Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Oriented Strand Board and Timber Rails

On Thursday, September 6th, our group got back together to visit a few more places that we couldn't squeeze into the summer tour.  The first stop was Weyerhaeuser Company Sutton OSB.  Located in Sutton, WV, Weyerhaeuser produces oriented strand board (also known as OSB).  OSB is generally used in the same methods as plywood.  OSB is great for the environment since scrap wood and tree tops, formally discarded or wasted, can be used to form a useful product.

Step 1:  Logs are chipped using this 84" diameter chipper that is made up of 46 knives.  These chips are referred to as "green strands."  Strands can be up to six inches long.

Step 2:  The green strands are then moved to a dryer.  Moisture is removed until the infrared meters show the moisture content to be down to 5 - 8%.  The time it takes for this to occur varies depending on the species of the wood, the amount of time the logs were able to dry in the lumberyard before being processed, etc...

Step 3:  The dried strands are then moved to the blender where they are mixed with wax and resin.

Step 4:  The resinated strands are oriented to form mats.  The top and bottom layers of the finished product have vertical strands, while the two middle layers are horizontal.  This provides the OSB with more strength.

Nearly the whole operation is monitored and controlled by these two people.
Step 5:  Four layers of the oriented board are then stacked and pressed for 4 - 6 minutes.  The stacks which are 6 - 8 inches tall before the press come out to specified thicknesses (usually around 5/16").

Step 6:  Each large mat is then trimmed and cut to form 108 4x8 panels.  

This plant produces approximately 60 truck loads of OSB each day and 24 rail car loads each week.  The entire process from green logs to a finished product takes about 3 hours.

The next visit of the day was Appalachian Timber Services.  They provide a variety of products from railroad ties to bridge and coal mining supports.

The largest customer of ATS is the New York City rail system.
Railroad ties sell for $50 per tie.  They weigh 5.5 pounds per board foot.  One tie weighs 250 lbs.  
THINK:  How many board feet are in one railroad tie?  If the tie is 10 feet long, what could the width and height be?  (You may need to refer to the blog post about estimating board feet from May 5, 2012.)

Workers often have to hand carve the forms for bridge repairs since every bridge is built to different specifications.

This is an new design for coal mine roof posts.   It helps prevent the posts from collapsing during a cave-in.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I've Been Working on the Railroad...

The last stop on our journey was the C & O Museum located in Clifton Forge, VA.  This was especially interesting since the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad has a deep history in Huntington, WV.

The museum and rail yard gave a great overview of historical and current railroad operations.  It was especially neat to see the transfer from steam and coal powered engines to diesel.  One big advantage to diesel engines was that multiple engines could be added on the same train WITHOUT having to add extra workers.  While it takes four diesel engines to get the power of one steam engine, it took less manpower since three workers are needed for each steam engine on a train.

The Greenbrier steam engine weighs 462,000 pounds dry (without coal or water) and is said to reach a top speed of 120 mph.

In the days before speedometers, engineers had to calculate mph by timing how long it took them to get from one mile marker to the next.   

The wheels were as tall as me (5' 5")!!

Gadsby's Tavern is a dining car on the George Washington (named "The most wonderful train in the world").  Every car on this train was named for a person, place, or event in Washington's life.

This car can now be rented for special occasions.
(We were able to eat lunch in the car.)
Just for fun...  A model train that appears way too small to hold more than one person can actually carry a crowd around the oval track.

Each car can hold up to three people.

The museum displayed many different size models.  One is pictured below along with the plaque that describes just a little bit of the amazing detail that went into the construction.  I hope you see how much math is involved in running a train AND in building one...even if it is just a model!

The Greenbrier River

We concluded our water quality tests in the Greenbrier River downstream in Caldwell near Lewisburg.  The GPS coordinates of the testing site are N37 47.3969 and W80 23.0530.  This test was very similar to the other two.  The pH here was the best of the three at 7.3.  (Disclaimer: It rained overnight and was raining while we were testing, so it is possible the results could be slightly skewed.)  The overall water quality was slightly higher as well at 47.83, this is at the top of the fair range.

