Hampton Focus Is Resource, Technology
RANDLE, Washington — Focused is an appropriate way to describe the two sawmills known as the Cowlitz Lumber Mills, which belongs to a much larger enterprise, Hampton Affiliates.
“We’re softwood producers of stud-length lumber,” said Ken Rankin, plant superintendent at one of the Cowlitz mills. “We produce 250 million feet per year at this facility,” said Ken, referring collectively to the two Cowlitz mills. “We’re one of the largest stud mills in the United States.”
At the company’s mill in Randle, Wash., the largest percentage of the softwood used is hemlock. The mill also runs Douglas fir, Sitka spruce and Engelmann spruce.
The Randle mill gets wood from the forests of Washington. The company’s timber resource department buys logs and standing timber that is harvested by contract loggers. “We accept anything from 16 feet to 40 feet,” said Ken.
Logs are delivered to the mill in 40-foot stems or shorter. They are debarked with a Nicholson A-5 debarker and then bucked to lengths of 8, 9 or 10 feet.
The mill has two primary breakdown lines. Three years ago, it added a Perceptron lineal Smart TriCam scanner, which is now part of the USNR family of equipment, to its canter twin sharp chain. In December, the mill added a new USNR 3-D LASAR™ scanning system to the other primary breakdown line, a Salem two-knee carriage and Salem bandmill; the new carriage scanning system was up and running by the beginning of 2004.
The company added the new USNR LASAR scanning system in order to be able to assess “true log shape,” said Ken. With the new USNR scanning system, the mill is able to do just that. The result, of course, is better — more accurate – data that can be used to position the log in order to recover the most lumber – and the most value.
The USNR LASAR scanning system does a very good job because of the number of data points it collects and assimilates, Ken noted. “A much tighter grid” results, he explained, which means that the “data collection gives the true shape of the log itself.”
USNR has provided scanning and optimization for primary and secondary sawmill machine centers for more than 25 years. USNR technology has enabled the company to increase both lumber value and recovery, said Ken.
Because the USNR LASAR scanning system can scan the back side as well as the front side of the log, “it’s truly a one-shot scan,” said Ken. The one pass, comprehensive scan capability of the USNR is important, said Ken. “We didn’t have the ability to re-position,” he explained. “We would have to un-dog, turn the log,” which was time-consuming and not economical. The more data the system can provide in one pass, the better. “We try to train our sawyers to position the first time,” one time, said Ken.
Normally, said Ken, it does not take operators long to learn to use the USNR scanning system. One thing that simplifies the process is having access to reference information in the form of optimizer shift data that can be used to run off-line re-optimization scenarios. It allows adjusting parameters and comparing the results without risking real wood. “As log diameters increase, we look at different cutting solutions,” he explained. “We have four different cutting programs.”
USNR offers mills different choices in optimizing software. For instance, Maxi Mill, a W. B. Company, did the PLC controls for the sharp chain when the Perceptron-USNR system was installed two years ago.
Maxi Mill offers several different scanning systems to complement its overhead, end-dogging carriages. USNR’s LASAR sensor extracts high-resolution data from a stationary log. The Randle mill’s most recent installation features the LASAR scanning system. The system used for scanning on the sharp chain (a canter twin) is based on lineal Smart TriCam sensors.
USNR’s philosophy is that each mill is unique, and the uniqueness of each mill determines the best solution for scanning and optimization. What works best for one mill may not be the best solution for another mill. After all, species of trees differ as do company objectives. For that reason, USNR gives customers a choice of controls and scanners. USNR also allows companies to try its 3-dimensional scanning and optimization technologies with a portable installation before making a buying decision.
For the carriage application, USNR software enables a sawyer to open a face, rotate (90 degrees or even 180 degrees), take another pass, rotate again, or to simply scan, dog and cut. The options depend on the size of the log, the species and the lumber product goals.
Leaving the head rig, split logs go to a Kockums-CanCar twin resaw where they are cut into 2-inch flitches or 4-inch cants. Some 1-inch boards are also produced. The twin resaw is not optimized. From the resaw, flitches go to a Newnes four-saw edger with optimized infeed, and cants go to a Newnes curve sawing gang. The lumber goes to a Hi-Tech bin sorter and then a Gillingham-Best stacker.
