The future of optimization and automation in sawmilling

Mill managers optimize in Montreal

 December 07, 2015



December 7, 2015 – Sawmillers from across North America headed to the Marriott Airport Hotel in Montreal on Dec. 2 to attend the inaugural OptiSaw Mill Optimization & Automation Forum, a one-day workshop focused on the future of optimization and automation in sawmilling.

Nearly 70 sawmill managers and owners showed up to hear about the top scanning, optimization and automation technology being used in mills today, as well as learn about the future technologies coming to the sector.

The day’s agenda covered a wide variety of sawmill-related topics by seven expert speakers.

HewSaw’s Kenneth Westermark kicked off the day with a presentation on European efficiency, which offered a close look at the upgrading of Metsä Wood’s Vilppula sawmill in Finland, which was done to manage high labour costs, improve overall recovery and improve safety throughout all the operations in the mill.


“It was a very labour intensive operation,” Westermark told the crowd. “The price for labour in Finland is not cheap, it’s $75,000 per operator so they really needed to do something.”

The presentation then reviewed the recent rebuilding of Idaho Forest Group’s (IFG) sawmill in Lewiston, Idaho. IFG recently spent more than US$60 million upgrading the mill, which included some of the top technologies available for sawmills today, including the first-ever HewSaw SL250 3.4 sawline to be installed in North America. The mill is expected to produce about 340 million bdft in 2016 and eventually surpass the 400 million bdft. mark.

Grade optimization
Norvin Laudon, chief technology officer for Springer Microtec, discussed revolutionary grade optimization in the bucking and sawing process using real-time CT scanning.

“One of our customers told us his dream is to saw from the inside out,” said Laudon. “What he meant by that was being able to look inside of a saw log and see all the internal defects and then optimize his saw wood based on the grade or the real value of the board rather than the volume. This is accomplished with a CT scanner.”

His company’s CT log scanners allow operators to look inside logs when making their decisions to fully optimize the use of each log. The technology allows operators to obtain detailed information on both sawn and peeled wood products.

“3D scanners traditionally have given you the outer shape of the log,” said Laudon. “What a volume image basically does is the scanner produces 2D slices of the inside of a log and measures every centimetre. We put together all of the slices together and we get a 3D volume image.”

The 3D image is then used for virtual sawing.

“I can take a virtual saw and slice through my log in any plane possible and see exactly what the sawing surface is going to look like,” he said. “The reason you’re doing these virtual cuts is to evaluate the quality of the end product before you touch it with a saw.”

Springer Microtec recently installed one if its CT scanners running at a North American bucking line.

Robotics and automation
Automation and robotics expert David McPhail, president and CEO of Memex Inc., wrapped up the morning’s sessions by discussing how the use of data collection, automation and robotics could potentially be applied to lumber manufacturing operations. McPhail’s presentation focused on the benefits of data driven manufacturing and how it can be applied to the sector.

“What we’re talking about here is taking data from the plant floor equipment and presenting it in a way that the operational management team can use to affect change, and ultimately, increase the sustainability and profitability of your organizations,” he told the crowd.

McPhail discussed how there are manufacturing companies that are able to connect every single asset in their factories to a dashboard, database or a piece of visualization software and are able to take action based on that data.

“Like being able to predict when something is going to fail, or dispatch resources to fix something before there’s a significant amount of downtime,” he explained. “The concepts are here today with manufacturers in different verticals but it’s available to all of you today as well.”

Drying techniques
The next two sessions focused on optimizing the drying process and looked at two different techniques.

The first technique was radio frequency (RF) continuous re-drying, which was explained by FPInnovations wood drying scientist Vincent Lavoie.

Lavoie offered the crowd a brief history of RF continuous drying and discussed his organization’s trials combining RF technology with a streamlined process to identify and re-dry planer wets.

The concept is designed to avoid over-drying in the main kilns and prevent excess handling of wets.

“It is not a technology that would supplement the conventional dryers, it would become an addition to traditional dryers,” he explained. “The main innovation in our approach is that we measure the moisture content piece by piece and can make a decision if the moisture content is correct or not.”

Lavoie presented an animated presentation showing a potential mill layout using the RF drying process, which was created through a partnership with Laval University.

In the presentation, the wet boards are sent to an RF continuous kiln and travel on a merry-go-round-styled model until they reach their appropriate moisture content. At which point the wets return to the line and are sent to the planer.

“There’s an advantage in productivity and quality,” Lavoie said.

Bob Pope, senior account manager with USNR, presented a second option for optimizing the drying process in counter-flow continuous drying. Pope discussed the benefits of the technology, which is operational in several mills throughout North America, and the new options for cold climate installs.

Pope said that by having pre-treatment and post-treatment sessions on lumber drying, the exposure to high temperatures is reduced, which can prevent lumber from hitting lower moisture content levels then required.

“This gets you less splits and less warp, which means it will run a little better through the planer mill,” he said. “If it runs better through the planer mill, it’s not going to break up on you. If it doesn’t break up on you, your production is a little bit better.”

Optimizing wood flow
The next presentation focused on new tools for determining value in a given stand of timber based on real world results.

Since 2012, Francis Charette, a researcher in the modeling and decision support division of FPInnovations, has been developing models for value chain optimization with expertise in assigning value to wood supply for the lumber market; value chain management software (FPInterface), which gives costing for many value chain scenarios from stump to market; and a wood net value model (WoodValue) to calculate the net value of a forest or a pile of wood without specialized skills.

The big advantage to these models do not require employees to have a degree in linear programming to use them, reducing the need for additional specialized staff.


Two optimizers in one
Eric Michaud, senior vice-president of sales and marketing for Comact and the BID Group of Companies, wrapped up the day of sessions with a case study that looked at how JD Irving optimized its recently rebuilt mill in Ashland, Maine by feeding the flow of both green and dressed lumber through a single trimmer optimizer and sort line.

The optimization and automation forum also featured exhibitor booths from sponsors HewSaw, USNR, Comact, Cowper and Autolog and several networking sessions.

For more information and photos from OptiSaw 2015, check out the January/February 2016 edition of Canadian Forest Industries.

– See more at:

To read the entire article click here