Improvements Upgrade Iowa Hardwood Maker

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Wieland & Sons benefitting from new McDonough equipment for primary breakdown, other changes.

WINTHROP, Iowa — Wieland & Sons is a manufacturer of hardwood lumber, and the company has earned a reputation for appearance grade lumber it supplies to the cabinet and flooring industries. The company recently carried out a major upgrade of its primary breakdown system with an investment in the latest sawmill technology available from McDonough Manufacturing.

Wieland & Sons, located in the small community of Winthrop, about 45 miles north of Cedar Rapids, has a long history. The Wieland family originally came to the U.S. as immigrants from Germany and began a sawmill in 1856 using steam power on the north shore of Lake Superior. In 1948, Harlyn Wieland and his future brother-in-law bought a small portable sawmill in Alabama and hauled it to Lancaster, Wis. behind an old Army truck. He ran it for many years, using a diesel engine for power.

The Iowa branch of the family was established when Harlyn moved the sawmill and his family from Lancaster, Wisconsin and bought 80 acres in Iowa to start a farm. Over the ensuing years, the family bought more land; by the 1980s, the farming operations covered 3,000 acres.

After Harlyn’s sudden death in 1978, his two sons, Ted and Dean, took over the family business. They formed a partnership, and in 1982 Jeff joined and incorporated it as Wieland & Sons Inc. Three years later they decided the future was in lumber rather than farming, and they sold the farm equipment and purchased land in Winthrop to relocate the lumber operation. They expanded to two shifts and soon added a planer mill and then a drying operation.

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Wieland & Sons has steadily expanded since then and is a thriving business. Naturally, the portable sawmill is long gone. In fact, the company now boasts the largest hardwood sawmill in Iowa, employing over 100 workers. Wieland & Sons also operates a second sawmill in Muscoda, Wis.

The company continued to run two shifts until 1996, when it invested in an extensive project to modernize the mill. The new machinery and equipment enabled the company to reduce labor costs significantly, and the company’s operations now require only one shift of personnel.

The three brothers have joint and separate responsibilities in running the company. Ted, the oldest of the three and who has a degree in music and business administration from UNI, serves as president of the company. He oversees log buying and is also responsible for sales of dry lumber. Wieland buys logs on the open market, and its employees are not engaged in logging. The company resells veneer logs to plywood plants in the region and also sells some logs via brokers for export to foreign markets, including China, Spain and Italy.

Dean Wieland, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering from ISU, is vice president; he serves a dual role and is involved in both technical and financial matters. Jeff, who received a degree from ISU in agriculture and business, also wears several hats. He oversees transportation, personnel and payroll, and he also is responsible for sales of pallet stock, railties and mulch.

The principal products sold by Wieland & Sons are skip planed and finish planed hardwood for the cabinet industry, hardwood flooring, pallet stock and railties. Mill production, running one shift a day, is currently 10 million board feet a year. It breaks down to about 77 % rough planed cabinet material, 15 % pallet stock or railties, and 8 % flooring material. Two of the most important customers for lumber are Bertch Cabinet Company and Omega Cabinets, which make cabinets for kitchens and bathrooms. Waste wood and bark are sold as landscaping mulch, although some is used as boiler fuel in the 600 hp cogeneration plant.

The principal hardwood species processed at the mill are ash, birch, cherry, elm, hickory, walnut, maple, red oak and white oak. The mill processes logs up to 42 inches in diameter and 17 feet long. Flooring is sold in widths of 1 ½, 2 ¼, 3 ¼, 4 ¼, 5 1/4 and 6 1/4 inches; thickness is normally 3/4-inch. The grades offered for sale vary by species. For example, hard maple is available in three grades: clear, sap or #1 common. Ash and birch are available as #1 common or select and FAS. “Rustic grade has become real popular,” said Dean.

