Nico Ainley stands in front of the new Sawdust Bins at West Fraser Sawmill (Mauro Calabrese photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

INDUSTRIAL UPDATE 2020: West Fraser Sawmill sawdust bin project helps utilize all fibre

West Fraser Sawmill in Williams Lake recently finished a project that separates out sawdust

The temporary and permanent curtailments in the forest industry have reduced the supply of residual fibre from sawmills and plywood plants. Until the last couple of years, there was plenty of residual fibre produced from mills for other uses. The residual chips, sawdust, shavings and hog material, in the past were viewed as waste, that a primary facility (like a sawmill) needed to get rid of. That is all changing now and the value of the residual fibre is starting to increase. The shortage of residual fibre has even resulted in the increase in the grinding of logging debris to manufacture these residuals.

West Fraser Sawmill in Williams Lake recently finished a project that separates out sawdust from other residual material in the sawmilling process. Why is that important?

READ MORE: West Fraser combats the spread of the Douglas Fir beetle

Chips are used in the making of pulp and paper. They should not contain any bark, dirt, burnt fibre or other contaminants. Sawdust and shavings, the fine material resulting from the sawing process, are used in making medium density fibre board and wood pellets. Hog material can vary in size and consists of bark and wood fibre, but since the end use of hog fuel is typically burning it for heat and or power generation, contaminants are less of an issue than with chips and sawdust.

West Fraser’s goal is to fully utilize all of the fibre that it brings in to its sawmills and plywood plants. The Company has been looking to further utilize its own residuals and have those residuals for their highest value. As West Fraser has a Medium Density Fibre board (MDF) plant in Quesnel, the separation of sawdust fines is seen as a priority where it feasible to do so. Planning for the project started almost two years ago to separate higher value sawdust out of putting it into lower value hog material.

Last year, sawmill Red Seal certified millwright Nico Ainley was asked to supervise the construction of the project. The two main components of the project were the installation of three new conveyors and three new sawdust bins. The ground work didn’t start until the beginning of October, later than originally planned. The first issue to deal with was putting pilings and concrete on a site where the old beehive burner used to sit at the mill. The inconsistent ground conditions necessitated the use of screw pilings in order to ensure a well anchored foundation. The late start to the project posed challenges for pouring the concrete in colder weather so heating of the forms and concrete was required so the concrete could set up properly. Bercar Construction Ltd from Williams Lake performed all of the cement work.

Another challenge faced was the tight quarters where the conveyors and bins had to go. The bins are right next to the log truck scales and the new conveyors had to tie in to the existing conveyor system in the sawmill. All of the work had to be done so as allow the logging trucks to continue to use the scales and the sawmill to not take any downtime.

The conveyors came assembled and the tight quarters made getting them in place a bit tricky. The sawdust bins were manufactured off site but came unassembled and had to be set up on site. Nico was very pleased that the work on the site was all done by local contractors. Fraser Construction of Williams Lake took care of all of the work of putting together and installing the bins and conveyors, electrical company D&S Electric handled all of the electrical work, and CR2 contracting made some of the platforms for the project. The crews worked mostly seven days a week from the beginning of October until the end of February and delivered a quality job that stayed on budget. These local companies perform this type of work in many locations but got to sleep in their own beds for this project.

This project gave Nico exposure to the management side of the business as this was his first supervisory role with West Fraser in his seven years with the company. He provided weekly updates to the other departments in the mill mainly focused on safety and logistical issues with while monitoring costs. West Fraser was the Prime Contractor for the project with multiple contractors on site. Nico was thankful for the advice and feedback from General Manager Sandor Buchi, Sawmill Superintendent Dean Shippit, and head electrician Keith Joriman throughout the project, and the smooth coordination with all of the supervisors and staff at the sawmill. As this project is important to West Fraser Corporately, Regional Manager Rob Baron was updated on the progress of the project on a regular basis as well.

The end result is approximately three truck loads of sawdust are going to make a high value MDF product for West Fraser, and the Williams Lake Sawmill is more fully integrated in to West Fraser’s supply chain. This will help make West Fraser Sawmill’s long term viability more certain in uncertain times.

Mauro Calabrese is a planning superintendent for West Fraser in Williams Lake.

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