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Seneca Sawmill Cuts Costs and Time With GUI and Web Technology


Marjorie Crouse programmer/analyst with Seneca— Photo by William Bragg

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Customer: Seneca Sawmill Company
Headquarters: Eugene, Ore.
Business: Sustainable timber processing
Challenge: Automating many manual and time-consuming processes
Solution: Using several Business Computer Design (BCD) tools to extend its RPG applications across its operations
Hardware: An IBM Power 720 Express and IBM System i 270
Software: BCD’s Presto, WebSmart ILE, Clover, Catapult and Nexus Portal; and Barcode400 from T.L. Ashford

It’s a sawmill cliché: Thundering trucks stacked high with raw timber, sawdust flying around in the mill, wood chips on the floor. To some extent, that’s still true, but companies such as Seneca Sawmill Company are poised to turn this on its head.

Seneca is using advanced technology throughout its mills, not just in terms of how trees are sustainably processed and sawn into lumber, but also—using several tools from Business Computer Design (BCD)—in how information about its business is gathered and shared, from the front gate to the back office.

“Not only is upper management using the new interfaces, which we expected, but also our forklift drivers. At the beginning of this project, we never envisioned them having iPads mounted on their machines,” remarks Marjorie Crouse, programmer/analyst with Seneca. “Now, though, GUI- and Web-based access to our RPG systems is available nearly everywhere on our properties.”

Environmentally Responsible

Headquartered in Eugene, Ore., Seneca has grown since its inception in 1954, when it consisted of a single sawmill operation. It now has four mills—three in Eugene and one in Noti, Ore.—and a multicompany structure that includes Seneca Sawmill Company, Seneca Jones Timber Company, Seneca Noti and Seneca Sustainable Energy.

Founded by Aaron Jones, whose daughters Becky, Kathy and Jody are transitioning into more active roles as owners, Seneca produces more than 650 million board feet of lumber a year, up from 18 million in 1954. The company is one of the largest one-site mills in the U.S.

Seneca Sawmill and Seneca Noti sit at the core of the four-company model, processing trees that are either grown by Seneca Jones Timber or purchased from third parties. Seneca Sustainable Energy is what sets the company apart from its competitors, repurposing nearly 100 percent of the byproducts created in the lumber-manufacturing process.

“You might think that our mills would be dirty places, but they’re not. Everything is gathered and used. For example, we sell some of the bark, chips, sawdust and shavings that come out of the mills. We also use some of it—the bark, in particular—as fuel to create steam for our dry kilns for lumber that needs to be dried. Within that process, we also create renewable energy that we then sell back to a local electric company,” Crouse says.

Seneca Programmer/Analyst Steve Hall says that the burning of those byproducts and the energy it generates could supply electricity to 13,000 homes annually. “We’re very sustainable,” he adds.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.


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