The map below shows the three sites that were tested.  (It is approximately 90 miles from Durbin to Caldwell.) 
A - Durbin 45.47
B - Cass 40.05
C - Caldwell 47.83


* What could cause the variances in water quality?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Timber and Trains

Gaudineer Knob is one of only two (very different) virgin forests in West Virginia.  This small sliver of forest is 4,100 feet in elevation.  The very moist environment has provided the perfect place for diverse and thicker undergrowth than at Cathedral State Park (the other WV virgin forest).  Guadineer Knob is known as a spruce forest, but there are a lot of deciduous trees as well.  

One thing that was different from most of the forests I have seen was that there were not any rhododendron trees.  The forest floor was almost like carpet in some places where the moss was very thick.  Our soil test gave a pH result of 4.5, which is acidic.

We performed another water test in the Greenbrier River, this time in the town of Durbin.  The coordinates are N38 5.4352” W79 8.2484.  This sample is upstream from the sample we tested in Cass yesterday.  Today the overall water quality was 45.47, which is on the upper end of the fair scale (26 – 50).  

A climax engine powers the Durbin Rocket.  We enjoyed a peaceful ride for 5.5 miles along the Greenbrier River.  

This ride was a very different experience from Cass.  Each of the cars was different and you could walk from car to car during the ride.  Some were open air while others were covered.  My favorite was the upper deck of the caboose!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Charming Town of Cass

Today we performed water quality tests in the Greenbrier River near Cass.  The GPS coordinates of the place we tested are N 38 39.875’ W 79 91.150’.  We used the same procedure that is explained in my blog post from April 28, 2012 titled Water Quality Testing at Ritter Park.  We performed five tests: dissolved oxygen, temperature, turbidity, pH, and conductivity.  While the pH was pretty good at 6.5, we found the overall water quality to be 40.05, which falls in the middle of the fair category.

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park allows you to relive railroad life from the early 1900’s.  You can ride a train 11 miles up to Bald Knob.  Shay engines pull the train through a series of switchbacks up the mountain.

Shay No. 11 was built in 1923.

Shay engines are steam-powered.  Coal is burned to heat the water which creates the steam.  It is a tough job to run one of these.  The lady working our train today told me she scoops three shovelfuls of coal into the furnace every 30 seconds.  Our 22 mile roundtrip used 3.5 to 4 tons of coal.

The conductors performed routine maintenance at our stops.

We stopped to fill up the water tank.  It took 6,000 gallons of water to make enough steam for the trip and the engine only holds 4,500 gallons.

Notice the large water hose filling the tank.

The top speed of a shay engine is 12 mph.

Work it Out:
*  The engine was running for 4 hours and 45 minutes during our trip.  How many shovel loads of coal did the lady scoop?

*  Approximately how much did each scoop weigh?

*  We stopped at Whittaker Station for 25 minutes and at Bald Knob for 55 minutes.  What was our average speed when the train was moving?

*  The elevation at the train depot in Cass is 2,443 feet.  At Bald Knob the elevation is 4,842 feet.  What is the average slope of the tracks going up the mountain?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Problem-Solving on the Job!

Colonial Millwork manufactures hardwood moldings mainly to sell to cabinet and flooring manufacturers.  This business uses a very similar process to Wilson Millworks (see post from July 16, 2012).  So during our visit today I want to look beyond the overall process to some of the finer details and especially problem-solving techniques.

Problem:  An age-old problem for millwork companies was the high ratio of scrap to usable wood (50/50).  Boards come to the mills in random widths and lengths.  When ripping boards,  workers would have to eye the wood and slide it over so that the table saw would cut in such a way to get as many usable pieces as possible.  

Solution:  Lasers shine onto the loader indicating where the saw blades are located.  This allows the worker to be certain they are getting the most out of each board.  (There are also some automatic machines that line it up without the manual labor.)
Notice the red lasers!
Problem:  Lots and lots of sawdust and wood chips!!

