New Line Benefits Gulf States Paper Sawmill

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Company turns to McDonough for equipment to process high-grade, over-sized logs at high-volume pine mill.

MOUNDVILLE, Ala. — Innovation has been the heartbeat of the timber trade in recent years as the beleaguered industry has sought to adapt to changes in markets and other conditions.

To many, innovation has come in incremental improvements in yield, value, and production through the use of computers, lasers, and other technology. On a larger scale, however, some mills have gone beyond simply looking at how to get more out of an individual log and have adjusted their operations to achieve broader goals.

Mills like the Gulf States Paper sawmill have looked at their entire system for manufacturing wood fiber-based products. They have found that an environmentally conscious yet profitable approach to making lumber and other wood products requires more than simply tinkering with computers and lasers.

At the Gulf States Paper sawmill in Moundville, changes in how material flows through the mill and the addition of a McDonough head rig and resaw system have provided for increased value from the lumber. As a result of making better use of raw material, the company helps conserve forest resources.

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In addition, when the upcoming installation of a small log sawing system is completed, the Moundville mill will enable Gulf States Paper to be a leader in using and maximizing the value recovered from wood fiber resources.

The Gulf States Paper sawmill is a pine mill located in the central-western portion of Alabama. It produces 2×4 through 2×12 and 1×4 through 1×8 dimension lumber as well as decking in a variety of sizes. In addition, the plant manufactures peeled utility poles from particularly good stems, chips for the firm’s associated paper mill, sawdust, hog fuel, and bark for mulch manufacturing. According to J.W. Cole, the mill’s manager, no wood fiber is wasted; all of it is either processed into a product or used internally — the mill burns hog fuel to produce steam for its kilns, for example.

The Gulf States Paper sawmill is a high-production facility, pumping out in excess of 150 million board feet of lumber per year. Once the additional improvements are made, the company’s goal is to produce 200-220 million board feet per year.

Moundville is at the heart of the vast Southern pine forest, so the emphasis on pine in the facility is logical. The mill buys ‘gate wood’ brought to the plant by independent contractors, and it harvests trees from its own lands in the region.

The mill’s emphasis, J.W. told TimberLine, is on the higher grades of lumber. The focus on higher grades led to one of the adjustments in the mill’s process that set it apart from most other mills in the region. Rather than being married to one kind of log, J. W. explained, Gulf States Paper buys both long logs and short logs. To ensure that contractors will find it worthwhile to separate particularly good logs and bring them in to the mill, the company buys not only by weight but also — in the case of particularly excellent fiber — by scale.

From the outside the distinction may seem small but, from both an environmental and production viewpoint it is a significant one. Environmentally, paying enough for logs to encourage contractors to go through the extra trouble of separating particularly good logs from the mix that might otherwise be destined to go to chip mills results in using the material at its highest and best level. From the standpoint of product value, the extra effort and expense involved in being flexible allows the mill to attract a higher volume of quality logs than might otherwise be available to it.

A second difference between the Gulf States Paper mill and most others in the region is that Gulf States Paper handles higher grade, over-size logs. Many mills today, J.W. explained, can no longer handle larger logs; that means some of the best material available to the sawmill is at risk of being wasted on lower value products or shipped out of an area.

Gulf States Paper’s recent installation of a McDonough slant 6 – 7A band head rig and a slant 42-inch premium duty carriage that is worked in tandem with older equipment handling smaller logs allows the company to handle large logs. As a result, the company is better equipped to achieve its operational goals.

When logs, large or small, whole tree length or short, come through the gate, they are unloaded and stacked within reach of a 170-foot radius North Alabama Crane until needed in the mill. Little merchandising, with the exception of over-size butt cut logs, is done in the yard. As the mill is ready for them, stems are delivered via the crane to a log deck. High grade butt cut and over-size logs are routed to a Nicholson 42-inch debarker then forwarded into a mill line especially designed to handle them.

More standard sized material is routed through a 27-inch Nicholson debarker and then on to a Bowlin log cut-up merchandising system. The logs then go through an Optimil double-length infeed canter with Perceptron optimization. Production on the line is 30-33,000 board feet per hour.

The sideboards emerging from the canter move onto a USNR edger while the cant is forwarded through a Hi-Tech engineered Denis Comact gang saw with curve capabilities. The lumber emerging from the gang saw then passes through a sort station and is forwarded to a second edger (with three board solution capability) supplied by Hi-Tech, then back to a Newnes trimmer and sorter with USNR trimmer optimizer.

The twist at the Moundville mill is that larger logs are handled separately through the McDonough Manufacturing Company band head rig working with the slant 42 inch McDonough premium duty carriage to recover the maximum value from them. Optimization on the unit was accomplished by USNR. The average log run through this system produces 140 board feet of mostly high quality lumber. Because it is used to process only over-size logs with the best material, production is at about 5-6,000 board feet per hour.

Once the log is processed, the resulting pieces are routed to a McDonough 6-foot horizontal resaw system with an infeed table and an outfeed separating system. Edging is accomplished by the Hi-Tech edger. The material then rejoins lumber processed in the second section of the mill and is routed through the trimmer.

The purpose of the new line was to enable the mill to process high-grade logs that it could not handle properly before. McDonough was selected to supply the equipment, J.W. said, because Gulf States Paper was convinced it offered the best combination of quality and price.

“We’ve had it in operation for just about a year,” said J.W., “and we’ve found it has been everything we were told it could be. The machinery has worked well, and when it needs to be maintained, maintenance is easily done with a minimum of downtime.”

No matter how fine-tuned the process, of course, sawmills produce products other

than lumber. J. W. stressed that in the Gulf States operation, residuals are considered to be just that — products, not waste. Slabs and other material are chipped, with chips going to the company’s nearby paper mill. Material not suitable for chips is hogged and mixed with sawdust, then burned in a Wellons boiler system to produce steam for the company’s dry kilns. Bark is sold to companies that process it into mulch.

According to J. W., the old platitude about getting a lot of food out of a pig applies to the mill. “We use everything but the squeal,” he noted. Everything coming through the gate is utilized for making product. That approach is not only driven by profit but also by his company’s commitment to environmentalism in its operations.

While the new operation has substantially expanded Gulf States’ ability to use its fiber in producing for the best value possible, one more step to complete the approach is on the horizon. According to J. W., the company soon will add a third saw line capable of reducing pulp sized logs to lumber. That will significantly expand the volume at the mill, and, it will ensure that only material that cannot be recovered for a higher value product will be reduced to chips for the paper mill.

In developing its approach to milling high value lumber, Gulf States Paper has shown that true innovation in a mill involves more than just utilizing the latest and best technology for optimizing and breakdown. Innovation comes from looking at the broad picture, then adjusting mill systems to use the resource in the most efficient way possible. In taking a high grade McDonough sawing system that includes both a saw and carriage combination and a resaw, then dedicating that unit to processing a fairly small portion of its total output, Gulf States Paper stepped out of the usual paradigm, yet still enhanced its operations.

That kind of ‘outside the box’ thinking and the successful implementation enhance the value from the resource and the environment. It is the kind of innovation that has been important in developing a forest products industry that can survive and thrive as it meets the challenges and needs of the customers it serves going into the future.