North Carolina Mill Adds Optimization: Home Lumber Co. Turns to Inovec for Optimized Controls at Head Rig
North Carolina hardwood lumber producer adds optimization to head rig; Inovec supplies technology for optimized controls.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 3/1/2006
EDEN, North Carolina ó My, how times change.
North Carolina used to be a stronghold of the U.S. furniture industry. The region encompassing the northern tier of North Carolina and southern Virginia, with abundant forest resources and good labor, used to boast numerous furniture plants.
In recent years, furniture makers have closed Ė or moved overseas Ė as the industry has faced stiff competition from the Far East Ė China. The furniture industry has been following the footsteps of the textile industry, which also used to be a pillar of the regionís economy.
David Evans owns Home Lumber, a hardwood sawmill business in the town of Eden, situated near the Virginia-North Carolina line.
Home Lumber sells to distributors and other businesses. However, much of the companyís lumber is being bought for export, according to David. The companyís poplar lumber is being exported to China, he said, presumably for that countryís rapidly growing furniture industry, and some oak production has been exported to Vietnam. Flooring grade lumber is sold to a domestic flooring plant, and low-grade lumber is sold for frame stock. Cants as well as some low-grade material are sold to the pallet industry.
Home Lumber cuts quite a bit of oak and poplar as well as maple, gum and mixed hardwoods. "We cut 800,000 board feet of poplar last month," David said when he talked to Pallet Enterprise in late January. The mill does not buy any hickory.
Home Lumber began in 1950 as a building supply business. Davidís father, Otis, purchased the business in 1958. At the time, his father operated two portable sawmills. He continued running the sawmills, cutting pine, and operating the building supply company.
David joined his father in business in 1967 after graduating from High Point College, where he studied business and finance. His father put him in charge of the building supply company.
Several years later, David became acquainted with someone who was liquidating a sawmill business. He purchased the equipment and told his father he wanted to set it up and start a sawmill. His father sold his portable mills, and Home Lumber began operating its own sawmill in 1973, cutting both hardwoods and softwoods.
The company has suffered through several fires over the years. The first occurred in 1974, when the business had no insurance for the loss. The Evanses rebuilt and started again.
At the companyís height, with two mills and a pallet operation, it had 54 employees and did about $2 million in sales. Margins were tight, however. "I couldnít make any money back then," David recalled.
David suffered a heart attack in the early 1980s and had to reconsider how he was doing business. He decided to scale back to one mill and few employees, knowing the smaller business would be easier to manage and oversee.
In 1985, the mill was destroyed in a fire. Davidís bank refused to loan him money to rebuild, so he exited the business. He auctioned off the remainder of the equipment, paid off his debts, and closed the doors.
David owns a motel business run by his wife, Carolyn. He didnít like the motel business, however, and couldnít find another business that drew his interest. He kept on a mechanic who worked in the mill, and for a while David bought machinery and equipment at auctions, refurbished it as necessary, and re-sold it.
Attending a machinery auction in 1986, David decided to return to the sawmill industry. He bought some used machinery and began operations again. The only things new in the mill were a Fulghum debarker, vibrating conveyors and a barn cleaner conveyor.
Today Home Lumber employs about 24 workers and has annual sales of about $4 million. The company is situated on seven acres and has an 11,200-square foot sawmill building and 6,000-square-foot shop. The old pallet plant, which has 32,000 square feet, is used to store parts and is also rented out for warehouse space.
Home Lumber currently is focused strictly on hardwoods. "We havenít done any pine in three years," said David, 61. The company continues to buy and re-resell some pine logs, however.
David invested in some significant improvements to the mill a year ago. He purchased a new Cleereman carriage and Inovec optimizing controls and scanning system for the head rig.
At Home Lumber, mill operations begin with a Fulgum 1020 debarker. Debarked logs travel along a deck to the head rig, the Cleereman carriage and a circular head saw. The log is scanned by the Inovec technology, and the optimizing system sets the opening face. The head saw runs a BH Payne 56-inch circular blade.
Boards coming off the head rig and the remaining cant go to one machine center to be resawn: a Ligna 60-inch combination gang-edger. The cants are handled coming off the head rig by a Mellot cant catcher.
Material exiting the gang-edger goes to a green chain. Material that needs to be edged is routed to the gang-edger again. At the green chain, slabs are pulled and dumped into a vibrating conveyor.
The lumber goes to a Newman drop-saw trimmer. After trimming, the boards are graded and marked. The lumber is pulled by hand and stacked according to grade and length.
The mill produces mainly 4/4 lumber. Some thicker stock, like 8/4, is cut on the head rig.
Home Lumber sells all its production rough and green. The mill is located within the city of Eden, and there is no room to expand into drying or other value-added operations, David explained.
Home Lumber has fairly extensive operations for processing residual wood material. It is equipped with a Fulghum 66-inch chipper for processing material into chips for the pulp and paper industry. "The best money I ever spent in a sawmill," said David.
The company also processes bark into mulch, grinding its own bark and buying additional bark from other sawmills. The bark is processed into mulch by a Mighty Giant tub grinder. Home Lumber makes two categories of mulch, a type used for landscaping and another product for covering playground surfaces. Mulch is sold both wholesale in bulk and also retail by the dump truck load and pick-up truck load.
Home Lumberís saw blades are serviced and maintained by Industrial Saw Service.
Home Lumber offers a hospitalization insurance plan for employees. However, with rising health insurance premiums, David noted, "Itís about to where you canít afford that."
David has two employees who have worked for Home Lumber 38 years and another, 30 years. A number of other employees have worked for the company for a considerably long time, he said. A few of the truck drivers retired and then decided to return to the company and work part-time. Another employee worked until age 93, maintaining the chipper knives. "Iíve been real fortunate" when it comes to employees, said David.
David has a son, Todd, who works in the business with him. Toddís varied duties include tending the mulch operations, a very busy segment of the business in the spring. He does everything from driving a truck or loader to running the tub grinder and performing machinery maintenance. He also is proficient in computers and has helped the company in adopting and using the Inovec technology.
The Inovec system is Home Lumberís first experience with fully optimized controls for the head rig. An earlier control system for the carriage set the log but not the saw.
"The Inovec system probably tapers 90 percent of the logs that come across the carriage," said David. "That was one of the reasons I bought it. Itís increased our production. I know itís increased our yield." The Inovec system enabled the company to reduce its chip volume by about 15%, he said.
Because of his health, David has had to reduce his role in the business. He underwent open heart surgery in the 1990s and had surgery on his pancreas in 2000. Now he mainly sells lumber and "chases parts."
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