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Higher Log Stacks With New Loader

By making changes to a Komatsu 300HD-6 log loader, Northland Forest Products is now able to stack logs 7' higher and has improved their operators' working environment.


By Tony Kryzanowski
Copyright 1998. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Modifications to a Komatsu log loader by an Alberta sawmill have allowed them to stack logs at least 7' higher in their yard, reduce the time it takes to unload trucks by 50 per cent and improve operator comfort.

Northland Forest Products in Fort McMurray put the modified Komatsu PC300HD-6 unit to work in their yard this past January, to replace an older PC300HD-5 unit.

Operator Kevin MacKay says it now takes him an average of two minutes and 14 seconds to unload a truck. That's less than half the time it took him using the HD-5. The HD-6 log loader unloads tree-length spruce and pine logs.

"The problem we had with our old Komatsu HD-5 was that we didn't get the pile height that we wanted," says mill co-owner Howie Ewashko. "So we looked at a different configuration, using some of the features we had seen on other log loaders in our travels. We wanted something that we had seen at Forest Expo in Prince George, actually."

Once they agreed on what features they wanted, they went shopping for a supplier who was willing to work with them. They settled on Edmonton-based Komatsu dealer, Coneco Equipment Inc.

"We ended up with Coneco because they wanted to build a yard machine," says Ewashko, "and we didn't have to buy a stock machine from them."

The owners of Northland Forest Products listed all their concerns with the Komatsu HD-5 log loader. Then they added their list of attractive features from other log loaders.

"We went to Coneco and they said, 'no problem, we want to work with you and let's do one'," says Ewashko.

Custom manufacturing can sometimes add significantly to the cost of a standard piece of equipment. This added expense is a common annoyance faced by forestry contractors, often forced to convert excavator units to forestry applications. Northland faced a similar prospect with the HD-6 log loader. In the final analysis, it cost them about 14 per cent more than an off-the-shelf IID-6 model, which Ewashko thought was fair.

Coneco worked closely with Edmonton attachment manufacturer IMAC to fulfill many of Northland's requests. First, the mill wanted a riser between the log loader's upper house and lower carbody. The riser provides the log loader operator with the ability to stack trees higher, and it also has a safety and efficiency function.

Operator MacKay says the upper section and carbody on many log loaders are typically so close together that occasionally logs jam between the two if the operator is not careful. Now, he says this is no longer a concern because the upper house sits higher, the logs in the grapple swing at a higher plane and there is plenty of space between the upper section and carbody.

Coneco Equipment fabrication foreman Mark Shenfield says the company had sufficient background experience to make the modifications required by Northland on their new Komatsu log loader, but had never done it in one complete package, and never on a unit this large.

"It was a little bit more tricky because it was the first one of that size," he says. "But because we had experience in the smaller machines, it wasn't all that difficult. For somebody right off the street to try to do it the first time around, they'd have all kinds of difficulties, I'm sure."

The upper house and lower carbody spacer was a new challenge for them, but since the unit has gone into action at Northland, Coneco has had other mill owners show an interest in the design.

"In mill yard applications, I think it's ideal," says Shenfield. "I would think that there is the potential there to build a few more of these in the future."

A second major design change was installation of a cab riser and rear entry forestry cab. This was also manufactured by IMAC. Operator MacKay says this is a significant improvement over the HD-5. The cab is well insulated from external noise and the controls on the joystick are easier to manage.

"I used to go home, and my shoulders used to be really sore," says MacKay, mostly because the joystick controls in the old log loader forced his wrists into a less natural movement than with the new log loader. "I sometimes work long shifts," says MacKay," and I used to go home really tired. Now, I go home just as relaxed as when I left."

There is plenty of space in the HD-6 cab and excellent visibility. Because the operator sits higher, he is able to keep closer tabs on the performance of his boom and stick. In addition, he is working at eye level with lo-s loaded on trucks, and the top of the wood pile.