Six company trucks bring logs to the mill yard. Two front-end loaders, a Volvo and a Cat, are used to sort and stack logs. The first step in processing the logs is an older Mellott Rosser-type debarking machine with a Bark King head. A 36-inch MDI metal detector was also installed recently in the debarking area. After debarking, the logs are conveyed to the new McDonough slant head rig and carriage, where they are squared up into cants. The cants are conveyed to a McDonough linebar resaw with a run-around feed system; the resaw, installed in 1996, is a McDonough 6-foot bandmill with Temposonic servo-hydraulic setworks. Pieces removed by the resaw move to a 4-inch Crosby combination edger with a 42-inch maximum opening; the Crosby combination edger has 2 moving saws on one side and a fixed saw with a fence on the other side. The lumber is then transferred to an adjoining building on the property for trimming to length and sorting.

At the trimming department, the lumber is fed transversely by lug chains to a Newman-Whitney KNO 24 multiple trimmer with nine saws. Trimmed boards are transferred on to a 140 foot-long green chain, and the boards are manually graded and sorted by species, length and grade. Up to 50 different sorts can be made. Any rejected boards can be re-trimmed for width or length in the same building by a straight line rip saw.

A state-of-the-art Gillingham Best Stacker with automatic stick placement is used to stack the lumber for kiln drying. “Two men can now stack automatically in 26 hours what it took eight guys a week to do before,” said Dean.

Rail ties and pallet stock are sold directly at this point in the process, but the other lumber goes to the kilns for drying and then to two Newman Whitney roughing planers for finishing.

When the company decided it needed to replace the old Jackson head saw, Dean traveled extensively, looking for new equipment ideas. He also had been collecting information for years. He has been very pleased with the results of the improvements, which incorporate many new hardwood industry firsts.

With his engineering background, Dean was interested in the most advanced technology even if it meant taking some calculated risk. The equipment that was finally chosen included a newly designed McDonough E series slant carriage and 6-7A bandmill along with an Inovec StereoScan 3-D scanning and optimization system. The mill also installed the first Jacobson Engineering AC Vector electric carriage drive and an Armstrong automatic leveler and grinder in the filing room to support the new variable pitch band saws. McDonough was pleased to work with Dean on the specifications of what turned out to be its first tong dog E series slant carriage. The new log carriage, at 10,000 pounds, is much heavier than most, Dean noted. “It looks huge compared to the unit it replaced.”

The specifications for the new head rig system and ancillary equipment are as follows:

• McDonough E series 17-degree slant tong dog carriage. It features three knees and 42-inch opening with Brownsville turners, UHMW cant kickers, plastic flat wheels, track frame and rails.

• McDonough 17-degree slant 6-7A single cut bandmill. It features air strain, belt-type tailing tables, and runs a 0.125-inch kerf, 12-inch VPD variable pitch saw blade.

• McDonough operator’s cab with control console.

• Inovec StereoScan 3D scanning and Yieldmaster optimization system. It features 12 lasers and six cameras to formulate optimum cutting solutions for each log and Temposonic servo-hydraulic setworks with accumulator to reduce loading shock.

• Jacobson Engineering AC vector 100 hp electric carriage drive with two cables for safety.

• Mellott # 7 log turner and drop belt.

• Armstrong # 4 Varisharp CNC automatic bandsaw grinder for VPD saws plus a new Armstrong saw leveler.

McDonough Manufacturing has a long history in sawmilling. The company was founded by Frank McDonough, who started a small manufacturing shop to support the many sawmills along the Eau Claire River in Wisconsin in 1888. Because he also worked in one of the local mills, Frank knew first-hand what machine improvements were needed. By the 1930s, the local white pine had run out, and one by one the sawmills closed. However, Frank’s company survived and prospered.

Today McDonough Manufacturing is still in Eau Claire, Wis. It is well known in the sawmill industry throughout the world as a supplier of sturdy, efficient, high strain bandmills, resaws, carriages, and other machinery. The company has received many patents over the years for innovations now taken for granted. These include the linebar resaw and the EDLF, or End Dogging Log Feed system; both are in common use in both the softwood and hardwood lumber industries. The 17-degree slant E series tong dog carriage supplied to Wieland & Sons is a new design for McDonough; five of these carriages are in operation.

Inovec, located in Eugene, Ore., specializes in high recovery scanning optimization systems for the sawmill industry; it has installed more than 600 systems since 1979.

