Downey’s First Move in Optimization Pays Off

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Optimized edger from Valley Machine Works is paying dividends for T.P. Downey & Sons.

HILLSBOROUGH, New Brunswick — Orville Downey started helping his father at T.P. Downey & Sons, Ltd. when he was 13 years old. He joined the business full-time in 1982 and is now president.

T.P. Downey & Sons is an integrated forest products business with operations in logging, sawmill and secondary manufacturing. The company also performs road building for logging operations and recently began a new endeavor in an unrelated field — quarrying.

T.P. Downey, which owns timberland, contracts for logging, but its employees oversee the jobs. Most of the logging is fully mechanized with feller-bunchers, delimbers, skidders and other equipment.

Leading T.P. Downey & Sons, Orville has ample opportunity to combine two of his interests — wood products and technology. “I enjoy making things,” said Orville. “And I enjoy making things efficient. Our goal is to get the most out of every log.”

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One of the big changes Orville made at the T.P. Downey & Sons mill was to add a thin-kerf saw system in 1988. He also began following the development of scanning and optimization technology and considering the best way to use it in T.P. Downey’s operations.

Almost two years ago, Orville attended a trade show and watched a demonstration of a prototype Valley Machine Works optimized edger. He was so impressed with its performance that he later invested in one, and it was put into service at T.P. Downey in September 2001. It pairs an edger manufactured by Valley Machine Works, based in Nackawic, New Brunswick, with an in-line scanner and optimizing technology from Perceptron Products, a division of USNR in Woodland, Wash.

Orville consulted with Valley Machine Works for an optimized edger that would best suit his company. Optimization can be defined and then selected in one of two ways: either to get the most value or the most volume from a log or any individual piece resulting from the breakdown process, from a slab or flitch to a piece of lumber. In T.P. Downey’s case, the goal of optimization was to recover the most value from each flitch.

The system is programmed each week with current board prices. Once the flitch is scanned, the optimizer determines the edging solution to recover the most value. The flitch remains in one position on the belt, and the saws move — guided by the computerized edging solution derived from the scanning process and the optimization program.

The edger optimizer from Valley Machine Works and Perceptron is the first optimizing technology introduced at T.P. Downey & Sons. It has met and exceeded Orville’s expectations. “There’s nothing they said that it would do that it hasn’t done,” he said. “The machine lines it up perfect every time.”

Orville compared the edger optimizer with the company’s previous equipment — two manually-operated edgers. “If you have a man putting pieces through the machine, switching sizes,” explained Orville, he is very likely to get tired by mid-afternoon. He might miss a change in setting. A 16-foot flitch, he noted, is hard to line up manually. The Valley Machine Works edger optimizer, which requires only one worker, runs nine hours per day and performs consistently hour after hour. “We are completely satisfied” with the Valley Machine Works edger optimizer, said Orville.

Valley Machine Works can help customers evaluate their operations and configure the edger optimizer system for the best results in order to increase yield or value. Parameters of the optimizer are set to the priorities of the customer, such as maximum allowable ‘skip’ and chip limits. It also can be programmed to consider a certain number of skew orientations — up to a maximum of 13 — before determining the edging solution.

The Valley Machine Works edger optimizer has a number of various options to suit customer applications. For example, infeed can be right or left. Processing can be wane-up or wane-down, and the edger can be oriented lineal or transverse.

Valley Machine Works also provides thorough training service in the technology. “Valley sent men with the machine,” explained Orville. They stayed “three or four days” and “didn’t leave until we were ready.” They “didn’t rush us” and “did a very thorough job,” he said.

For all its sophistication, the Valley Machine Works edger optimizer does not require special attention. Orville said, “You do your daily maintenance,” and it “runs well.”

The Valley Machine Works Edger Optimizer processes material at 800 feet per minute, according to Orville. It is “very fast, very efficient.” Valley Machine Works representatives told him that T.P. Downey could expect to handle about 25 pieces per minute. Although Orville was skeptical, the company reached that production level within two days of bringing the new system on line.

Besides the gain in productivity, “there is no bottleneck,” Orville added. When two edgers were run manually, they were often a point of congestion because of the time it took the operators to evaluate each flitch and position it for edging.

The T.P. Downey & Sons sawmill manufactures 1×3 to 2×10 lumber for the construction industry. Sales are made through a broker, and the company sells what it cuts, generally staying away from custom orders. The lumber finds its way into home construction and renovation projects in Canada and the U.S.

The company saws between 60,000 and 70,000 board feet of lumber daily. “We cut the maximum amount of boards out of every log,” said Orville, and the Valley Machine Works Edger Optimizer helps the company produce boards that will bring the best price in the prevailing market in any given week.

The sawmill processes logs of spruce, fir, and jack pine that are harvested within a 60-mile radius of Hillsborough, a town of about 1,200 in southeastern New Brunswick. T.P. Downey & Sons builds its own logging roads. Contract loggers harvest the trees and deliver the wood to the roadside. A company loader, a Komatsu PC200, puts the logs onto trucks for shipment to the mill, which is situated with other parts of the business on a 20-acre site.

At the mill, logs are loaded onto a belt to enter the primary breakdown line, which begins with a Forano debarker. Primary breakdown is done by a PHL band mill, and resawing is done either on a Valley Machine Works gang saw or a PHL band resaw. Twenty-eight of the company’s 75 employees work in the sawmill.

Some lumber is dried in a Global Energy EFI dry kiln. Sawdust is burned in the wood stove that fires the kiln, and some sawdust is sold for animal bedding and to manufacturers that produce a type of panel board. A Forano chipper is used to convert wood waste to chips for paper mills, and bark is sold to landscapers.

Orville’s father started the business in 1950 and named it for his father, using his dad’s initials, T.P. Today, Orville’s three sons, all of them in their 20s, work in different parts of the business. The youngest is learning the sawmill and planing mill side of the business. The eldest son works in building supplies while the middle son is “working in the woods, and now working in a stone quarry,” said Orville.

The company recently began quarrying flagstone, using diamond cutters to cut the rock. Orville sees the newest addition to the diverse interests of T.P. Downey & Sons as both exciting and promising, given the consumer demand for decorative and paving stone.

“I enjoy working with my three sons,” said Orville. He plans to keep working with them for a long time; at age 51, he has no immediate plans to retire.

Before joining the company on a full-time basis in 1982, Orville worked for eight years in building supplies. He had studied business administration at the University of New Brunswick for two years, but he decided to leave the degree program early because he was eager to find a place in the business world.

The building supplies industry proved to be good preparation for running T.P. Downey & Sons. “It’s helped in this business to know what my customers expect,” said Orville.

Making full use of the features of the Valley Machine Works edger optimizer is just part of routine sound business practices for Orville. He gets production reports every day.

Valley Machine Works provides engineering services in order to match a customer’s requirements with the best equipment solution. The company is committed to research and development, testing and continuous improvement.

The scanner and optimizing technology from Perceptron Forest Products Division relies on a sensor that it designed for stability. Sensors scan a flitch from above and below. A gap in the belt conveyor allows the bottom sensor to get a look at the wood. The sensors are mounted so as to resist being occluded with wood fiber, and they are calibrated to ignore ambient light.

Orville said he gave careful consideration to where he would gain the most from optimization. He decided the edger optimizer would bring the greatest return on investment and would be a good place to start.

When he takes time away from the business, Orville enjoys many sports, including downhill skiing, snowmobiling, and kayaking.