Fir­ing up Kaituna mill

New Zealand Logger - - Front Page - Story: Jac­quie Wal­ters, Pho­tos: Tim Cuff

THE RE­CENT $15 MIL­LION UP­GRADE TO THE KAITUNA Sawmill out­side Blen­heim is a ringing en­dorse­ment for an en­gaged and de­ter­mined team. Kaituna Sawmill is the wood pro­cess­ing as­set owned by Nel­son Forests Ltd (NFL). NFL it­self is owned by Global For­est Part­ners (GFP), an in­vest­ment com­pany based in the USA. The sawmill pro­vides 65 full-time equiv­a­lent roles.

Kaituna pro­duces some very in­no­va­tive, high-qual­ity tim­ber prod­ucts for an ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive global mar­ket but, for a num­ber of years, the sawmill has strug­gled to achieve con­sis­tent, year-round en­ergy pro­duc­tion us­ing its ex­ist­ing wood-dry­ing tech­nol­ogy.

Un­pre­dictable dry­ing con­di­tions pro­vided a chal­lenge for man­ag­ing pro­duc­tion con­sis­tency and qual­ity of out­put from the mill. The bottom line was that the sawmill needed to up­grade its plant, but such an up­grade comes with a hefty price tag.

Four years ago, it was clear to Gen­eral Man­ager, Dar­rell O’Brien, that changes were needed.

A LEAN ap­proach was al­ready be­ing ap­plied to op­er­a­tions within the busi­ness, and O’Brien de­cided to take this one step fur­ther and im­ple­ment a LEAN pro­gramme that fo­cused on the sawmill team. LEAN is an ap­proach to man­u­fac­tur­ing

and busi­ness pro­cesses that orig­i­nated at Toy­ota in Ja­pan. The ap­proach looks to limit ’waste’ in pro­cesses and in­crease value by iden­ti­fy­ing and im­ple­ment­ing of­ten small but in­her­ently valu­able and mea­sur­able changes within a busi­ness.

Ev­ery year since then, six em­ploy­ees from the sawmill have been sent to Ja­pan to learn more about LEAN and how its prin­ci­ples can be ap­plied in their roles and the work­ing en­vi­ron­ment in gen­eral.

At a cost of $20,000 per per­son to make this trip, this is no mod­est un­der­tak­ing.

“As a re­sult of LEAN think­ing, the team here have pro­vided 700–800 Kaizen (im­prove­ment ideas), most of which have been im­ple­mented,” says Dar­rell.

“Th­ese ideas have made a com­pound­ing, tan­gi­ble dif­fer­ence to our op­er­a­tion and we have been able to see the ben­e­fits of th­ese low-cost im­prove­ments. How­ever, we had ar­rived at a point where a quan­tum leap in pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­ity was re­quired. The way to do this was by in­tro­duc­ing new pro­cess­ing tech­nol­ogy.”

At the same time, Projects Man­ager, Bryan Phillips, and Dar­rell O’Brien him­self were vis­it­ing other sites in New Zealand and Europe to in­ves­ti­gate al­ter­na­tive plant with a view to propos­ing large-scale im­prove­ments at Kaituna.

“When we sought a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment from GFP to bring the sawmill up to a com­pet­i­tive and con­sis­tent stan­dard within the rapidly chang­ing global mar­ket­place, we weren’t sure what kind of re­ac­tion we would get,” says Dar­rell.

How­ever, hav­ing seen what the peo­ple at the sawmill had al­ready achieved, GFP be­lieved in the team’s com­mit­ment to the busi­ness and their abil­ity to de­liver a mea­sur­able re­turn on their in­vest­ment.

Since re­ceiv­ing the green light for the project, which is known as Project Emer­ald, a state-of-the-art Polytech­nik 4MW biomass­fired en­ergy cen­tre and a Wind­sor con­tin­u­ous dry­ing kiln (CDK) have been in­stalled and com­mis­sioned.

