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New Cat iron is a welcome addition
Now that the industry is getting back to normal, Western Forest Products’ Mid Island Forest Operations is building its equipment fleet back up to improve log production, and has found two Caterpillar 568 FM loaders from Finning to be very welcome additions.
By Paul MacDonald
Western Forest Products (WFP) is focused on improving log production at the company’s Mid Island Forest Operations, just north of Campbell River on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia.
“Our focus is on safely getting timber volume in,” says Glenn Galbraith, equipment supervisor of WFP Mid Island. “That’s how you deliver profits and remain sustainable.”
Thanks to the company’s efficient logging and mill operations, WFP has rebounded smartly from the downturn. At the end of October, the company reported net income for the third quarter of 2013 of $17.2 million, on sales of $239.4 million.
But generating that profit requires investment, both to improve productivity and reduce costs. In the case of WFP’s Mid Island Operations, that means investing in logging equipment. The Mid Island logging operations run 22 hours a day, seven days a week. And a key area for improvement is the reduction of equipment downtime.
Since the industry, and WFP, started to turn the corner financially, the WFP Mid Island operation has been rebuilding its logging equipment fleet.
Glen Galbraith, equipment supervisor of Western Forest Products’ Mid Island Forest Operations, says the Cat 568 FM machines are a good fit for their logging operations, which run 22 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We were looking at the equipment line-up and what we needed to replace, from a strategic point of view,” said Galbraith. “Two log loaders that we were using for log loading and hoe chucking were taking up a lot of our mechanics’ time. So we decided to replace them.”
The question was, though, replace them with what?
The majority of logging equipment manufacturers are represented by dealers in Campbell River, a major hub for logging on northern Vancouver Island.
For WFP, the solution was to work with the local equipment dealers to test-run all of the equipment that fit the company’s needs and see the results on the ground.
“Along the way, we also decided that we wanted to think outside of the box on how we utilized this equipment at our operations,” explained Galbraith. “For example, we decided that we were going to step down from using 400 series machines, to 300 series machines, simply because we could make our money go further.”
As noted, the machines had been doing a fair bit of hoe chucking. “The plan was to move two of our existing 400 series machines into hoe chucking, and move the new equipment into loading.”
According to Galbraith, there were a number of factors that influenced their decision on the new machines: dealer service, fuel economy, and the overall quality of the machine.
The equipment from the Campbell River dealers went through the paces at Mid Island, and after a lot of thought and discussion among operators, foremen and division management, the decision was made to go with two Caterpillar 568 FM loaders from Finning.
“Pretty much everyone who used the Cat 568 FM liked it,” Galbraith says. “They liked how quietly and smoothly it ran. It has a well-thought out design. The operators said that lots of thought had gone into the ergonomics—the cab seemed to be designed around the person—which plays an important role in the health and safety of our workers.”
Another factor was that Finning has a modern piece of equipment in the Cat 568 FM. The machine is equipped with a Cat C9.3 engine that delivers gross power of 319 hp. The C9.3 ACERT engine delivers more horsepower using less fuel than the previous series engine and is equipped to meet current Tier 4 Interim emissions standards.
“Emission controls are a concern to us,” says Galbraith. “We need to acknowledge this, train our staff and ensure we’re up to speed on emission controls.”
Service proved to be the deciding point in the choice. “The overwhelming factor was that we felt Finning offered the best support. They were there with the most mechanics and the most technical knowledge.
“We were thinking that if we were going to buy these machines and perhaps more, we wanted to make sure that there is going to be someone there to fully support them,” added Galbraith.
Cat 568 FM with a T-Mar Industries grapple.
Another consideration is that WFP’s Mid Island Operations has a large number of heavy duty mechanic apprentices nearing the end of their training. “I thought it would be ideal to get a state-of-the-art machine; with the new knowledge the apprentices have coming out of school, they’re ready to jump on the 568s.”
Having challenging work for their newly certified mechanics is a bonus, considering the competitive marketplace for mechanics. The operation has a total of 32 mechanics, a fair number of whom are under the age of 30. “They are bright young guys, and our workforce succession will be looking good in a couple of years, having made the decision to go with the apprentices. But we want to keep them engaged and having new equipment to work on is part of that.”
In terms of technology, WFP’s Mid Island is essentially following what the equipment manufacturers are saying and what the industry is saying: get used to technology because it’s here to stay.
Overall, says Galbraith, they believe they ended up with a nicely finished machine in the 568 FM that’s very user friendly from the mechanics’ perspective. “It’s more technical than most of the guys are used to, but Finning has provided training.”
WFP discussed with Finning how it will assist with the technical aspects of the machines, the software and the ability to download information from the machines. “Basically, we wanted to know how Finning was going to help us get there,” explained Galbraith.
