In Keeping with the Times, Hi-tech Solutions Are a Trend in Softwood Mills

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In 2020, in the Softwood lumber industry, challenges came from – what else? – COVID-19. However, as the year went on, business for equipment and services providers for Softwood mills increased. A trend was hi-tech solutions. However, one company recommended that technology be kept at least a little bit simple so that employees in mills can operate it. Optimism was expressed when thinking about 2021.

Mario Godbout
Mario Godbout

Mario Godbout
AUTOLOG Sawmill Automation
Blainville, QC

AUTOLOG offers: Sorter/Stacker systems, a Primary Breakdown Optimizer and a full set of optimizer and control systems for the sawmill.

What new equipment/machinery/services do we anticipate will be available in the coming year for the sawmill industry and/or secondary manufacturers, and/or millwork/moulding companies? The R-TRAC Rotation Tracking System is a revolutionary non-contact rotation measurement system that measures the rotation of a log in real time without interacting with an optimizer. The R-TRAC sends the total rotation measurement to a PLC every 10ms and the PLC can control the log turner in a close loop based on these measurements. R-TRAC allows for you to turn the logs within 5 degrees every time, the first time. No after correction is needed.

What trends in equipment and service purchases did we observe in 2020 and what do we anticipate in 2021? Primary breakdown optimizer upgrades were more common in 2020 and we expect that trend to continue as equipment currently in use is outdated. The new optimizer version gives more flexibility and has a better log modeling, resulting in more recovery. People tend to under evaluate the return on updating software, but software usually has an improvement rate faster than that of a mechanical upgrade. Updating a 10- or 15-year-old software can give a very good ROI.

What new technology, specifically in computer programming, software, and services, is the latest? Our GEN3 technology provides the users with more tools to help them in their day-to-day tasks. GEN3 was developed with two goals in mind. The first one was to build a better software with best practices and the second goal was to help the customer with their daily tasks.  This provided tools (such as live simulation, keeping previous solution, simulation capacity, display zones, faces measurement, etc.) that help with quality control, testing product basket and minimizing downtime by allowing more offline tests that do not impact production. We also worked on a better modeling of the log (more accurate) which offers a higher yield and a shorter payback. 

George Barker
George Barker

George Barker
Biolube, Inc.
Fort Wayne, IN

Biolube Inc., provides trouble-free Lubie® spray application equipment, saw lubricants, moulder bed lubricants, grinding coolants, pitch cleaners and other specialty products that allow sawmills to increase their bottom lines with the most environmentally friendly products available.

For 2021 the Lubie bandsaw lubricant line, both hardwood and Softwood, is being reformulated to give higher performance without increasing cost. A new line of lubes for guided gang saws will be introduced.

We continue to see strong growth in the pallet industry with emphasis on longer band life with higher feed speeds. 

Eric Michaud
Eric Michaud

Eric Michaud
Plessisville, QC

We provide innovative solutions to the sawmill industry (Softwood and hardwood) for log and lumber handling or any other material handling. We can offer simple projects such as unique equipment supply to complete turn-key solutions. For log handling, we can provide log decks, log conveyors, log feeders (our well-known Sream Feeder) or a complete log merchandiser. For lumber handling, we have the optimized trim line for sawmills and planer mills, stackers, grading lines for hardwood, vertical and tray sorters, lumber decks and conveyors and others. Mechanical and electrical installation can be offered as well as the automation and the optimization of our processes.

We plan to expand our offerings in the log handling area by adding optimized log merchandising systems to it.

The trend for equipment purchases will be positive and will continue to increase throughout 2021. The forest products business has been good in 2020 for many sawmillers, I think they will spend some of their profits on the modernization of their operations in order to be ready for the next downturn. 

With so many different technologies involved in sawmill processes now and the challenges of finding qualified people in this industry, I think that many suppliers will have to develop tools for mill managers to monitor their operation so that they can be sure that their equipment is performing the way it’s supposed to.  Real-time dashboards for key indicators of their different production lines and dashboards and cameras for monitoring equipment status are some examples of software that will need to be developed to help managers do a better job with their processes, operations and maintenance-wise.      

