Seeley Swan Pathfinder -


By Andi Bourne

Pyramid automates its grading


November 7, 2019

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

D&G Crane Service lifted the $1.75 million GradExpertTM, made in Montreal, Canada, and lowered it through the roof without incident Wednesday, Oct. 30. Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Inc's Controller Wendy Dalrymple said it should take less than a week to have it running at full capacity.

SEELEY LAKE – Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Inc. made great strides this week towards automating the finishing side of the mill. This was the first of two updates to increase efficiency, provide more, higher grade lumber to their customers and address the manpower shortage that has reached a critical juncture.

Pyramid recently purchased the Comact GradExpertTM for $1.75 million to automate their grade line and increase grade recovery. The entire first phase update will cost around $2.5 million.

"In order for our company to be successful, we need to ensure that we are maximizing the value of every piece of lumber," said Plant Manager Todd Johnson. "It is way more accurate than a human can do it for eight or 10 hours and it has way more information than the grader will ever have."

Controller Wendy Dalrymple said they currently have eight graders that look at all four sides of the board and decide the quality of the board as quickly and as accurately as they can.

The GradExpertTM will scan the board in full, determine the grade and the trim and do it all significantly faster.

"Grading is very subjective. They need to look at it very quickly and decide for each grade requirement," said Dalrymple. "[The GradExpect] is basically having your best grader on his best day every day."

Many of the larger sawmills installed this technology several years ago.

"It is proven technology. In order to be competitive for raw material, we felt we needed to move forward," said Johnson. "The extra value we will get from our products will also help pay for future projects."

Dalrymple said they will maintain two to three graders and the rest will be moved to other areas of production.

"We are excited about it," said Dalrymple. "It frees people up to do what we need them to do."

The second phase will automate some of the entry level, manual labor positions which have been hard to fill. It will also include a newer trimmer, lumber trays, and stacker.  

Johnson said Pyramid hopes to complete the second phase of the project in February. It will cost around $1 million.

"The second project will allow us to produce more board footage per hour and maximize our ability to take full advantage of the GradExpert project," said Johnson. "The need for the second project is mainly due to manpower constraints."

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Mill owner Roger Johnson watches as the GradExpertTM is lowered through the roof.

Johnson explained for the last two years, the mill has not been able to run the hours necessary to get their products out to the market when the market is at its peak. This prevents them from maximizing the value of their products.

Chief Operations Officer Loren Rose said they are currently running the sawmill 40 hours a week and the planer 60 hours a week. His goal is to run both the sawmill and planer for 50 hours a week.

"With these two projects, I think we can do that," said Rose. "If we can do that with the employee count that we have, we should be more competitive for logs than we are right now."

"By automating, we will eliminate the need for some of our more physically demanding positions that will allow us to produce more board footage per hour," said Johnson. "This will allow our company to be more successful, which in turn improves everyone's job security and enhances our ability to look at doing future upgrades and increasing employee benefits."


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