Quality Hardwoods Continues Upgrades

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USNR, HMC, Valley Machine Helping Michigan Mill Increase Production, Yield, Quality

SUNFIELD, Michigan — After completing a degree in criminal justice, Luke Brogger planned to pursue a career in law enforcement. When he graduated, though, he realized that his part-time job in the wood products industry had staked the first claim on him.
Today, Luke is the owner and president of Quality Hardwoods Inc., a business he purchased in 1989. He has worked at Quality Hardwoods full-time since 1978. Prior to that he worked at the company part-time while attending college at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich.
Quality Hardwoods has established itself over 30 years as a producer of high quality, furniture-grade hardwood lumber. The company produces about 10 million board feet of lumber per year for the flooring and furniture industries. Customers include dimension plants, furniture manufacturers, flooring mills, and wholesalers.
Quality Hardwoods buys standing timber almost exclusively on private land and employs contract loggers, using chain saws and skidders, to do the harvesting. Tree-length logs arrive at the mill, and an HMC rosserhead debarker prepares them for the sawmill.
The company cuts mainly oak, hard and soft maple, walnut and cherry. The logs come from forests within about a 200-mile radius of the mill. The Northern hardwood trees produce beautiful yet tough lumber.
Fifty employees work at Quality Hardwoods, with contract loggers and truckers adding to the number of people who ultimately earn a livelihood associated with Quality Hardwoods.
The sawmill cuts as many as 600 logs per shift. That is an increase of 100 logs per day over 2005. Luke attributes much of the increase to pairing some of his new equipment with USNR’s scanning and optimization technology.
The first machine center to be optimized was the head rig. “The optimization on the band head rig was put in about one and one-half years ago,” said Luke. “It’s great. We saw a three percent increase in our overrun when we put it on our head rig.”
The head rig consists of a McDonough 7-foot bandmill on a 17-degree slant and an HMC carriage. The logs are scanned and optimized by a USNR MillWide optimization system that features 3D LASAR scanners. The mill also has a second head saw, a circle saw, which Luke plans to replace with a second slant bandmill.
The positive experience Luke had with USNR optimization at the head rig made him eager to add the technology to more machine centers. “I liked the way the USNR set up,” he explained, adding it is “user friendly.”
Four months ago Luke added a Valley Machine Works combination linear edger with USNR Smart TriCam scanning and optimization. Quality Hardwoods personnel installed the new edger. The company’s shop staff, fully equipped for welding and fabrication, had previously constructed a new building for the new head rig.
Much of the sawmill equipment at Quality Hardwoods was supplied by HMC Corporation. In addition to the HMC debarker and the new HMC carriage, the mill is equipped with an HMC drop saw trimmer. Resawing cants is accomplished on a McDonough 6-foot linebar resaw.
Starting up the HMC carriage with USNR 3D LASAR scanning and optimization was a bit slower than the recent launch of the Valley Machine linear edger with USNR Smart TriCam scanning and optimization, noted Luke. “The edger was easier, but most of it was because we understood it better,” he explained. The knowledge and experience the staff had with the first optimization project transferred to the second.
Getting the edger in place required an exacting approach. “The challenge is that it really needs to be installed properly,” said Luke. “You want to have a good foundation from the start.”
The Valley Machine linear edger can be fed material from both head rigs. Material flows to the edger from both sides of the machine. One of the advantages of the linear edger, Luke noted, is that it has a smaller footprint than a transverse edger. The new Valley Machine edger replaced a machine that was quite old, and available space was limited.
The new Valley Machine optimized edger is “very easy” to use, said Luke. More than that, however, it has been a real time saver and boost to production. With the old machine, the edger operator “had to handle every board,” said Luke. The automated feeding of the new system means that the operator can work in a control booth, which will soon be added.
The new Valley Machine edger system has proven more efficient and productive for a number of reasons, Luke noted. “The edger itself is a much easier piece of equipment to operate,” he said. “Human error is gone,” and there is no “fatigue factor.”
The Valley Machine linear edger has a top arbor and can be configured for two-saw or three-saw operation. The infeed tables can be made fully automated or semi-manual. Piece counts for the machine are ranging from 10-20 per minute, according to Luke.
The Valley Machine edger was optimized with technology from Perceptron Inc. before USNR acquired the Perceptron Forest Products Division in 2002. That acquisition resulted in a further fortification of the sawmill scanning and optimization products that USNR offers its customers.
USNR 3D scanning systems produce among the highest density scan data in the industry, according to USNR. The capabilities are amplified by the MillWide Information Systems that USNR provides as a planning and forecasting tool.
