Brkic Provides District Council with an Update on $35 million CFI Upgrade

Mike Carter, Chetwynd Echo

CHETWYND – Chetwynd Forest Industries is continuing on into the second phase of a West Fraser Mills capital expenditure plan to invest in a $35 million upgrade to the sawmill.

Darren Brkic, CFI General Manager, was on hand at the District of Chetwynd regular council meeting April 15 to update mayor and council on what has been going on at the mill as of late.

“Basically where we’re at today with the $35 million is we’re going to move our sawmill from a one million [board feet] per day average production to 1.365 million a day,” Brkic explained.

The company plans to maintain a two-shift operation at the mill with the increased productivity, but will now need to run additional hours on the planer to continue a rough inventory balance that is appropriate for the site.

Most of the projects involved in the upgrade target improved lumber recovery. One of those projects is the upgrade of the sawmill canter, a machine used to process logs into flinches, cants (unfinished logs to be further processed) and boards. A canter usually consists of a log turner, double or single length in-feed, chipping section and a saw section.

“Our large canter log line, the primary breakdown in the sawmill, is probably one of the oldest in the company so we’ll have the newest technology, the latest and greatest of everything that it takes to improve recovery on logs and improve the amount of grain recovery through the sawmill as well,” Brkic explained.

The canter line itself will be replaced in July. The mill is expecting to shut down the first two weeks of that month to facilitate this installation, during which time there will also be an upgrade from a ‘pusher sorter’ to a ‘j-bar’ sorter, which will allow the mill to handle the significant increase in capacity with the new canter line.

The mill also installed a new high-speed stacker, which was the first installation project of the multi-million dollar upgrade.

This week, Brkic expected to be installing the mill’s first new dual ring debarker.

“Running as dry a fiber as we are through the pine beetle kill, the dual ring debarker technology minimizes fiber tear and improves recovery from the logs versus our old debarker technology,” he said, adding that the new technology will allow the mill to go from four current debarkers, down to three.

“As a result of the capital, some of the dust strategies at our mill are going to be addressed as well,” Brkic explained. “I know council had toured the mill last summer [and] there has been some significant improvements with some of the early capital that’s been spent to improve and combat the combustible dust issues that we experience in our industry.”

The first phase of the upgrade was completed in the fall of 2012. It included the expansion of one of the buildings on the sawmill property to give two new work areas for the mill’s electricians and millwrights. This expansion also included building a new lunchroom.

The upgrade is not only aimed at increasing productivity, Brkic explained, but also improving employee retention.

“We’ve struggled the last couple of years with keeping employees through oil and gas industry competition in the area so we’re hoping that those kinds of things improve the work environment and allow people to stay working at CFI,” Brkic remarked.Notably, more employees are staying at the mill now than were a year ago when the mill had about a 46 per cent turnover rate. “It’s considerably less today,” Brkic said.