Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Sawmill Operation: Sierra Pacific Industries

Date of Visit: May 14, 2019
Type of event: Study tour
Topic: Sawmill Operation
Companies/OrganizationsSierra Pacific Industries
Hosts: Shane Young / Area Manager, Tanner Estes / Plant Safety Manager, Darren Dearborn / Interim Plant Manager at Sierra Pacific
International Fellows: Richard Banda (Malawi), Fen-hui Chen (Taiwan), Temitope Dauda (Nigeria), Zhongyuan Ding (China), Ana Kanoppa (Brazil), Will Maiden (United Kingdom), Romain Matile (France), Rodolfo Vieto (Costa Rica)
WFI Staff:  Vivian Bui / Professional Programs Coordinator, Shadia Duery / International Fellowship Program Manager, Rick Zenn / Senior Fellow

As we traveled south from Portland to California on I-5, changes in geological and atmospheric conditions, such as wind, humidity and elevation, gave rise to new ecological conditions, allowing for different dominant tree species compositions to be present in the surrounding landscapes. We drove through Douglas Fir-dominated conifer forests, mixed conifers, Ponderosa Pine, Oak savannah, and agricultural and cattle-ranching areas to the humid land of the Redwoods National and State Parks.

Sawmill Operation with Cogeneration Plant

Inside the control room
In Anderson, California we visited one of Sierra Pacific Industries’ twelve industrial facilities. Sierra Pacific is one of the few remaining vertically integrated forest products companies in the US. This tour provided a good opportunity to note how the efficiency-seeking culture of the US is implied in all the processes we observed. Beyond the plant’s operations, we were able to confirm that different management planning techniques, such as optimal harvest scheduling, are also applied in the formulation of Sierra Pacific’s forest management plans.

This sawmill plant runs for 20 hours a day, 5 days a week, with two daily shifts. It consists of 6 divisions and receives approximately 200 log trucks a day that were already sorted in the forest at time of harvesting. Logs are watered in the log yards to avoid cracking in the dry climate. This is a zero-waste plant producing for the wood commodity market in which residues, including bark chips, are collected and sold for home landscaping purposes. Fuel-wood is used to power a 30-Megawatt cogeneration plant. Sierra Pacific’s industrial facilities are carbon neutral, allowing the company to sell carbon credits. Technologically speaking, the plant is self-sustained, developing their own processing equipment mainly with electric motors rather than hydraulic, assisted with Programming Logic Controls and multiple optical sensors along the production lines, including log scanning and sawing, re-sawing, edging, planning, grading, trimming, and stacking and packaging.

Various stages of the production line

Rodolfo Vieto, International Fellow from Costa Rica
An International Fellow’s Thoughts and Perspectives

From a Costa Rican forestry economist’s point of view, the efficiency-seeking culture in the Pacific Northwest forestry sector is impressive as well as motivating when you want your own country’s forestry sector to grow. And even though the technology we observed on this study tour is designed for coniferous trees and may not be directly applicable to tropical tree species as-is, the concepts would still be applicable to larger-sized forestry plantation investments which need to be promoted in Costa Rica. Forestry is an activity that is economically feasible under the right economies of scale. For it to be an attractive business, efficiency-seeking management and industries are required.

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