Emporium Reaping Optimization Benefits

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INOVEC® Technology at Head Rig, Edger, Trimmer Increase Production, Yield, Quality

EMPORIUM, Pennsylvania — The north-central part of the Keystone state is known worldwide to lovers of cherry. It is perhaps the most coveted among the much sought-after hardwood species that abound on the slopes of the Allegheny Mountains.
Since the mid-1960s, the sawmill at Emporium Hardwoods has produced lumber products from Allegheny hardwoods, including hard and soft maple, ash, red oak and basswood, as well as cherry.
In 1998, Emporium Hardwoods became part of Hardwood Lumber Manufacturing (HLM), which is headquartered in Charlotte, N.C. HLM operates another division, Northern Hardwoods in South Range, Mich. Dave Marshall is president and COO of HLM, a privately owned company. Emporium Hardwoods has 95 employees; in total, HLM has 200 employees.
Until five years ago, Emporium Hardwoods relied solely on the considerable expertise of its sawyers to make decisions regarding opening faces, tapering and positioning. Previously decisions at the edger and trimmer machine centers also were made manually. Now, they are getting help from INOVEC scanning and optimizing technology.
Scanning and optimizing systems from INOVEC® were added to three machine centers in the sawmill. The head saw, a McDonough 6-foot double-cut bandmill, was paired with an INOVEC YieldMaster StereoScan 3-D carriage optimizer in 2001. Two years later, the company added an Advanced Sawmill Machinery (ASM) optimizing edger with INOVEC WaneMaster optimizer technology. In late 2005 the mill installed a T.S. Manufacturing Co. trimmer coupled with an INOVEC TrimMaster G3 optimizing system.
The head rig feeds cants to two McDonough linebar resaws. Grade material is routed to the ASM edger with INOVEC optimizer and then the T.S. Mfg. trimmer with INOVEC optimizer. Lumber that is selected to be kiln-dried is stacked with a T.S. Mfg. stacker.
The lumber is air-dried for a few weeks and then kiln-dried to 6%-8% moisture content. Some low-grade lumber is sold green.
Wood scrap is processed by a Precision chipper and sold along with sawdust to local pulp mills. Bark is sold to landscapers. The company does its own trucking of residuals and contracts for all other hauling.
INOVEC scanning and optimizing technology have made positive impacts at Emporium Hardwoods, said Jared Fowler, general manager at the company. Grade recovery has increased, he said, as well as quality and production. “Probably the biggest (difference is) more volume from the same log,” he said. “This is another way to offset the rising timber costs that we are faced with each year.”
Jared joined the company in 2000. He previously managed a mill for Coastal Lumber Co. In that capacity he frequently developed ways to increase production at underutilized mills acquired by Coastal.
A native of Odessa, N.Y., Jared got hooked on wood products the first time he watched a log being sawn. Jared applied for a job at Cotton & Hanlon Inc. in Cayuta, N.Y. and was hired. The company offered to pay his tuition to study for a wood products technology degree at the State University of New York in Morris­ville, and Jared took the opportunity.
At the height of mill acquisitions and restructuring, said Jared, he was involved in melding trusted equipment and new technology. His experience with scanning and optimization made him an informed customer when he started looking for a supplier of optimizer systems for the Emporium Hardwoods mill.
As for where to start optimizing first, Jared looked at the head rig first. The head saw had old set works. “We started out there because we needed to upgrade,” he said. “Our previous curtain scanner was no longer serviced by the manufacturer.”
Emporium Hardwoods chose INOVEC based on its commitment to service and the experience that other companies have had with the supplier. INOVEC can provide support and service 24 hours a day, 365 days in the year, Jared noted. Because Emporium Hardwoods runs two shifts, it needs to be able to confer with a supplier that can provide that level of service.
Jared looked at the results INOVEC had achieved for other sawmills, and they were impressive, he said. He considered what it would mean to get the same kind of performance and benefits at Emporium. “I also did the due diligence of bench­marking with other companies that had INOVEC optimizers against those that have purchased from direct competitors of INOVEC,” he said. And when he did, he was satisfied that he had found a good fit for the mill.
The two divisions of HLM collaborate, of course. Two McDonough 6-foot bandmill head saws at Northern Hardwood also have been recently paired with new INOVEC StereoScan systems. “They updated from a curtain-style scanner,” Jared explained.
Emporium Hardwoods occupies a 120-acre site in Emporium, Pa. Technically a borough, Emporium is the seat of Cameron County. Some 2,500 people live there.
Most of the raw material for the mill comes from within a 50- to 100-mile radius. The company purchases 95% standing timber, and timber harvesting is contracted to loggers. “Logs are cut to length in the woods,” said Jared. “Only veneer logs come in multiple log lengths.” Emporium’s staff of professional foresters provides a full spectrum of forestry management services to landowners.
