Upgrades Improve Edwards Sawmill

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Company Turns to USNR for First Experience with Optimization Controls

MARSHVILLE, North Carolina — The July issue of TimberLine told the story of Edwards Wood Products Inc. dry kiln expansion to increase drying capacity and accelerate drying operations.
The second part of this two-part series looks more closely at the upgrades that Edwards Wood Products recently made at its hardwood sawmill in Marshville, N.C. in order to increase yield and production.
The mill has operated since 1987 and is the bigger lumber producer for Edwards Wood Products, sawing 650,000 board feet per week. The company also owns a mill in Liberty, N.C., known as the Alamance mill, which it purchased four years ago; it is also planning to make extensive improvements to the Alamance mill.
In addition to upgrading major machine centers in the Marshville sawmill, for the first time the company also paired machines with scanning, optimization and controls.
Planning for the projects began in 2002. “Jeff Edwards (president of the company) had a vision to upgrade,” said Terry Williamson, operations manager for Edwards Wood Products, who joined the company in early 2003. “It was important to them to utilize all fiber. I was brought in to help with the vision.”
The benefits from the improvements at the Marshville mill are still being tallied, said Terry, but they are dramatic.
Some of the principal equipment at the Marshville mill includes a Nicholson 44-inch ring debarker, a Salem carriage and band mill, a Maxi Mill overhead, end-dogging carriage feeding a McDonough twin bandmill, a Mac thin-kerf gang saw, and a Valley Machine Works three-saw linear optimized edger. The Salem head rig and Valley edger both are equipped with USNR scanning, optimization and controls. Terry plans to optimize the Maxi Mill carriage with USNR scanning and optimization in the future. The end of the lumber manufacturing line includes a Morris trim saw with Soft-Tac optimization, a Morris 57-bay bin sorter, and a Morris stacker and in-line dipping system.
The company’s strategy for planning the improvements and making decisions about machinery investments included turning to consultants for the overall project and for certain processes, seeking competitive bids, and exploiting the market for good, used equipment to save money.
The improvements at Marshville began with the log yard. The company created a concrete log yard of five and one-half acres. The concrete was reinforced with double-bar mesh.
“Prior to the concrete, it was just bark and mud” in the yard, noted Terry. The concrete established a safer working environment for employees and eliminated muddy log conditions that could cause problems for saws and equipment.
“It gave us the opportunity to reclaim all the bark,” said Terry. “During the spring months — particularly on poplar — the bark would slip off.” The Nicholson debarker was one of the first machines to be added; it was installed offline in early 2003.
The company used the same approach to implementing other upgraded machine centers — installing the equipment offline but parallel to its final location and testing it on weekends. The approach helped smooth the way for the eventual conversions and minimize downtime.
In making the improvements, the company decided to use some used equipment with new equipment. For example, the McDonough twin bandmill was purchased in used condition from Jim Machine.
The Nicholson debarker is fed by a Linden quadrant log feeder. It is equipped with an MDI metal detector. If metal is detected in the log, a PSI rotary kicker is used to kick the log out; it goes back to the yard to be scanned again and remove the metal, and the remaining log is sent back to the mill.
USNR and Edwards Wood Products are like-minded companies, sharing a focus on constant improvement, said Gary Middleton, regional account manager for the USNR optimization division and the USNR representative who worked closely with Edwards Wood Products. USNR has realized the high potential of scanning and optimization technologies because of its “consistent commitment to improve scanning accuracy, optimization power and user interfaces,” he explained.
The progressive management approach at Edwards Wood Products is illustrated by management’s choice of the Valley Machine Works three-saw linear optimized edger, said Gary. Although lineal edgers are relatively new, the USNR MillWideTM Edger optimization system has a strong history of use in transverse and lineal edgers with a wide base of installations, he said.
The USNR MillWideTM optimization on the Valley edger features the SmartTriCamTM Lineal Laser Sensor — essentially a four-sensor ‘donut’ type scanner arrangement.
USNR and Valley Machine Works have partnered effectively on many projects, Gary noted. “By using a well proven scanning and optimization system, Valley Machine can go into a new project with one less variable,” he observed.
The optimization system on the Salem carriage features a USNR LASARTM 3-D laser scanner, which provides front and back three-dimensional scanning of each log. It is paired with USNR MillWideTM Carriage Optimizer Software, giving the mill a new level of control over product mix.
Gary was duly impressed with the exacting standards and attention to detail that the Edwards management team brought to the improvement projects. “As with every project, they exhaustively researched suppliers, taking into consideration reliability, accuracy, warranty, usability, flexibility, customer support references, and so on,” he said.
As Edwards Wood Products worked toward its mid-summer deadline for having all employees at Marshville trained in the new optimization technology, there were early indications of the beneficial results of the upgrades. “We don’t have the final numbers yet,” said Terry, “but we can already tell that it will far exceed our goals. Clearly, we have seen a dramatic reduction in chip production per lumber produced.”
Terry credited Ron Gillespie of PME Consulting and Stan Neglay, president of Maxi Mill, and several others with helping realize the vision that Jeff had for upgrading the sawmill. Ron and Stan were instrumental in implementing the Maxi Mill overhead, end-dogging carriage with the McDonough twin bandmill.
