Gulf Lumber Upgrades Head Rig at New Mill: Addition of USNR 3D LASAR Carriage Optimizer System Improves Production Recovery

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USNR LASAR 3D Scanner Improves Production, Recovery

JACKSON, Alabama — Sometimes when you purchase an existing mill, you simply have to make some changes to it to make it run efficiently and have it make money. Such was the situation when Gulf Lumber Co. bought a Boise Cascade mill in Jackson, Alabama.
By adding the new USNR carriage optimization system to the head rig and other improvements at the recently-acquired mill, Gulf Lumber was able to turn an average sawmill into a state-of-the-art facility.
Gulf Lumber was founded by Ben May in Mobile, Alabama in 1940. At the time, it was set up to be a Southern pine lumber concentration yard that provided dressing and trimming. The only equipment was a small planer mill, a trimmer and some dry kilns. In those early years, the lumber was cut by a number of small portable sawmills, trucked to Gulf Lumber and trimmed, dried and surfaced before being shipped to customers.
Ben May hired three brothers — Billy, Ben, and Gordon Stimpson — to oversee the day-to-day management of the mill in 1952. The Stimpsons ran the mill until 1973, when Ben died, and then they acquired ownership of Gulf Lumber.
In 1992 the brothers transferred ownership of the mill to younger members of the family, with Fred Stimpson as president, Sandy Stimpson as chief financial officer, Mitch Shackleford as senior vice president of operations and sales, and Ben Stimpson Jr. managing the wood treating division. Today the mill continues to produce finished Southern yellow pine lumber, from 2×4 to 2×12.
The Stimpsons expanded this year by purchasing the Boise Cascade sawmill in Jackson.
“It’s a Southern yellow pine mill that cuts 2×4, 2×6 and 2×8,” said Sandy Trewolla, value manger for Gulf Lumber. Sandy was with Gulf Lumber for about 10 years, starting in the mid-1980s, then left to pursue other interests for about ten years, and recently returned to Gulf Lumber again.
“The mill in Jackson also cuts 1x4s, 1x6s and 1x8s, and timbers that are 8×8, 10×10, and 17×12,” Sandy said. It is fully equipped to process logs into kiln-dried, surfaced lumber.
Boise Cascade closed the mill in August 2006. “We started working on buying in it,” said Sandy, “and finally acquired it in February of this year.” The mill was upgraded with USNR’s 3D LASAR scanning technology and only has been operating a few a months.
The USNR scanning system added to the head rig uses high resolution 3D LASAR sensors that are well suited for close coupled sawing systems and large transverse deck bucking systems. The USNR-LASAR system is able to scan logs instantly with a high degree of resolution and data density.
USNR’s LASAR sensor is a high performance 3D scanner that has been installed in many mills around the world. Unaffected by high levels of ambient light, LASAR is appropriate for sharp chains, carriages, end doggers, chip-n-saws and log merchandisers. This highly accurate system samples tens of thousands of data points from a single sensor alone. Two scan heads provide up to 300 degrees of log coverage, capturing a dense blanket of data as opposed to sparse scan lines. The sensor also features multiple dynamic scan zones that can be adjusted on the fly, based on the size of the log or cant. USNR’s LASAR sensors allow for automatic detection of sweep, taper, diameter, length, ovality, flare, fluting, nodal swelling, knot protrusions, and broken ends and kinks. Its wide field of view and depth of field, coupled with flexible mounting and automatic calibration, make LASAR a rugged, reliable, and low maintenance scanning solution.
Gulf Lumber asked USNR to make some modifications during the installation process. “USNR hopped on it full speed,” Sandy recalled, “listened to what we wanted and needed, and worked through the problems according to what we needed. It was only a couple of weeks. They had to rewrite part of the program for us a couple of times, and they did that with no problems. They had folks on site to help. Their support was really good, and they did resolve our issues quickly and efficiently.”
Stimpson Forest Products in effect is the timberlands division of Gulf Lumber and handles all tasks associated with buying timber — cruising, bidding and negotiations. The company buys timber mainly from private landowners in the Jackson area and contracts with loggers for harvesting. Logs are trucked to the mill in Jackson as tree-length wood and average about 30-44 feet.
