The Sherlock Holmes of Blue Ridge

When I tell my friends I am working Quality Control, a lot of them aren’t too sure what exactly the job entails. To be quite honest, I wasn’t even too sure what to expect. Essentially, my job is to ensure that the specifications which West Fraser has decided on for lumber standards are consistently being met. There are so many different variables that can affect the quality of the lumber, and that is why someone is designated to Quality Control, or QC, in almost every mill.

My first couple of weeks were a slow introduction to all the machine centres and processes within the sawmill. I say “slow” because you can quite easily get lost in the multiple floor, craziness of moving parts. It takes a person a week or so to know when your supervisor says “I’ll meet you at the Mark II VDA outfeed!” to know exactly what staircase to turn down or even the remote area you’re expected to be in. My first duty I had to learn was how to take sample boards and record the measurements on a measuring tool we use called an Lsize. The Lsize has bins where we can enter measurements from certain machine centres, and pull statistics such as the mean and variation of the lumber. Every piece of lumber that comes out of the sawmill has distinctive saw marks or lines that we can use to trace the cut back to a certain machine centre. If we notice something is off on some particular boards we can immediately tell where in the mill we should look to. To make it easier to test boards, QC has areas designated for these tests, where rollers and tables have been placed to lift out these wet, green boards. I have four main machines I pull from, where I test the width and thickness everyday. If the board is out of target, I can call up on the radio to the sawfilers to alert them and request a saw change.

Sawfilers maintain and repair the varying saws we use in all of the machine centres. Precision is so essential in the mill, and sawfilers are extremely valued because of their dedication to making the lumber exactly on target. Any warp or missing teeth on the saw, and the quality of wood we expect will not be made. Quality Control relies on their advanced knowledge to help us get production standards. This precision also comes with the help of millwrights and electricians. The millwrights are focused on the installation, maintenance, and repair of the machinery in the mill. Often times, we have to ask for their aid if a machine failure is causing skewness in the lumber accuracy. This also holds true with the electricians, as our technology and optimization play a huge role in our accuracy. These three support groups are all great people to work with and they are always willing to help us achieve the best possible lumber.

I titled this post the Sherlock Holmes of Blue Ridge because that’s exactly who you have to be in this position. Being able to trace defects back to the culprits takes a vast knowledge on the machine centres and technology we use. One of those technologies is a program called SiCam, where it records every piece of lumber’s width, thickness, and length that leaves the mill. It then pulls this data to create histograms and other charts that we can use to understand trends happening in the lumber. When you come into the mill in the morning and the SiCam is waving in all different directions, you know it’s time to throw on that trench coat and get the magnifying glass out.

Having a grading ticket, scaling ticket, and a good understanding of log quality and machine properties are assets within QC. A grading ticket is helpful because you need to be able to compare the optimizers decision for a board against your personal judgement to ensure accuracy. You also need to understand the processing efficiencies and volume outputs, and that’s where the scaling and machine knowledge will help. On top of this, being able to communicate efficiently and effectively are extremely valuable. You’re working with multiple support groups, and you need to be able to ensure that QC’s situations are understood and dealt with.

If any other forestry summer student is looking for a job that will give them a good understanding of log quality and harvesting operations, I suggest looking into a QC position. This summer has already taught me so much about not only inside the mill but also the ground rules outside. I can’t wait to see what comes up in the next few weeks when I start heading to the bush.

I’ve included some pictures from around the mill, and also a Red Columbine I found on a recent trip to the Hinton/Cadomin area. I’ll be talking about my trip next blog so check back soon!

Thanks for reading blog #2!

Lsize tool I use to measure lumber dimensions

Red Columbine

The Blue Ridge Crane at work

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