Technology Matters at Vaagen Bros. Lumber: Integration of Wagner Electronics, Metriguard Systems Enhances Optimization at Trimmer

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Integrated Wagner Electronics, Metriguard Systems Enhance Optimized Trimmer

COLVILLE, Washington — Technology instigates even as it enables. It is a force to be reckoned with everywhere.
Embracing technology, taking the best ideas and running with them, is first and foremost the way business gets done at Vaagen Brothers Lumber Inc.
“At Vaagen, we’re technologically advanced,” said Rich Sager, the planer value technician for the company.
“Searching for value” depends on close interaction with customers, he explained. A thorough understanding of what customers want to achieve with the softwood lumber products they buy from Vaagen Bros. enables the company to better serve its customers.
Rich often travels to customer locations to learn more about how they use the lumber they buy from Vaagen Bros. – and how they add value to the lumber and the features of their products. Above all, he is looking for ways that Vaagen Bros. can help its customers.
Like any team, the equipment that produces lumber at Vaagen Bros. works well together. The machine centers can communicate with each other. “It’s a whole new outlook on where technology is taking the industry,” said Rich.
The company’s planer mill is equipped with a Coe 249 eight-roll planer, but other key equipment enables Vaagen Bros. to add more value in the planer mill.
Surfaced boards are machine stress rated (MSR) with a Metriguard 7200 High Capacity Lumber Tester (HCLT). In addition, technology from Wager Electronics measures the moisture content of the finished lumber. And an optimizing system directs the final decisions for trimming each board or processing it further.
The Metriguard 7200 HCLT flexes, or tests, each board at a speed of up to 3,000 linear feet per minute, with data collected at short intervals of 1-2 inches. As the boards fly through the Metriguard machine, a Wagner Electronics APEX In-Line Moisture Measurement System takes moisture readings at very fast (millisecond) intervals.
Vaagen Bros. has managed to integrate the entire planer line. In other words, the FinScan-Scan Ware optimization system, known as BoardMaster-FS, uses both the Metriguard MSR data and Wagner Electronics moisture content data to direct the trimmer for optimum value.
The BoardMaster-FS uses the MSR and moisture content data to direct the Hi-Tech Comact trimmer downstream where to trim the board to gain value. BoardMaster-FS can decide — among other options — whether to re-edge, cut-in-two, cut-in-two and edge, cut-in-two with cut-out, or send a perfect board on its way — fast.
Concept Systems Inc. helped Vaagen Bros. to integrate the technologies. “It was kind of our idea, and they made it happen,” said Rich. All the pieces of the planer line fit together with the focus on the value of the final product.
Wagner Electronics has been making moisture measurement systems for four decades. The founder of the company was a mill electrician who realized the need for a better system to measure moisture in lumber; he decided to build that system.
The Wagner APEX system is entirely digital, a structure that allows abundant opportunity for custom programming by companies that use Wagner’s technology.
Wagner strives to provide moisture measurement tools that companies need for the solutions that benefit them. Hand-held meters for spot checks and in-kiln systems are also part of the Wagner Electronics moisture-measuring line of products.
The Wagner APEX system reads in incredibly short timeframes, and it can measure moisture along the longitudinal and transverse axes. The Wagner APEX system in use at Vaagen Bros. has the capability to make a moisture reading every 1.25 inches.
Vaagen Bros. selected Wagner for its “ability to transfer information and the accuracy,” said Rich.
Metriguard is another long-time supplier of lumber industry. For more than 35 years, the company has been dedicated to developing nondestructive testing and quality control equipment.
MSR lumber competes well with other building materials. That competitive edge is especially important in regions and markets where building codes are tougher than the norm because of the possibility of high winds — hurricanes, for example.
Metriguard has a full line of tension and bending proof testing equipment for quality control of MSR lumber. The Metriguard HCLT 7200 illustrates the commitment that Metriguard has to validation and verification.
MSR lumber is particularly important for manufacturing roof trusses, one of the biggest applications for lumber produced by Vaagen Bros.
Concept Systems has a staff of engineers and technicians with abundant experience who serve the wood products industry and other industries. Integration services include planer reporting and the Grade Mark Pro high speed printer system, a partnership between Concept Systems and Domino Amjet. The Domino-based system, which is in use at Vaagen Bros., prints at a speed of 200 lugs per minute or 433 feet per minute.
The Hi-Tech Comact dual trimmer at Vaagen Bros. can cut lengths as short as 2 feet in increments to 20 feet. The trimmer allows Vaagen Bros. to produce precision end trimmed studs and specialty lengths. A Hi-Tech Comact paddle fence is in place ahead of the trimmer, and a new Hi-Tech Comact stacker follows the sorter.
Also new at Vaagen Bros. is a Signode automatic pressure strapping system that works in tandem with a J. Desco Inc. automatic wrapping system. All lumber is shipped out strapped and wrapped.
“Customer needs and value” are the guiding forces at Vaagen Bros., said Rich, and the two cannot be overstated. “We’re just trying to get into a real specialty product,” he said.
