Olympus Pellets

Same Plant, New Brand


Bringing back an in-demand premium pellet, Pacific Coast Fiber Fuels (PCFF) has resurrected the former Atlas consumer fuel pellet plant here in southwest Washington and is moving forward with marketing its new brand—Olympus Pellets.

Built and started up in 2008, the plant is located in a good raw material procurement area and also well situated for the greater Puget Sound market surrounding Seattle and Tacoma. The former owners struggled with debt load during the worst of the 2008-9 economic downturn, and in 2011 the Shelton facility and another closed Atlas plant in Hauser, Id. were acquired by PCFF of Spokane. Though the Shelton mill has re-started, there are no current plans to re-start the Hauser facility.

The designer of the Shelton mill, Greg Folk, remains a part owner of PCFF. Plant Manager Ray Mcleod, who helped start up and operate the Shelton plant originally, stayed on for the re-start and ongoing operations. And Stan Elliot, a former longtime sales executive with pioneer West Coast pellet producer Bear Mountain Forest Products, joined the team and is heading up the Olympus Pellets sales and marketing efforts.

The Shelton plant was actually out of operation for less than a year before the re-start in August 2011, Elliot says, noting the biggest impact was the loss of a complete sales effort in spring and summer 2011 while the acquisition was being finalized.


“I give credit to Greg and Ray for the way they put the plant together, and with Ray knowing the plant so well, getting the plant physically re-started wasn’t as difficult as getting the pellets back out there,” Elliot says, adding that during the prime 2011 spring and summer selling season, “We weren’t sure when the plant would be up and running, so we had a disadvantage going into the fall season.”

Yet the production and the sales staff persevered, and the operation is poised for a strong season going into fall/winter 2012-2013, Elliot says. Making the transition easier is the reputation of the product coming out of the plant, which had done well the two-plus years it operated and established itself as a premium pellet producer. “Especially in the Puget Sound market, this was a very well received and popular consumer pellet,” Elliot says. “We went back to the key dealers who had supported Atlas, showed them we were making the same pellet, and that opened some doors for us. From my years at Bear Mountain, I knew a lot of dealers—some who bought from Bear Mountain and others who didn’t—but who I knew looked for high-quality pellets, and I knew we could provide that.”

Another advantage is the raw material, which is 100% Douglas fir sourced from regional sawmills, about 70% of it in sawdust form. The plant itself, barely four years old, also benefits from newer technology and generally low-cost operation compared to other facilities in the region.

The new owners made a conscious decision to make sure all the production bugs were worked out and the customers fully serviced even if manufacturing and sales were better than expected. “We wanted to leave dealers and customers with a good experience after our first year,” Elliot adds.

Capacity of the plant is 50,000 tons/year, and plans are to produce about 40,000-plus tons this year. The plan is to ramp up the combined production and sales effort before pushing capacity to the limit. “The thing we don’t want to do is over-promise and not be able to deliver,” Elliot says. “We want to be able to fully service the accounts that may sell more than they anticipate and give ourselves some room for upside.”

Design, Flow

A big part of the operation’s “upside” is the plant itself, less than four years old. “This plant was very well designed, with good equipment,” Mcleod says, adding, “It was definitely not under-engineered.”

One striking aspect of touring the plant is the noticeable lack of dust in the air or collected on equipment or other plant surfaces. Both Mcleod and Elliot attribute the lack of dust to Folk’s design that incorporated about 20% more cyclone and baghouse capacity than needed.

“Greg has worked on much larger scale plants than at Shelton, and he’s well aware of dust issues related to fires and explosions,” Elliot says. In addressing the issue, “Instead of having cyclones that met our needs, he built in 20% or more than we needed to really take care of the dust,” he adds. In addition, the facility operates with Grecon spark detectors to guard against any unwanted combustion situations.

Elliot adds that the plant itself is a great sales tool, and Olympus has landed several accounts by walking prospective customers through the facility to see for themselves the clean operating environment and quality finished product.

The Olympus Pellets startup in August 2011 went especially smooth, Mcleod says. “We made three thousand tons the first month, and that was with some employees who had no experience,” he says. Today, he adds, the operation is pushing 4,000 tons/month with only nine employees at the plant.

