By Jim Stirling
If there was a golden wrench award for keeping sawmill yard equipment functioning efficiently over the long term, crews at L&M Lumber Ltd, in Vanderhoof, British Columbia would be prime contenders. The company recently replaced two stationary log deck loaders after a remarkable 20 years of reliable service. That amounts to sorting and feeding multi millions of logs toward the mill for conversion to lumber.
The replacement units are two new Caterpillar 569 loaders. They bring with them two decades of improvements. Delivering logs to the decks to keep the 569s busy are two even more redoubtable mill yard veterans: LeTourneaus, vintage 1969 and 1971 respectively.
“Yeah,” smiles Torall Scott, L&M’s manager, “we’ve got some pretty good mechanics and millwrights.”
L&M and its sister mill, Nechako Lumber Company, have been fixtures in Vanderhoof for more than 35 years. In order to better utilize “waste” products from the sawmilling and planing processes, the company and its partners have diversified their operations into secondary manufacturing. Premium Pellet began production in 2001 using wood residues like planer shavings, chip fines and sawdust. L&M’s wood basket is in one of the regions hardest hit by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. Dead and dying lodgepole pine represent the vast majority of L&M’s fibre diet.
The wood arrives at the mill yard in highway logging truck loads. One of the LeTourneaus unloads them in a single bite and typically decks the wood. L&M doesn’t have a merchandising deck so the LeTourneaus deliver multiple stem length loads, truck load at a time, to each of two live decks. Hour glass rolls move the stems to the reach of the stationary 569 loaders. The electrically driven Cat machines are responsible for setting and maintaining a high piece count to keep the equipment inside the mills running at optimum speeds. The 569s handle about 30,000 logs per eight-hour shift, says Scott. The mill operates two shifts a day. Annual production is around 205 million board feet of dimension lumber from 1x3 to 2x6. The production is marketed mainly in the United States and Japan with some volumes serving the Canadian market.
The new 569s deliver several advantages versus their predecessors. “They’re bigger, they’re easier to turn wood and they have more reach,” summarizes Scott. The 569s are a class size larger than the machines they replace and they also generate more power. The enclosed electric motors can produce 100 horsepower at 1,800 rpm. The 569s are located on the same mounts as the old machines.
The improved ability to turn wood is a key element to the machines’ performance. The wood needs to be oriented butt first, points out Scott. That means being able to turn logs that need repositioning for infeed to the mills’ cut-off saws as simply and quickly as possible despite often tight working quarters.
The additional reach is a benefit. Scott estimates the 10.9 metre knuckleboom 569s gain about three metres of additional reach than the old loaders. The additional three-metre reach means easier pulling of logs from the infeed decks, making it faster to turn them as required and sending them on their way. The size, power and reach of the 569s helps the loaders attain the 30,000 plus logs a shift target.
The operators’ stations employ hydraulic pilot joysticks controls and rocker swing pedals. Operator comfort features, good visibility and protective guarding are standard equipment on the 569s. Maintaining and servicing the 569s is also faster and simpler than accessing the underside of their predecessors. For example, a side panel removal allows access to a major bank for one-shot hose greasing.
Scott says the machines have acquitted themselves well since being commissioned in June 2007. “Just the little hiccups you expect with new machines.” L&M invested in an additional improvement to facilitate the flow of logs into the mill proper. It included installation of two Comact wave feeders for log delivery to the debarkers.
L&M’s 569s were the first to be installed by the Prince George branch of Caterpillar dealer Finning (Canada). But the folks at Finning don’t anticipate they will be the last. They cite the advantages of an electrically driven motor: about a third the cost of a diesel engineand without the emissions. Stationary mounted units don’t have the costs associated with loader machines with undercarriages and tracks
Jason Woodbeck, the Finning sales representative who worked with L&M on the 569 installations, reckons there’s a growing market out there, especially among cost-conscious sawmills which use “cherry picker” style loading systems to feed logs into their mills.