The need to get maximum use out of your lumber has never been more pressing. Harnessing the number-crunching capabilities of computers for your crosscut operation is an excellent way to accomplish this goal.

Each board presents multiple options. Expecting a manual chop saw operator to consistently consider every option throughout the day, without sacrificing productivity, would challenge even an Einstein-type brain. Computerized chop saws can analyze thousands of possible options and arrive at the best yield solution in just a few seconds.

Yield gain is the mantra of optimizing crosscut saw manufacturers, but they also offer cost-saving benefits, such as the ability to switch to a lower lumber-grade mix.

In order to understand the potential advantages of upgrading your crosscut, let's begin with a summary of advantages of an optimizing crosscut saw:

  1. Cuts consistently on the target for more yield
  2. Optimizes up to 16 different width combinations and up to 200 cut lengths for each
  3. Balances the cutlist lengths over the day to give required production without sacrificing yield
  4. Recognizes up to eight grades and can consider merging grades in the optimizing solution
  5. Produces more long-length boards
  6. Sorts the cut lengths automatically
  7. Provides greater dimensional length accuracy
  8. Maintains consistency over the whole day
  9. Provides computer-generated tracking and production statistics
  10. Reduces personnel costs
  11. Creates a safer work environment.

Let's look at some of these advantages more closely, comparing each to manual chop saw lines.

Defecting only:
Just cutting out the defects is the simplest use for the saw. In a manual operation, the operator relies on cutting as close to the defect as possible, but safety guards on manual chop saws can hinder the operator's vision. Yield will fluctuate in proportion to how close the operator can position the cut to the defect. Using a crayon marking system with the optimizing saw, however, the operator has an unrestricted view and can quickly and accurately locate the defect. The optimizing saw then cuts consistently on that mark throughout the day, usually with an accuracy of 1/32 inch.

  • Different cut lengths:
    An optimizing saw can process up to 200 different cut lengths. In a manual operation, a good, experienced employee typically can remember and effectively target only four to five lengths. Usually, the shop foreman will notice an excess of certain lengths and instruct the chop saw operators to refocus on other lengths. The optimizing saw, on the other hand, keeps track of what lengths have been cut and automatically readjusts its priorities so that, at the end of the day, all required lengths are cut in the correct quantity ratio. Targeting only four or five lengths bypasses numerous opportunities to maximize use of the board. A computer considering many different cut lengths can determine the optimal solution with typically a substantial gain in yield.
  • Multiple widths with different cut lengths:
    It is a very difficult task for the manual saw operator to keep so many combinations in mind. Because of that, different widths typically are presorted prior to cutting. However, an optimizing saw equipped with a measuring system can process up to 16 different widths and 200 cut lengths for each width, eliminating the need to presort.
  • Multiple grades with different cut lengths:
    This additional variable further complicates the decision process for a manual chop saw operator, whereas the optimizing saw can typically process up to eight different grades while factoring the merging of grades into the possible cutting solutions. That's a great way to get more value out of your lumber. (See Grade-merging for even better yield on page 52.)
  • More longer-length boards:
    In a manual operation, the operator is working quickly and doesn't always look upstream to find a potential for cutting longer lengths (60 inches and up). Usually, the operator has already started cutting when realizing - oops, that could have been a long one. Most optimizing saws do not make a cut until the entire board has been viewed, and will not miss an opportunity to achieve the typically higher-value long lengths.
  • Sorting after cutting:
    Optimizing saws can offer several solutions to improve the efficiency of this process. The sorting line with automatic kickers can eject specific components at programmed locations, minimizing the sorting time required. The saw also can be equipped with an inkjet printer, which automatically identifies each component with a part number.
  • Accuracy of length:
    Many manual operators use visual stops, such as marks on their roller conveyors, or golf tees. Such marks inherently are not an exact way to measure. Some systems have been upgraded with automated stops, but this requires an additional step by the operator. Typical accuracy of an optimizing saw is consistently within 1/32 inch. Precision cutting improves yield and helps downstream processing.
  • Computer-generated tracking and production statistics:
    In addition to controlling the optimizing process, the computer tracks data that can serve as valuable management tools. It tracks yield percentage and ingoing board lengths, which can be useful when comparing different lumber suppliers. It also lets you know if you received what your supplier promised.
    One of the strongest tools is the simulation program that allows you to play "what if" scenarios at your desk. You can test the effect on yield of adding or deleting some cut lengths. You can use the cut bill for specific projects in the quoting process to determine what the yield and costs will be for the components. You can keep track of production uptime and saw idle times, which can be used to measure worker efficiency. You can print out hourly and daily production counts.
  • Personnel issues:
    Optimizing saws are promoted on their benefits to increase yield, but they also offer related personnel savings, particularly in a tight labor market where it is difficult to retain skilled employees. Teaching a new operator to put crayon marks on a board is quicker and easier than training a new chop saw operator. How much yield do you lose every time you have to train a new chop saw operator? The optimizing saw produces a less demanding and safer work environment, where no one needs to have hands near a saw blade.

Perhaps the biggest advantage is the computer's consistency over the whole day, or over the whole week. The computer doesn't call in sick, doesn't have bad days and produces at an exact pace with precision cuts from the beginning to the end of a shift. Manual cutting requires a higher skill level and that raises the pay scale. Also, good chop saw operators usually get promotions or move to another company. Scanning technology offers the benefit of even more savings by eliminating the need to have personnel mark the boards.

Now that you know the advantages of the optimizing crosscut saw over the manual chop saw, it's time to consider the feasibility of switching your operation to the new, computerized technology.

Until recently, scanner limitations and their relatively high cost tended to restrict their use to certain lumber species (soft woods) and high-volume plants. New developments, however, have increased defect-detection capabilities to include some hardwood species.

Also, as the experience of scanning-equipment manufacturers grows and more new technologies develop, you can expect to see lower prices make optimizing saws feasible even for mid-volume plants.

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