Phase two of the project, set down for later this year, will in­volve the in­stal­la­tion of a new Wienig planer sourced from Ger­many and up­grades to the green mill side of the busi­ness, such as a new hor­i­zon­tal saw. In to­tal, the project scope rep­re­sents a $15 mil­lion in­vest­ment.

Only weeks af­ter the com­mis­sion­ing of the new en­ergy cen­tre and kiln, it is clear that GFP’s faith in the team at Kaituna is be­ing re­warded.

Dry Mill Man­ager Shane John­son is par­tic­u­larly notic­ing the pos­i­tive change in his area of op­er­a­tion, which tra­di­tion­ally strug­gled to main­tain a con­sis­tent pro­duc­tion flow, es­pe­cially dur­ing the win­ter months.

con­stant tem­per­a­ture,” says Shane, “which gives us the abil­ity to plan more ac­cu­rately and to man­age our prod­uct flow.”

Prod­ucts are com­ing out of the new kiln at a con­sis­tent dry­ness and as a re­sult they’re a lot straighter. That means a huge re­duc­tion in de­vi­a­tion in the boards. It used to be that around 10% of a run wouldn’t be straight enough to go through the planer ac­cu­rately, pos­si­bly 30m in a batch, now it’s less than 0.5m, or around 12-to-15 boards per run.

In an in­dus­try where get­ting max­i­mum value out of each log is cru­cial, im­prove­ments such as this are hugely sig­nif­i­cant. Work flow has also markedly im­proved.

“With the new kiln we can ac­cu­rately pre­dict when the prod­uct is go­ing to come out,” Shane con­tin­ues.

“It takes an hour to set up a planer, but with such a con­sis­tent and pre­dictable flow of wood, those changeovers can be planned for and set up ahead of time. Pre­vi­ously, we would open the kiln and it would take four-to-six hours for the tim­ber to cool down so that we could plane it. Now it’s al­ready gone through the cool­ing­down process when it ex­its the con­tin­u­ous dry­ing kiln and we can run it straight through the planer.”

The new kiln has meant that a fresh ap­proach is needed. Shane goes on to say: “I’ve been work­ing for this com­pany for 15 years and we’ve been set in a way of do­ing stuff be­cause we’ve had to.

“Now it’s a new be­gin­ning and we’re start­ing to get our heads around it. It’s only taken us prob­a­bly a month of trial and er­ror.

“There are some re­ally good minds work­ing here that have nut­ted it out. The prob­lems we used to fo­cus on aren’t there any­more.

“It’s a real game changer. It’s en­joy­able to have change like that, es­pe­cially when you’re like me and you’ve been in a busi­ness for so long.

“It’s nice to have change. It makes it a bit more di­verse so you’re not stuck in a rut. You’ve got some­thing new to think about ev­ery day, which is good. It’s a chal­lenge.”

Boiler and Kilns Team Leader, Don Boon, agrees. Stand­ing be­side the im­pres­sive and beau­ti­fully-de­signed Polytech­nik en­ergy cen­tre, Don al­most seems as­ton­ished to find him­self in such a set­ting af­ter 28 years work­ing at Kaituna.

He says: “When I first saw it, I thought Heav­ens, an old codger like me, hell, how am I go­ing to get my head around this? It’s still a learn­ing curve, but it’s bril­liant, aye!”

Don is acutely aware of the re­spon­si­bil­ity he and his team have to make the new tech­nol­ogy pay its way.

“Now they’ve given it to us we’ve got to make it pay,” he adds. “We’ve got to make it work, and we do. That’s what it’s about. I’m very proud of it. To me this is what we should have had ten years ago. You have to keep the gear in to keep up with the in­dus­try or else you get swal­lowed up.”

Projects Man­ager for Kaituna Sawmill, Bryan Phillips, has man­aged the project in-house and has the re­laxed smile of a man who is see­ing what he has en­vi­sioned pro­duc­ing ben­e­fits.

“Bryan has done a stun­ning job of plan­ning and ex­e­cut­ing the projects,” says Dar­rell.

