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Z-Tec, inc.jet's breakthrough improves lumber coding at Canadian mill

Innovative use of HP technology delivers high quality print on lumber at top speeds, virtually eliminating downtime

Lumber passes from left to right under the metal ski that houses the print heads. The fixture protects the print heads from phy
Lumber passes from left to right under the metal ski that houses the print heads. The fixture protects the print heads from phy

"Tough” would be a modest term to describe the mill environment at Canadian Forest Products Ltd. (Canfor) Isle Pierre BC where towering tree trunks are turned into planed lumber in a rugged industrial process. The facility just west of Prince George BC has to grade stamp lumber that is headed for home center retailers in North America. This application puts HP thermal inkjet technology to a real test as there are many non-negotiable tasks for this system.

The grade stamping system has to:

• print highly legible text and graphics on planed lumber surfaces

• withstand a harsh dusty environment that challenges other printing technologies

• handle a production line running up to 200 pieces per minute with the potential to go up to 250 pieces per minute and

• change grade stamps in random order on each piece as it speeds along the production line.

Canfor supplies lumber to retailers such as Home Depot and Lowes. These retailers are known for an emphasis on quality that extends to products such as lumber. Each piece must carry a “grade stamp” which identifies the quality of the lumber.

Grade stamps are printed directly on top of each board as it speeds along a chain transfer running at up to 200 pieces per minute. At these speeds the possibility for damaging a print head is always present.

“We actually had situations when a broken board smashed into our previous inkjet printer” says Budd Wasylyshen Finishing End Superintendent at the Isle Pierre facility.

“We needed a ‘bullet proof’ design for the new inkjet.”

Addressing system needs

Z-Tec Automation Systems Inc. a Canadian company in Langley BC provided an innovative solution. In collaboration with inc.jet inc. an HP licensed partner Z-Tec developed a lumber marking system that is miles ahead of the competition.

The previous grade stamping technology involved a wheel with a pliable rubber stamp that put grade stamps directly onto the lumber. Several drawbacks were the poor quality of the printed output wear and tear of the expensive rubber stamps and messy ink handling.

Until now the most recent inkjet technology was not dependable for producing a completely legible grade stamp and was costly to maintain. “A used machine cost about $10 to replace or fix” said Wasylyshen.

Z-Tec developed the first lumber marking system utilizing HP printing technology supplied through inc.jet inc. The system delivers crisp clear print quality and is less costly to purchase and operate than any other inkjet system available today. It is an “industrial-strength” version of the same technology used in HP office printers.

Z-Tec designed a ski-shaped metal plate custom-machined to carry multiple HP print heads. This allows the print heads to be close to the lumber while providing maximum protection. The entire ski assembly swings to accommodate any impact that might occur from a warped twisted or broken board. The print head itself does not come into contact with the passing lumber.

“The concept was to have as little equipment as possible exposed to broken lumber or mill jam-ups” explains Zdenek Kulle president of Z-Tec Automation Systems Inc.

But even if a piece of lumber should twist and break to scratch the print heads the damage is minimal. “It’s as easy as popping a new cartridge out of the box and slipping it into place” states Wasylyshen.

Down time is detrimental to Canfor’s operation stresses Wasylyshen “If that machine goes down you have to have the whole line down. We’re in a production business and it is important to keep the lumber transfer chain running as much as possible. If it’s down minutes become hundreds of dollars quickly. With the new print heads even if dust on the heads causes smudged printing it’s just a matter of wiping them with a tissue and you’re running again.”

With the earlier systems supervisors spent a considerable amount of time on each shift trying to pinpoint problems. “And the marks weren’t that legible” Wasylyshen observes.

In contrast the WinJet system developed by Z-Tec is user-friendly. “With the WinJet system we’re in a Windows® based program. With a click of a mouse we can change a product name or a font in a few seconds” he continues. “And the print quality is enormously improved.”

Random changes

WinJet’s software and PC-based controller meet another need of the Canfor installation—the need to change lumber identification marks from piece-to-piece at high production speeds. Each piece of lumber gets a grade stamp printed on it and the grade of each piece is totally random. The control system has been tested to allow grade stamps to change as pieces of lumber speed past the print heads at up to 250 random pieces per minute.

Another benefit of the WinJet system is the quality of the grade stamps. Each piece of lumber is stamped with a logo which includes an image of the Canadian maple leaf. “With the old system we couldn’t tell that the grade stamp included the maple leaf” Wasylyshen says. “The day we could actually see the image was the day we put in the WinJet system. The difference is phenomenal.”

The teamwork between Z-Tec Automation Systems Inc. inc.jet inc. and HP has shown just how far HP thermal inkjet technology can go into industrial production realms never dreamt of before. With dedicated ingenuity

and an impressive entrepreneurial spirit Z-Tec Automation Systems Inc. has delivered a solution to a wide-range customer base in the lumber industry and has proved that the possibilities truly are endless.

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