FinScan featured in the October 2017 of Logging & Sawmilling Journal
A new planer mill at IdaPine in Idaho is helping Evergreen Forest Products meet growing market needs—and standards for the company’s appearance grade products have been greatly enhanced by innovative Finnish scanning technology created by FinScan.
By Barbara Coyner
When IdaPine located its new planer mill in Meridian, Idaho, it was by design. And when the company chose Don Bodewig as project manager, then recruited Kimwood Corporation, FinScan, PLCUSA and Inotech for equipment development, engineering and installation chores, well, that was all by design too. But the pathway to IdaPine’s coveted Boise area markets was not without its blips.
“Boise was where we wanted to be, but then the recession hit back in ‘08,” says Rodney Krogh, CEO of the company he co-owns with his brothers Mark and Jeff. “We just bagged our plans for the short term. But then when the markets came back, we started looking back towards the Boise area and our timing was right for the purchase of the old Plum Creek site in Meridian (a Boise suburb). We have a good market in the Boise area for our Douglas fir, a large site with multiple buildings, and a strong truck and railcar situation.”
Nearly 40 per cent of IdaPine’s lumber is sold in Idaho, mostly supplying retail outlets around Boise, while much of the pine board inventory goes to the Midwest. Primarily focused on pine, the planer operation at Meridian is the final step for products milled at the affiliate Evergreen Forest Products sawmill, two hours north at Tamarack. That mill, owned by Rodney’s father, Bob Krogh, cuts and dries the stock, then bundles it for the final leg of production at the new planer.
With the new planer mill gearing up last November, boards now zip through the freshly engineered processing line with barely a human hand touching the products. For Rodney Krogh, who started his mill career doing clean-up and green chain as a teen at the family-owned sawmill at Kooskia, Idaho, the new technology is a wondrous thing, but they still have a ways to go.
“We’re not up to where we want to be, and we have some bugs to work out,” Krogh says, noting that the new planer runs about 2,300 board feet per minute, while the 1970-vintage Stetson-Ross planer still operating at Kooskia runs about 1,000 board feet per minute.
IdaPine was fortunate in having an experienced team onboard through its development, with Bodewig supervising the mechanical installation and Kurtis Boller taking charge of the electrical installation. Krogh likes the fact that the new Meridian location boasts ample storage, enabling him to put the runs together for the planer, basing runs on market demand.
Company standards for appearance grade products have been greatly enhanced by the innovative Finnish scanning technology created by FinScan. “IdaPine was the first to go with our BoardMaster Nova,” says Jocelin (Josh) Payeur of FinScan. “They liked the service and the performance. It’s a very good set-up for them, with lots of room, and additional room for expansion. This is moving into twenty-second century technology, really replacing the human eye.”
The FinScan non-turning grading optimizer features a scan of 100 per cent of the board (four sides) with no chain obstruction, decreasing the human error factor as well as increasing productivity and profitability. FinScan also installed an EndSpy end board analyzer, which scans either green or dry lumber for pith and other end defects. A MoistSpy further enhances scanning capabilities, analyzing the moisture profile of each board.
Another key element of the planer story is the development of the planer itself. Because the Krogh family had long run Stetson-Ross equipment, Krogh contacted Stetson-Ross dealer Kimwood Corporation in Cottage Grove, Oregon. “I knew what worked and what didn’t,” Krogh notes. “When I contacted Kimwood, they were a bit nervous, but once they saw what I was after, they jumped right on it. It took many months, but they got it right.”
What Krogh was after was pull-through capabilities for the planer, rather than push-through. He’d traveled around Canada, looking at planers there, preferring a system that would provide a gap between boards with no overlap. Because the company can sometimes run a wide variety of species, manufacturing vast amounts of boards in a run, he wanted durability, as well. Kimwood went to work, searching for an existing planer that could provide the platform for the new mill. A fabricated Stetson-Ross K model suitable for reconditioning turned up in Lincoln, California.