“We’re a small company,” said Stan. “It’s very important that we respond to customer needs. In all projects what happens is up to the people at the mill. We work with them.” Maxi Mill refurbished a used carriage for the project.
Stan continues to be impressed by the scale of undertaking at Marshville and how little downtime the mill experienced. “It was an amazing feat,” he said. “We helped them as much as we could. In reality, they built a complete sawmill” while the old mill was still running.
Ron was asked to provide expertise after some decisions already had been made. “They had already decided they wanted an end-dogging Maxi Mill,” said Ron. “They had already decided they wanted a new Valley Machine Works edger. That was my first experience with a linear optimized edger and with Maxi Mill.”
The overriding objective during the upgrade was “to limit downtime of the existing mill,” said Ron. “The layout was very important. We did it all while the mill was running. Basically we replaced every bit of equipment except the gang. It was a pretty big challenge. You want to reduce downtime, but you want the optimum
Ron’s technical help was significant to the conversion, according to Terry. He and Stan both noted that Ron was instrumental in having the Maxi Mill installation done properly. Ron hired Quality Fabrication in Lake City, Fla. for that part of the job.
The Morris Industries 57-bay bin sorter system also was purchased in used condition. Morris Industries provided the mechanical and electrical services for the installation and Williams Construction of Monroe, N.C., did the concrete work.
Given the machine centers that Terry wanted to start with, Ron guided the layout. “Ron helped us lay out the sawmill on paper prior to all installations,” said Terry.
“To put in the trimmer line, we had to move our pull chain,” he added. “We had to put conveyors in to get the green chain off line.”
In order to install the new equipment while continuing to run the existing mill equipment, a new building was erected over the existing mill, like a carapace. Putting the new building over the old one “was an idea several of us came up with,” said Terry.
“We bought a 148-foot by 210-foot free-standing building with a 24-foot lean-to,” he explained. It was built by Williams Construction. Once the new building was erected, work began to carefully dismantle the old building. Removing the old building took about two months.
“The scope of what we’ve done” is extensive, said Terry. “On June 21, (2004) there was no equipment here. By March 2005, it was all tied in. We started up every piece of equipment.”
With the new building in service, Quality Fabrication began to install the steel work for the new Valley Machine Works edger. Charles Knight, a process control engineer at Marshville sawmill, coordinated the electrical work for the edger installation.
The edger was one of the few machines that was purchased brand new. Terry had seen several in operation at other mills. “The ones I saw running were all two-saw,” he said. “We wanted a three-saw edger. They (Valley Machine Works) built it for us.”
The linear optimized edger “scans better because it is scanning linearly,” said Terry. The USNR system is the only ‘full-coverage’ scanning system that captures 3-D images of the entire board.
The Valley Machine Works linear optimized edger has no hydraulics and relies instead on an electric servo motor. “It made a cleaner system,” said Terry. “The speed is good.” And Valley is “very safety oriented,” he added.
When Edwards Wood Products bought the Valley edger, the decision was based on the machine’s capability to edge 25 pieces per minute, according to Terry. The new machine began running in February.
The operators and technicians are “still tweaking and real close” to that objective, said Terry.
Randy Whittaker, manager of the Marshville sawmill and with 20 years of experience, also was a key person involved in the improvements. “He played a big part,” said Terry.
Before joining Edwards Wood Products, Terry had experience working for suppliers, including USNR and the area of optimization. “I used to work for HEMCO, then CMSI, then as a programmer and start-up technician for USNR,” he explained. “I’ve had a lot of experience.”
The USNR optimization technology gets high marks from Terry. “Their software is flexible,” he said.
Charles agreed. He had this to say about the Optimized Grade Sawing mode of the USNR Carriage Optimizer system: “If they (management) can describe what they want to do with a log, I can make the system consistently do it.”
For most employees at Edwards Wood Products, the new saw line at Marshville was their first introduction to optimization. “Employee training is going well,” said Terry. “It’s getting easier day by day.”
“This mill was all circle saw and pull chain — very few computer controls,” he noted. “The only piece original to the mill is the Mac 10-foot thin-kerf gang saw.”
The Mac was retained because it has proven to be a durable, heavy-duty machine, Terry indicated. It may be enhanced with an optimization system in the future.
A night maintenance shift at Edwards Wood Products is being established under the direction of Paul Fincher. It will be ready to take on more work as the mill gears up to maximum production.
Even though employees are still undergoing training on the new optimization technology, already the results are impressive. “We have already set records for most footage per hour and total footage per month,” said Charles.
The investments in the mill will do more than increase yield and production, noted Terry. The new equipment has improved safety. “There’s a lot less opportunity for an accident,” he said. Labor costs were reduced. In the past the company had eight to 10 workers pulling lumber from the green chain. That’s all changed. “We don’t have anybody pulling lumber,” said Terry.
What’s next at Edwards Wood Products? Every efficiency possible is going to be explored. The company is going to turn to Joe Denig of North Carolina State University to scrutinize its primary breakdown operations and look for further opportunities to tie it all together with the MillWide production control concept. “We’re looking to scale logs, weigh logs, go step-by-step,” said Terry.