North Carolina Sawmill Reaping Benefits of New Resaw System

USNR Project Enables Hardwood Producer to Boost Production, Product Mix, Profits

USNR resaw system at Mackeys Ferry Sawmill in Roper, North Carolina, which manufactures hardwood lumber. The 72-inch double column bandmill resaw is USNR’s renowned L&B design featuring a full air strain system.
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ROPER, North Carolina —

With an aging linebar resaw that required a team to keep it going, Mackeys Ferry Sawmill knew it was time to update its process. The goal was to improve throughput and be able to handle larger pieces at the resaw with a focus on providing a high piece count with minimum gap between pieces. Today the benefits from this investment are being felt all the way down the line.

The existing resaw was no longer up to doing its job when Mackeys Ferry Sawmill solicited bids for a new system. The company reviewed resaw lines from all the major bandmill suppliers to find the right fit to meet its processing goals. The result was a line that is satisfying those needs — plus a lot more.

Family Business:

Mackeys Ferry Sawmill, which manufactures hardwood lumber, is located in rural Eastern North Carolina, just 60-odd miles from the beaches of the Outer Banks. It is owned by the Jones family. The family also owns J.W. Jones Lumber in Elizabeth City, N.C., which produces high grade Southern Yellow Pine lumber and also operates a chip mill.

The Jones family has been in the lumber business since 1882. Wilson Jones III is co-owner of the company and manages the Mackeys Ferry operation while his brother, Stephen, is co-owner and manager of the Elizabeth City mill and is president of the company.

The Mackeys Ferry Sawmill includes a log yard, sawmill, planer mill, and dry kilns. It is a typical hardwood sawmill that has been expanded and retrofitted many times over the years since its inception in 1959. In 1987 the mill was acquired by Wilson’s father, Wilson Jones Jr., who is now mostly retired.

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The Mackeys Ferry mill cuts red and white oak, soft maple, yellow poplar, ash and cypress. Products include primarily 4/4 and 5/4 lumber and a small percentage is 7/4. About 80 percent of the mill’s production is exported to Asia, with the remainder marketed domestically. The mill employs about 70 people and it has a capacity in the range of 12 million board feet.

The company has developed close ties with some small to mid-size factories in Asia. Mackeys Ferry Sawmill is located just off Albemarle Sound, a large estuary on the east coast of North Carolina. Its close proximity to the deep-water port at Norfolk, Virginia, only 90 miles away, provides the mill with good access to ship its products to export markets.

New Resaw System:

Wilson explained the need for the new resaw. “The original system we had was worn out. It was an old bandmill built in 1959, and a linebar that was installed around 1972-73. We had upgraded it and replaced components, but it was very labor intensive to run it. We had three men working on it, and it was just worn out. We originally planned to replace it in 2007, but when we saw the economy falling, we held off until the time seemed right.”

Fast forward to 2015 when the Jones brothers decided it was the right time to replace the old line and bring it up to modern standards.

The new equipment starts with a carriage outfeed transfer, then a transfer table to transport the squared timbers to the resaw line. An infeed transfer and table queue up the material for sawing, and the linebar positions each piece for feeding into the bandmill. The linebar’s fence section is 12 inches high by 10 feet long; it is positioned by a hydraulic servo-linear positioner for a total travel of 12 inches from the saw line.

The 72-inch double column bandmill resaw is USNR’s renowned L&B design featuring a full air strain system. The outfeed shifting and separator tables are designed to efficiently remove the slab or shim and separate the boards from the return cant. The boards are dropped onto a lower deck for transport to the USNR optimized edger. Boards not requiring edging are transported to a landing table and on to the trimmer transfer. Except for the hydraulic linear positioners, all other motors and devices are electric.

The PLC control system for the resaw line was updated to the ControlLogix architecture. A new operator’s cab was supplied, outfitted with the latest technology for ease of operation as well as comfort for the operator. As an integral part of the project, the USNR optimization systems for both the carriage and resaw were upgraded. The carriage optimizer features LASAR scanning on both front and back sides.

