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W D Moore Logging did a brief spreadsheet on the Komatsu PC300 LL, comparing its power, speed and travel with other brands, and the results were convincing. “That was it—we went with the Komatsu,” says Graham Lasure.

Double duty

A new Komatsu PC300 LL with a custom built Pierce boom is working out well for BC logging contractor W D Moore Logging, doing double duty as a hoe chucker and log loader.

By Paul MacDonald

With the uncertainties facing British Columbia’s coastal forest industry—and the amount of used iron that has been going under the gavel at equipment auctions the last several years—it often takes a lot for a logging contractor to make the move to buying brand new equipment.

But eventually any equipment gets worn beyond efficient functionality, and when there is no good used equipment available for purchase it’s time to get out there and kick the tracks on some new equipment. But it’s done with a lot of diligence.

“We definitely take a much closer look at what equipment to buy new,” says Graham Lasure of northern Vancouver Island logging contractor, W D Moore Logging. “We look for the best deal, and there have been some good deals in used equipment at the auctions the last few years. But there comes a time when you have to buy new equipment,” Lasure adds. “You've got to keep your productivity up.”

That was the background to Moore Logging’s purchase of a new Komatsu PC300 LL purpose-built hoe chucker/log loader, equipped with a custom Pierce boom. And eight months into operation, the Komatsu is proving its stuff.

The main focus is on the hoe chucking the company is doing in old growth coastal wood stands of western red cedar, hemlock, and spruce. But the machine is often put into service as a supplementary loader, backing up the operation’s Kobelco SK 400 log loader/chucker.

In normal economic times, purchases of equipment are reviewed thoroughly by Moore Logging. But with the current tough and uncertain times, Lasure says any purchase gets an extra degree of scrutiny—the decision of whether to purchase new, the selection of the machine, and the dealer selling the equipment.

“If it’s an excavator-based piece of equipment like a hoe chucker/log loader, I’ll look at the suppliers and get a quote from each of them for the same type of machine,” he explains. “Generally speaking most modern equipment performs equally well in productivity comparisons, so in a lot of cases it comes down to the purchase price of the equipment and the offered warranty.”

Service and warranty are always key, he notes. “Now, perhaps more than ever, you can’t afford to have a machine down for any length of time because you’re waiting to get a pump or some other part. We want the dealer to have that part on the shelf and out to the site in pretty short order,” he says.

In the case of the hoe chucker/log loader purchase, Lasure had four quotes, and the pricing was quite close. “The difference came down to equipment availability, warranty, and service.”

Lasure says while their equipment buying decisions are made carefully, they are not made by reviewing every single technical feature on the machines. “When I bought my first machine years ago, we got quotes from everyone and we agonized over the small stuff, doing graphs and comparing the theoretical equipment performance. But in the end, I found it did not make a big difference with the buying decision.”

The only change they’ve had to make to the Komatsu was to extend the heel rack. The machine is equipped with an extra large grapple from T-Mar Equipment, of Campbell River, BC. “The grapple was hanging too low and got in the way while pulling yourself around when hoechucking,” explains Graham Lasure. “So Pierce and SMS Equipment engineered a change for the heel rack, and sent us the blueprints. We cut it apart and welded in the extra two foot section ourselves.”

As he noted, most of the heavy equipment in the market is good—and if it’s not, word travels pretty quickly in the logging business that it’s best to avoid a particular piece of equipment. And owners do so.

Lasure adds that it’s also good to keep your options open on the brand of equipment you’re willing to buy (see sidebar story on page 9). He says that Moore Logging had not previously looked at Komatsu equipment—the PC300 LL is their first Komatsu machine—until SMS Equipment sales manager Bill Lant (now retired) put in the time to get them up to speed on what Komatsu machines have to offer.

“The new Komatsu machine has worked out well for us, and that’s from a brand that we had not even considered before,” Lasure says. In the past, the operation had pretty much employed Kobelco, Caterpillar, and Madill loaders.

Part of the deal with Komatsu dealer SMS Equipment, and its branch at Campbell River, was a free try-out. If they weren’t happy with the PC300 LL, Moore Logging just had to pay to low-bed the equipment back to the dealer.

“So we got the Komatsu side by side with the Madill loader we have now, and they went at it, loading logs and hoe chucking. Our operators could not find any perceptible differences in performance.”