USNR, which has facilities in Ark., Fla., Mich., Wash., and the provinces of British Columbia and Quebec in Canada, has a global reach that extends to Australia, New Zealand, Japan and many other countries.
The foreman at Quality Hardwoods makes extensive use of the modeling features of the optimizer, said Luke. It enables him to evaluate how things were done and how they might be done even better.
“We use the wane percentages all the time,” said Luke. “You’re able to take a board the edger has optimized, take a picture…see if you could have gained more.” It’s all thanks to the digital storage, retrieval and analysis of the image that the MillWide software accomplishes so quickly.
The automation at the head rig and edger are the first forays into optimization technology at Quality Hardwoods. “Optimization seems to be the way the industry is moving,” said Luke, and it is critical to increase efficiency in a mill. He expects to optimize other machine centers in the future, and he is also considering adding a gang saw. Luke already plans to invest in an optimized trimmer in the near future, and as the company continues to grow, he intends to replace the circle saw head rig with another slant bandmill.
“We sell mainly to wholesalers, people who are going to dry and sell,” said Luke. Quality Hardwoods also sells some lumber directly to a few furniture manufacturers and flooring mills. It sells cants and low-grade lumber to the pallet industry.
Quality Hardwoods strives to cut long runs of a particular species; changeovers are generally necessary only once every several weeks.
Secondary products include low-grade lumber and cants for pallets and fencing, chips for the paper industry, bark mulch for landscaping, and sawdust for animal bedding. The company uses a Morbark 58-inch chipper for chipping slabs and edgings.
When Luke talked with TimberLine in late January, the new optimized edger had been installed for just a few months. “I’m sure we are going to see some increases in recovery,” he said. “But we haven’t been running it long enough to put a quantitative percentage on it. We’re still tweaking.”
Even so, Luke had some initial observations about the benefits of the Valley/USNR edger system. “It’s really very accurate” thanks to the scanners and the software, he said. The data generated by the TriCam sensors is “very accurate and very reliable.” The USNR optimizing software is extremely fast, creating the edging solution in about a half-second.
The 3D LASAR scanning and optimization system on the carriage is equally fast, producing the solution for the head saw in less than a second. Adding optimization technology to the head rig has increased yield about 3%, according to Luke, and improved lumber quality. “It’s just making a really nice product,” he said. That quality ultimately will show up in the furniture and floors that are made from the company’s lumber products.
Sunfield, Mich. is about 195 miles northeast of Chicago. It is located in the south-central part of the Wolverine State. In the 2000 census, 591 residents were recorded in Sunfield. Luke is a native of Grand Rapids, Mich.
Most intrastate trucking is done by Quality Hardwoods. The company owns three Kenworth tractors. It also contracts for trucking.
Quality Hardwoods belongs to several wood products organizations, including the Hardwood Manufacturers Association, the Indiana Hardwood Lumber Association, the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA), the Michigan Association of Timbermen and the Lakes States Timber Organization. NHLA is the grading agency for Quality Hardwoods.
Quality Hardwoods has a web site at www.qualityhardwoodsinc.com. Through its site, it conveys the message of managing and using trees as a valuable and renewable natural resource.
A participant in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Quality Hardwoods offers professional forest management services to landowners from whom it buys standing timber. The company taps the expertise of foresters who have nearly 100 years of combined experience.
USNR puts an emphasis on helping mills determine solutions that match their needs. In all his dealings with USNR and the manufacturers it represents, Luke reported positive interaction. “Their service is exceptional,” he said. “I’m just really impressed with their professionalism.”
Quality Hardwoods processed 132,172 logs in its mill in 2005. Luke expects the number of logs to increase by about 50% in 2006.
The average yield per log in 2005 was 72 board feet on the Doyle scale; Luke likewise expects that figure will climb because of the company’s investments in optimization.
When Luke started working full-time at Quality Hardwoods 26 years ago, he was a sawyer. Thinking back to the way he had to visually scan each log and face, decide how to cut the log and set the log and the controls, he welcomes the advances the technology provides. “Things are so much more efficient now,” he said.
Although he had a strong interest in going into law enforcement, Luke is glad he chose the forest products industry. “I just like that it’s something new every day,” he said. He enjoys “interacting with people” and finds there is “a challenge every day.”
Luke values his employees and co-workers. “The people I have working here are great people,” he said. “They take great pride in their product. We run this (business) like a family.”
Luke has little time for hobbies. He is busy managing the company and planning for the future. In many ways, his efforts to improve the business and increase the recovery from every log are his avocation.
“The technology that’s come into the sawmill is just amazing,” he said. “We just have to keep up. We will continue to upgrade and improve.”