Oct 2004 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
Back to normal
After a summer of disastrous forest fires in 2003, things are getting back to normal for BC logging contractor Lindwest Holdings, with help in the form of two Volvo 210 carriers equipped with Waratah processing heads.
By Paul MacDonald
After last year’s forest fire-plagued summer in BC’s Southern Interior, contractor Lindwest Holdings was understandably looking forward to an uneventful season of logging this past summer. In the summer of 2003, with the fires hitting Kelowna and area, its harvesting and hauling activities were much reduced. Instead, the Lindwest crew was out fighting forest fires, using its equipment to build fireguards and contributing to the overall effort to minimize fire damage. “We were fighting forest fires until mid-September,” says Bob Lind, who operates Lindwest with brother Bruce from Westbank, just southwest of Kelowna. “We had fought fires before, but never as close to town as last summer. We even had our skidders working on pavement in the Mission area.
It was long hours and tiring work, but we had to be there.” This past summer saw the Lindwest crew return to its usual area of work, on the west side of Okanagan Lake, in the Bear Lake area. Thankfully, with the fires of 2003 behind them, crew members were back to dealing with the day-to-day challenges of logging. And right now, like all contractors and the industry as a whole, one of those challenges is how to deal with ever-rising fuel prices in an era of $50 a barrel oil. “Fuel economy has become a major issue for us,” says Bob. “I’m hoping that fuel prices will stabilize. But I don’t think they are going to go down to the levels we saw before, so we have to consider that with our equipment.”
When they go looking for new equipment, the major issues that are top of mind are the performance of the machine, and the product support from the manufacturers and the dealers. But recent spikes in fuel prices mean that fuel economy is also now high on that list. “We recently purchased some new equipment and we made sure we went with machines that deliver good fuel consumption numbers,” says Bob. They opted for two Volvo EC210B LC carriers, and equipped them with Waratah 622 dangle processing heads. “We’ve never had Volvo equipment before. But we reviewed everything out there, had all the different brands of equipment demo’d for us, and considered the service support of the local dealers.”
Lindwest’s equipment operators had the chance to try out all the carriers, and were part of the decision-making process. While the important issues included equipment performance and fuel consumption, Bob, Bruce, and their operators also considered other things, such as the ergonomics of the cabs. “With our people working 10 or 12 hours at a go, we want to make sure they have a comfortable environment to work in.” They also talked to other users of Volvo equipment. With that feedback, and the conviction that the units would do the job for them, they went ahead with the deal. The Volvo EC210B LC carriers have a six-cylinder turbocharged Volvo diesel engine with direct injection that delivers gross power of 159 hp.
The engine features an automatic idling system that reduces engine speed to idle when the levers and pedals are not activated, resulting in less fuel consumption and low cab noise level. The hydraulic system, termed “Automatic Sensing Work Mode,” is designed for high productivity, high maneuvering precision and good fuel economy, according to Volvo. Included is a hydraulic summation system that combines the flow of both hydraulic pumps to ensure quick cycle times and high productivity. This all seems to fit well with the Lindwest set-up. “Our operation is pretty unique,” says Bob. “We bring all of the wood tree length to a log yard, an off-highway operation, and that’s where do our processing. It gives us a central location to sort. We have to do a lot of sorting and it gives us the room to do it properly.”
The variety and number of sorts is driven by Riverside Forest Products, which Lindwest contracts to. “We can do up to nine sorts at times. It all varies on what wood you are in. If you are in a straight pine stand, obviously the sorts are much reduced, but we get a lot of mixed stands.” In addition to saw-log sorts, they might be doing sorts for peelers, log home logs and utility poles. Out in the woods, they want to be able to achieve better utilization and accurate bucking lengths. “That’s the reason we went for the Waratah processing heads earlier this year. Riverside wanted each log to be a measured length, and our old processing system was not designed to do that. So we went with the Waratah heads, which have worked out well for us and delivered the results that we want and Riverside wants.”
Lindwest works with a variety of timber sizes; they get a lot of smaller timber, down to six-inch butts. But in heavy spruce areas, they will get timber with butts from 24 to 28 inches, though not a lot of it. “There isn’t a consistent timber size, which presents a bit of a challenge when we’re processing. We wanted to make sure we had processors that could handle a variety of sizes. With the Waratah heads, there have been a few logs that we couldn’t handle, but they have been relatively few in number. They’ve performed quite well for us.” The equipment line-up at Lindwest generally consists of Prentice feller bunchers, Cat skidders and Madill butt ‘n top loaders, along with some Cat and John Deere wheel loaders. Rather than trying to have one brand of equipment, the overriding factor in equipment choice at Lindwest—quite rightly—is what piece of equipment is going to do the best job.
And to date, the Volvo equipment—equipped with guarding packages from Waycon Manufacturing of Penticton, BC—is a good addition. “We’re not very far into the program, but so far the equipment has performed well and the dealer, Marcels Equipment, has held up their end of things,” says Bob. Volvo dealer Marcels Equipment has several branches in the BC Interior, but is based in Vernon, pretty much down the road from Westbank. Bob noted that while equipment features such as fuel consumption are important, support from the dealer and, if necessary, the manufacturer, is critical.
A contractor could make the best deal going in terms of a purchase price or financing, but unless that service support is there, they could be up the creek. Like many contractors in British Columbia, and elsewhere, Lindwest had put off equipment purchases in recent years, due to tight industry conditions. “We did that until about a year ago when we finally made the decision that we needed to get on with things, and get on track with our normal schedule of equipment renewal, regardless of the softwood lumber situation or what might be coming down the pipe from the provincial government.” While they had made great efforts to maintain equipment, they were getting close to that fine line where the increased costs of maintenance and reduced reliability outweigh the financial advantages of continuing to run an older piece of equipment.
That was when they picked up two John Deere 644H wheel loaders, a Madill 3800C butt ’n top loader and the two Volvo/Waratah combos. Routine maintenance and preventative maintenance are high priorities for Lindwest, regardless of whether the equipment is new or a few years older. In addition to the main service shop in Westbank, they have a smaller maintenance facility at the log yard they run in Bear Lake, and a fully equipped service truck. “Preventative maintenance is a big part of what we do,” explains Bob. “We do oil samples on a regular basis and send it off to the labs. They’ll get back to us and follow through if there are any problems.” Most of this is done through local Cat dealer, Finning. “They are very good. If they feel there is something wrong, they will get back to us right away, and fax the results over to us.”
Their equipment operators—many of whom have been with the company for 15 years or longer—also have a big role to play. They do the standard checks, like an equipment walkaround at the beginning of their shifts. “Our operators are also able to pick up things like the equipment making noises it usually doesn’t make, and we’ll investigate.” There is a big advantage in having experienced operators, who take pride in the tools of their trade running properly. “We’ve got a lot of experience out there in the equipment operators and they are a big part of the success of our company.” While it has always been a priority, keeping equipment up and running, and minimizing downtime is more important than ever, says Bob. “We simply can’t afford to have equipment down for long. Profit margins are down for everyone in the industry. You have to be very sharp with your pencil—you simply can’t afford a lot of downtime.”
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