Bryan ex­plains that the en­ergy cen­tre it­self will re­sult in a sav­ing of $500,000 per an­num in fuel be­cause the sawmill can now pro­duce all the steam en­ergy it re­quires us­ing wood residues from its own sawmill op­er­a­tion, rather than hav­ing to buy in non­re­new­able oil and other fuel. The con­tin­u­ous dry­ing kiln also re­sults in a 30% en­ergy sav­ing com­pared with the pre­vi­ous batch kilns.

“We had care­fully re­searched other op­er­a­tions for years,” says Bryan.

“We wanted a so­lu­tion that re­duced emis­sions and pro­vided the en­ergy out­put we needed. We’ve re­placed a 4.7MW boiler with a 4MW boiler but it’s pro­duc­ing more en­ergy. There were two tonnes of re­frac­tory bricks in the old steam boiler com­pared with 90 tonnes in the new boiler.

“One mea­sure of how ef­fi­cient the new boiler is can be seen in its ash pro­duc­tion. In two months of op­er­a­tion we’ve had about one-and-a-half ash bins. Pre­vi­ously, there was about a wheel­bar­row­ful ev­ery day.”

For many peo­ple, like Bryan, who have been work­ing at Kaituna Sawmill for a num­ber of years, the im­prove­ments they are now see­ing have been long-an­tic­i­pated and are deeply sat­is­fy­ing.

“If you don’t keep up with tech­nol­ogy you’re not go­ing to sur­vive in the long term,” adds Bryan. “I’ve looked for­ward to this for a long time. Cus­tomers will no­tice a change.”

Dar­rell chips in: “This project is an in­vest­ment in our peo­ple and it pro­vides com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity of our busi­ness into the fu­ture and the on­go­ing suc­cess of this busi­ness is di­rectly im­por­tant for the lo­cal com­mu­nity.”

The sawmill team won’t be rest­ing on their lau­rels, how­ever, even when the next phase of the project is com­plete. The search for con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment is a con­stant at Kaituna Mill.

“Since I’ve been here we haven’t stopped,” says Dar­rell. “When we com­plete this project we will have the sat­is­fac­tion that we’ve got through the up­set con­di­tions that projects like this bring and we’ll feel great about the im­prove­ments, but we won’t be tak­ing a big breather and feel­ing like it’s all over. We’ll be fo­cus­ing on driv­ing the busi­ness con­sis­tently and look­ing at the next im­prove­ments for the op­er­a­tion of the busi­ness.

“That’s the way busi­ness is, re­ally. You’re con­stantly look­ing to im­prove. In any busi­ness, if you sit on your lau­rels and don’t put your­self out there, you just come to a stop.

“We need to re­main very fo­cused on our ca­pa­bil­i­ties and op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove and the ideas that come from our peo­ple. En­gage­ment, train­ing, and peo­ple want­ing to be here, they’re very im­por­tant in our busi­ness, and to me.”

Key im­prove­ments to the Kaituna sawmill in­clude:

• A Polytech­nik en­ergy cen­tre burns wet saw­dust and shav­ings and pro­duces en­ergy more ef­fi­ciently and with lower emis­sions and will save $500k per an­num on fuel costs, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing the need to buy $200k per an­num of non­re­new­able oil.

• A Wind­sor con­tin­u­ous dry­ing kiln pro­vides more con­sis­tent and pre­dictable dry­ing, and pro­duces tim­ber that is straighter and eas­ier to plane (re­duc­ing wear and tear on planer blades), with greatly re­duced num­ber.

NZL

Gen­eral Man­ager, Dar­rell O’Brien, checks on the Polytech­nik en­ergy cen­tre.

Kaituna Sawmill Gen­eral Man­ager, Dar­rell O’Brien.

Dry Mill Man­ager, Shane John­son (left), and Kaituna Sawmill Projects Man­ager, Bryan Phillips

“The new en­ergy cen­tre burns wet and dry fuel and runs at a

Polytech­nik engi­neer, Marcin Mac­zollek (left), and Boiler and Kilns Team Leader, Don Boon.

The Kaituna Sawmill near Blen­heim.

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