Montana Mill Optimizes Small Log Line

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Comact OLI-CS3 Optimization System Increases Yield for F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber

COLUMBIA FALLS, Montana — The longest straight root of F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company extends to 1918. That is when F.H. Stoltze started building a plant to support his future mill.
“We still have the original boiler plant,” said Ron Buentemeier, vice president and general manager of F. H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company. By 1923, the first lumber was being produced from the mill.
(Ron has been working on a history of F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company, and information about the roots of the business that appears in this article was taken from a written account that he shared with TimberLine.)
Today, privately held F.H. Stoltze produces random length softwood dimension lumber for myriad customers. In addition to a sawmill, the company owns 36,000 acres of timberland in northwest Montana. It also manages forests for other companies and buys logs delivered to the gate.
A company logging crew cuts about 15% of the logs the mill requires. The logging crew is a fully mechanized operation, depending on two Timbco feller-bunchers. F.H. Stoltze had the third feller-buncher that was put in service west of the Mississippi River in 1969, according to Ron.
The company’s various forestry operations — logging, forest management and sawmill — employ 120 people. “Last year we put about $24 million into the local economy,” said Ron.
F.H. Stoltze works with the softwood species of the West — Douglas fir, larch, lodgepole pine, spruce, cedar, ponderosa pine and white pine. Even so, the pressure to recover the maximum amount of wood fiber from every tree and log has been building at the company for several years.
“We’re looking — like all lumber producers — to gain as much recovery as possible,” said Joe O’Rourke, the plant manager for F.H. Stoltze. “We were looking to increase recovery of solid wood fiber,” he explained. In order to increase yield, the company decided to invest in Comact optimization technology for its small log breakdown line.
With more than three-quarters of a century of experience in the lumber industry, F.H. Stoltze has consistently found ways to retain the best of the old and incorporate the most useful of the new. Adding optimization technology to the small log breakdown line is just one example.
From the start, Comact worked with two important parameters that were non-negotiable: the relatively small size of the existing footprint, and the tried and true machines already in place. The small log processing line is designed for logs ranging from 4 inches to 17 inches, with the average log being 6 to 6-1/2 inches.
The Comact OLI-CS3 optimization system was added in December 2004. (The name is an acronym for Optimized Length Infeed with Continuous Scanning, Skewing and Slewing.) Not only does the Comact optimization system identify the optimum way to position a log for breakdown, it also ensures it will stay in position once it is put in place.
The addition of the Comact OLI-CS3 system required some retrofits to the Schurman canter, Letson & Burpee Airstream twin-bandmill, and Coe-Newnes curve-sawing gang — machine centers that F.H. Stoltze wanted to keep. (A Coe-Newnes/McGehee edger was already optimized with Newnes software and a Hi-Tech trimmer system was in place before Comact began the work on the other machine centers.) In addition, the mill did not want a double length infeed (DLI) because of the limited space. Despite the constraints, the transition all went well, said Joe.
The newly optimized small log breakdown line has been performing well since the installation of the Comact OLI-CS3 system, according to Joe and Ron. “It’s definitely meeting our expectations,” said Joe. “We had an excellent set-up. We were up to our normal production in 30 days. We’re actually producing more now.”
The implementation went well, said Joe, because of Comact’s involvement. “We felt we received excellent support from Comact and Comact technicians,” he explained. “We’re very pleased with the technical support and results.”
“Comact updated the setworks on the canter and twin band as well as the guide­works,” said Ron, so they could be integrated with the Comact OLI-CS3 system.
With its continuous scan, slew and skew capability, the OLI-CS3 system, which incorporates multiple Comact scanners, can scan the log, turn it, scan it again, and so on. The result is that the log can be examined by the scanners along its entire length, incorporating its taper and undulations so that the optimum position for maximum recovery can be achieved.
A Comact Wave Feeder carries the incoming logs (up to 20 feet long) onto a V-flight conveyor that moves the logs into scanning range. The feeder controls the gap between logs. The conveyor is very fast and has been clocked at speeds between 200 and 550 feet per minute. (Some mills report speeds of 600 feet per minute.)
Comact designates its scanners C-1 and C-2. The C-1 works first. The C-2 is the confirmation scanner and is located just beyond the turning rolls.
The infeed to the canter is controlled by the Comact technology to minimize inadvertent movement of the log. After the log is canted, the orientation of the cant is maintained by powered feed rolls and anvils.
As part of its self-testing, Comact analyzed results in the small log breakdown line at F.H. Stoltze. Figures it reported at the end of February included rotation accuracy within 5% of target and recovery that was greater than 98% of the recovery predicted by the optimizing solution provided by the Comact OLI-CS3 system.
Pushing the recovery percentage so close to 100% are the real-time rotation and monitoring coupled with the on-the-fly correction capability of the Comact OLI-CS3 system.
Comact has its headquarters in Quebec City. Among the product offerings that complement saw line scanning solutions, Comact offers a rot detector and a transverse board optimizer and a high-speed trimmer.
The Comact scanner has a fully automatic calibration procedure that is designed to minimize installation time and to be user friendly.
