Friday, September 02, 2016

European Sawmilling is far more flexible and productive

European sawmills have lower processing costs than North American mills due to the differences in technology.  To be able to produce lumber for these many European and export markets, European sawmilling technology has evolved to be different to North American technology – this has impacted not just costs, but allows for wider product lines, expanded markets and improved margins!

Nordautomation Oy log-sorting at the Korkeakoski sawmill in Finland.

European sawmilling technology allows for more flexible processing and almost any specified thickness, width and lengths. In every survey (based on US dollars), European mills continue to have the lowest sawmilling costs in the world (US$/Mbf or US$/m3) no matter what the exchange rate of the euro to the U.S. dollar.

One sawmill in Florida (2015) is using 100% imported European log merchandising, sawmilling, drying and planing equipment.  What does this mean to the U.S. industry and markets? Could a new sawmill processing technology change the industry?

In Europe, sawmilling technology is different – and very different in some areas. Simply put, European mills serve multiple markets that all require different sizes, lengths, grades and specifications.

Customers in Europe as well as in Japan, China, Middle East, North Africa, and also the U.S., have a strong preference in dealing with sawmills that produce lumber with flexible European technology.

With log costs also very high in Europe (at least double U.S. log costs), the European sawmilling strategy is to reduce fall-down grades of sawn wood and maximize value from the expensive logs.

To accomplish, all mills first sort and grade their logs through a log merchandising line where logs are scanned and typically sorted by diameter class, grade and length. Many mills have 60 to 80 log sorts; some have 160.

Since the logs are sorted into batches of similar diameter, grade and length, the optimum product and market solutions are matched up to these log sorts to maximize value back to the log.

These log batches are run into fixed setworks in the mill, as since the logs are already pre-sized and graded, there is no need for moving and shifting setworks in log break down equipment as is extensively used in North America.

With fixed setworks and using batched logs, European mills can achieve higher lumber production output per hour, day, week, etc., as compared to North American mills. They can essentially cut any size (thickness and width) of lumber that is being requested based on the sorted log inventory.

Instead of having a 2 to 3 meter (6-9 foot) gap between logs, European mills can have 0.5 meter (1.5 foot) gap that allows for greater linear production per hour. As well, processing pre-graded logs yields very little low grade lumber from every production run, optimizing value.

As a result, European mills are extremely versatile in selling to almost any market in the world since they are not constrained by fixed sawing programs or concerns about fall-down grades.

As well, European sawmilling technology can easily produce square-edged dimension lumber and studs (i.e., home centre grade) and provide specified lengths (like a truckload of 16-foot) since the mill will take orders from the pre-sorted log (diameter, grade and length).

You can with this technology produce lumber to the exact specifications of the customer. And with the lowest sawmilling costs in the world, European lumber is found all over the world, limited only by market price (which is often a constraint due to the much higher European log prices).

This means that not only will a sawmill featuring European–technology equipment located in the U.S. South be very competitive in the U.S. market, it should be very competitive in a number of key export markets.

U.S. South (as well as Canadian SPF) mills have traditionally had restricted export market opportunities due to their inflexible sawmill technology, aside from older headrig mills.

Source: Wood Markets

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