Solution:  An impressive array of vacuums and pipes run from each machine in the plant outdoors depositing the sawdust and wood chips into trailers which are sold to Hamer Pellet Fuel (see post from July 16, 2012).  This not only eliminates the sawdust problem, but allows the company to make money from their "trash!"

Problem:  Quality control

Solution:  In addition to making a plastic cutout of the profile and the knife, Colonial also cuts out a plastic guide that can slide across the finished product to ensure each piece is uniform.  They can also send these to the customer if they desire "proof."

Problem:  Small pieces need to be cut from larger pieces without wasting wood.  (Example:  Quarter round)

Solution:  A knife is created that cuts the blank in the center producing two identical pieces of product.  

This is a model that shows two pieces of quarter round cut from the same piece of wood.
 Problem:  Struggling economy means less demand for products.

Solution:  Think outside the box and open up to new, yet similar products.  For example, Colonial now produces parts for picture framing companies as well as wine and spice racks, and even a huge ceiling project for Disney World (see pictures below)!

Black felt is manually stapled behind carefully spaced pieces of wood so Disney visitors cannot see through to the rafters. 
Disney's finished project ready to ship.

Whether you are in school trying to figure out a complicated word problem or in the "real-world" and notice inefficiency, don't let problems stump you.  Think of them as puzzles or fun challenges.  Often it takes several (sometime MANY) attempts to find a good solution.  Remember Thomas Edison once said, "I have not failed.  I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."  He only had to find ONE way that did work!  Always be part of the solution, not part of the problem!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Frank E. Wilson Lumber Co. Inc. and Wilson Quality Millworks, Inc.

Frank E. Wilson Lumber Co. Inc. is located in Elkins, WV.  They produce green stock and a broad range of kiln dried Appalachian Hardwoods (Ash, Basswood, Cherry, Maple, Oak, Hickory, Poplar, and Walnut), supplying both rough and surfaced lumber.  There is currently between 1.25 and 1.5 million board feet of lumber here.

The process:
Step 1 - Purchase green lumber from sawmills and grade it according to species, length, grade, and footage.  Most of their wood comes from a 100 mile radius.
The inspector has approximately 3 seconds to check the quality of the board and assign a grade to it.  A scanner then measures the board.

This grader measures board footage using a special tool.

The tool used to quickly measure board footage.
Step 2 - Kiln dry the wood in a controlled manner.  The time it takes for a load to dry depends on species and thickness, but it can take anywhere from 7 days to 4 months.  The dry temperature in the kiln begins around 100 degrees Fahrenheit and is slowly increased to 160 degrees.  The wet temperature is also controlled to make sure the wood does not dry too fast which could cause the boards to crack.  Moisture content can also be determine by the following formula:
(Wet weight - Dry weight) / Dry weight = Moisture content (in %)

Wet wood is stacked in the kiln.
10 2-ft boards are used as samples to be tested daily for moisture content.
Wood remains in the kiln until the moisture content (as shown by this drying guide) is around 6%.

Moisture contents of each sample is carefully recorded each day.  These results determine when to raise the temperature in the kilns.

Temperature recorder for one of the kilns.  The red indicates the dry temperature while the green is the wet temperature.

Wilson Quality Millworks, Inc. is a sister company to the lumber company.  Approximately 70% of the wood (mostly maple, oak, and poplar) they use come from the adjacent lumber company, but it is run as a separate business.  They have stock molding, hand rails, etc... but also create custom molding.  (The customer must be willing to pay a set up cost of approximately $300 for the custom knife.)

The Process:
Step 1 - Use a computer to draw a profile of the molding to be created.

Step 2 - Cut a plastic template which is used to cut the custom knife (made of steel or carbide).

Step 3 - Place the knife on the "molder" which cuts the profile of the wood from blanks.  (Blanks are square pieces of wood that have gone through the planar and been cut to specific lengths and widths.)

Step 4 - The molding is passed through a sander and, if the customer desires, it will be stained, painted, and/or sealed before being shipped.