Advancements in rough mill optimization, automation and scanning technologies have helped companies increase efficiency while improving quality and production rates.

Rough mill optimizing systems increase yield recovery from raw materials. Photo courtesy of Mereen-Johnson.

To gauge the effects of new developments in rough mill optimization, Wood & Wood Products recently sought the opinions of experts from rough mill and scanning machinery companies. Many of those interviewed agree that recent technological machinery improvements have provided numerous benefits to rough mill operations.

Automation has had a huge impact on rough mills, according to Kirk Spillman, president of Eagle Machinery & Supply Inc. “Automation of both material and information flow has improved the power and flexibility of our optimizing solutions,” he says. “Today’s dimension mills are faced with smaller batch sizes, significantly more SKUs and shorter delivery schedules, and they require systems that can respond to these needs.”

“For crosscutting lines, 10 to 15 men per shift can be replaced with one automated line and three to five men per shift,” says Peter Riehle, president of Weinig America. “Ripsaw lines can achieve a 50 percent reduction in manpower.”

“The speed of the saws in the rough mill continue to increase, and because of this increased speed, customers are finding it necessary to invest in automated feeding equipment and automatic stacking machines to work in conjunction with the ripsaws and crosscut saws,” adds Clemens Heinrici, vice president of sales for Paul Saws & Systems. “As labor becomes more expensive, the industry is starting to be able to justify the cost of automation to maximize the efficiency and productivity of the equipment that they are purchasing.”

Scanning and optimization for ripping and crosscutting equipment also have brought about progress in the rough mill. “Rough mill optimizing systems not only increase yield recovery from raw materials, but also have become a valuable management tool, providing greater production control and detailed reporting capabilities for tracking vendor and production performance,” says Tim Brown, marketing manager for Mereen-Johnson Machine Co.

“Optimization, automation, smart software solutions and quick setup times will allow us to successfully compete with low labor cost, overseas suppliers and adapt quickly to a changing market,” adds Riehle.

“Optimization of people and resources has become more important than ever to reduce the cost to process lumber and to remain competitive in today’s global market,” says Robert Slater, vice president of Solid Wood Technologies, a division of Stiles Machinery. “Automatic defect scanning is having a major impact in rough mills. Utilizing advances in scanning technology has opened up new opportunities for operations to improve on yield through the consistency provided by today’s scanning technology.

Factors such as the cutlist, production volume, type of controls and type of material to be processed should be considered when choosing a saw or machine for the rough mill area. Photo courtesy of Weinig America.

Also, scanning technology is being used to orient the material correctly to improve yield in downstream processes,” he adds.

“A scanner will take the entire cutlist into consideration, while optimizing typical results in a yield utilization increase of 5 to 8 percent compared with manual marking,” says Claus Staalner, president/CEO of WoodEye North America Inc.

“Scanning customers have seen a major improvement in productivity because the scanner can run faster, be more accurate and more consistent than manual systems using people,” adds Shawn Miller, North American sales manager for LuxScan Technologies.

Factors to Consider

For a new manufacturer, there are many factors to consider when choosing a saw or machine for the rough mill, including the cutlist, production volume, type of controls and type of material to be processed.

“A detailed assessment must be made to determine the proper equipment and technology for a particular application,” says Riehle. “Key points are current production requirements, future production requirements, inbound raw material condition and quality, available floor space and staffing requirements. In all implementations, it is critical to reduce and minimize the setup time to change from job to job. Reliability of the equipment, combined with the uptime, is a key factor for the overall productivity of automated systems and flexible work cells.”

“A manufacturer’s cutlist, grade of material to be processed, the ability to utilize a random width piece, definition of defects, run sizes, production volume, maintenance capability, total cost of ownership and tolerance requirements are but a few of the criteria which should be considered to determine the best type of saw for the application,” adds Brown.

“When evolving from a manual system to an optimizing system, it is important also to adjust your mindset,” says Heinrici. “Let the machine do what it is designed to do and don’t try to interfere. Some people are hesitant to give over their control to a machine or computer, thus slowing the system down by manually intervening.”

Technological machinery improvements have helped improve productivity, as well as provide other benefits. Photo courtesy of Paul Saws & Systems.

The type of saw and blade chosen for a specific job is also important. Knowing whether to use single shifting blades or multiple shifting blades is helpful. Brown says that although he thinks a saw which has all moving blades provides the ultimate in production flexibility, sometimes a fixed arbor saw might be more beneficial.

“There are applications where fixed arbor saws may be the best saw choice,” he says. “Fixed arbor saws are often completely overlooked, simply because this type of saw is considered ‘old technology.’ Fixed arbor saws typically offer greater production capacity as there is no need to wait for saw blades to move, allowing boards to be virtually butt fed. They also have a lower capital purchase cost, and require much less maintenance than shifting blade machines. In cases where material defects are not as prevalent or where a manufacturer does not have a wide variety of rips in his cutting bill, a fixed arbor saw can actually outperform a selective ripsaw.”

However, notes Heinrici, “When choosing a ripsaw with either moving blades or a fixed arbor, the ability of your production software to combine jobs with like materials and populate your cutting lists with many widths, rather than a few, can tip the scale to choosing a moving blade saw instead of a fixed arbor saw.”

“Moving blade technology has had a huge impact on the design and operation of the rough mill,” says Slater. “With demands for smaller lot sizes and quick deliveries, fixed arbor ripsaws are being replaced with moving blade ripsaws. New moving blade ripsaws provide the customer with a system that can be changed without stopping production. It also increases yield.”

“Standard systems are seldom the best solution to a client’s needs,” adds Spillman. “Each successful woodworking business has evolved by responding to its market and customers, and each has specific challenges, which means that a one-size-fits-all solution is rarely optimal.”

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