April 2005 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
Benefits of one brand
A log sort on the BC Coast has found there are benefits in having one brand of mobile equipment—in this case Volvo—but key to it all is receiving a high level of service both from the dealer and the manufacturer.
By Paul MacDonald
While he can take a look out a window near his office to see what’s going on outside, Bill Price, maintenance foreman for Terminal Forest Products’ Langdale, BC dryland sort, really only has to swivel his chair to see what’s happening with the equipment in the yard.
Hanging from the walls immediately beside Price’s desk in the maintenance shop is a line of extremely well organized clipped stacks of paper, each stack representing a single machine in the sort. It contains information on uptime, downtime, and general maintenance records. And these days, almost all of the stacks represent yellow pieces of equipment, as the operation has gone to Volvo in a big way.
Over the years, Terminal did not make equipment changes at the dryland sort at Langdale—just up from Vancouver on BC’s Sunshine Coast—with the idea in mind that they would end up an all-Volvo operation. But thanks to superior service from the local dealer and Volvo itself, it has sure turned out that way. And all this has delivered what Price terms “significant” improvements in downtime.
“In the beginning, one of the Volvo sales reps came by and asked whether we wanted to try one of their wheel loaders,” says Price. “I didn’t think we would go anywhere with that, but we’ve never looked back. We’ve been impressed all the way.”
Terminal tried a variety of other wheel loaders before opting for Volvo “We did our homework and we continue to do our homework,” explains Price. “What we are looking for is consistent performance from the equipment, rather than running along smoothly and then having to do major work like replace a transmission or an engine, which might cost big money.”
Essentially, the operation is always looking to improve on its equipment costs, and they felt they needed more involvement from the manufacturer’s side. And Volvo has been willing to warranty their equipment in a way that they are involved, and Volvo dealer Marcels Equipment has backed that up.
When the sort is looking to replace equipment, Price puts together a comprehensive list of requirements, including their warranty expectations, and the dealers, in turn, respond. So far, Volvo has offered the deal that Terminal is the most comfortable with.
As of a recent trip to the operation, they had two L180 wheel loaders, a L220 wheel loader, one L330D wheel loader, two EC330Bs on tracks. They were looking to replace and add to that line-up with additional Volvo equipment in 2005. Most of the equipment has IMAC grapples, while the balance have Rotobec grapples.
The logs that all this equipment handles arrive by barge or bundled booms and are pulled from Howe Sound. The timber is de-watered and spread out on site for a team of graders to inspect; each log is marked for
The L330D, L220E and L180 loaders lay out the logs, and they are further sorted by the two tracked EC330B units. The L180 machines are the nimble speedsters that pick up the logs, and put them into bunks for strapping.
“The L180s work well for this because they are only picking up three or four logs at a go, because of the different species. But we also use the L220, which is a mid-sized machine that can pack a little more wood than a L180.”
Langdale is the main dryland sort for Terminal Forest Products. It also does contract sorting for other companies, so the place is kept hopping. The 35-acre sort operates seven days a week, 11 hours a day, most of the year.
Paved dryland sorts like Langdale are among the toughest applications for wheel loaders, with relatively high-speed equipment action going on constantly in the yard. In addition to the speeds, there is also the heavy weight of handling large timber and the constant stop and go, back and forth.
“The new computer systems on the equipment allow us to keep track of many functions, such as shifting patterns,” says Price. “The number of shifts from forward to reverse, and vice-versa, is absolutely incredible. It’s easily in the hundreds of thousands of times a year.”
Price notes that while they now have a solid “business partnership” with Volvo and Marcels Equipment, it has been a work in progress. There was the matter of working through a dealership transition when distribution rights to Volvo equipment were transferred from Wajax to Marcels.
“We had our growing pains,” says Price. “Things had to be brought along. Initially, there were some problems with equipment being down and getting parts. But we sat down with them and told them we needed answers and action, and they responded.” They responded to the point that when Terminal was initially having some problems a few years ago, Volvo dispatched engineers from both Sweden and their North American base in Asheville, North Carolina, to help out.