They did a brief spreadsheet on the Komatsu, comparing its power, speed and travel with other brands, and the results were convincing. “That was it—we went with the Komatsu.” It’s been performing well, right off the low bed, since late-2007, for Moore Logging.
Lasure says that if the side-by-side trial had involved other major brands, he believes they’d be pretty competitive.

“I think they would all be pretty close in performance. What it comes down to more often than not is the service and the warranty, in addition to the machine itself.

“People will stick with a brand because they get good service—and that’s often the reason people will move to another brand, because they’re not getting good service with the brand they have.”

Not getting good service has a direct impact on a machine’s availability and performance, and that drops right to the bottom line of a logging contractor.

Having put the Komatsu PC 300 LL through the paces, Moore Logging is happy with its performance. Lasure notes the only change they’ve had to make to the machine was to extend the heel rack. The machine is equipped with an extra large grapple from T-Mar Equipment, of Campbell River.

“The grapple was hanging too low and got in the way while pulling yourself around when hoechucking,” explains Lasure. “So Komatsu and SMS Equipment engineered a change for the heel rack and sent us the blueprints. We cut it apart and welded in the extra two-foot section ourselves.”

Lasure notes that fuel consumption on the Komatsu—probably like on just about every piece of new heavy equipment—is fine, but it could be better. “The operator has to be careful to run the machine in economy mode as much as possible. If they run it in power mode, the fuel economy is not that good. As long as it’s in economy mode, the fuel economy is better.” The PC300 LL burns about seven gallons an hour.

While fuel prices have dropped recently, the long term trend is expected to be higher prices, making fuel efficiency that much more important going forward. And it’s becoming a bigger part of the decision to get newer equipment Lasure noted. “We’re starting to look at replacing some of our older machines here,” says Lasure. “The savings can add up quickly. If we can save three gallons of fuel an hour on a machine, and you operate 2,000 hours a year, that adds up to significant savings.”

Providing power on the PC300 LL is a Komatsu SAA6D114E-3 engine which delivers 246 horsepower (flywheel). Operating weight for the machine is 98,839 pounds.

The PC 300 LL is part of Komatsu’s family of purpose-built forestry machines which the company says are designed specifically for the demanding conditions of the logging industry.

Spreading the equipmentpurchases around

The heavy equipment market is pretty competitive these days, with a lot of good product out there.

That explains why some logging contractors, such as BC’s WD Moore Logging, opt for a variety of equipment brands, rather than sticking to just one or two.

“We were into having more of one brand at one point, but I’ve tried not to get into brand loyalty lately,” says Graham Lasure.

“Standardization can be a benefit, but when you do that, you can be beholden to one dealer or manufacturer of equipment.

“I’d rather spread our purchases around a bit.” He believes that the pencils of the equipment sales guys are going to be that much sharper when putting together a deal when they know they can’t take it for granted that a contractor is automatically going to buy one brand.

Spreading it around means that the brand names represented at Moore Logging include Komatsu—with the recently purchased PC300 LL hoe chucker/loader—as well as Caterpillar, Kobelco and Madill.

Nicer equipment cabs could help attract workers

Like a lot of logging contractors in the industry these days, Graham Lasure is working hard to keep his company going—but at the same time, he’s also concerned where future workers are going to come from for the forest industry.

The industry is already seeing a shortage of skilled workers, such as heavy duty mechanics. And with the current downturn, fewer people are looking at the forest industry for a career.

Lasure’s company, WD Moore Logging, is a member of both the Pacific Logging Congress and the Truck Loggers Association. Both organizations are working on programs to attract people to work in the forest industry.

There is not a simple answer to this challenge, but equipment manufacturers and dealers could help out, he says, by making the cab environment of their machines as appealing as possible. And, he reports, some of the suppliers are starting to listen.

“When you get into the cab of that log loader or feller buncher, it should be as nice as getting into a top of the line pickup truck, which is what many employees are accustomed too on their own time,” he says. “It should be quiet, have an excellent stereo, be 100 per cent ergonomic with all the bells and whistles. Why should someone who spends 8 to 12 hours in the cab be subjected to anything less?”

It’s actually pretty simple, he says: the better the working conditions—in this case, the cab—the easier it is to attract workers, and hang on to them.

Lasure notes that the logging industry often has to compete for equipment operators with the construction industry and the high-paying jobs in the oilpatch.

“If one of the manufacturers told us they could build a fantastic cab, and it cost eight or ten thousand dollars more, I’d probably go for it.”