(Sanford, ME)  Nestled on a quiet street in a small town, overlooking the shore of Estes Lake in southern Maine is Lavalley Lumber.  A family owned sawmill for over 50 years, Lavalley specializes in producing Eastern White Pine.

As with any sawmill, logs are the necessary raw material for their end product.  Up until 1999, log purchasing, log sales and log inventory made up only a small portion of the overall business for Lavalley Lumber.  However, the time it was taking to collect and  decipher, add and enter all handwritten scale slips, as well as re-tally and pay loggers was tremendous. 

  Recalling the old ways

Pam Smith who handles Lavalley Lumber’s accounts payables for each of their three locations and various divisions recalls the protocol for gathering and entering scale slips each day.  “We used three part scale slips.  Each day, I’d receive the scale slips, count all logs by hand, and total each slip and total slips by loggers.  After getting organized, I’d get out our pricing book and assign cash values to the scale slips.  Those slips and values would then be entered into our computer system.”

“We pay loggers each Thursday, so each Wednesday I’d recall the slips and tally by hand the total to be paid that week to each logger.  Of course, I’d have to have the totals double checked to be sure everything was correct before cutting checks.”

Pam states that the process took on average two or three hours per day and an extra 2 hours per week to total up the slips. 

"About 17 hours a week or so was being tied up with scale slips.  That is, assuming all slips were legible and there were no errors.”

I asked Pam to recall what the most difficult aspect of the old system was.  After a quick pause, she stated the “slips that got wet from snow or rain”.  She then went on to describe a scene of wet, three part scale slips hanging off the back of office chairs and dangling from the top of filing cabinets until they dried. 

“It could get a bit messy”, Smith recalled.

The New System  

Simply Computing’s Log Scaling Pro software includes both a front-end data collecting module and a back office, Windows based software package.

Lavalley chose the Husky FS3 handheld computer as their “in the field” data collector.  The hand-held unit provides an all-weather solution that enables the scalers to enter scale slips electronically, regardless of weather.

The hand-held unit is a weather-proof,computer that maintains information such as price list, grades, species and inventory.  Programmable to hold more than one application at one time, the hand-held computer communicates with the office computers using a serial or parallel port and data cable.  Repetitive tasks can be assigned a shortcut key or “macro key” to shorten the keystrokes.  Lavalley communicates with the office computers once a day but can hold a weeks worth of slips in the hand-held's memory.

Because of the all-weather casing, the hand-held is not affected by rain or snow.  Scalers can punch in data wearing gloves and keep their fingers warm.

"Probably the biggest change I’ve noticed is my hands stay warmer because I don’t have to write anything down”, states Ron Stone, a log scaler for Lavalley Lumber.  “We also don’t have to worry about ink freezing or paper getting wet and tearing, like with the old 3 part slips.”

The hand-held contains data tables with Lavalley’s customer, product and pricing information.  The information is loaded into the hand-held via a serial port connection with one of their office computers.  Ron scales about 12 to 13 loads a day and connects the Husky to download the slips once a day.

Because of the increased attention the scalers can now pay to their surroundings, Ron feels that he can be a bit more careful in the yard.  “Most of the loads go pretty smoothly, but sometimes you’ve got logs that move a little faster coming off the truck.  You’ve got to be alert, especially in the winter months.”

Asked if the amount of time to scale logs has decreased due to the hand-held computers, Ron thought and said “not really”.  He went on to explain that the amount of time it takes to enter the data would be about the same amount of time to write it down.  “Keystrokes and pen strokes take about the same amount of time, really”, states Stone.

 "The real benefit of the system for me is it eliminates the weather from being a factor and eliminates the errors that came from writing quickly or writing in the rain and snow.”

When discussing training and how long it took to learn the system, Larry Nadeau, also a log scaler for Lavalley, stated it took him “about 3 hours”.  “I’m pretty familiar with computers so it was really easy to pick up.  Ron wasn’t so familiar but it still only took two or three days for him to pick it up.” 

Why Simply Computing? 

Jeff Smith, a Lavalley forester and timber purchaser along with Terry Walters, Lavalley’s director of manufacturing are among a group of employees that saw the need to invest in an automated log scaling system.

 “It took a few years, actually, of looking around and making our decision before we finally made the move”, recalls Walters.  “Lavalley was purchased in the spring of 1999 and the first course of action by the new owners was to purchase and install the Simply Computing Log Scaling Pro software.”

When asked how they came about choosing Simply Computing and what attracted them to the package over other packages they had looked at, both Jeff and Terry agreed on the ease of use and the flexibility to do the things Lavalley had been doing for years.

“We looked at quite a few packages, to be honest.  We talked with other companies, even went on site to a few other mills to see what they were using and how it was working for them.  In the end, we were impressed with how much the Simply Computing system did and how user-friendly it was to operate.”  stated Walters.

Smith describes their method of inventory and purchasing logs and how the software helps them manage that inventory.

“We keep a row inventory and each time the sawmill completes a row, I delete it from the system and create a new one.  Its very easy to do and it helps me analyze inventory valuations and what we’re using over time.”

“We don’t seek to purchase a lot of hardwood, but some of our loggers have hardwood from time to time and we purchase it from them to get the lumber off their woodlots.  We have a couple of other mills that purchase the hardwood logs from us”, says Smith “and we keep track of that inventory by establishing special rows in the software and keeping the inventory in our concentration yard.”

By establishing a concentration yard for their hardware and creating specialized inventory rows depending on hardwood grade and customer, Smith is able to accurately track logs bought and sold and easily print reports and invoices without spending much time on the process.

“We do it as a courtesy to our loggers, really.  Hardwood is not our business and it wouldn’t make sense to put an awful lot of time into the process.  The software enables me to manage the inventory transactions and stay focused on our core business.”

Smith spends a few more hours each week working with the log scaling software since Lavalley installed the SCI system.  But the additional hours are for analyzing and organizing inventory and billing, things that he was not able to do as easily before.

“I’m able to get detailed and summarized reports on inventory, purchases and trends that were not available to me before.  With the new information, I can see which species and grades are coming from each individual logger and analyze which species and grades we need to scale back on and which we need to purchase more of.”

Final Results

Frank Kelley, corporate controller, joined Lavalley Lumber after the Simply Computing software was installed and integrated.  In talking with him, he had known no other way of doing business at Lavalley than with the Simply Computing system.

“It runs great”, says Kelley, “we had our annual auditor come in recently and we were able to provide accurate and complete inventory information and be sure it was right for the first time in years.  Even the auditor was impressed.  It went pretty smooth.”

When asked how other employees feel about using the SCI Log Scaling system, Kelley states that it’s been a very positive experience because the software is extremely user-friendly.  “We have a few folks that know how to use the application in case someone is out sick or on vacation.  Its nice to have more than one person responsible and knowledgeable about the software.”

I asked Frank what he felt the biggest impact the software has made?  He answered “definitely the amount of time spent on accounts payable and invoicing.  Pam has really been able to do a lot more in much less time.”

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