Finning brought in technical people to review the machines, and followed up with several two-day training courses for the heavy duty mechanics.
Galbraith knows a fair number of the apprentices; he used to teach in the heavy duty mechanics program at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo. He says that having teaching experience has been helpful in managing the shop and the apprentices. “It helps me sort out where these guys are with their training. We’re doing our best to expose them to what they will see in school. It also helps me with some of the incidental training around here.” Galbraith has extensive equipment air conditioning experience, and occasionally puts on mini-seminars, to keep their mechanics up to speed with what’s going on.
The shop work at Mid Island, and who does it, is well thought out. “If we have an Allison six-speed automatic in for repairs, if we don’t do it in-house, we’ll get one of the local guys to repair it,” says Galbraith. “But we’ll send one of our apprentices to work with them. It really helps their knowledge. So when they go into fourth year, they are set because they talk about Allison six speeds and differentials, and they have been there, and done that.”
On the equipment maintenance side, the Mid Island Operation, like many in the industry, has relied on Microsoft Access and Excel programs for tracking maintenance and repairs. However, the operation—and its sister operation in Gold River on the Island—recently adopted MP2 maintenance software. It allows better tracking of repairs and producing of reports (e.g. determining costs for the operation to fix brakes on their pick-ups annually). Eventually, they will be able to get downtime reports for each piece of logging equipment at the division.
They are tied into Cat’s VisionLink telemetrics system with the two new Cat 568 FM machines. “It has opened our eyes to this technology’s potential,” says Galbraith. “It’s always good to know where your equipment is at, and where you are at in terms of hours for servicing. And if you have an operator out in the bush who has a light come up on his dash, you’re able to look at it and know whether it is serious or not.”
With that kind of information, they are able to determine what they need before the shop truck leaves the yard. “We don’t have to physically touch the machines to know what’s wrong with them.”
In addition to the two Cat 568 FM loaders, they have a Cat 568 Roadbuilder and a Cat 980H wheel loader that are also on VisionLink.
They would like to employ telematics on other equipment, and have talked with Inland Kenworth about getting a system for their 18 trucks.
Expanding telematics is just a matter of time, says Galbraith. However, they need to keep on top of the costs of implementing it on a broad scale. ‘We’re going to get there. But it’s like buying that big screen TV. You’re watching the cost of the technology come down—and questioning if you should buy it now or wait six months?”
Interestingly, they are looking at putting in tablets in the cabs of their shop trucks, to help keep track of equipment in the bush.
Since they operate around the clock, finding equipment at night can sometimes be a struggle. Signage is posted, and the white boards in the shop on equipment locations are kept up to date, but sometimes a piece of equipment will end up working down one spur, instead of another.
“We can lose time on service guys not being able to find equipment at night,” explains Galbraith. “You can probably pay for a tablet in one week by being able to find a machine that would have normally been difficult to find.” Detailed company maps and machine locations would be downloaded to the tablets.
With the industry, and WFP, doing reasonably well, the division is looking to replace some additional equipment, having gone through difficult financial times. “We were doing a lot of patching to keep equipment going, and focused on holding the business together.”
They are looking at upgrading their logging truck fleet, which do about 3,000 hours a year, most of that off-road. And they are looking at upgrading their pick-ups, some of which now have 300,000 kilometres on the clock, most of that off-road. When you factor the rule of thumb that off-road mileage is about three times as tough as on-road, these trucks are not too far off having the equivalent of a million kilometres on the clock.
Galbraith says one of their biggest challenges is to keep their logging trucks rolling. “For us to do well, and keep things happening out in the bush, we have to keep a minimum of 14 trucks going. And to do that, we have to jump on any downtime, as soon as we see it coming.”
They keep a good supply of parts on hand, but it is not like they have a spare engine just hanging around. For that, they rely on suppliers like Independent Diesel Sales Ltd (IDSL) of Nanaimo. They needed an engine for one of their Kobelco 475 log loaders earlier this year, and IDSL was able to help in a very timely manner. “The loader was in a tight spot in a landing, and we were able to get in there and have the loader operating in 48 hours.”
What makes this all happen is their crew of heavy duty mechanics. Mid Island has a huge advantage in terms of attracting heavy duty mechanics, since it is located near a major centre, Campbell River, and the company offers competitive wages, says Galbraith. And that’s a consideration when mechanics can easily relocate to the oilfields and Fort McMurray. Campbell River is also a great place to live. It offers many recreational activities, including some of the best salmon fishing on the coast. Also, with the resurgence of the coastal forest industry and the capital investments WFP is making across its operations, Mid Island operations is making it an interesting and challenging place to work.