At the mill, incoming logs are immediately unloaded and stored on the yard. “We run Caterpillar 966s to load and unload trucks and to load the mill,” Sandy said. “And we have a Taylor Big Red log unloading machine in the yard.”
Logs are sorted by species in the yard. “We don’t have the room to do any sorting according to class or length for the most part,” Sandy explained. “However, we do take in a certain number of pre-cut logs, and those are segregated by length.”
“We take in all four species of Southern yellow pine,” he added, “and we also take in some spruce logs. The spruce logs are used exclusively for making timbers. Other than that, we don’t do any sorting in the log yard. We just don’t have any room to do that.”
About 5% of logs are pre-cut; the minimum length the mill accepts is 16 feet. “Pre-cut logs run 16 feet, 18 feet, and 20 feet,” Sandy said.
When logs are moved to the mill to be processed, they are loaded onto an infeed deck. On the infeed deck, a small bucking saw is used to cut out any defects or crooks, and the logs move to a USNR Cambio debarker. After debarking, they accumulate on a surge deck.
The next stage is a double cut-off saw. “Depending on the length of the log and the size (diameter) of the log, it’s cut based on our log bucking matrix,” said Sandy.
Then, logs are sorted by size. Small logs are conveyed to a USNR Kockums-Cancar Chip-N-Saw that is optimized with the USNR 3D Smart TriCam log optimizer system. (This USNR system was already part of the mill when it was acquired by Gulf Lumber.) Lumber exiting the chip-n-saw goes across a couple of transfer decks to the trimmer.
Larger logs go to the head rig, which includes a Salem carriage and Filer & Stowell head saw. The head rig’s new LASAR scanning system is optimized with USNR’s MillExpert carriage optimization technology. This powerful optimizer is capable of maximizing value from every log, using full log breakdown grade sawing as well as minimum opening face for hardwood applications. The system provides detailed breakdown rules that can be set for each species and fiber class along with other options, including configurable face cut orders, configurable minimum opening face sizes and lengths, half taper, full taper and no taper options.
“On the head rig, we are primarily — but not exclusively — cutting timbers,” Sandy said. “All the spruce logs are run through the head rig and are cut into timbers. We also run Southern yellow pine logs through the head rig and cut 5/4 and 2×6 and 2×8 cants that we then run through the gang.” The downstream gang is a Shurman machine.
The mill is also equipped with a USNR Kockums horizontal resaw, a USNR Schurman 12-inch chipper-gang and a Crosby edger. The lumber ends up on a long transfer deck going to the trimmer, which is paired with an Auto Log optimization system. The mill also has a new MoCo stacker for automatically stacking the green lumber.
The new USNR 3D LASAR carriage scanning system has improved production and yield in the mill, Sandy said. “What we’ve seen with the LASAR system is the ability to get better solutions on the log,” he said. “There’s a pre-scanning and a scanning portion, and the production rate has increased due to the way the pre-scanning and the scanning system works. So the two big impacts of the system in the mill have been increased productivity and recovery.”
Chips are supplied to a Boise Cascade paper mill next to Gulf Lumber, and bark is used as boiler fuel to produce steam for the dry kilns.
Even though the mill at Jackson has been running for only a few months, mill managers already are looking ahead for increasing improvements over the next few years to position the operations for the future, Sandy said.
“What we really see for this mill is not that it will become a scale mill in the next three to five years,” he said. “We’re looking to produce high quality, specialty items, such as timbers and wide 1-inch and machine stress rated (MSR) lumber. We don’t want to grow it into a 200 million board foot mill. We just want to make 50 to 60 million feet a year of high quality, specialty products.” The company already is a major producer of MSR lumber, which is sold for structural applications throughout the U.S.
At this point, Sandy said, Gulf Lumber has no other plans to expand by purchasing additional mills. However, the company constantly considers ways to upgrade equipment to improve efficiency and production.
“We’re always looking at where the opportunities are, what we can afford to do and where the best return is,” Sandy said. “Certainly, we always are looking at USNR when we do that. At this point, we have nothing on paper to add any more new equipment.”
Overall, Sandy said, the company has been very happy with the USNR equipment. “It has proven technology, and USNR has a reputation as a dependable supplier,” he said. “They have a dependable product that does what they say it will do.”