth board foot of lumber from the forest — a 126-year old ponderosa pine. What made the event remarkable was that in 1941, when the company harvested its first log from the tract, the forest contained 1.5 billion board feet of standing inventory — the same volume of lumber it contains now. Equally remarkable is that the forest is not an even-aged plantation, as might be expected. Rather, it is “a bio-diverse, multi-layered, canopied, self-sustaining forest supporting great blue heron rookeries, black bears, rubber boas, bald eagles, and naturally healthy meadows, streams, rivers, and a lake.”

On the processing side, operations like the Fremont plant also exemplify the Collins commitment to conservation. At Lakeview, a small community in south-central Oregon, the Fremont mill produces about 60 million board feet annually. It saws mostly ponderosa pine (80%) and white fir (most of the remaining 20%) with a few other species sometimes coming in as part of the mix. The product mix consists mostly 4-quarter and 6-quarter common pine, 2-inch-quarter dimensional pine and fir, and 6-quarter pine industrials (shop and molding grades). About 25% of the fiber processed at the mill comes from 80,000 acres of company land located

nearby in three major parcels. The remainder comes from public and private land — mostly private land these days.

The corporate focus on conservation is always at the forefront of decisions that have to do with managing the Fremont mill. To improve the mill’s operations and make gains in conservation, the plant was upgraded in 2001. The entire mill was revamped in order to enhance sustainability of the company’s forest lands, improve recovery of the resource, increase the value of the lumber produced, and add productivity.

Productivity and value are as vital to environmental gains as sustainability and recovery, Kerry noted, because a mill that is not competitive and profitable won’t be open long. A company cannot do as much to improve the environment if its operations are hobbled by poor profitability.

The heart of the upgrade at the Fremont mill was an optimized edger/gang system using Inovec CantMaster and Inovec WaneMaster optimization technology to improve both yield and productivity. Simultaneously, the head rig carriage was optimized with Inovec’s StereoScan™ 3D scanning technology to maximize recovery of high-value material from every log. The results have been “impressive,” said Kerry.

The Collins Fremont mill is unique in that it has to accommodate two categories of raw material that require special handling and processing. Logs from Collins land and other properties that have been FSC-certified must be kept segregated from logs harvested from non-certified lands. A strict chain of custody must be maintained over wood from certified forests, so two separate log yards are maintained, one for certified wood and one for non-certified wood. Wood is accumulated in each yard and processed separately; there is no mixing of material at any point. In the log yards, the company has sprinklers if needed to prevent the wood from degrading.

In the mill logs are processed in tree lengths through a 48-inch Salem debarker and then bucked to 16-foot lengths, a length determined by the kind of products the mill produces. After bucking, the
logs are transported to the optimized head rig deck.

The mill previously used the Inovec YieldMaster™ with photocell scan curtain for optimizing the head rig. The recent introduction of Inovec’s StereoScan 3D Log Scanning System, however, led Collins to consider upgrading to the new 3D scanning technology as part of the its renovations to the mill. As an upgrade to the YieldMaster technology; the Inovec StereoScan had the potential to significantly improve recovery without the cost of a completely new optimization system.

Enhancing yield is generally a financial consideration in a mill. At Fremont, though, and at all Collins mills, improved resource recovery is a top priority only in part because of the increased profitability it brings.

“Yield is also critical from an environmental standpoint,” said Kerry. Increased yield has a direct impact on sustainability because it reduces the volume of timber that must be harvested in order to meet production goals. On top of that, he pointed out, the improvements can be achieved — for the most part — with little or no accompanying increases in energy consumption.

The Inovec StereoScan system has proved to be an important tool for the Fremont mill in increasing yield and value from the wood fiber resource. It also has provided an additional, important benefit: increased production. The production gains have been realized because of the way the Inovec StereoScan operates. Older optimization, Kerry pointed out, required the log to be stopped momentarily while it was scanned. The Inovec StereoScan scans the log ‘on the fly.’ “We gain about a half a second per log,” said Kerry. “That might not seem like much, but at 1,200-plus logs per shift, that’s a significant production gain.”

Primary breakdown is accomplished by an 8-foot Klamath three-knee, single cut band mill working with a CM & E slabber. After primary breakdown, material goes to one of two lines, depending on the size when it comes off the band mill.

Larger logs are initially broken down into two-sided cants. They move on to a recently installed Schurman 12-inch double-arbor gang for further processing into appropriate sizes. The gang saw is not a curve saw machine, but it is able to skew; if there is any advantage to offsetting the cant to optimize breakdown, the operator has that option.

Smaller logs are ‘one-sided’ on the head rig and then move to a 6-inch Prescott horizontal resaw that removes the other side.

The two fiber streams converge, moving to what Kerry called the “pulse beat” of the mill. It is a new TMT (Timber Machine Technologies) combo gang, single arbor, four-saw shifting edger; it is optimized by both Inovec CantMaster and Inovec WaneMaster systems.

The new optimized edger has put the mill “light years ahead of where we were,” said Kerry. Singulated boards off the head rig, two-sided cants from the head rig, side boards from the 12-inch gang, and boards from the resaw are all processed through the edger at random. The machine switches from cant optimization to board optimization as individual pieces arrive. Optimization solutions are based on mill-programmable grade parameters. Both shop and common are processed at the same time, and the operator can override the system if it is possible to make further grade improvements.

The performance of the Inovec systems and the results they have achieved have been impressive both in terms of production speed and product quality improvements, according to Kerry. It is difficult to quantify improvements, he said, in part because new mill machinery also has been a factor. However, the Inovec optimization systems clearly have played an important part in the mill’s increased efficiency, helping Collins meet its commitment to conservation and achieving increased profitability objectives.

“The optimization makes for smarter decisions,” said Kerry. “You can look at the lumber we’re producing and see a difference. Visually, our lumber has a higher appearance grade than it had before, and there is no question our recovery went up. We’ve seen a definite improvement in the amount of Number Two and better that we’re producing.”

Although the company was pleased with its existing Inovec YieldMaster optimization system at the Fremont mill, the decision to turn to Inovec again for edger/gang optimization was not automatic. “We did a fairly long and detailed comparison between a variety of vendors and their equipment,” said Kerry. “We wanted to fully understand how each vendor could address our objectives and how their equipment could fit into our process. At the edger, Collins was persuaded of Inovec’s ability to provide shop solutions and multiple rip solutions on appearance grade material. At the machine center destined to be the heart of the mill, Inovec had some clear advantages that fully addressed the goals set by Collins.”

At the head rig, the decision was somewhat easier because Inovec’s YieldMaster was already in place, and some synergies could be achieved between that existing system and the Inovec StereoScan system.

Mill improvements like those at the Collins Companies plant in Lakeview underscore an important lesson for both the forest products industry and environmentalists: conservation of natural resources, improving forests, and profitable harvest and wood processing operations are not mutually exclusive. Collins uses a forest management approach that has been characterized by the Sierra Club magazine as producing “…a forest…where foresters tell the mill how much timber it may have, and where the forest itself tells the foresters.” At the mill, its production strategy is based on improving the volume of fiber recovered from every log, increasing productivity, and adding value – all in the name of resource sustainability.

The Collins Companies has shown the way to the future. In providing the advanced technology required to achieve the goals of the Collins Companies, suppliers like Inovec also contribute to the conservation of forest resources.