The quest to remain competitive is what drives Northland Forest Products Inc. to continuously improve its manufacturing operation. Founded in 1979 by Dick and Shari Pyle, the Shakopee, MN-based hardwood moulding and dimension lumber manufacturer has invested more than $1.4 million in new technology over the past 30 months to grow its productivity and profitability.

The strategy has paid off. According to President Dick Pyle, Northland Forest Products’ profits have continued to grow despite the economic downturn — and without any layoffs of full-time employees. New technology also has helped the company to significantly reduce its turnaround time on lineal mouldings — by 70 percent — from 10 days down to three.

In recognition of its efforts, Northland Forest Products recently was awarded a 2012 WMIA Wooden Globe for “Commitment to Excellence through Technology and Innovation.”

Inherent in its commitment to product excellence and competitiveness was Northland Forest Products’ revamping of its manufacturing process. Pyle says this was a direct response to the shifting paradigm of the marketplace.

“To survive, you have to look at changing. We were sitting with all this high production equipment ready to go, but large production runs were no longer in demand by our primary customers [cabinet manufacturers and retail lumberyards],” Pyle says. “In order to keep going, we realized we had to approach the market differently.”

Shorter, custom runs was the answer. Pyle says the company used its capital and “retooled to play into these smaller runs. We’re ready to take on business as it comes back.”

Pyle notes moulding sales now comprise 60 percent of his business, while sales of S4S hardwood dimension lumber are 40 percent of Northland Forest Products’ revenues. “Before the downturn it was flipped,” he says.

Primary species offered by the company include: red oak, poplar, maple, cherry, alder and hickory. Northland Forest Products is also a distributor for red grandis. There are no minimum quantities on runs.

Real-Time Vision

Unique to Northland Forest Products’ manufacturing process is its use of the MillVision Pro 2.0 software system to track production — at anytime — from anywhere that has cellular phone/internet access.

Available from Michael Weinig Inc., MillVision Pro 2.0 seamlessly networks and tracks each area of the 60,000-square-foot plant via laptops at each machine station. The software system also provides the company with a variety of other capabilities including creation of cut bills, and offers real-time status updates of work in process.

“Using an iPad or cell phone from anyplace, I can find out what the plant is doing,” Pyle says.

The MillVision Pro 2.0 system is part of the Weinig Lineal Moulding Cell at Northland Forest Products. An integrated manufacturing management system, the cell includes: two Powermat 1000 moulders with HSK technology and the PowerLock tool system for fast setup of standard and custom mouldings, a Rondamat 960 grinder and two Raimann ripsaw lines, a Valu Rip KM and the Valu Rip KR movable arbor gang ripsaw line, the latter of which is equipped with an inkjet printer for identification of every board output from the ripsaw, says Dave Remund, plant manager.

Newly added to the KR line is Ultimizer’s Ulti-Vision four-sided scanning system. Installed last September, the Ulti-Vision scanner features two color cameras and two black-and-white cameras, plus four lasers for complete viewing. The defecting cameras and lasers check the profiles and geometry of the wood, as well as defects, such as knots or pitch, Pyle says. The color cameras also provide workers with a detailed working image of the board, plus information on stains, colors and splits.

“Prior to the scanning system, we had to have 12 people on the ripsaw line. Now we have six,” Pyle says.

The company also bar codes dimension parts for accurate tracking and shipment of products, Remund adds.

Other machines in the plant include a Grecon fingerjointing line, which allows Northland Forest Products to minimize waste and maximize lumber supply, a Dimter optimizing chop line, Ultimizer’s width recognition high resolution camera with inkjet printing, a Friulmac end matcher, Taylor clamp system, Baker resaw, Cantek and SawStop saws, and three Cresswood grinders.

Another recent investment for Northland Forest Products is Timesavers 52-inch sanders with three heads. The new sanders offer faster production while increasing its capabilities, Pyle says.

Cutting Time in the Toolroom

Northland Forest Products’ quest for continuous improvement also has led to changes in the toolroom. Investments in new equipment have significantly reduced grinding time while improving accuracy.

Using Weinig PowerCom grinding room software in conjunction with the Opti-Control system and a Rondamat 960 grinder, the company has the capability to manufacture its own tools with an accuracy of ±0.0005 inch, Remund says.

An identification on each tool provides an easy reference for operators and ensures the correct cutter is used. “It removes any chance of operator error,” he adds.

Knives are also quickly and accurately machined on the new Flow Waterjet Pro, which runs at approximately 60,000 psi and shoots garnet-bearing water through a ruby orifice. According to Remund and Pyle, the Waterjet has cut knife roughout from 1.5 hours down to 4 minutes.

Biomass Management

A sustainable manufacturer, Northland Forest Products has three dust collectors to separate its wood waste for sale to the dairy, poultry and equine industries.

Unique to the company is the setup, in place since 2003, that enables Northland Forest Products to efficiently manage its waste for transport. Two pipes of varying lengths feed into the trailer and wood dust from the collector moves through the longer pipe first, filling the front portion. A sensor signals when the trailer is half full and the system automatically switches to the smaller pipe to feed wood waste to the back half. Another sensor signals when the trailer is full, and triggers an alert light.

Integral to this process is a microwave system with a camera mount that counts the dust particles as they flow through the pipes and past the camera eye. According to Pyle, numerous trials were undertaken to determine the particle count for each shaving type needed to fill a trailer. “This eliminates human error in the filling process, and allows us to maximize our waste removal.”

“You have to have a good team on board to embrace all these changes,” Pyle adds. “Our people are the strength of Northland.”

Click here for a virtual tour of Northland Forest Products' innovative plant.

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