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Supported by a long history of sawmilling, Austria’s Offner stays on the cutting edge of markets and technology.

In general, things in Europe are a lot older than things in America — one of the reasons many Americans tend to be so fascinated with Europe and all things European. Europe has a richness of culture, history and architecture that dates back to before the U.S., as we know it, had its earliest non-native settlements. Johann Offner Holzindustrie(Wood Industry) — part of the Johann Offner Group — is a good example. Many North American sawmills are family businesses passed down through several generations; Offner is a family company that has been passed down to succeeding generations, from father to son, since 1755 — 21 years before the 13 colonies even declared, let alone won, their independence from the British crown to establish the United States. With more than 255 years of history behind it, Offner is currently under the management of the seventh generation of the family, represented by Johann Michael Offner. Although it operates one of the largest modernized sawmills in Europe, Offner did not start out in the wood products business and is not limited to it today. Its roots are in ironworks, with a tradition that can be traced back to the Middle Ages — the first known mention of it indocuments dates to around 1600. Today the Johann Offner Group has under its umbrella several lines of hand-held gardening tools—rakes, shovels—and silverware—about 70% of the forks in the U.S.come from Offner. “If it came from Aus-tria, it came from us,” J.M. Offner says. Offner products can be found at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sears and the like. The family added a lumber mill to the ironworks facility in 1860 and over the next century grew into a major force in the Austrian wood products industry. Offner installed its first Linck line in 1982, were the first mill producing eight sideboards,and had the first high-output Linck profiling line capable of processing round logs up to a 62 cm (24 in.) small end diameter. Today, its mill produces lumber for timber planing, glue laminated products, KVH(engineered solid wood structural beams) and packaging materials.

The Linck profiling line was the first to process logs of 62 cm small-end diameter at high volumes.
The Springer sorting line sends each log to its appropriate bin for its size and grade.
A wheel loader retrieves a batch from a single bin for processing, one bin at a time.
Johann Michael Offner

Output. Offner’s 2008 output was 340,000 cu.meters (144MMBF) of lumber, processed from 550,000 solid cu. meters of round logs. Products are sold both green and dried and half of production is exported, primarily to the Arab world, Italy, Japan, other EU countries, and former Eastern Bloc countries. Log supply is mostly local, with 80% coming from within 100 km (62 miles) of the mill, while the remaining 20% comes from Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Much of the supply is large diameter logs, the reason that Offner had to work with Linck and Springer to develop a profiling system that could handle those sizes. About a tenth of supply is bought as standing wood, and the rest is gatewood,cut and delivered by contract harvesters hired by private landowners. Major species are spruce and fir, while larch and pine sell as roundwood. The mill operation employs 115, including production crew, log buyers, truck drivers and administration. Rochus Sachadonig is the mill manager. About 95% of Offner’s products are cut to 4 m (13 ft.) lengths. Sideboards are cut to dimensions ranging from12x60 mm (nearly ½ in. x 2.4 in.) up to150x320 mm, and centerboards from 24x100 mm up to 60x300 mm. Building materials represent 80% of production and 20% is for packaging and transport. The packaging market in Europe requires 12-20 mm (over ¾ in.) board thickness.