Also, Artificial Intelligence will soon become a must and a reference for improving the scanning of logs, cants and boards.

Finally, and probably as important as bringing new technologies to the sawmill world, manufacturers will need to find a way to simplify their equipment so that sawmillers can deal with it with the people they have in their mills.   Sophistication is good but, to a certain point, we’re not in the aerospace industry with unlimited resources. 

Paul Cleereman
Paul Cleereman

Paul Cleereman
Cleereman Industries
Newald, WI

Cleereman Controls offers Proportional Controls, Linear Controls, 3D Scanning Optimizer, Stave Mill Controls, Trimmer Controls, Edger Controls, Auto Saw Guide, Start/Stop Console, MCC Electrical Starter Cabinets, Debarker Controls and Automated Log Lines.

Cleereman Industries is a solution-based company that offers everything from single piece equipment sales to turn-key style sawmills. We have our own in-house engineering department for both Cleereman Industries and Cleereman Controls which allows us to handle everything from start to finish. We can custom-build our equipment to meet our customer’s needs. With the recent addition of the controls company we have been able to design a lot of the electrical control panels and starters into our equipment packages and save our customers a lot of money and time on their electrical costs. The combination of Cleereman Industries and Cleereman Controls has taken us to another level of customer service. 

Cleereman Industries is constantly striving to make improvements on our current lines of equipment, and our research and development department is always working on new or improved equipment for our industry. Just in the last few years we have added Cleereman Controls Company along with our new Stave Mill equipment lines and Debarker lines. 

Cleereman Industries is in the final design stages of our new Cleereman Optimized Edger system for the smaller to mid-sized sawmills. Cleereman Controls division has been working on a new type of scanning system for our optimized edger that will fit in existing mills. Our new design will fit into existing Edger locations at a price point that the smaller to mid-size sawmills can afford. This should be quite appealing to a lot of sawmills in this industry. 

We observed mills looking for more of a “turn-key” type project rather than looking after the project themselves. Whether the project is a complete, new mill project or an upgrade to an existing mill, owners have relied on the supplier to do most or all of the project, from design to start-up. Customers appreciate the ability to do “one stop shopping” and it helps projects run smoother with a lot less people directly involved. Cleereman Industries can provide everything from start to finish to our customers.

Stefan Dracobly, president of Cleereman Controls, is constantly looking at the latest technology available to the sawmill industry. Stefan says the research and development department at Cleereman Controls is constantly testing new products and technology. Stefan lists some of his thoughts below: 

  • Scanning:  Newer scanners are coming out with higher density scan data.  In conjunction with faster, newer computers, this data can be more easily utilized to increase our accuracy of the scan and minimize mistakes created by nebulous scan data.
  • Reporting:  With report databases the norm, getting the data to sawmiller is important.  This can be done by printing, emailing or texting.
  • PLC:  With internet access in the sawmills, engineers can remotely attach to control systems for remote monitoring, troubleshooting and upgrades from anywhere in the world.  This saves the customer the cost of an in-person service trip.
  • PLC:  More and more remote IO devices are being created to minimize the need for multiple runs of cables.  These new devices allow multiple sensors and valves to be connected to a local centralized device that then has a minimal amount of cabling back to the main cabinet.

Cleereman manufactures: Carriages – Air Setworks, Hydraulic Setworks and Linear Positioning; Carriage Drive – Hydraulic Drives, Hydrostatic Drives, AC Regenerative Drives; Log Turner – Standard, Bottom Pivot, Versa Turner, Cornerless Operators Cabs/Control Booths, Track Frames, Carriage Rail (30#, 40#, 60#, 80#), Cable Tightener and Sheaves, Airbag Tightener, Hydraulic Tightener, Cable Sheaves, Saw Husks, Arbors and Mandrels, Saw Guides, Log Decks, Stop and Loaders, Log Troughs, Drop Belts, Husk Offbearer Belt, Chain Transfer Deck, Rollcases, Belt Conveyors, Unscrambler, Transfer Deck, Semi-Circle Systems. The firm also offers: Resaw Systems—Runarounds, Infeed Tables, Outfeed Tables; Edger Line – Board Edger Feed Systems, Accu-Cut Trimmer, Double End Trimmer, Carriage Power Units, Log Turner Power Units, Custom Power Units, Conventional Sawmill Packages, ST54 Lumber Pro Thin Kerf Bandmill, ST64 Lumber Pro Thin Kerf Bandmill, and Debarker. 