As the planer was delivered to Kimwood, company owner Kris Woodard remembers looking at the piece, wondering, “What in the hell did we do here anyway?” The 50,000-pound planer first had to be cut in half to develop Krogh’s goal of pull-through capability, with the profile section removed to outfit the transformation. “Rodney laid out what he wanted. He wanted it totally electronically operated. The safety part is huge, so he wanted it operated from a booth.” Although planers can run as fast as 4,000 board feet per minute, Krogh wanted to begin with a mid-range pace, that still offered expansion potential.
Kimwood took months in the development of the new planer, but Krogh couldn’t be happier with the results. “It’s completely automated, with infinite speeds, and it only takes five people to run the entire planer. It’s working phenomenally well and I am totally impressed,” he says, noting that he’s further pleased by Inotech’s trimmers, sorting trays and processing layout, which were procured, engineered and installed by Inotech partner Francis Fournier of PLCUSA.
Boards are scanned and optimized in real time by FinScan, which provides a cutting solution to Inotech’s optimized trimmer, PLCUSA’s Pascal Raymond explains, noting that Cut-in-2 and PET are integrated within the trimmer and seamlessly managed by the tray sorter. “The ingenious design provides an efficiency that previous generations could only dream about,” Raymond adds.
“It’s a two-sorter situation with one tray on each side of the sorter, so we can put 8-footers on the near end and the far end of the sorter tray,” Krogh explains, noting that a 16-foot board can come through the trimmer and be cut in half with each eight-footer going to a distinct sorter tray on a single level, based on grade and market needs. “The beauty of it is that we don’t slow down the trimmer, we essentially have two zero lumber lines on the backside of the trimmer before the sorter. Usually it’s skip-a-lug. We can cut eight-footers all day and never slow down. We can make whatever adjustments we need to, based on price and market demand managed by Finscan.”
With business constantly improving in the Boise metropolitan area, the Meridian planer is still processing backlog from the companion mill at Evergreen Forest Products. Happily, many of the employees who had previously worked for the Plum Creek reman plant came back to work for IdaPine, and eventually the planer will have work for about 12 people as it comes up to speed and shifts increase.
Krogh has been involved in the lumber industry all his life, with grandfather Maurice Hitchcock first acquiring a mill in Sisters, Oregon, then moving over to the White Swan mill near Yakima, Washington, and eventually adding mills at Wallowa, Oregon, and Juliaetta, Idaho. Later Hitchcock bought the mill at Kooskia, and Evergreen Forest Products at Tamarack, meanwhile, bringing son-in-law Bob Krogh into the business. In turn, Krogh brought son Rodney along, with younger sons Jeff and Mark also following suit. Maurice’s life is detailed in the book Maurice Hitchcock: Flying Lumberjack, which also recounts that Hitchcock’s wife was the first woman of that era to get a pilot’s license.
With that rich history in the sawmill business, Krogh is doing what any third-generation industry descendant does. He’s peering into the crystal ball to help grow the company. Because the Kooskia, Tamarack and Meridian properties are all interlinked through separate family ownerships, there’s new consideration of how to upgrade the product line at Kooskia, perhaps adding products such as pattern. The sawmill at Tamarack barely survived the 2008 financial debacles, but was saved by a $2.5 million stimulus grant that added new kilns to the facility, saving the sawmill and 60 jobs in Idaho’s rural Adams County, which saw unemployment ratchet up to 16 per cent. Today, Evergreen Forest Products is back in business and its co-gen plant is entering year number 33 of a 35-year contract with Idaho Power. The company’s main wood basket is the Payette National Forest, and the pine market is generally stable in terms of supply, with less than a half dozen other area timber companies vying for market share. Douglas fir, lodgepole and spruce are also manufactured as part of the product line, and again Krogh sees the timber supply as competitive, yet also meeting company needs for now.
With the new planer and the Tamarack sawmill currently becoming more synchronized, IdaPine’s presence in the Boise area promises a bright future. Housing sales are steadily rebounding and pine remains a popular building material. Such developments were part of the Krogh family’s initial strategy, which took a little longer to come to fruition. But thanks to new technology and market planning, the company seems positioned to enjoy a strong future.