Production. Upon loading onto the initial infeed, logs pass through a Boekels metal detector, and from there to a Nicholson A8 debarker. A Springer housing follows the debarker as protection from log up turns. Maximum speed at the infeed line is 240 m (787 ft.) per minute. Logs then go to a bucking line where saws trim for length at both ends—butt end on the left, top on the right. After the debarker, a Springer line sorts logs according to grade, diameter and length and separates into a different bin for each combination. Sprecher Automation scanners dictate which logs are released to which bin. Typically the mill runs only one size at a time, processing everything from a single bin with the same sawing solution. The mill has two sorting lines because there is not enough space for all the separations on one line, or for the high piece count produced by the Linck profiling line. Offner had for some time been less than satisfied with the recovery offered by bandsaws, especially when dealing with logs larger than 35 cm (almost 14 in.) on the small end. The 1982 line was designed only to handle diameters up to 43 cm (17in.). To solve the problem, in 2006 Linck installed a sideboard optimizing system after both Linck V50 chipper canters guided by Sprecher Automation Sprescan 3D cant scanners. Both recovery and feed speeds have improved. Linck log infeed station positions logs with the large end first and leads to the Linck profiling line, including a series of saws and profilers. Two Linck V50 chipper canters process the logs first, sending chips to a Vecoplan chip screen via a TC Maschinenbau waste conveyer that runs throughout the lines. Two Linck CSMK sawing units take sideboards from each cant. The sideboards drop off the main line to six conveyor belts on either side leading to a second level underneath for sorting and grading thanks to the Springer sorting line, while the centerboards move ahead straight up the middle. A Linck MKV double arbor gang saw is in place to cut square timbers. Centerboards are cut into three pieces and transferred from the top conveyor to an unscrambler. The first grading station is set up directly after the unscrambler on the top side for the centerboards, with another underneath the conveyor for the sideboards. A Microtec length measurement system then determines the alignment to attain the proper board edge. After the second grader and the Springer lug loader, a paddle fence is positioned for a Springer flying end trimmer. The trimmer saws are fixed, and the trimmer is situated on the same level as the conveyor. From this trimmer, centerboards flow to a Springer sorting conveyor. Rejects go down, then to a horizontal sorter, also from Springer. From there, everything flows to a Springer fully automatic sticker stacker. Outside the mill, Offner features 25 kilns by Vanicek with a capacity to dry 500,000 cu. m per year—about 80% of potential output. Lifts and loaders by Kalmar, Volvo and Liebherr unload log trucks and transport packs of lumber to and from the kilns and to storage for shipment to customers.

At the infeed line control booth, the operator observes and controls the process with help from Sprecher scanners.
Two Linck V50 chipper canters make the initial breakdown, followed by CSMK units removing sideboards.
Springer sorting lines separate logs and lumber, sideboards and cants, throughout the mill.

Europe. J.M. Offner has been the Chairman of both the Austrian and the European Sawmill Assn. for the past six years, giving him some big picture perspective on the state of the wood products industry on the continent. He says the association has forecast European production in 2010 to be about 74 million cubic meters, which is 5-6% more than in 2006, though headds that the European lumber market is down by 25% over 2007. Offner says there is a shortage of logs throughout Europe except in Sweden and the Baltic states, adding that landowners are not cutting their timber because they don’t have to, thanks to government subsidies. “But it’s just as well,” he observes. “We would overdo it. ”Industries have been forced to let go of many people to reduce costs, but as Europe comes out of the recession, the companies that have survived will be stronger, Offner is convinced. He says there is no growth in Europe, no building taking place, especially in England and Spain. The Arab countries are doing comparatively well due to oil, he says, as long as the price stays at 75 euros or more. “I think the recession will be over this year,” he says. “I expect it to be good from 2011 on.” Growth, he notes, is forecast at 5-6% next year, which is much less than at the industry’s peak several years ago, but an improvement.

Austria. The Austrian Sawmill Assn. has many functions to serve the industry. It has a school in Salzburg with 700 students, 15-18 years old, training for careers in the sawmill industry. The association also works with labor unions to determine wages, organizes research and development, and facilitates marketing of wood products. The goal, Offner says, is not just to increase consumption in Austria, but also to expand markets in surrounding areas, especially the former Eastern Bloc. He says the Austrian Sawmill Assn. is the biggest network of its kind among all industries in Austria. In Europe as a whole, 3.5 million people live directly from the forest industry. The association keeps close track of industry statistics, with its finger on the industry’s pulse, and unites all aspects of the wood industry under a single platform to increase political influence. “Unified, we are stronger,” Offner says. Since the mid-1980s, he notes, Germany had enjoyed a large windfall every two to three years, and there were always enough logs, so log prices were low, and many sawmills were not up to date on the latest technology because they didn’t have to be. Now that is no longer the case. With a population of 8 million people—the same as New York City—Austria has quite a few saw mills per capita—Offner says there are some 1,200 sawmills of various size in operation. Of those, the eight largest mills cut 60% of the total lumber output, and the 40 largest account for 90% of production. So, the remainder, about 1,150 sawmills, combined produce roughly 10% of Austria’s lumber output. Offner says that 55% of Austria’s production goes to export, and 60% of that is exported to Italy. The balance is divided among the Middle Eastern countries, Germany and the rest of the EU. Offner and the Austrian producers enjoyed a robust export market to the United States in 2005-2006, but exports to the U.S. market were down severely by 2009. Chip and sawdust prices have recovered in recent months. Much of the raw material now goes to producing pellets, a market that has a very strong presence in the EU. Fiberboard and paper companies are losing raw material to pellet makers. “Thank God, they have now a competition,” he observes.