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Third-Party Certification and Upgraded Equipment Keep F.H. Stoltze Current
F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company uses third-party certification and upgraded equipment to stay up-to-date with market demands and efficiency levels
By DeAnna Stephens Baker
Date Posted: 10/1/2010
Columbia Falls, Montana—After a century of sustainable practices, F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co. is taking the official step and becoming formally certified.
Though the company has always maintained sustainable processes, an increasing number of customer inquires about third-party certification prompted the management to pursue it.
“It’s really driven by our customer demand,” said Paul McKenzie, lands and resource manager at Stoltze. “Over the last couple years we’ve heard more and more from our customers, asking to see what kind of certification we have on our lumber.”
With the increasing number of inquires that the company has been receiving from customers about third-party certification, the management believes that not being certified could soon become an obstacle.
“Not having certification is going to become a barrier to access the markets that are out there,” Paul said.
Stoltze will be participating in two types of certification. The way the company is organized, its timberlands are managed separately from its mill needs under a set of sustainable forestry principles that preserve the long-term production and multiple use capacity of the land, according to Paul. The company’s 40,000 acres of timberlands have been part of the American Tree Farm system since 1965 and will continue to be so. However, with an annual sawmill production volume that averages above 70 million board feet, even its acreage of timberlands are not enough to supply all of the mill’s needs. Up to 75% of Stoltze’s wood is sourced from other private lands and agencies, creating a need for fiber source certification as well. For this, they have chosen to become certified through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). According to Paul, SFI was the product that best fit Stoltze’s operation and was also the most recognized by their customers in the solid wood industries.
“We’re in the process of getting our certification structure and developing our processes from a fiber procurement standpoint to ensure that the fiber we procure that’s not from company land does meet long-term sustainable objectives and give our customers that additional level of security to know that what products they’re receiving come from sustainably managed forests,” said Paul.
The company was formed in 1912 by F.H. Stoltze who came to Montana building infrastructure along the railroad. Though the Stoltze family still owns the company, they are not involved in the day-to-day operations. However, the mill’s current site, which it has occupied since 1918, bears tribute to this heritage with its still operational rail siding that the company uses to ship between 30% and 40% of its product, according to Chuck Roady, general manager. The 157 acre mill site also includes a sawmill, four dry kilns, and a planing mill which has over two acres of inside storage.
The sawmill, which produces random length lumber, has been divided into two sides with slightly different processes based on log size. Logs up to 18 inches in diameter are processed on the small log side and anything larger is sent to the large log side. A Linden quadrant log feeder starts out the small log process, followed by a Nicholson A5B 2 ring debarker and a Linden step feeder which feeds a Comact wave feeder. This is followed by twin Schurman slabbers and twin five-foot Letson Burpee bandmills. The large logs are run through a Cambio 40 inch debarker, scanning system from Lewis Controls, another Schurman slabber, an eight foot single band headsaw from Letson Burpee, a horizontal resaw manufactured by Turner Machinery and finally a board edger from Portland Iron Works. Following that, all sizes are run through a single line to finish them off. This combined line starts off with a scanning system designed by Coe Newnes, followed by a curve-sawing gang saw and optimized board edger, both from Coe Newnes/McGehee, a Hi-Tech trimmer, a LSI 26 bin “J” bar sorter, and is completed by a Moore lumber stacker.
The planing mill has two planers, a Yates American A-63 and a Stetson Ross 614-D1. The rest of the planing mill consists of a machine stress rated (MSR) machine from Metriguard, and a 1989 LSI lumber handling system with a trimmer, 30-tray slant bin sorter and stacker, and is finished off with a Signode banding station. Stoltze’s use of a MSR machine makes it the only MSR lumber producer in Montana. The last stop for Stoltze lumber is one of four dry kilns - three 68ft double track kilns and one 100ft single track kiln.
The machinery at the mill site is a mix of older and newer pieces. However, rather than focusing on continually buying new equipment, the management has chosen an ongoing practice of looking for bottlenecks in the production line and finding ways to upgrade the existing equipment for a more efficient process.
“We do continually upgrade the sawmill,” said Joe O’Rourke, plant manager. “We try to prioritize where we’ll be able to make the biggest improvements with the least amount of cost. It’s a continual process of analyzing where the bottlenecks are and where we can make improvements for quality.”
Stoltze’s on-staff experienced millwrights and electricians have retrofitted multiple pieces of machinery to make them more efficient for the processes that the mill uses today. A sorter system which was originally designed to handle wider lumber has been modified to more efficiently handle the size lumber the company cuts today. Originally, the lug spacing was 48 inches, to handle product back when Stoltze was cutting lumber up to 20 inches wide. However, after the company reached the point of no longer cutting lumber that wide, they modified the lug spacing down to 32 inches. This allows it to handle the same number of pieces as before, but with lower chain speeds, causing less wear and tear on the machine. They also modified an older stacker by putting controls on to allow them to index the stacker in a more controlled manner, resulting in a smoother and more efficient operation with less banging that requires less maintenance, according to Joe. Beyond their in-house staff, Stoltze management also often consults with different machinery vendors when working on plans for upgrades.
Like everyone in the forest products industry, Stoltze has felt the effects of the economic recession.
“It’s not been very good through the summer, which typically is the higher market time,” Chuck said. “I don’t expect the remainder of 2010 to get any better. Hopefully it will by 2011 or 2012. But I don’t think we’ll see things get back to what it was like in 2005 until 2012.”
The company has been running between 10% and 20% below their full capacity, according to Chuck. They have only been running one side of the sawmill during the night shift for several years now. However, based on the history and experience of the company, the management believes that Stoltze is resilient enough to make it through whatever the economy throws at them.
“Even in poor market times we’ve cut 58 million to 59 million board feet a year,” said Chuck. “We’ve been here over a hundred years now and we’re very fortunate to have the ownership that we have and to be a privately held company. It’s pretty tough times but Stoltze is very resilient and we just keep plugging along. And hopefully we’ll be here another hundred years.”