By Ian Ross
Domtar's McChesney sawmill operation in Timmins expects to maintain its cutting edge by bringing its fully computerized edger optimizer equipment on line this April.
In a move to improve efficiency, enhance worker safety, reduce waste wood and preserve jobs at the Timmins mill, the company invested $4 million in this new technology and in a 10,000-square-foot expansion.
Construction on a new building to house the edger began prior to Christmas. The mill will shut down for three weeks in March to install the edger before operations resume April 2.
Widely used by forest product companies in western Canada, the edger optimizer technology is now making inroads into Ontario, says mill manager Benoit Melançon.
The optimizer edger removes defects along the length of the board, assessing the wane more precisely with computerized scanners before adjusting the cutting blades, says Melançon. It will replace two manual edgers.
"When an operator looks at a two by 10 with a lot of wane, he may downgrade that to a two by six, when in fact with an edger optimizer the board is being aligned and placed in such a fashion that it could be cut to a two by eight.
"(The edger) develops more efficiencies into our process to maximize the amount of board we can pull out from a round surface,” says Melançon, who expects it will increase mill production by about five per cent.
The edger optimizer is also less labour intensive, requiring a single operator on the machine as opposed to the two workers on each of their manual edgers.
The risk of employee injury is also reduced because this new technology requires less hands-on work, he adds.
"With our edgers now, the boards now are being flipped manually, they are being optimized manually and being fed into the machine manually," says Melançon. Employees feed in about 3,000 boards per shift.
"They are always at risk of being cut by the board when its being pulled into the edger."
No new jobs will be created as a result of the expansion. If anything, Melançon says the upgrades will preserve the jobs they have among their 110 unionized employees, plus 25 management positions.
"What we have to do is develop our employees to operate this new technology which we have all employees already capable of for those new computerized systems."
With the changing nature of the softwood lumber industry due to American-imposed countervailing duties on Canadian exported wood, maximizing efficiencies and improving lumber grades through investments in new technology is vital in keeping a competitive edge, says Melançon.
"That's the reason why we keep on investing in the mill and the operation," says Melançon, "Even if there are lumber disputes, we need to maintain and improve our efficiencies to stay competitive."