Frances Cooper
Frances Cooper

Frances Cooper
Cooper Machine Company Inc.
Wadley, GA

2020 has been a year of highs and lows for Cooper Machine. The beginning of the year was slower than normal with machine sales, while part sales and upgrades were up. But since the summer, machine sales have really increased. 

COVID-19 has definitely been a challenge for us. Since the pandemic started, we had employees and their families affected by COVID-19, including the Cooper family, but fortunately everyone was able to weather the storm. It slowed down production a bit, but with safety protocols in place we are full steam ahead. 

Our biggest seller is of course of the Scraggs that we are best known for. You get so much more life out of a Cooper Scragg. We’ve had orders for both our Tandem Sharp Chain Scraggs and Overhead Scraggs. We now have several options for the controls including A&E’s PLC and optimization. We are also busy building Edgers and have great reviews on our Optimized Edgers, which for the price, have a payback of 1-2 years depending on your mill layout.

In 2020, we introduced an Optimized Slab Edger with hogging heads. We can also mount chipping heads on it as well. Using A&E optimization and controls it gives you the recovery that you need. We anticipate that our customers will continue to want to automate equipment to minimize labor. This is why we are doing more automation of our equipment.

For the rest of 2020 and 2021, we expect the pallet industry to continue to improve. While there are quite a few mills going out of business, as you can see with all the auctions happening, we are seeing several new pallet and Softwood mills (especially larger Pine) being started up in certain pockets of the country. We expect this to continue into 2021. 

The Cooper name stands for quality and service, and as more customers are looking at ways to optimize their mills, cut down on labor and get more out of every log, we expect business to continue to be good. 

For more information on our offerings view our website at,  contact Frances Cooper at 478-252-5885 or email us at  

Michelle Spence
Michelle Spence

Michelle Spence
Omaha, NE

DMSi provides business software for Softwood and hardwood operations. Our inventory software, Agility ERP, manages all core processes, including accounting, purchasing, receiving, remanufacturing, and sales. Our tally app, TallyExpress, lets users tally bundles in under 90 seconds with a basic smart phone.

What trends in equipment/services purchases did we observe in 2020, and what do we anticipate in 2021?

COVID brought so much volatility and uncertainty into the industry. Our customers responded by focusing on process improvements. Anything that increased accuracy and saved time made it easier for them to pivot and adapt to new situations. We helped customers implement new processes such as cycle counting (a faster and more accurate alternative to doing full physicals) and Suggested Purchasing (an Agility feature that lets buyers calculate inventory needs more accurately).  

Another way our customers increased efficiency is implementing new technology. For instance, customers who implemented our Mobile Warehouse Tools app were able to streamline their inventory processes. The app lets staff receive POs, split bundles, and even complete cycle counts or full physicals with a standard smartphone. Everything is updated in real-time; no paper forms, no waiting to enter a stack of count sheets. Our customers saved time, labor, and had better quality information.     

Being agile and adaptable will continue to be a priority for hardwood and Softwood businesses in 2021; whether it’s adjusting to a construction boom or pricing fluctuations. We are continuing to make Agility’s inventory and order management features even more robust to help our customers succeed in this new reality.     

 What new technology, specifically in computer programming and software, is the latest? Accessibility is key. Businesses should leverage tools that make it easier for customers to do business with them and for employees to do their jobs. For instance, even if you don’t want to do online sales (ecommerce), online service is a must-have. Customers should have a way to print old invoices, check an order status, and pay bills on their own, without needing to call a service rep during office hours. Additionally, mobile and web solutions are vital in a COVID era. They make it easier to quickly move office staff into an empty conference room to observe social distancing. Outside sales reps can check available stock and submit new orders while standing in a customer’s yard. And if anyone in your office needs to quarantine at home for a week, cloud-based software allows them to continue doing their jobs until they can return.  

