ONSITE OR OFFSITE
By Paul Smith, owner and CEO of Smith Sawmill Service, LLC
with locations in Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
It's been said that having a sawmill without a filing room is like having a grocery store without a meat market. I would certainly not argue such a statement, but, I will say, both have advantages and disadvantages.
The most common issue on either side of the argument centers around the saw filers or other personnel. While a sawmill needs to staff a filing room with full-time, experienced saw filers, the offsite repair center can be operated with personnel trained in and responsible for one specific area or job. The majority of sawmills expect full-time circular saw filers who can and will do everything to a circular saw, from cleaning to placing the ready-to-run saw in the saw box. This includes inspection, replacing tips, leveling/tensioning, proper grinding and, of course, upkeep on filing room equipment. In contrast, offsite repair facilities have departments manned with personnel trained or only perfect one of these jobs at a time, allowing saws to move through the different departments much like an assembly line. The offsite shop may only require one trained filer who can oversee skill-specific employees in each department to make sure the finished saw is within specs and ready to run when received by the mill.
Some sawmills and repair centers today are equipped with CNC machine centers. This technology can help personnel do their job accurately while meeting the volume of repair needed to maintain the sawmill. However, these machines still need experienced saw filers to make sure they are maintained and checked for accuracy. Just as spell-check may allow a word to be correctly spelled, but incorrectly used for a sentence, a CNC machine may grind a saw as programmed, but still not be the correct specification if the wrong person is chosen or the specifications need tweaking. A machine will also not indicate when it is out of tolerance because of mechanics or other programming issues. In my opinion, the saws that meet the requirements of most sawmills today are not attainable without an experienced saw filer's attention.
Deciding what would work best for your mill will take careful planning and important decision making. My thoughts: if you have the personnel to run an in-house filing room - people dedicated to maintaining the tools needed, including new machinery, technology and support for your filing room - then, of course, you should have your own filing room. If it seems almost impossible to keep experienced personnel and you are hesitant to invest in upgrading your filing room, then there is a good chance you need to consider sending your saws out for repair.
It is becoming increasingly common to see new high-tech mills leave the circular saw filing to professional saw shops. These mills are concentrated on producing lumber without the expense and headache of having an in-house filing room. An efficient, cost-effective, state-of-the-art filing room will need to be utilized whether it is at your location or offsite. Even with saws being repaired offsite, the mill will need experienced personnel for saw changing, guides and knowledge of alignment and machine operations. Great communication is needed between the mill and the offsite filing room, just as with an in-house filing room. Teamwork is essential for success in either situation.
We have encouraged some of the larger producers with sawmills within driving distance to have a centralized saw shop that takes care of multiple mills. On paper, the set-up is markably efficient, leading to significant cost savings. Utilizing one filing room for three or more mills helps with labor cost since one experienced filer can run the centralized shop rather staffing one head filer for each mill. We do have a couple of large companies that have done this for the last few years and they seem to be pleased with the outcome.
Whether it's an in-house filing room, a shared filing room between multiple mills, or an offsite repair shop, we encourage all mills to be as efficient as possible without hurting saw quality.