The cab comes equipped with a see-through floor at the front, so MacKay can monitor the position of his tracks. The safety lever that disengages the boom is right near his leg, so there is no fear of forgetting to set it in place before leaving the cab, he added.

He says another important safety feature is that the boom will not collide with the cab when full retracted. That was not the case with the HD-5 log loader.

The Komatsu HD-6 delivers 232 hp at 1,750 rpm. With a 3,900-lb. IMAC grapple, the machine is rated at a lifting capacity of 24,800 lbs, 25'from the unit and 18' above ground.

In addition to the overall power of the Komatsu HD-6, the boom and stick have been modified by IMAC so that the cylinder is located beneath the stick, rather that above it. This format is suited much more for forestry applications versus excavation, and it has resulted in a dramatic performance improvement.

"We didn't think it would have the dramatic uplift capacity that it has," says Ewashko. "But this stick configuration makes it lift - some of the guys say double - but I'm not really sure if it is double." He says the mill requires that much power on long logs to ensure that the log loader can lift the tops over the log pile. They also want to ensure that their log loader is powerful enough to lift a full grapple load at least 7' higher.

"We weren't looking for faster unloading. We were looking for pile height," says Ewashko. "That's exactly the reason why the old one isn't active, is because of that cycle time. If you used the old one and you had a full grab and it was a little bit heavy, you could never flip the tops over the pile. You would have to take two runs at it and it took the operator a lot more fooling around. And with this one, he just picks it up and goes."

He adds that the HD-6 loader could probably build their piles 10' higher, but at that point, the wood starts to slide, so there is no advantage.

The only concern that MacKay expressed with the extra height provided by the new log loader was that he felt it needs a wider undercarriage. He says the unit tends to tip occasionally when he is lifting and maneuvering a full grapple, so operators need to stay alert to this tendency. He suggests that when mills make similar modifications to their log loaders, that they ask for a wider undercarriage or wider shoes.

However, this model already comes equipped with a wider undercarriage. Komatsu, recognizing that more rugged conditions exist in Canadian forests, uses the PC-400 undercarriage on a PC-300 carbody in forestry applications. "It provides the log loader with more stability, and longer life in more rugged conditions," says Shenfield. He says the undercarriage spans about 11', and is retractable for shipping. A variety of shoe sizes are also available, ranging from 28" to 31.5".

Northland kept their HD-5, anticipating that they would need it once logging and transportation to the yard went into high gear. The mill suffered a devastating fire a year ago, and they are almost ready to put their new mill back into full production. Because they had not used their entire wood allotment last year, they have permission to use it this year, which they intend to do. Consequently, yard space, pile height and unloading cycle time are critical concerns.

"When we looked at our yard space - and of course all mill yards are constrained by space - there was only one way to go with our log piles and that was up," says Ewashko. "We like butt'n tops. We find that we don't get too much breakage with them."

So far, given the HD-6 log loader's performance, they have not had to call upon their old loader, and Ewashko says that's a bonus.

Coneco Equipment's Shenfield says it took them about three months to make all modifications to the Komatsu HD300-6, and now that they have one complete, he feels they could make the same modifications in about half the time.

Among other modifications made to the log loader was installation by Coneco of gull wings to replace light, sheet metal side doors provided by the factory. This allows the operator to walk out onto the wings to conduct regular engine maintenance. The cab riser also comes equipped with a hydraulic tilt.

"SomeNng else we've done is that there is a counterweight at the back end of the machine," says Shenfield. "We have included an auxiliary fuel tank. It is welded and molded right into the existing counterweight." The tank holds about 650 litres of extra fuel.

Ewashko concludes that the whole design of the Komatsu HD-6 is simply a better package.

"The operator is happier in that machine with how they've designed the switches and buttons. The whole configuration was set up to lift rather than dig," he says. "And that really has improved our off-loading time and the cycle time of the machine."


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