Hardwood Mills Make Gain with INOVEC

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INOVEC’s New G3 software platform enables optimized machine centers to communicate with each other

OMFRET CENTER, Connecticut — It all lines up, lining it all up — whichever form the adage takes, sawyers know it applies to the saw, the grain of the wood, and where the two meet.
In 2004, Oregon-based INOVEC Inc., a part of GE Infrastructure, launched its new G3 optimization software. INOVEC’s G3 software soon will enable every optimized sawmill machine to communicate using the same algorithm. And sawmills are taking notice.
When Hull Forest Products Inc. began a major renovation in 2003, a new edger system was on the list of improvements. The company decided to add an optimized edger system.
Hull Forest Products was founded in 1965. Ben Hull shares ownership of Hull Forest Products with siblings Sam and Mary and their father, Bill.
Ben needed a solution tailored to space constraints. “Transverse systems in tight spaces like ours don’t work that well,” he said. “You can never really seem to get them fully automated. The operator still does a lot of handling, and you have conveyors running all over the mill and back.”
So Ben began looking for a lineal system. “We wanted a lineal system so we could feed from both sides, right off our two head rigs,” said Ben. “But the necessary length was a problem.” His concern was short-lived, however.
“I learned that INOVEC was developing a lineal system that was much shorter than conventional lineal systems — for mills like ours,” he said. The INOVEC optimization system fits within a 15-foot by 49-foot footprint and is directly downstream from two head rigs.
INOVEC also installed a PLC routing system for cants and optimization controls for a Crosby trimmer and tally system. “The system works great,” said Ben.
Cants and boards now are routed two ways, eliminating the bottleneck that sometimes arose when all of them went to a single trimmer. One path goes to a resaw, tie trimmer and waste system that are located in a recent structural addition to the mill.
Having worked with INOVEC on the cant routing and the tallying systems first gave Ben confidence to turn to INOVEC for the edger optimization system before seeing it run.
“We purchased a three-saw, short-coupled lineal edger system from TMT (Timber Machine Technologies) with optimization and controls from INOVEC,” said Ben. The edger uses the new INOVEC LineMaster G3 optimization system.
The TMT edger is a high-speed machine that uses ‘slew and skew’ technology with moveable saws and articulating saw arbor and incorporates fixed and random width solutions and trailing edge positioning. The INOVEC LineMaster G3 uses a scanning system that can scan wane up or wane down, although the system at Hull Forest Products scans wane up only.
The 46 employees at Hull Forest Products produce hardwood lumber products for domestic and foreign markets, with about half of its sales going to markets abroad. Customers range from custom cabinet makers to local pallet manufacturers. “We practice sustainable forestry to meet the investment needs of our landowning clients,” said Ben.
Installing new equipment in an operational mill must be expeditious in order to minimize disruptions and down time to existing machine centers and manufacturing lines. INOVEC’s staff was cognizant of this and worked diligently to get the new edger optimized and up and running quickly. “They even stayed through the Christmas holiday to get us started up on time,” said Ben. Most of the mechanical installation work related to the new TMT edger was performed by C+L Steel in Indianapolis.
Because the INOVEC optimization system could fit into the existing space, it was only a matter of removing the old edger and installing the new one, said Ben. “We used the same infeed decks and everything,” he explained. “The only machinery we had to install was the edger and the infeed and outfeed conveyors. It couldn’t have been any simpler.”
Hull Forest Products specializes in red oak; about 85% of the incoming logs are red oak and the rest are mixed hardwoods.
Ben’s father, William, started Hull Forest Products in Rhode Island in 1965. But the company goes back even further: Ben’s grandfather operated a sawmill in Rhode Island that made oak staves for whiskey barrels.
Hull Forest Products incorporated when it moved to Pomfret Center in northeast Connecticut in 1970. The company also operates a log yard in Russell, Mass.
