California Mill Specializes in Redwood

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Inovec StereoScan,YieldMaster system improve yield, production at head rig

ARCATA, California — Tall and majestic, Sequoia sempervirens, the coast redwood, is a pleasure to see. Visitors to coastal areas of northern California have plenty of opportunities to walk among redwood trees. There are some 257,000 acres of redwood parks as well as 125,000 acres of public lands where the trees are conserved.
Outside the parks and reserves, many second-growth coast redwood trees dot private lands. They are harvested and milled into some of the most coveted wood products in the nation.
Lightweight and strong, coast redwood makes great material for fencing. Redwood fence is easy to lift into place time after time; ensuring alignment satisfies property owners. Nails push through
it with no problem. And absent are excessive pitch and resin that can make other species of wood magnets for debris — or worse, insects.
For 30 years, Britt Lumber Co. Inc., which is headed up by Russ Britt, president, has been making fencing, posts and rails from coast redwood. The company also produces a few specialty items, such as decking lumber and playground equipment components.
Charles Moyer has been the plant manager at Britt Lumber Co. for the last six years. He has worked in the forest products industry for about 40 years. “I started out in a moulding plant,” said Charles. “I like the sawdust.” For that reason and others, such as his great interest in the equipment that keeps sawmills and lumber remanufacturing lines humming, Charles stayed on the mill side by choice.
Britt Lumber Co. has made some significant changes during the last two years. In July 2002 the company added an Inovec StereoScan™ 3-D contour scanner to one of the two Salem head rigs. “We liked it so well,” said Charles, that an Inovec StereoScan system was added to the other Salem head rig in August 2003.
The company first decided to add the Inovec technology to increase production, not yield. “It was taking too long to load logs,” said Charles “…eight to eleven seconds with the loader, now it’s three to four seconds.” With the loading time slashed to half or a third, production naturally went up.
The first system showed remarkable results almost immediately. “It increased our production about 500 logs per shift,” said Charles. The increase was noticeable in the first week the Inovec StereoScan was in place. Yield improved, too. “We picked up approximately five percent overrun,” said Charles.
With the second Inovec StereoScan system, Britt Lumber picked up a bit more overrun, as much as 6%. “We increased about 150 logs per shift” with the second system, Charles said.
The second system was installed for the head rig handling larger logs. “We put the second one on for opening face,” said Charles. The Inovec StereoScan accelerates the identification of the best log position for exposing the most desirable face.
The saw lines at Britt Lumber are divided. One line is devoted to larger logs and the other is fed smaller logs. The two lines emerge from one rosserhead debarker and bucking system.
Coast redwood bark is thick, fibrous and spongy. It can be more than 10 inches deep. (In living trees, the tendency of the bark to strip off is a characteristic that makes even coast redwood saplings easy to identify.)
Average log diameter is 10 inches. “We run eights, tens and twelves on the big side,” explained Charles. “We run sixes, eights and tens on the small side.” The small line can run up to 24-inch logs, and the large line can run diameters twice that big. Given that the mill processes only second growth redwoods, log diameters rarely get as large as those what the mill can potentially handle, explained Charles.
The Salem head rig used for smaller logs is paired with a McDonough 42-inch bandmill with stopping loaders and chains. The Salem head rig used for larger logs is paired with a Salem 5-foot bandmill that loads with a 17-degree slant. The setworks on the bandmills are equipped with Inovec YieldMaster™ optimizing technology.
Charles’s knowledge of sawmill equipment derives from the many roles he has had. “I started out as a millwright,” he explained, then “went to work as a forklift driver.” He learned so much about the workings of machines at the heart of mills that he started designing them. “I’ve built a lot of sawmill equipment,” said Charles, where he has seen a need and made what he needed.
Knowing sawmill equipment as well as he does, Charles appreciates equipment that performs well. “We’ve had very little trouble with them,” he said of the Inovec StereoScan and YieldMaster systems.
“Every six months, a technician comes out and looks at them. It’s just preventative maintenance. We’re very pleased with the product.”
The Inovec StereoScan 3-D scanning system speeds up an age-old process that the human eye alone once controlled. The Inovec StereoScan looks at and assesses the topography of the incoming log much faster and more comprehensively than can the most experienced human eyes.
The scanning system uses LMI DynaVision™ L-4 laser scanners to complete a picture of the contours of a log’s surface. As the carriage travels toward the saw, the StereoScan offers a thorough look at the log. Laser lines projected onto the front and topsides of the log are viewed from two angles and 60 times per second with CCD cameras.
The virtual curtain drawn by the laser lines across the log and the way they are translated into information can be analogized. Imagine wrapping the log in a thin substance that hardens yet can be easily pulled away like a thin cast to reveal every ripple and knob. That is what the digitized picture looks like to the computer analyzing the data.
The Inovec YieldMaster headrig carriage optimizer uses the digital picture it receives from the scanning system to position the log quickly for maximum recovery. Because the StereoScan system works so fast, each sawn face can be scanned and the next position reassessed in real-time – instead of a time-consuming process of turning and repositioning the log for visual inspections.
“It didn’t take any time at all to learn” how to use the Inovec equipment, said Charles. The four sawyers who cover two shifts also give the system good marks. “They’ve all liked the upgrade,” explained Charles.
