How to Ruin a Sawmill in One Easy Step

POST DATE Sep 02, 2016


If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know that my most impassioned posts are often a direct result of me receiving a sawguide sample in the mail. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of dismal sawguides and I keep thinking I’ve seen the worst, but then I keep getting surprised. Just a few days ago, another mangled piece of aluminum sat in front of me, staring back at me as I stared at it wondering just exactly what in tarnation had happened to this thing.

Often, by the time sawguide samples get to me, they’ve been in service for a long time so they arrive quite beaten up. This particular one looked like a butcher had hacked away at it with a pickaxe for an extended period of time. But its condition wasn’t even the worst part. The actual worst part? The mill was still using it so they needed it back! Wow!

In order to protect the innocent, I will not post the picture of it here. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that this was truly the worst sawguide I’d ever seen in my thirty years of manufacturing experience. 

The sawmill where this guide came from was experiencing a lot of downtime. Their cost of downtime was over $500 per minute, and they told me downtime was happening about every two hours. What a hot mess! As seems to be the pattern with this particular case, that wasn’t even the worst part. The truly worst part was that the thing causing their excessive downtime was… recovery.

As a wise friend of mine once said, there are three important things that a sawmill needs in order to be successful. They are:

  1. Quality
  2. Uptime
  3. Recovery

They are in that order for a reason. The first two are very important.

If you have no quality, then obviously your lumber is sold at an extreme discount which can make your mill unprofitable and unstable. If you have a lack of uptime — or in other words, excessive downtime — then you have no output and therefore no revenue. Until quality and uptime are mastered, a mill should not even worry about recovery. Recovery is the fine-tuning of a sawmill to maximize profitability when it already has excellent quality and high uptime.

So it becomes a problem when mills prioritize recovery above the other two, as many have in recent years. This is what the mill did that sent me this absolutely destroyed sawguide (and remember, they wanted it back… to use it). When they actually made changes that improved quality and uptime, those changes were reversed because they affected recovery. But the carnage that takes place every few hours is ugly, and at $500 per minute, isn’t cheap either. I didn’t even make that number up, the cost per minute really is five hundred dollars. 

I understand recovery is important, but it should never be at the expense of quality and uptime. If you take this philosophy of “Making Recovery a Priority” to its logical end, then real success is if you have no uptime at all. Then your recovery will be amazing. 

It’s really as simple as any other business. When you have low quality and low productivity (uptime), then revenues will be low. When revenues are low, it means little to no profits and without profit, why be in business? 

I’m still staring at this lump of aluminum that should really be sent to the recycler instead of back to the mill. I feel sorry for the people working at this mill who have to endure this constant downtime cycle day after day. Can you imagine your car breaking down every two hours? No, you can’t, because if that happened, you’d replace your car pretty quickly! 

The writing may be on the wall for this sawmill, all because recovery was made the priority above all else. I hope someone there realizes the problem of this way of thinking before it’s too late.

Give me some insight into how your sawmill operates: what are your priorities?

Udo Jahn

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