Ben’s brother, Sam, is one of the owners of New England Timberland Investments (NETI), a large, highly mechanized logging contracting business. Hull Forest Products owns 12,000 acres of timberland and frequently contracts with NETI as well as several other crews for logging services. Hull Forest Products also buys logs that NETI harvests from other lands as well as ‘gate wood’ — about 30% of its raw material — from other loggers. In addition to buying standing timber, the company buys logs ranging from 8 feet to 26 feet in length.
The mill has two debarking lines. Small logs go through a Nicholson A1 35-inch debarker and large logs are processed on an HMC rosserhead debarker. All logs also pass through a Rens metal detector.
High grade logs are broken down by a Salem 6-foot bandmill and a Corley 42-inch four knee linear carriage. The head rig for small logs is an HMC circular saw with an HMC AC40 twin-knee carriage.
“Cants go to either a 42-inch Stenner resaw with all PHL PLC controlled run-around or to a Crosby trimmer,” explained Ben. “Lumber heads to the edger or directly to a Corley drop saw trimmer.” A bridge crane removes lumber from the green chain.
“Our waste systems include a Precision chipper, B+M chip screen and Peerless chip bin,” said Ben. Chips are sold to schools and hospitals for wood-fired heating systems. Double-ground mulch is sold to local nurseries and wholesalers. Sawdust is burned to heat the mill and to produce steam for kilns with capacity of 225,000 board feet. Some sawdust is sold to pellet fuel makers.
Hull Forest Products employs six foresters and belongs to several trade associations, including the Hardwood Manufacturers Association, the National Hardwood Lumberman’s Association and the Society of American Foresters.
The LineMaster G3 was a joint development effort of INOVEC and LMI DynaVision, explained INOVEC president Kerry Wilson. It is designed specifically to fit the limited space available in smaller mills — in part by allowing an edger to be fed from two sides.
INOVEC had several goals it wanted to achieve in 2004, and it did, explained Kerry. A common solution algorithm for all sawmill equipment was a top priority, he said. “Our goal was to offer one optimization system.”
The idea, said Kerry, is to eliminate conflicting optimization solutions from one machine center to the next. If a board has been processed by an optimizing edger, for example, the trimmer optimizer should be able to evaluate the board and reach a solution based on the preceding calculations performed by the edger optimization system.
So far, the INOVEC G3 platform for optimization has been used for edgers and trimmers. It soon will be in use on a head rig, too. Yet, making the INOVEC G3 platform applicable across machines was only one goal. “A second goal was open architecture,” said Kerry. That’s important, he explained, so that new sensor technologies can be integrated as they become available.
INOVEC’s third goal in developing the G3 platform was ‘plug and play’ connectivity to the Internet. This enabled the INOVEC G3 architecture to mesh with Web-based technologies, said Kerry, which means it can be accessed remotely via the Internet. A mill manager or executive who is traveling, for example, can link to the system via a laptop computer and Internet connection.
By the end of 2004, more than 125 mills had installed the INOVEC StereoScan 3-D contour scanner. With the G3 optimizing software, mills can add optimization solutions downstream later that will be perfectly compatible because they use the same platform.
INOVEC optimizing systems are flexible, allowing a mill to add INOVEC tools at any juncture.
Frank Miller Lumber Co. in Union City, Ind., recently added INOVEC’s StereoScan 3-D contour scanner to the INOVEC YieldMaster head rig-carriage optimizer on its Letson-Burpee (now USNR) head saw and Salem carriage. The head rig is a slant system with a 17-degree tilt.
Frank Miller Lumber, which specializes in quarter-sawn white oak, also has the INOVEC YieldMaster StereoScan system along with the INOVEC WaneMaster and TrimMaster optimizers.
The experienced sawyers at Frank Miller Lumber have been impressed with the INOVEC StereoScan system, said Robert Miller, vice president of operations. “The opening face is exactly what you set up,” said Robert. “If you want a 3-inch opening face,” that’s exactly what you get.
