A new hybrid roughmill processing system at Banks Hardwoods is providing higher yields and lower costs.
Since 1985, Banks Hardwoods has been a supplier of high-quality, kiln-dried lumber serving the kitchen cabinet industry nationwide. However, in 2000 Banks took a chance on an idea that would both embrace state-of-the-art technology as well as help differentiate the company from it's traditional competitors.
Banks embarked on an innovative idea that would offer some of its customers a very unique service and the company a chance for tremendous diversification and flexibility. Banks is now able to offer customized ripping programs with its new “Quantum” facility; Banks Hardwoods name for its fully integrated, hybrid roughmill processing system.
Headquartered in Mottville, MI, with an additional facility in Menomonie, WI, Banks made the investment in Quantum believing that it could dramatically increase its roughmill yields in its moulding shop and help customers, too.
It has done just that.
According to Steve Banks, president of Banks Hardwoods, he really did not have the business to justify the investment in the various pieces of equipment that comprised the Quantum system.
“We were essentially going out on a limb in the spirit of embracing technology and differentiating our company in the marketplace,” says Banks. “As a producer of kiln-dried lumber, you sometimes feel as though you are being depicted as a company just out there selling a commodity. The addition of our Quantum system has really helped take our company to another level.
“It forced us to become well-educated in the business of understanding the importance of roughmill yields and cost conversion,” continues Banks. “Our salespeople now have the knowledge to consult with our customers at such a different level than when we were out there just quoting hardwood lumber.”
The system unites eight separate processing steps into one continuous flow, converting random width and length lumber into ready-to-use moulding blanks and other products with efficiency.
The idea behind Quantum is for the customer to get a higher yield, more of what they want and less of what they do not, Banks says. Typical Quantum orders now being processed are either 100 percent blanks or combinations of blanks and precision rip-sorted square edge lumber, such as random staves for glued panels.
“The Quantum system allows us to offer our customers ripping and processing options that simply weren’t available until now,” says Banks. “While the system significantly cuts processing costs and increases rip yields, the key is our ability to combine and manage multiple rip orders simultaneously.
By analyzing the final product, mixing requirements of multiple customers and combining them into one run, we are able to supply each customer with a much greater percentage of desired parts than normal.”
The Eight-Step Process
“We surface the lumber at 15/16-inches so that we have clean surfaces for a proper scan and also so that our inspectors might better detect defects and color variations,” says Banks. “We incorporated our traditional grading into the system to maintain the same level of quality as customers have come to expect from our other grading lines. We aren't just ripping lumber at random.”
Based upon quality, the grade of the board and instructions of the day, the grader uses a 16-button control panel to assign each board with specific processing parameters. If the quality of the board is below standard, it's passed through the system without being ripped.
After grading, each board goes through the Nova Technologies Dysys 3 high-resolution, top and bottom scanner which measures for width, length, shape, position of defects, and to some degree, color. The scanner detects the widths of each board to the fifth decimal place and the length of each board for every 18 inch measured, including the overlength of each piece. “It's the perfect tool to insure the accuracy of the supplying mills' tally,” says Banks.
The boards get labeled next with an in-line inkjet printer which gives the company the capability and option of printing sort codes or board footage on each board prior to it passing through the ripping system.
Based on the scanned image from the Dysys 3 and the ripping parameters set by the grader at the grading station, the boards will be ripped at one of two computerized Mereen-Johnson 2+ gang ripsaws that reconfigure on-the-fly for precise rips and maximum yield from each board.
“The technological combination that is offered by the Dysys 3 scanner in conjunction with the pair of Mereen-Johnson 2+ gang ripsaws is really the strength of the Quantum system,” says Banks. “These saws are not only accurate, they are equipped with a fixed arbor and a set of moving hog blades which we utilize to create variable rip pockets. This allows us tremendous flexibility in how we are able to build arbors for complex, multiple-customer order opportunities.”
From the ripsaws the material will pass onto a lower transfer deck to the defect station and sorting chain with the help of Group Seven material handling conveyors, which are used to move the lumber around to each of the eight stations which make up Quantum. As lumber passes by the defect station a quality control inspector checks to make sure that all boards are ripped properly and any adjustments, if necessary, are made to the system.
“Any pieces requiring defecting are introduced to our chop saws by the inspector,” says Banks. “Normally we are pre-defecting for our moulders, but we have the flexibility to custom defect, or do further special grading, measuring or marking in this area. We have some customers that want us to check the material before it gets scanned and ripped and then once again after the material gets developed into blanks. We are now sorting blanks for color and yield just like we do our lumber.
The ripped boards are then sent to a 125-foot long sorting chain which allows for 25 different sorts.
“Typically, on a good run, with good width and length averages, the system can process 25,000 to 30,000 board feet a day on an eight-hour shift with six people,” says Banks. “It makes for a very efficient system.”
Useful Tool for Customers
Either way, it does not matter to Banks, as long as the customers are happy.
“If they are at full capacity or if they want to do comparative analysis work to test different ripping strategies for optimum yield or gather detailed data on their various supplying mills, this system is available to them,” Banks says.
Although some customers buy their own lumber, most of the lumber processed at Banks Hardwoods comes out of its own kilns and is usually 4/4 #1 and #2 common material. Typical species being processed regularly at Banks Hardwoods include: red oak, white hard maple, soft maple, cherry, poplar and ash.
“Quantum is an ideal tool for offering ready-to-use material to the kitchen cabinet industry,” Banks says. “Whether someone needs to supplement his production capacity in expansionary times or if they are looking for new solutions to hardwood procurement challenges, this system can help.”
According to Banks, Quantum offers much more than what Banks Hardwoods was able to do five or 10 years ago.
"When you can save the images of hundreds of boards of various species and grades in a file and set up arbors on a computer and simulate ripping programs for your customers, it's pretty neat,” says Banks. “Quantum has given us a great tool that our customers can have access to and use to help solve their rough mill challenges.”
As the hardwood industry has evolved, there have been companies that sell mouldings and moulding blanks, but as far as offering the customer a complete ripping service as well, Banks says he does not think that that the technology has ever been available.
“Not everyone needs or wants to buy blanks instead of random width and length lumber and I'm not saying that the industry is shifting that way, but if our customers want to discuss progressive opportunities, we are in a position to do so,” continues Banks. “We care a lot about our customers needs and we realize that their yields are a major part of what they concern themselves with everyday.”
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.