June, 2001





Dream Machine 

Loggers and manufacturer work together to build custom Cat 345-B Shovel Logger

Story & Photos/ Carmen Edwards 

This is the story of the Shovel Logger that could . . . . . . that could be built and delivered in seven months instead of the usual three- to four-year development cycle. . . .that could be designed, spec by spec, from notes on the back of a business card. . . . that could be the fastest shovel logger in the Pacific Northwest, handling steep hillsides and increasing productivity by 20 to 25 percent. Not bad for a shovel logger that was only a wish list of specifications, in the hands of Simpson Timber's logging manager Jerry Barnhart and maintenance supervisor Roy Meier at the 1999 Oregon Logging Conference. 

The journey began when Roy, in charge of maintenance at Simpson's Camp 1 Shop, told Jim Stevens, the Chehalis, Wash., Caterpillar sales rep for NC Machinery, that he was in search of a new shovel logger. "We have three shovel logging sites and each has at least one shovel logger," says Roy. "Two years ago, one of our shovel loggers was destroyed by fire. It caught us by surprise, so in an emergency purchase we had to buy the biggest machine we could to replace it and at that time, it was a Cat 330." The results were less than satisfactory. "We'd used the 330's as log loaders, but we hadn't used them as dedicated shovel loggers," explains Roy. 

As they ran the machine, they discovered that in a shovel logging application, the 330 had its limitations in terms of production. The operator had to work a lot harder to get the same amount of wood out as he did with his older machine and there was accelerated wear on the machine. During that time, Roy was going to logging shows to see what was new in equipment. The information he got from Jim Stevens was that Cat was looking at producing a bigger machine than a 330, but it's going to be two or three years down the road. Roy knew he didn't have that kind of time. "We're using our machines 2,000 hours a year and they're wearing out and we have to make a replacement decision. We couldn't wait, so the decision was going to be based on the best machine available to meet our needs and at the time." 

The 70-ton Cat 345-B shovel logger excels at tree-length, increasing productivity by 25 percent

And it wasn't going to be a Cat. "I guess Jim was able to stir enough fires and there were enough requests, Cat started looking at it more seriously," recalls Roy. The conversation continued a few weeks later at the 1999 Oregon Logging Conference. Over dinner, Roy, Simpson logging manager Jerry Barnhardt, Jim and some Caterpillar executives, including Dan Benz, product group manager with Caterpillar's World Wide division, started talking about Simpson's dream machine. "That's where I met Dan Benz, he's in charge of all their [Caterpillar's] forestry product division and the excavator manufacturing," says Roy. " He asked me what we were looking for in a shovel logging machine. 

I noticed he was writing everything down on the back of a card. He told me they were going to make an effort to put something out, and they'd stay in touch." Roy was skeptical. "Sometimes when you're working with a large corporation, you meet a lot of guys at different levels and they'll tell you stuff, but nothing ever happens. I was thinking this was another deal like that. Lo and behold, a couple months later, Jim Stevens came back and said they were developing a price for it and they were going to have it put together." Jim Stevens says, "It was a lot faster response time than in the past because Cat's opened up their forestry division and wants their share of the market in forest products." And because Cat already had the existing class machine in 345 as an excavator, which teamed up with Jewel on the boom also cut development time. "We talked in February and they had the machine assembled for the Kelowna Log Show in September, six months later," says Roy. "After that, I was a believer."

Making the decision 
Ultimately, Simpson made the decision to go with Cat for several reasons. "If you invest that much money in a machine and you can't get parts for it and you can't get it fixed, it loses a lot of its value to you," explains Roy. "The other driver is that we try to keep things standardized and we already have six 330 Cat log loaders, and the rest of them are 235s, so we had no non-Cat machines, and we wanted to keep that so we'd have just one source for parts and service. Cat's going to be financially strong enough to stay in business - that was a big driver." Roy also had a concern over price: "If Caterpillar was going to make a machine of that size, I was a little hesitant if they were going to be able to compete on a price level, but they came right in there." Building the specifications Caterpillar's shovel logger prototype was delivered complete, meeting or exceeding all the items on the Simpson "wish list", including: o Ground clearance of 36 inches for speed, maneuverability, and environmental friendliness o Dual swing drive for increased speed and productivity. o A 48-foot boom, enabling it to grab 10 to 15 percent more in length. o A bigger size track-and-rail assembly. o Removable swing frames. o Track width of 13 feet, outside to outside, for added stability. o Track guards.