Emporium Hardwoods produces more than 20 million board feet per year. Just over half that amount is kiln-dried onsite. The company has 13 kilns with a combined capacity of 600,000 board feet. The four newest kilns are from SII Dry Kilns. All the kilns are heated by a 600 hp Superior boiler that is fueled with natural gas.
Much of the mill’s production is sold to cabinet makers, millwork plants and flooring manufacturers with low-grade lumber being sold to pallet manufacturers.
INOVEC’s newest generation of G3 optimization offers customers a single platform for their optimization needs. Emporium Hardwoods, however, is using a multiple-platform approach. “We treat all systems separately,” said Jared. “But we make our three platforms work together.”
Getting the three systems to ‘cooperate’ — configuring the systems so that one did not try to assert control and make all the optimizing decisions — was the goal at Emporium Hardwoods. And it was realized.
“We had to make some adjustments,” said Jared. “We had to change the way we had the optimization set up” with each addition of an optimized machine center.
“When we put the head saw (opti­mizer) in, that really takes care of opening faces,” said Jared. “Then, the resaws are just taking off boards.”
When the TrimMaster was added, the optimization of both the edger and trimmer had to be coordinated. “When the trimmer started to look (at boards), we had to go back to the edger and make the edger ‘just edge’ and let the trimmer trim,” explained Jared.
As for tying the separate platforms together, Jared said he got all the help he needed from INOVEC, and the process went very smoothly.
Even with all the equipment up and running well, Emporium Hardwoods continues to rely on INOVEC for technical assistance. “We talk to INOVEC often just because we are trying to get the most out of our system,” said Jared.
INOVEC optimization “is infinite in its ability to give you what you want,” Jared explained. “G3 gives you even more options” than older platforms. “We can change the way we edge and trim at any time to adapt our lumber products to any market.”
Indeed, INOVEC designed G3 as a ‘plug-and-play’ system as well as one that will connect seamlessly to the Internet. The concept behind G3 is simple: all optimized equipment ought to depend on the same algorithm for optimizing.
The flexibility of the G3 system allows Emporium Hardwoods to switch specifications for edging and trimming and adjust to any market. That’s important, said Jared, because Emporium Hardwoods exports to international customers that have different requirements from domestic lumber buyers. The TrimMaster, for example, easily adjusts from fixed or random length, closed wane and cut-in-two solutions, in addition to re-edge and remanufacture decisions.
The speed of the INOVEC Yield­Master is one of the first things to get noticed by sawyers. Even with the carriage in motion, the scan continues. Not even a tiny fraction of time — intervals that add up — is lost in the process.
Staff response to the optimized equipment has been positive. Sawyers were eager to get started with it, and they found the system very easy to learn, Jared said.
Jared had full confidence in the INOVEC system from the start. “I chose INOVEC for a couple of reasons,” he said. One, the company’s sales representative had an engineering background and was thoroughly knowledgeable. “He knew the product,” said Jared. “And, they had 24-hour service.”
By choosing INOVEC, Emporium Hardwoods was tapping into the strong foundation of a company with close to 27 years of experience in the manufacture of scanning, optimization and control systems for mills. INOVEC is a wholly owned subsidiary of InVision Technologies Inc., and since 2004 it has been part of the GE infrastructure.
INOVEC has installed more than 750 systems. Customers of its technology often report double-digit gains in recovery. For example, some mills that have installed the YieldMaster at the head rig report as much as a 20% gain in yield. And those that have put the TrimMaster system in service report overall value gains ranging from 4%-12%.
At Emporium Hardwoods Jared also is responsible for lumber sales out of the mill, so he often gets the opportunity to go on the road with sales personnel. Seeing how customers use Emporium Hardwoods lumber, he is impressed by their talent and increasingly appreciative of the superb products supplied by his company. Just back from a sales trip to the Rocky Mountains region, Jared had a look at a new home under construction that was incorporating 24,000 board feet of cherry throughout the interior. The house was estimated to cost $24 million.
“We take a lot of pride in the product we produce,” said Jared. The company’s customers take similar pride in their wood products.
“It takes a long time for Mother Nature to produce these incredible hardwoods,” he added. “We take the time to extract all we can so that a tree can live on in heirlooms.” The heirlooms include fine cabinets, flooring, mouldings and furniture.
The technology of INOVEC’s optimizing systems also provides a benefit that may be overlooked: lumber quality. INOVEC’s three-dimensional scanning, a technology that utilizes lasers and fiber optics, definitely speeds the lumber manufacturing process, and it increases yield at every machine center. It also enhances quality.
The capital investment involved in optimization deserves mention. “I know that when I talk to mill owners and managers who are considering optimization, they are very concerned about the cost of the venture,” said Jared. “No doubt. It is costly. But we would not have continued to invest the capital if we did not get the expected return.”