“The Inovec people were great,” said Charles. “We did the hardware,” installing the equipment and electrical service. “They did all the software and trained sawyers.”
Indeed, it was the collaboration that Inovec provided from initial consultations that started the move toward optimizing the two head rigs at Britt Lumber.
“Inovec’s sales engineer sat down with us and went over the cost and recovery,” said Charles. “He had a lot to do with it…our adopting” the equipment.
Inovec, a wholly owned subsidiary of InVision Technologies Inc. in Newark, Calif., sees optimization as a tool that is fully realized when it assists an experienced operator of machinery. Depending on the type of optimizing systems installed, Inovec technology can enable mills to increase yield as much as 15%.
With the headrigs optimized, Charles said it is just a matter of time until the remainder of the line is also optimized. “I’m planning to change the two Ukiah edgers over, add Inovec to them,” he said.
Most fencing components produced by Britt Lumber fit into one of three categories. The company cuts 1×4, 1×6 and 1×8 in 6-foot and 8-foot lengths and also 8-foot 2×4 and 12-foot 4×6.
“Our grades are our own,” said Charles. “In fencing, there isn’t too much (in the way of) grading rules. Britt Lumber essentially made the rules.” The formulation for grading developed by Britt Lumber Co. resulted in the Redwood Inspection Service, or RIS.
Britt Lumber is a member of the California Redwood Association (CRA), a trade group for redwood lumber producers that offers technical assistance to designers and builders. CRA members are committed to ensuring a continuous supply of redwood products as well as responsible stewardship of private redwood forests.
All redwood logs milled by Britt Lumber come from second growth forests, explained Charles. Most of the wholesale customers for the fencing products are in the West. Britt Lumber does no retail sales, and all customers pick up their orders. The company does no trucking.
Arcata, home for Britt Lumber, is in northwest California and has a population of about 16,000 residents. Incorporated in 1858, just eight years after California became a state, Arcata is located 250 miles north of San Francisco. It is home to Humboldt State University. Part of the redwood coast region, Arcata holds its own forested acreage as community land that is used for sustainable timber harvests, recreation and wildlife preservation.
Britt Lumber, with 135 employees, runs two nine-hour shifts, five days per week. “We’re on about nine acres,” said Charles. A road separates the 75,000-square-foot sawmill and remanufacturing facility from a 25,000-square-foot planing mill, but they are essentially contiguous. The planing mill is situated on approximately five acres.
Some fence components are planed rough on four sides. Britt Lumber does some specialty cutting, particularly components for playground equipment that are sold to customers in the East.
“We cut about 85 million board feet a year here, net wood,” said Charles. Overrun has increased about 8% since adding the Inovec systems, he said.
Besides managing the plant, Charles has another crucial role at Britt Lumber. “I take care of all maintenance and saw filers,” he explained.
A native of California, Charles enjoys living and working in the Arcata area. He likes to hunt and fish, and the region has great places for both activities.
The Britt Lumber philosophy of doing business in the context of the community is one Charles likes. “It’s a great place to work,” he said. “It’s very family oriented.”
Of course, Charles also appreciates the high quality product Britt Lumber churns out. “Redwood makes a beautiful fence,” he said. “It lasts. Some customers stain it,” but it is not necessary.
Many decades ago, redwood was often referred to as a satiny wood. It was a favorite for shingles when wood roof shingles were in vogue.
Factors other than good looks and lightweight make redwood a sought after material for fencing. The moisture content of coast redwood fluctuates less than other softwoods. As a result, fencing made from the wood is less like likely to warp, split, cup or check.
According to the CRA, the coast redwood grows faster than any other commercial softwood in the nation. In 30 years, the species can reach 130 feet.
Pairing of the beauty of redwood and the precision of Inovec systems has been a big plus for Britt Lumber Co. Charles emphasized that the key to bringing the two together was the effort of Inovec personnel. “They have done a great job for us,” said Charles. “They’re very knowledgeable on the product.”
Indeed, at the beginning of this year, Inovec announced that it had installed the 100th StereoScan 3-D Scanning System. The company, which sells its products worldwide, put that system in place at B.Y. Lumber Co. in White Plains, N.Y. The first StereoScan systems Inovec produced were sold in 1999.
The Inovec scanning, optimization and control systems are crucial players in improving yield, recovery and speed at mills. Sawmill owners welcome anything that can make the most of each tree. So do individuals outside the wood products industry, especially those who take a keen interest in preservation.
The genus of the coast redwood, Sequoia, takes its name from Sequoyah, the person who invented the means of transcribing the Cherokee language. Sequoyah was the son of an English trader and a Cherokee mother.
The single species of coast redwood grows in a narrow 500-mile long band along the foothills near the Pacific Ocean from the Oregon border and heading south. The region where it grows is relatively warm year-around and records plentiful rainfall, averaging 40 inches per year.
Getting the most from every coast redwood tree is important to everyone, including the CRA. The CRA promotes methods that encourage regeneration of the redwood. Stumps and matted material from dead shoots of redwood make the best substrate for regrowth. The denser the better, since the mats suppress the other plants that are competitors of the redwood. The perfect starting ground for new redwoods is in the coppice of existing ones.
In just 20 years, a coast redwood can grow to a height of 80 feet. That makes the promise of sustainable harvesting at one-generation intervals one that can be fulfilled. Not surprisingly, the redwood is the state tree of California.