Based at Camp 1 
Today the 345-B shovel logger makes its home base at the Camp 1 Shop in Shelton, Washington. "There's two different types of logging here," says Roy. "One is fell and buck where the cutter cuts the tree down and actually cuts a tree into segments in the woods. The other type is tree-length, where we have a mechanical faller or a hand cutter just cut the whole tree down. This is the first machine that's really excelled at tree-length because it has the swing power to do it." Roy sees higher productivity with the 345-B - about 15 percent higher than the 330 for fell-andbuck, and closer to 25 percent higher for tree-length. He notes, "We're tending to do more and more tree-length, and this bigger machine and more productivity in treelength is the direction we want to go. We've had some real surprises in units. We'll go through ahead of time and estimate how many days a shovel logger will be in each unit depending upon species of wood, the size of the wood, and type of terrain. We've found this machine already has beat the schedule on quite a few of the units."

On the job  
Steep slopes are where the 345-B's dual swing drive excels, providing additional swing power so the operator can easily swing logs up hill. Roy notes that the older machines like the 235s, and the smaller machines like the 330s, just don't have the swing power to swing the logs up hill. Roy says, "Other benefits we've seen is that the hydraulic performance is actually quite a bit faster than we anticipated, which helps in making it so productive. It's not only the physical measurements of the ground distance and the size of the components, it's the speed involved too." Another feature Roy praises is the engine: "The electronic engine has a fuel system fired by individual injectors, all controlled electronically. The engine burns a lot cleaner, you don't see hardly any black smoke coming out of it. It's more efficient. Compared to the old machines, this machine can do more work, but it burns the same amount of fuel." Another special part of the machine is the boom. Roy worked on its design with Jewel. His top criteria? Performance. He recalls, "I kind of threw commonality out the door. We could have had all the same cylinders. If we would have done that, we would have hindered performance. Certain parts of the machine you want strong cylinders that are slower. Other parts of the machine, you want faster cylinders The 70-ton Cat 345-B shovel logger excels at tree-length, increasing productivity by 25 percent. that aren't quite as strong, but they give you the speed 'cause you don't really need the strength. So we speced the cylinders for ultimate performance and threw commonality out the door. I think it's paid off. We came out with a pretty hot machine. Knowing this machine is probably a 20 to 25 percent more investment than the smaller machine - I figured we better build it good the first time, otherwise we're not going to buy anymore." Operator Randy Rakevich had the machine on a steep slope and watching him operate it at full speed, swinging tree lengths as if they were tinker toys, it was clearly a marvel of design that kept the machine from tipping over. Randy grins at the observation. "You get used to the steep ground, you learn what the machine will do, I'm still learning. The 330, on this type ground, wouldn't be worth beans. I've been doing this for 17 years now - it's quite a bit easier with this machine."

Simpson Timber's maintenance supervisor Roy Meier and operator Randy Rakevich appreciate the Cat 345-B's high ground clearance of 36 inches, its ability to speed through steep slopes and its 48-foot boom.

Partnership Works 
Roy appreciates the speed with which Caterpillar moved to produce the 345-B. "Somebody moved ahead after that dinner at lightning speed," says Roy. "They found a guy who eliminated a lot of the hoopla and was able to get this into development and out to us in seven months, which is an amazing time. They have a division called Nexus, and they put this whole undercarriage frame together. They built it up while the other guys were building the carrier and the two came together about the same time. They had all the stuff there, it just took somebody to get it organized. This worked out really well." What's in the future? Simpson's second 345-B is currently undergoing some changes, as Caterpillar replaces its 52-foot boom with the original prototype's 48-foot size, which seems to work best. Roy says, "We're looking at a third machine and it could be ordered next January." Obviously, designing the shovel logger with the customer as a partner turned out well for both Simpson and NC Machinery, and their 20-plus year relationship looks like it's off to a great millennial start with the Cat 345-B shovel logger. 

Carmen Edwards is a feature and business writer who specializes in the forest product industry. She brings years of experience at Weyerhaeuser to her writing for TimberWest


This page was last updated on Monday, November 10, 2003