Production Record:

One of the project’s key design goals was to provide a high piece count with a minimum gap between pieces. Outfeed separation and waste board management were also very important features of the design. The system includes height and width sensing for automatic cut pattern; it can be overruled by the operator if desired.

Luc Frigon, USNR project manager, commented on a production milestone that was achieved with the new system. “They broke a mill production record just before Christmas (2016), achieving 8,200 board feet per hour.”

Wilson described the results the mill has achieved with the new line. “We saw some immediate gains,” he said. “One of the statistics that we look at is lines per log. On our old system the resaw had a 12-inch block capacity. Now we have an 18-inch block capacity, so we put less lines on the log at the carriage. That translates to fewer carriage passes, and more valuable fiber processed at the resaw. With the old resaw we probably fed a poplar cant at about 200 feet per minute. On this machine that same size cant can be fed at about 330 feet per minute.”

Wilson continued, “On the old line, if we had a 24-inch log, we had to saw it down to 12 inches before we could present it to the resaw. Now we can take up to a 30-inch log and cut an 18-inch cant off of that and send it to the resaw. That’s a big benefit.”

The new system has enabled the company to dramatically change its product mix, he added. “With the bigger block size we’re able to push more valuable, thicker boards to the outside of the log with less loss. Because we’re canting that log at a larger size, there is less loss and less edging required. Previously we were cutting a lot of those pieces 4/4 or 5/4, and now we can go 6/4 or even 8/4. It’s made that log yield more profit.”

More Benefits:

“We saw everything up on the resaw,” said Wilson. “We have a dispatch system where we send a waney board to the edger, a good board to the trimmer, and the cant returns to the resaw. Our production is up about 12 to 13 percent. Not only do we get more throughput on the line, we also get increased throughput at the kiln because our sizes are so much more uniform. More uniform product sizes mean it is easier and faster to dry the lumber.”

“The project installed nicely, then we started looking at production, and we could just see the trends going straight up,” added Wilson. “As we learned how to utilize the features of the resaw, we’ve made changes in how we approach sawing the log at the carriage now that we have so much more capacity.”

“We’re still working on a few things within our organization to make the system run better, but we couldn’t ask for a better system.”

A key USNR staff member on the project was Eric Brousseau, who at the time was general manager of USNR’s facility in Plessisville, Quebec. He has since been promoted to vice president, overseeing all of USNR’s manufacturing activities.

Wilson noted Eric’s role in the mill’s decision to select USNR for the project. “Eric showed us the video of the Bégin and Bégin carriage and resaw system, with slabs immediately removed right off the end of the outfeed,” said Wilson. “That was what sold us. Lots of our colleagues in this industry have problems with getting slabs dropped out to the chipper.”

The company has been a USNR customer since 1947, observed Wilson. “We have two USNR edgers, two trim-sort-stack lines, a shape-sawing gang, and between both Mackeys Ferry and Elizabeth City we have seven USNR dry kilns. My grandfather bought his first Moore dry kiln, and it’s still in use today.”

Team Effort:

Wilson praised the members of the team that was responsible for installing and commissioning the new equipment. “Bob Gaston is the mill’s PLC controls technician, and he made a huge contribution to the installation and to converting the old controller to the new ControlLogix platform. Terry Morgan, our staff electrician, performed all the electrical installation. Our maintenance manager and sawmill foreman is Cecil Richardson; he has been instrumental in the installation and the every-day maintenance of the new line. James Downs is our saw filer, and he absolutely loves the L&B bandmill. He says it’s a beast. The whole team did a phenomenal job, and I’m very proud of them.”

Wilson also noted two other key people involved with the mechanical installation, Mike Reynolds and Greg Davis of D.R. Reynolds. He said the company has had a good working relationship with the Mackeys Ferry and J.W. Jones mills spanning 20 years.

Looking ahead, Wilson expects to make further improvements in the next few years, but he noted the mill will have to update its electrical system before that can happen. For now, the company plans to pay off debt. This new line, with its higher production and more profitable recovery, will help meet that goal.