The installation went smoothly, and the INOVEC StereoScan was up and running quickly. “It was a very quick installation,” said Robert, who enthusiastically discussed the StereoScan at the recent Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association conference.
Frank Miller Lumber has been experiencing a 3% increase in yield and a 5% increase in production speed, he indicated. “When we first went into this, we expected a four to six-month payback,” he said. However, the INOVEC StereoScan system paid for itself in less than three months by the increased yield and production.
Altenburg Hardwood Lumber Co. in Altenburg, Mo. added an INOVEC Yield­Master StereoScan optimization system last summer to its head rig, a Filer-Stowell 7-foot slant bandmill. Roger Moser, general manager and vice president, said the results were so good the company decided to add an INOVEC WaneMaster G3 optimization system for its edger.
Altenburg uses hardwoods from Missouri, southern Illinois and western Kentucky. Its hardwood lumber is kiln-dried and sold to remanufacturers to be made into flooring, cabinets, moulding and furniture.
Altenburg’s case illustrates how swiftly one experience with optimization can lead a mill to optimize other machine centers. Although the company added the INOVEC YieldMaster StereoScan system before the edger optimizer, that was largely fortuitous.
“We were investigating optimizing edgers,” said Roger. “In the process, we learned about 3-D scanning. We began traveling and investigating (systems) at several mills.”
The result of the research was the relatively quick adoption of the INOVEC YieldMaster StereoScan system at the company’s mill in Missouri and another sawmill in Indiana. The latter mill previously had no optimization technology, but the sawyers there quickly embraced it.
By the time Altenburg Hardwood Lumber installed the INOVEC WaneMaster with the G3 optimization platform in December 2004, the Altenburg team was quite familiar with optimization.
“A nice feature on the WaneMaster,” said Roger, “is our production is getting to the point where one person can handle a log” almost without ever touching it. The company is expecting increased yield and lumber quality from the INOVEC optimization system, he said.
In the 21st century, every step of a saw line can be optimized in order to maximize yield and value. Starting at the head rig, the best opening face of the log can be visualized before it is sawn – and for different sawing methods, such as quarter-sawn or flat-sawn. Similarly, optimization technology can provide cutting solutions to maximize yield and value at the other machine centers, notably the edger and trimmer.
If optimization technology at one machine center can improve a company’s profits, optimizing each machine center using a common computer language that allows each point to communicate with the next processing step is even better. That type of seamless integration that INOVEC aims to achieve for its customers enhances each individual machine center.
Like other sawmills, Hull Forest Products strives to get the most from every log for several reasons, but for two especially. First, the company wants to maximize the return on its investment in stumpage. In addition, two-thirds of its timberland holdings are enrolled in the Smartwood program, the forestry certification program of the Rainforest Alliance; maximizing yield keeps more trees standing longer.
Besides its commitment to get the most wood fiber from every log, and investing in INOVEC technology to achieve that commitment, Hull Forest Products strives to use all residual materials constructively and profitably. Besides the products mentioned above, the company also manufactures a playground surface material it sells under the name Woodcarpet®. (Hull Forest Products has the New England license to manufacture and distribute Woodcarpet®, which is owned by Zeager Brothers in Middletown, Pa.)
Ben remains enthusiastic about the forest products industry. “The wood products business has some of the finest people I’ve known,” he said. “I think it has a lot to do with the age of our industry,” which encompasses ample “history, tradition and pride in this business, especially for the loggers and mill workers.”
Ben sees all the players — from foresters to loggers and mill workers — as part of a team. “They know that they are the ones responsible for harvesting and processing a product grown in their own back yard to compete in a world market.”
That same kind of close relationship that Ben sees among members of the forest products industry is the same type of relationship that INOVEC seeks to build technologically among its optimization systems. In the near future, INOVEC customers will be able to rely on the G3 platform for optimizing the head rig, edger and trimmer. In addition, any future improvements in scanning sensors will be readily integrated by the G3 architecture.