Out of high school, Rich started working in the sawmill that Vaagen Bros. owned until recently in Republic, Wash. “I’ve been here since August 1987,” he said. “I worked my way up,” becoming a certified grader and then a planer technician. In 1995, Rich moved to the Vaagen Bros. mill in Colville, Wash. and worked on the HewSaw line for many years before moving to the planer mill a few years ago.
Handling quality issues, traveling to meet with customers and identifying ways to make the most of new technology are a few of the many things Rich enjoys about his job. Free time includes a little hunting and fishing, but family comes first. “I’ve got three kids in high school and I do a lot of sports,” said Rich.
Vaagen Bros. has two sawmills. The Colville facility, located on 70 acres, supports a sawmill and planer mill, which was built in 2005. The company also owns a mill in Usk, Wash. Each sawmill is equipped with a HewSaw machine that uses chipping heads and saw blades to completely process a log in one pass. Both sawmills operate two shifts and employ about 200 workers.
Colville, a city of 4,400 residents, is about 68 miles northwest of Spokane, and Usk is some 50 miles southeast of Colville along the Pend Oreille River.
Vaagen Bros. owns 45,000 acres of timberland but has only one logging crew; contract timber harvesters cut virtually all the logs flowing into the company’s yards. The log mix is 70% Douglas fir, 20% lodgepole pine and 10% hemlock fir with some cedar.
Incoming logs arrive via truck or rail car on the Burlington-Northern rail siding at the Colville mill. A P&H portal crane offloads the 2,500 to 3,000 tons of logs arriving daily in Colville. The company specifies logs from 14 inches at the butt to 4.5 inches at the top — small and dense-grained, an excellent raw material for creating high-strength lumber products.
The Colville mill has four dry kilns — three Wellons and one Moore International; they are heated with steam. Each holds 180,000 board feet of lumber. The 84-foot long kilns are built with tracks for easy access. Lumber is dried to 19% moisture content or less in 18 to 28 hours.
The company burns shavings and hog fuel for a 4 megawatt co-generation plant (the same boiler provides steam for the co-generation plant turbine and steam for the dry kilns) at Colville, and the electricity is sold to Idaho Power Co. Vaagen Bros. sells sawdust for medium density fiberboard and pellets and sells bark for fuel and landscaping products.
Vaagen Bros. has well established markets and customers in Washington, California and Arizona. Almost all of its random length dimension lumber — 2×4, 2×6, and 2×8 — is sold finished and heat-treated.
The company uses the Western Wood Products Association for its grade monitoring association. Grade monitoring includes inspections of all stamped lumber to ensure the grades meet the necessary requirements and that requirements of the heat-treating stamp are met.
Vaagen Bros. dates to 1952. To keep pace with changes in the market over the years, mill upgrades have been in order for the company to remain competitive and to improve efficiency and profitability.
The capabilities of the HewSaw illustrate the combination of high technology and creative thinking that foster decisions at Vaagen Bros. The company owns four HewSaw machines — one is a nonworking machine that is displayed to visitors. Beside the two that are running in the sawmills, the company has a portable HewSaw with a debarker; the portable HewSaw can be taken on-site to other mills and wood yards where small diameter lumber would go unused.
Vaagen Bros. began to machine stress rate lumber in 1978, starting its long association with Metriguard. The first Metriguard equipment was used at the former mill in Republic while Metriguard equipment was installed at Colville in 1983.
The relationship between Vaagen Bros. and Wagner Electronics dates to the 1980s. In 2005, when the digital moisture scanner technology from Wagner was put in place in Colville, it supplanted older, mid-1990s analog technology from Wagner.
Forming alliances with other industry partners — vendors, suppliers, and customers — those who share its commitment to sustainable forestry has long been part of the Vaagen Bros. approach. For their part, vendors and suppliers (and customers) value alliances, too.
For example, Metriguard strives to be a full participant in the lumber industry by offering free technical papers at its Web site, The information provides an excellent introduction to the concept behind machine stress rating or MSR methodology.
Metriguard bolsters the efforts of its equipment users in every way it can. It has deployed a mobile laboratory with the Metriguard 7200 HCLT model so that it could go to mill sites and study the economics of machine stress rating at mill locations of potential customers.
The same sort of how-can-we-help initiative governs Wagner Electronics, which develops and manufactures instruments that handle a huge range of moisture-related issues. (Wagner Electronics won the 2006 Most Innovative Product Award at the World of Concrete.) Technology from Wagner Electronics is used for checking and detecting moisture content in wood used by cabinet and furniture makers, woodworkers, home inspectors, kiln supervisors, flooring manufacturers and more.
Wagner builds its interfaces to be rugged enough to function in whichever environment they are situated. The APEX system has an industrially hardened touch screen. The LCD (liquid crystal display) resists moisture, dust and other elements in the mill.
Concept Systems, chosen by Control Engineering magazine as the Integrator of the Year for 2007, can provide custom services and also offers a full complement of integration services for mills. These include an optimized head rig carriage control system as well as a planer reporting package that churns out production, grader and event monitor reports — and that’s just the short list.
Rich said he sees the forest products industry heading more and more in the direction of devising ways to add value and reduce waste. Being part of such a forward-looking industry and company are exciting, he said.