Japanese Mill Makes Post And Beam Components

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Company uses Metriguard equipment to machine stress rate material for beams, structural lumber.

KURE (Hiroshima), Japan — ‘Gentle to the earth’ is the guiding principle for activities at Chugoku Lumber Co. Ltd. (Chugoku Mokuzai Co. Ltd.) in Japan. In fact, the company emphasizes the “companionship between people and trees,” a relationship that invigorates much of the world’s economy — present and past.

“We are the biggest sawmill in Japan, cutting Douglas fir only,” explained Katz Yuyama, manager of the Laminated Lumber Division of Chugoku Lumber Co. “We import logs from the Pacific Northwest, making beam and other structural lumber for traditional Japanese post and beam houses.”

The focus on meeting the needs of the post and beam construction industry puts Chugoku Lumber on a solid foundation. “We are the biggest beam supplier for the Japanese market,” said Katz. “Mostly, we supply solid kiln-dried beams and laminated beams.”

Solid kiln-dried and laminated beams are in demand in Japan. Government regulations require manufacturers to take responsibility for the structural performance of the materials they sell to builders. Chugoku Lumber, which is located in Kure City, Hiroshima (prefecture), has long been committed to ways to verify the load-bearing capabilities of its wood products.

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One way to evaluate the stress that structural components can take is with high-tech testing equipment. The testing equipment evaluates the wood before it goes anywhere or is used as a component in a glulam beam, thereby grading it with great accuracy. MSR or machine stress rated lumber gives a company a way to assess its product and tell buyers exactly what they are getting. Chugoku Lumber installed a Model 7200 High Capacity Lumber Tester (HCLT) from Metriguard Inc. in Pullman, Wash. in 1997. The company added a Metriguard HCLT in 2000, and in 2003 or 2004 it will invest in another. The reasons are simple, said Katz. Chugoku gets “top quality of service and machine” from Metriguard, which is “very dependable, even though we are overseas.”

The dependability of Metriguard begins with the delivery of equipment. Ty Ehrman and John Cooke, both mechanical engineers at Metriguard, made trips to Kure City to get each Model 7200 machine off to a good start at Chugoku Lumber. The hands-on service, said the men, underscores the approach of Metriguard.

“We kind of do everything,” explained Ty, “from getting customers set up to service, installation, and upgrades.” One of the most rewarding things about working with Chugoku Lumber is the opportunity to see firsthand that Chugoku is “doing an excellent job of getting the most out of the equipment from Metriguard,” he added.

John said the level of interaction that he and Ty have enjoyed with Chugoku Lumber is not unusual. Every Metriguard customer gets support to bring a new machine into service. “We come in, make sure the machine has been shipped okay,” explained John. “We make sure it is all installed and calibrated correctly.”

Once the machine is installed, it is brought into service and adjusted for optimum function. Machine performance is evaluated and coordinated with an offline proof tester. For example, part of the performance evaluation includes a repeatability test, explained John, which is accomplished by running a 32-piece sample of boards through the machine twice and comparing values. Ultimately, setting the equipment for precise, accurate performance is the top priority of the engineers who go on-site to oversee Metriguard installations.

Global competition spurs innovation at Chugoku Lumber, said Katz. “We have to be competitive in quality and cost,” he said, in order to survive and prosper in a competitive market. “We have to take action and win this game.” To accomplish that, he added, Chugoku “must have quality resources, people and equipment.”

The Metriguard model 7200 HCLT is a high capacity lumber tester that can evaluate more than 2,000 lineal feet of lumber per minute. It accommodates sizes ranging from 2×3 to 2×12 and metric sizes. The machine also allows boards to move through flat, which means they can be fed into the stress tester directly from a planer. Setting up the Metriguard 7200 HCLT to follow a planer allows mill throughput to remain the same, noted Dan Uskoski, vice president of sales at Metriguard, yet the mill is able to produce a higher value product.

Dan knows a lot about the Metriguard equipment. Although he has been in sales for six years, he first joined the company as an electrical engineer. He began working at the firm in 1986, straight out of college. A keen observer of the way MSR technology has been embraced by mills and the wood products industry, Dan shared some thoughts on the subject with TimberLine. “The trend is toward more engineered components,” he noted, in order to use less material in construction. A good way to evaluate the quality of the components is by making use of technology.

“The number of MSR installations has at least doubled” in recent years, said Dan. “The big seller is increased profits,” he explained.

The use of MSR technology to stress test lumber has far-reaching applications and ramifications. Consider framing for roofs, for example. The better roofs are constructed, the better they can withstand snow loads and high winds; less weather-related damage results in fewer insurance claims.

In fact, the major application of MSR lumber is for components used to make roof trusses, an application that consumes about 80% of MSR lumber, according to Dan. It makes sense, he explained, because MSR lumber makes a “much more homogenous product,” whether it is used for roof trusses, glulam beams or other components. That translates to a lower frequency of failure and fewer ‘call backs’ for building contractors.

Broadly speaking, there are two uses for MSR, Dan noted. One is testing lumber used to make products like glulam, which is the reason Chugoku Lumber is using the MSR Model 7200 machines from Metriguard. The other, more common use, he said, is to add value to lumber products.

The Kure City location of Chugoku Lumber is in southwest Japan. The city has a long history as an active site for shipbuilding, and the harbor is excellent. Japan is strongly committed to earthquake-proof dwellings. Since 2000, construction companies have to meet performance standards and offer guarantees on components. Anything a mill can do to help a construction firm demonstrate the strength of components, such as glulam beam, is a plus for sales at the mill.

For his part, Katz sees the coupling of trees and technology as a logical one. “Every log and piece of lumber has character,” he said, “but we have to process it in order to produce the best quality for the customer.”

Keeping up with the changes in the industry is one of the many challenges of Katz’s work. “Nothing is the same,” he said. “Every day is learning.”