Stacy Mellott
Stacy Mellott

Stacy Mellott
Mellott Mfg. Co., Inc.
Mercersburg, PA

Mellott offers a full line of quality log and lumber handling equipment and system designs to provide the best solution for the application.  

What new equipment/machinery/services do we anticipate will be available in the coming year for the sawmill industry and/or secondary manufacturers, and/or millwork/moulding companies? A 6 ft. Bandsaw and 7 ft. Bandsaw with either vertical or 17-degree tilt and Band Linebar Systems.

What trends in equipment and service purchases did we observe in 2020? What do we anticipate in 2021? We saw replacement equipment by repeat customers and custom machinery projects. Also, due to customer demand we have made upgrades and expanded our tie and timber handling product line. 

There is optimism that business will continue in this direction through 2021.   Mellott looks to remain strong in manufacturing through our diverse product line of quality machinery.  

What new technology, specifically in computer programming, software, and services, is the latest? Mellott uses the latest “off the shelf” control components from Rockwell Automation and Delta Computer Systems.  Also important are machine troubleshooting and logic changes provided remotely via the internet. 

Dan Mathews
Dan Mathews

Dan Mathews
SII Dry Kilns
Lexington, NC

For over 50 years we have put our experience to work in the hardwood industry while building long-term relationships.  For the last 15 years we have been building a reputation in the Softwood industry as well. SII is a full-service dry kiln manufacturer offering custom designed batch track kilns, dual path continuous kilns (DPK), package kilns, large capacity center fan wall package kilns, heat treaters, cross flow pre-dryers and fan sheds.  We are a fully licensed manufacturer of DPK’s, capable of providing turn-key projects. We also offer vacuum and thermal modification kilns through WDE Maspell, the world’s most respected name in vacuum drying.  All of these products are designed to help customers improve their bottom line.

While Softwood producers saw price increases that were the envy of every hardwood producer in the country, the hardwood guys experienced the opposite trends. With tariffs, then the virus, prices below raw material costs, and massive market uncertainty, many mills have been left shaking their heads. 

In the southern states we have seen hardwood mills purchasing equipment for drying yellow Pine and/or utilizing hardwood kilns for drying Pine.  We expect that this trend will continue into 2021. 

The SII Computerized Control System provides customers with the tools for real-time kiln management utilizing in-kiln moisture measurement with “Sample Watch,” our integrated weight-based platforms, TDAL load monitoring and/or moisture probes.  “Utility Watch,” as a part of a customer’s control system, is a powerful tool to help them manage their energy load when approaching “peak load,” thereby reducing electrical costs. These systems, combined with the support offered by SII Dry Kilns, provide customers with the tools they need to improve profitability and maximize product quality.  

Steve Hoagland
Steve Hoagland

Steve Hoagland
Pantron Automation, Inc.
Belmont, NC

Pantron Automation, Inc. is the North American distributor of high-powered infrared photoelectric systems that are manufactured by the German manufacturer Pantron Instruments, GmbH. The incredibly powerful photoelectric sensors (photo eyes) are used in the most challenging areas of sawmills for detection, measurement, sorting and placement of logs and also for sensing the level of sawdust or pellets in bins. 

IO-Link technology is the newest advance in sensors, light grids, measuring grids and proximity sensors. Pantron Automation offers a variety of these IO-Link products where automation in a mill can be all tied in together. 

 Pantron Automation was and is considered an essential business because of its ties with the wood industry and many other essential manufacturing facilities. We are a small office in Belmont, NC and have managed to do quite well this year and plan to continue this trend. 

Again, Pantron Automation offers the new IOLink technology through the distribution of Contrinex, EGE and Disoric sensors. 

By Miller Wood Trade Publications

The premier online information source for the forest products industry since 1927.

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By Miller Wood Trade Publications

The premier online information source for the forest products industry since 1927.

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