Success Stories

Smart Log Processing a Blueprint for Structural Timber Sawmilling

Smart Log Processing a Blueprint for Structural Timber Sawmilling

The South African structural timber sawmilling sector operates in a closely fought arena where mill efficiencies, shrewd financial management and simple street smarts combine to protect sawmills against difficult business conditions. Spitzkop Sawmill in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa has proven to be successful in the structural timber sawmill sector that it operates in. Identifying the strategies Spitzkop has implemented to drive their growth is not only a blueprint for mills of a similar size but also instructive on how businesses throughout the world are adapting to remain competitive going forward.


History and a Blank Slate

The original site where Spitzkop is now located was formed in 2007 by Martie and Servaas Nieuwoudt who introduced a new era for the mill. The enthusiasm of a new start was quickly overshadowed by a firestorm that hit the area in June 2007 when the run-away fire leveled Spitzkop and destroyed nearly 20,000 acres (80,000 ha) of commercial forests.

“Although the fire was a setback it was also a blessing in disguise,” says Servaas Nieuwoudt, Spitzkop Sawmill Managing Director. “The old circular sawmill technology that we used before the fire gave us poor recovery. The mill had also grown unwieldy over time which led to a lot of unnecessary costs to maintain the staff and infrastructure that included a sawmill system and drying facilities. So the fire gave us the chance to start again,” Servaas says.

Spitzkop’s mill was the first to begin operating again in October 2007. The decision to initially source kiln-dried timber from outside suppliers allowed for the mill’s gradual ramp-up and also allowed more time to properly plan for the new mill operation. “The fact that we had time to plan the mill from the start, decide growth goals, and shop for equipment that fit into our budget without limiting our growth potential at the quality levels we wanted, was probably the biggest benefit that the fire gave us.”

Although the mill sawing dried material gave Spitzkop the head start it required, it was soon clear that the high cost of the dried material sourced from outside suppliers was eroding profitability. This started the hunt for a new sawmill system that suited Spitzkop’s requirements. Affordability, high recovery levels (+60%), accurate sizes and cut quality, modularity that allows for growth as more funds becomes available, increased automation, reduced energy costs and longer blade lifespan ranked high on Spitzkop’s priority list.

Wood-Mizer Smart Log Processing Line

“Our investigations of mills in the area made our decision quite easy,” Servaas continues. “A number of thin-kerf narrow bandsaw Wood-Mizer mills were already cutting in the area and what we saw impressed us. The high recovery rates (65%+) these sawmillers reported, together with the output they got from a relatively low investment cost, made it a simple choice,” Servaas reports.

The commission of Wood-Mizer’s Smart Log Processing (SLP) line at Spitzkop in 2009 coincided with the installation of progressive kiln units to allow for roughly 850,000 board feet (2000m³) of structural timber to exit Spitzkop on a monthly basis.

The Wood-Mizer SLP line is the backbone of Spitzkop’s log to finished product operation with the line preceded by a Wood-Mizer inclined automated log deck and debarker that receives a mix of logs measuring 10 feet (3.1m) long and up to 1 foot (300mm) in diameter.

A Wood-Mizer Twin Vertical Saw (TVS) allows for primary breakdown capacity with a Single Vertical Saw (SVS), 4 single head horizontal resaws, and a Wood-Mizer industrial double board edger providing the secondary breakdown to process the cants that exit the TVS into pre-finished material.

Once out of the sawmill, packing cages ensure precisely sized stacks that fit into progressive kiln units. When the lumber exits the kilns a unit de-stacks the boards for grading purposes. A laser activated automated crosscut saw then removes any knots from the sawn lengths before they are rejoined into specified lengths via two finger joint units. These sections then pass through molders to produce S4S structural material that’s ready for the retail sector.

What to Consider

“Wood-Mizer’s SLP line has given us the ability to produce high quality competitively priced structural material,” says Servaas. “The financial flexibility this has given us has allowed Spitzkop to make informed investment choices up and down the value chain to improve output that gives us the ability to push product into the market at extremely competitive prices. The output from the mill in tandem with the low operating costs achieved through high recovery rates, precise sizing and quality, low energy costs and reduced manual inputs contribute significantly towards the mill’s profitability,” Servaas emphasizes.

Investments in Wood-Mizer blade maintenance equipment have also had a noticeable impact on Spitzkop’s monthly blade maintenance and new blade bill while blades that are in use also last up to 30 rotations. “This adds to our profitability at the end of the day,” Servaas Nieuwoudt shares. “We’re also extremely pleased with the SLP line’s tough performance over the period that we’ve had it. It’s a tough unit that performs consistently according to plan,” Servaas concludes.




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