Nearly all production — 90% to 95% — is kiln-dried. The kiln boilers use bark from the debarking operations for fuel. “Everything kiln-dried is surfaced,” said Ken, with a Coastal four-head planer. Most of the lumber that is sold green is Douglas fir. Green lumber is surfaced, too, and treated with anti-mold agents. The company sells to distributors, and much of its production goes into California and finds its way into Home Depot and Lowe’s Home Improvement stores.
Many of the kilns used at the Randle mill are old, said Ken. But one is new and technologically innovative. “We have a radio frequency kiln here,” he said. “It’s the only one in this region doing lumber.” The radio frequency kiln from HeatWave™ is used as a supplement to the conventional kilns.
A Wagner Products moisture meter analyzes wood that has been dried in the kilns. Boards that have not dried sufficiently are selected out and put into the HeatWave kiln. The goal for all drying is 19% and under moisture content.
“We’re targeting everything over 19 percent” moisture, said Ken, referring to which studs are culled for more drying. Studs leaving the conventional kilns pass along a lug transfer chain and over the Wagner system. A diverter-sorter is used to move studs that contain too much moisture and send them to the HeatWave kiln, where they spend another 10 to 11 hours.
Hampton Affiliates, which has a 50-year history, has six mills in all – three in Oregon and three in Washington. The company’s mills manufacture dimension lumber, clears and industrial lumber, hardwood lumber and panels, timbers, panel products, doors and windows. Randle is in the southwest part of the Evergreen State; the two Cowlitz Mills take their name from the Cowlitz River.
Hampton Affiliates, which is owned by John C. Hampton, places a strong emphasis on resource management. The company owns more than 155,000 acres of timberland. Over the years, Hampton Affiliates has planted more than 26 million seedlings.
Making the most of every tree is important to Hampton Affiliates. That’s why the USNR scanning and optimization technology is important. “We see an improvement in recovery and value,” said Ken.
The USNR LASAR scanning system also has speeded up production. “The throughput is very fast,” said Ken. The LASAR system takes less than a second to scan and position the log, he said.
The Randle mill employs 170 workers. The mill produces precision end-trimmed 2×4 studs in 5 foot to 10 foot lengths and 2×6 to 10 feet lengths, and web stock. Lumber is delivered by truck, railcar, barge and ocean-going ship.
Ken has been working for Hampton Affiliates since 1996. He brought more than a decade of experience working in mills with him to his current position. He has always been employed on the mill side of the wood products industry.
Off the job, Ken enjoys woodworking as an avocation. He built a conventional frame home with the help of some friends. Building his own house gave him a great firsthand knowledge of studs for the building industry, and the importance of lumber quality.
Working for Hampton Affiliates has been a good experience for many reasons, said Ken. “With this company, there’s always a challenge to get better,” he said. The owner believes in teamwork, and the need for collaboration and cooperation is communicated to everyone. Teamwork improves a business, Ken noted.
John Hampton has been recognized for his vision in business and in the community. He has won an Oregon Ethics in Business award from Willamette University in the individual category. In citing reasons that Hampton’s owner merited the award, the committee pointed to his early participation in the Salmon Trout Enhancement Project (STEP). In fact, the company’s owner had created and led the Oregon Stream Enhancement Project Initiative, which was used as the prototype for the larger STEP effort in the Pacific Northwest.
Hampton Affiliates is committed to “continuous process improvement,” said Ken. That and the teamwork that pervades the company make a positive environment and result in positive outcomes, he said.
Using technology to keep Hampton Affiliates on the leading edge of the wood products industry fits the vision the company has for retaining its position in the marketplace. Some of that technology comes from USNR.
Vern Pittman, regional account manager for USNR, who has worked with the Cowlitz Mills of Hampton Affiliates, has long been aware of the forward-looking nature of the company. “Hampton is a very progressive outfit,” said Vern, “always looking for ways to improve efficiency and productivity.”
USNR has a facility in Woodland, Wash. It also has operations in Jacksonville, Fla., Hot Springs, Ark. and other locations in the U.S. and beyond. Sawmill installations by USNR are in place in Canada, Chile, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries.
Besides assisting companies with the selection and installation of mill equipment, USNR is keen to help companies analyze the return on investment.
MillExpert optimization software from USNR allows a company to save actual shift data for future off-line analysis in order to compare the results of changes in system parameters without risking real wood.
The old adage that experience is the best teacher applies. In the past, the trained eye of an experienced sawyer was no match for a novice. With its optimization systems, USNR provides an intelligent and versatile tool for maximizing return on investment log by log and shift by shift.