The Inovec Yieldmaster head rig-carriage optimization system with StereoScan 3-D scanning purchased by Wieland & Sons is one of a family of optimizers designed for various machine centers in a modern mill. Other Inovec systems include small log, edger, canter, curve sawing and trimmer optimizers. The scanner used at Wieland & Sons is a StereoScan 3-D laser scanning system that uses LMI DynaVision L-4 laser scanners to accurately measure the contours of the log’s surface. The optimizer models the log shape using thousands of measurement points and moves the log to the calculated opening face and position. StereoScan helps increase the overall productivity of the head rig-carriage by improving speed, accuracy and yield. The scanning optimization technology can increase yield at the primary breakdown centers from 2-10%, according to Inovec.

Jacobson Engineering Inc., located in McKinleyville, Calif., is a family-owned business specializing in digital electric drives and control systems for log carriages, bandmills and other sawmill machinery. The company custom designs and builds PLC controls and also supplies ergonomically designed operator consoles to complete the package. The variable speed carriage drive system purchased by Wieland & Sons is a new design and uses a normal mill AC electric motor rather than a DC motor, which are expensive to replace. The drive system uses AC vector control to provide infinitely variable feed speeds. “I never thought I would buy an electric carriage drive,” said Dean, “but the Jacobson drive system impressed me.”

Dean summed up the benefits of the head rig improvements. “Company production was at the 7 million board feet level before the system upgrade and is now approaching 10 million. We expect it to eventually go up to nearly 12 million. We are seeing very significant increases in production, yield, grade and average board width. I attribute this to many factors, the most significant of which is the Inovec StereoScan 3-D laser scanning system. Our feed speed has improved, down time has improved, and accuracy and miscuts have drastically improved.”

“Feed speeds are now 20 percent faster than before,” he added, “and both recovery and grade have improved, especially from further out on the log circle. Saw kerf was 0.281-inch before and now its 0.125-inch. We also feel we are hitting the minimum opening face around 97 percent of the time with the new Inovec StereoScan 3-D scanning system.”

Wieland & Sons is equipped with seven American Wood Dryer kilns with a combined capacity of 350,000 board feet; individual kilns have capacity ranging from 35,000 to 75,000 board feet. High air speed is used for drying, and the time varies by species. On average, it takes about 13 days to dry the lumber to 7% moisture content. Three kilns are designed to dry hard maple lumber.

A wood-fired cogeneration system was installed in 1996; it provides heat for the kilns. The system consists of a wood fired, high pressure boiler rated at 600 HP that burns green chips and sawdust from the mill. It produces high pressure steam to drive a high pressure turbine, which in turn drives a 450 KW generator to produce part of the mill’s electric power requirements. Steam from the back side of the turbine is used to heat the kilns. “Since the new head rig system went in, we are making less sawdust and chips, so have had to bring in wood chips from our other mill to help fire the boiler,” said Dean.

The planer department is in a 44,000 square-foot building that was constructed in 1997. It houses an S282 and S382 Newman-Whitney high-speed planer for roughing. These lines run automatically using an Allen Bradley programmable logic controller (PLC).

An S290 Newman-Whitney planer located elsewhere on the site is used for finishing. “I designed and built infeeds with a special skewing device so that boards are pulled into the planers at an angle,” said Dean, who got the idea while fishing in Canada. One of the main benefits of feeding the boards into the planer at an angle is that it allows more even wear on the carbide knives, resulting in much longer blade life.

A fleet of 30 company vehicles includes pick-ups, straight trucks, pre-haulers and 12 semi-trucks for log and lumber deliveries to as far away as New York.

Many of the personnel at Wieland have been working at the mill for a long time, which is a testament to good employee relations. Some of the key people are plant manager Emil Tisl Jr.(25 years) and sawmill manager Scott Zhiss (19 years). Others include Bill Naber, supervisor of kilns and energy systems; Delbert Thompson, flooring sales plus planing supervisor (20 years); maintenance supervisor Mark Fangman, head filer Jeff Bahndorf, flooring supervisor Lurinda Kurt, and Tracey Schlafer, manager of the company’s sawmill in Muscoda, Wis.

When asked about future plans, Dean Wieland said, “We are always looking to improve and are looking at an optimizing edger system and a ring debarker.”