Olympus Pellets accepts only Douglas fir for its pellet furnish, and raw material is readily available in the local area, Mcleod says. Simpson Lumber runs a large sawmill complex only a few miles from the Olympus plant, plus another mill just across Puget Sound in Tacoma. Other primary raw material suppliers include Sierra-Pacific Industries and Hampton Lumber, which also have mills in the area.

Procured raw material is roughly 70% sawdust and 30% planer shavings. Incoming trucks are weighed at their respective mills, and when drivers enter the Olympus Pellets yard they place their weigh tickets and a load sample in a mailbox.

Using a CSC moisture testing machine, “We test every load for moisture content,” Mcleod says. “And every week we send a report to each mill showing their moisture contents per load and total bone-dry tons.”

With no truck tipper, Olympus requires the use of live-bottom trailers that drop material onto a paved pad. Raw material is moved into three sorts: sawdust, which is usually around 50% MC; green shavings roughly 30-40% MC; and dry shavings that are generally 8-15% MC. Handling, sorting and mixing is done with Caterpillar front-end loaders.

A covered raw material staging and blending area has a low pit at one end that has an infeed bin leading to the dryer. Raw material is blended, then operators fill the infeed bin that can hold about three tons. Raw material is moved to the dryer inlet via a Keigley Co. auger system.

The dryer is a Dupps 12x60 triple-pass unit, wood-fired, with an Onyx 30 million BTU burner. Material leaving the dryer goes into two multi-cyclones for dust removal, then drops to the hammermill infeed system. The hammermill is a Sprout machine featuring two 5⁄16 in. screens.

Exiting the hammermill, pellet furnish is moved with a New York Blower fan system through another cyclone, and on to a surge bin above the pellet mills. The surge bin has two crossover augers that drop material into the pellet mill feed bins.

Mcleod notes that instead of the conditioning tubes that some mills have to control pellet mill infeed, at Shelton the crossover augers have frequency control drives that are used to regulate the amount of material feeding to the pellet machines.

The plant operates two Andritz Sprout 400 HP ring die pellet machines. Mcleod adds that a focused maintenance program and close monitoring of roller head/die clearance, along with quality homogenous raw material, leads to extensive die life. “We do daily, weekly and monthly maintenance checks on all our equipment, and as long as you keep that up you’re going to catch things before they become too big of a problem,” he says.

Leaving the machines, pellets fall to a hot pellet conveyor and to a cooler. At pellet mill outfeed, an innovative natural draft pipe system pulls steam and heat up and off the pellet flow as it hits the hot conveyor, greatly aiding the cooling process and also helping reduce dust levels.

Exiting the cooler, pellets are moved via bucket elevator to a Sprout screening system that removes fines and dust that are routed through the baghouse and to the fuel bin for the dryer burner. From the screening system, pellets go to two bins, each holding 170 tons, that gravity feed onto a belt leading to the bagging system. The plant operates a Hamer bagging line that features Hamer’s duplex weighing system to boost productivity.

Finished bags flow to a robotic palletizer system supplied by Zygot that utilizes a Fuka robot. “The robot system has been outstanding from day one,” Mcleod says. “We do 20 bags a minute with it all day long.”

Completed 50-bag pallets roll down a conveyor to a Lachinmeyer wrapping and hood machine that wraps each pallet and gives it a full plastic hood for extra protection. Finished and wrapped pallets go into inventory and are shipped via contract trucking or customer-arranged trucks.

A monitoring and controls system designed by Automation Electric with input from Mcleod and Folk utilizes Allen-Bradley PLCs. The system allows supervisors to monitor all plant manufacturing activities, from initial fiber infeed to finished pallet wrapping. “We tried to make it as easy as possible for the operators, and they can follow the whole plant flow and know exactly where to go if there’s a problem.”

As for the future, Mcleod says Olympus Pellets is continuing to establish itself, with consistency and quality key aspects of both manufacturing and sales. Once you get to a point where you have your sales up and established, then you can look at things like maybe running your own trucks or making your own pallets—things you can do to get your prices down.”