Keeping equipment up and running is key to the Terminal sort’s efficiency. They run an effective and lean operation, with no spare equipment, so what they have in the yard has to perform, day in, day out.
Much of the parts inventory for their Volvo equipment lies, in fact, with Marcels Equipment. With the warranty program, they do not have to maintain the large inventories they had in the past, says Price. This is welcome, since a fair bit of money can get tied up in inventories. And Marcels is only a short ferry ride away—they have a location in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver—so service to the Langdale sort has been good.
With the delivery of the latest EC330B, the Langdale sort will be a completely Volvo operation. “It is a concern putting all your equipment eggs into one basket,” says Price. “But until such time that it doesn’t work out to be a good deal, we’ll continue doing it.
“There is nothing holding us to Volvo—we’re just getting the best bang for our buck.”
There are some obvious benefits in having only one type of equipment. Their mechanics are working on only one brand of equipment all the time, and become more familiar with it. And although Terminal does not carry a huge inventory, what they do carry—filters and the like—can be limited to one brand. If there are warranty issues, they are dealing with only one dealer/manufacturer. The fact that they are such a good Volvo customer undoubtedly also carries some leverage, as well.
When asked if there are any shortcomings to being a single brand of equipment user, Price has to pause to think. “I’m sure there are a few, but I look back to what it was before, and what we have now is much better. We’re where we want to be. It could be better, it can always be better. But when I look back at the people I had to have, and the running around we had to do to keep equipment operating, it’s a vast improvement.”
The warranty set-up they have with Marcels and Volvo also helps, with all major components being covered.
And there have been some big general equipment improvements over the years that have further helped. Price, who has worked at the Langdale sort for over 20 years, can draw back on that experience for direct comparisons. “We used to have less equipment to work on, and we had double the number of mechanics. It sure kept us going. For every eight hours of the equipment working, there was just about eight hours of maintenance to keep the equipment going.”
From sophisticated computer equipment to the everyday components, the improvements have been pretty major. A case in point: Brakes on the Volvo equipment now last beyond 10,000 hours. At Langdale, they used to have to do brake repairs and maintenance three or four times over that period of operating hours.
“That’s a critical issue for us,” says Price. “Before, that used to be a big ticket item. Now, I don’t even have to deal with the brakes. That’s a huge issue that is out of our hair.”
Like all heavy equipment manufacturers, Volvo has moved ahead quickly in improving the computer technology and hydraulics of its machines over the past decade. And they apparently listen to their customers. “They have been one of the few companies who, when we voiced concerns about equipment, it would be solved in the next generation of machines.”
Fuel economy is a growing concern, and Price says they noticed some immediate improvements in that area. “The Volvos rate at the head of the pack with the other companies.”
While the warranty on new equipment is extensive, Price notes that they also have to keep up their end of things on the maintenance side. There is a requirement that 250-hour servicing be kept right up to date, and that there be regular oil sampling. “It’s in our interest to do all that,” says Price. “Maybe items would be covered by warranty, but we would still have to deal with the downtime. And downtime is a killer.” Added to that, the equipment is on a three-year turnaround, and the company wants to see decent value left on the iron at the end of that period of time.
The Langdale sort faces special environmental challenges. The site has one of BC’s most documented salmon steams—Oulette Creek—flowing along the active log sort area. When Terminal acquired the site, the creek was in need of rehabilitation. Working with salmon enhancement staff, it has since been restored and become an active spawning creek for Coho and Chum salmon. “When it comes to the environment, we keep on top of that all the time,” notes Price.
The Langdale sort still experiences downtime with its equipment—that is inevitable. But more often than not, it’s a plugged fuel filter or some hose problems. “There’s always going to be those little things happening,” says Price. The key in the end—as far as they’re concerned—is to keep them little. And they seem to have been very successful at doing just that.
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