Samuel Coding & Labeling Group Helps Mills Speed Their Lumber-Marking Processes

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High-speed inkjet marking system from Samuel Coding & Labeling great fit for high-performance mills.

Some custom-furniture makers select each tree to be felled and sawn. A few custom-home builders do the same. Quality products begin with quality components, on that everyone agrees.

Yet for most applications, builders – for both logistical and economic reasons – rely on mills to provide reliable indicators of lumber quality. Lumber is graded. And the essential information about the quality of a board is conveyed to the buyer via a grade mark.

In addition to lumber grade, the basic grade mark indicates moisture content and species. It also identifies the mill and the agency that provides quality control for the grading.

The concision of the grade mark enables mills, wholesalers, retailers and end users to communicate with clarity all along the supply chain. It also ensures that end users get the quality product they require.

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Of course, the grade mark must be affixed to each board. In today’s high-performance mills, visual grading is often augmented by machine-grading. The boards move quickly and the faster the grade mark can be added, the better.

High-speed inkjet systems have been deployed for marking in a range of industries. They are also at work in the wood products industry.

The high-speed inkjet marking system from Samuel Coding & Labeling Group can keep pace with the flow of lumber in the fastest-paced mills. Samuel Coding & Labeling Group is a division of Samuel Packaging Group at Samuel, Son & Co. Limited. They have systems installed and operating from the Alaska Highway to Florida.

Wayne Van Tassel, general manager of Samuel Coding & Labeling Group, established Samuel Products Identification Group in 1990. With a background in engineering and many years of experience working with saw mills, Wayne had begun to hear from customers in the wood products industry who wanted better ways to put identifiers on products. The strapping division of Samuel Packaging Group dates to 1964 and the company has a long history of working with the wood products industry.

The array of robust equipment in the wood products industry, particularly in saw mills, makes it a bit different than many other industries. “You really have to adapt,” said Wayne. All industries have a “need for reliability and speed” in labeling, but the wood products industry presents an environment that demands much more rugged equipment.

Equipment for marking and labeling must be able to work with the mill control system. Software from Samuel Coding & Labeling Group is integrated with the mill control system.

The integration is more important than ever with the degree to which the entire mill line is optimized. “It’s absolutely related to quality control,” said Wayne.

In addition, mills now rely on automatic grading in addition to or instead of visual grading. Comact in Saint-Georges, Quebec, Canada, a provider of saw mill and optimizing equipment, is one of the industry partners with which Samuel has been working especially closely to refine the tie between machine grading and marking, explained Wayne.

Being able to get immediate feedback from industry partners and share ideas improves outcomes for the industry. Another Comact partner, Falcon Engineering, Ltd., a New Zealand company that has a U.S. location in San Diego, Calif., makes the A-Grader. The A-Grader uses technology built on acoustics to grade lumber.

The amount of information that buyers want to have about lumber has increased over time. Consequently, to make it easier to move a piece of lumber along a supply chain, the markings put on a board may be quite detailed.

For example, the southern yellow pine (SYP) that will be used for structural support, such as in trusses, joists and rafters, generally must be machine-evaluated lumber (MEL) and machine stress-rated (MSR) lumber. MEL and MSR lumber give the buyer added confidence. They also typically add to the bits of information that are included in the grade mark.

Because Samuel Coding & Labeling systems allow for a unique identifier to be put on each board, they support not only quality control, but also continuous improvement in optimized mills.

There is great value in being able to identify the sequence in which a less-than-perfect board was cut, edged or trimmed.

A unique identifier on an errant board makes it possible to look back at how the algorithm made the “decision” that resulted in the board. Perhaps an adjustment can be made to ensure a better outcome in future.

It’s not all about trace-back capability, though, simply because most modern mills are configured and optimized to produce long, strong runs of excellent boards. Much of the concern a mill has when choosing a marking system is a practical one. What will get the task done most expeditiously?

Irrespective of which marks are being put on lumber – grade, sequence, logo, or other – high-performance mills require a marking system that can keep pace with their speed. It’s no more an option to have employees working with crayons than it is to have to have ink bleeds or frequent or complicated changes of cartridges. For high-performance mills, the Samuel high-speed inkjet system offers an alternative to slower choices for marking, such as roller stamps.

The inkjet grade marking systems from Samuel have many features, including an option of disposable or solid-state head construction, to make them efficient. Other features offered include automatic centering of marks on every board and ability to run one width or multiple widths of product at one time.

At each juncture, Samuel Coding & Labeling Group has been committed to incorporating the best available technology in coding and labeling. For instance, early on in the development of its product line, the Samuel automatic bar coding system eliminated many of the issues with manual bar coding.

Slow (and therefore expensive), the application of labels by manual method also contributed to repetitive stress injuries among workers. Given that workers needed stocks of different labels and had to choose among them as they stapled and centered labels, quality of results varied. Labels might fray or be lost. With automatic bar coding from Samuel, mills were able to lower labor costs and rid themselves of staples, all with a much more uniform outcome in labeling.

Today, automatic in-line bar coding systems can put retail labels on the ends of boards at over 300 pieces per minute. And choices in inkjet systems from Samuel include the option of inkjet grade marking on the face of lumber or on the end of lumber. Stamps can be large and bold or fine and intricate. If a change in print details is needed, it can be made in minutes through the software.

Similarly, marketing information, such as logo, can be printed on face or end of a board. Samuel also offers stencil machines that use inkjet to print large logos on the sides of packaged lumber. For mills that want to do detailed analysis of production, there are options for including in the unique board identifier the time, date and shift a board was produced and the grader’s initials if visually graded.

“Our software talks to them,” said Wayne. The high-speed inkjet marking systems from Samuel are able to assess what’s needed and make the switch. Labels are centered automatically.

“You no longer have to make a changeover with four-inch to six-inch to eight-inch boards,” explained Wayne. The software takes care of that.

Across the years Wayne has worked with the wood products industry, there is one change he considers more remarkable than all the others. That is the “speed” of production. “We have mills going in excess of 265 boards per minute,” said Wayne. Melding marking software with the mill operating system is more important than ever.

“We see mills aiming for 300 lugs per minute,” explained Wayne. And the high-speed inkjet systems from Samuel are designed to keep pace – anticipate by outpacing and being ready, actually – with that speed. Samuel Gen2 grade mark systems are capable of speeds that exceed 500 lugs per minute.

Recognizing that nothing pulls back on speed more than downtime, Samuel offers zero downtime systems for both its bar code and high-speed inkjet mark systems. The integrated vision systems monitor the automated application to give an advance warning when cleaning or service is required. At the same time, the vision system changes to backup assemblies to keep things going smoothly until mill personnel can attend to the machine.

Putting together all the pieces of technology — so that the precise quality of each piece of lumber from fully optimized and high-performance mills is noted on the lumber, is not quite the same as going to a woodland, selecting a perfectly formed tree – to fell and saw for a very special building project. But the results are definitely the next-best thing to custom-building that starts with the choice of a tree. They are results obtained from verifiably high-quality lumber.

The Samuel systems can be purchased as fully automated or semi-automated. And choices offered from Samuel range from off-the-shelf systems to custom systems. Samuel has the ability to custom design the mechanical/electrical and software components of the system to meet specific mill requirements. The Samuel Coding & Labeling Group provides free analysis of application requirements at a facility to assist mill owners as they evaluate their needs.