Neither Comact nor optimization was completely new to F.H. Stoltze. Comact has an alliance with Hi-Tech, so there was a sort of familial familiarity with the capabilities of the optimization software from Comact, explained Joe. Moreover, in 2003, F.H. Stoltze purchased a Comact paddle fence, which was the first Comact product at F.H. Stoltze and one that brought good results and earned high marks for Comact.
Logs are debarked with a Forano 25-inch single-ring debarker. Most of the bark is sold for “beauty bark,” said Joe, but some goes to hog fuel markets and some is used internally for boiler fuel.
The breakdown line for big logs, or those up to 60 inches in diameter, is equipped with vintage machines. Some of the cants from this line are routed back to the small log line to be sawn on the gang.
Some of the equipment in the large log breakdown line is so old that the original manufacturers are no longer known. The big bandmill is “very old,” said Ron; when it was purchased in 1957, it was bought used. The carriage is a Rollies. The head rig has Lewis Controls temposonic setworks. The resaw is even older than the head rig, explained Ron and Joe. And the board edger, although it does have setworks, is also very old.
To keep the equipment in service and in top condition, F.H. Stoltze has a full service mechanical shop in addition to a fully equipped maintenance shop. There is also a two-man electrical department. “We do our own saw filing,” Ron added.
F.H. Stoltze added a planing mill in 1989. The primary planer is a Yates-American; the secondary planer, which also serves as a remanufacturing planer, is a Stetson-Ross. “We do considerable volume of pattern” millwork, explained Joe.
The company kiln-dries all its lumber production. It is equipped with three Irvington-Moore (now USNR) dry kilns and one LSI (Lumber Systems Inc.) dry kiln. They are all heated by a boiler that is fueled by wood waste.
“We typically sell to wholesalers and lumber yards,” said Joe, and most of them pick up. F.H. Stoltze has a rail siding on its 140-acre site and can provide railcar loading services, too.
The sawmill occupies approximately two and one-half acres. The planer mill spans three acres.
The company is the only Machine Stress Rated lumber producer in Montana. Lumber is stress rated with Metriguard precision testing equipment.
“Twenty-five percent of production is sold in Montana,” said Ron. Much of the company’s lumber stays in the Northwest, but some moves great distances, even abroad.
Ron has been with F.H. Stoltze for 42 years, and Joe has been with the company for 28 years. Both men brought a forestry background to their positions.
A native of Minnesota, Ron arrived in Montana as a four-year-old boy when his father went there to be a logging foreman for Plum Creek. He got hooked on forestry and earned a degree in forest engineering from the University of Montana in Missoula. Ron has been managing F.H. Stoltze for three years.
“My roots go back to Dallas,” said Joe. The Texas native always enjoyed the mountains and decided to study forestry at a local community college. He started out in sales at F.H. Stoltze, and was attracted by the job because he and his wife wanted to live in the community and he liked the philosophy of the firm.
Columbia Falls, Montana is located at the western edge of Glacier National Park. The Flathead County town of 3,000 residents is a tourist junction, particularly in summer.
Both Ron and Joe enjoy their work and their setting. And the things they like about both begin with the people they meet in the industry.
“It’s a great bunch of hard working, very honest people” in the forest products industry, said Ron. He also enjoys the environs. “I love to see trees grow and to manage those trees,” he explained.
Joe echoed similar sentiments. “I certainly enjoy working with the people,” he said. “They’re good, hardworking, honest people. And I enjoy the challenge of keeping abreast of technologies.”
When F.H. Stoltze, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, arrived in the Flathead Valley of the Treasure State in the last decade of the 19th century, he had already been busy building general stores along the railroad path through North Dakota and Montana. And he was associated with James J. Hill, who owned the Great Northern Railroad.
By 1909, F.H. Stoltze, Edward Konantz and William Kilye had formed Enterprise Lumber Company, which produced rail ties, timbers and dimension lumber for the railroad. F.H. Stoltze also formed a land company under his name during the early years of the 20th century. By 1912, that land company was incorporated, and in 1933, the company became the F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Company.
F.H. Stoltze died in 1928. His son, John R. Stoltze, a Princeton University graduate and World War I U.S. Army combat veteran, took over the business, leaving behind his own business interest in oil in Shreveport, Louisiana. John married Grace B. Buckley and they had four daughters and a son. Their three surviving daughters and the 12 grandchildren own the company today. The F.H. Stoltze owners also own a sister company in Minnesota that produces dried milk.
“Even though it’s a privately owned company, we have very little contact with the owners,” said Ron. “They have trust in us. My first contact with John Stoltze, he turned to me and said, ‘Just manage it as if you own it.’ ”
Annual production at F.H. Stoltze is about 55 million board feet, running the two saw lines two shifts per day. Western Wood Products Association (WWPA) is the certifier of the graders and grading system at F.H. Stoltze.
The land management component of the F.H. Stoltze is an important one as the company takes on that responsibility for many private landowners. These operations employ four full-time foresters.
In his spare time, Ron manages his own tree farm, mostly Christmas trees, and collects and restores old cars and trucks. The oldest car he restored is a 1929 Ford Model A. He also owns a 1922 Ford Model T that he purchased already in restored condition.
Joe enjoys traveling and spending time with his wife and sons; they have traveled widely in the U.S. and Europe.