By Paul MacDonald
The payback in doing your due diligence on mobile equipment purchases can be rewarding in a number of ways, everything from more efficient operations to operator satisfaction—and a Weyerhaeuser sawmill in the B.C. Interior, is seeing that in spades these days, with their new Sennebogen 850E machine.
Equipped with a Weldco-Beales S24 grapple, the Sennebogen 850E log loader has been proving its stuff in the yard at the Weyerhaeuser mill in Princeton, B.C. for the past year—and is the largest Sennebogen log loader operating in Western Canada.
But flash back to early 2020, and Weyerhaeuser Princeton had started the search for a new millyard machine, one with a bit more oomph to it. Their existing log loader had performed capably for a decade, but it was time for a modern piece of mobile equipment. And the ultimate decision on what machine to go with involved everyone from mill management to yard management to equipment operators.
“We wanted something a little bigger,” explained Kyle MacMurchy, fibre optimization manager at the mill. “Our millyard is not that big, acres-wise, and the volume for the sawmill kept going up.
“We were running out of room, so we needed something that we could use to go higher stacking logs—and something bigger.”
The mill occupies a 150-acre site just across the Similkameen River from the main part of Princeton—it’s essentially bordered on one side by the river, and the other by Old Hedley Road, so there is really no room to expand the millyard. “We need to make the best use of the land we have,” says MacMurchy.
Princeton Weyerhaeuser has seen some major mill equipment upgrades over the last decade, as the sawmill continues its efforts to make operations more efficient, and reduce costs.
The two-line sawmill turns out upwards of 300 million board feet of SPF lumber annually, drawing its timber from throughout the Similkameen Region. Producing that amount of lumber requires a smooth running operation, most importantly in the millyard, and in feeding logs into the mill. The mill runs two 10-hour shifts a day, Monday to Thursday, and a 12-hour afternoon shift each day, Friday to Sunday.
All of this means that the sawmill requires a steady source of logs from its 60 acre millyard—and the Sennebogen is now a part of delivering that.
To get to the point of acquiring the 850E machine, that’s where the due diligence came in.
“When we go down the capital path, we look at what is the best investment in a machine, and go through a detailed process to understand what is available in the market, what the machines are capable of doing, their horsepower, their weight, and the volumes we are looking to move,” explained MacMurchy.
They looked at a few different machine candidates, and that included a trip across the line, pre-COVID-19, to look at a Sennebogen loader in action at a sawmill in Saint Maries, Idaho. The visit was set up by B.C. Sennebogen dealer, Great West Equipment.
“It was a bit smaller machine than what we ended up buying, but it was a tracked machine, and it was handling very similar wood in very similar conditions—that was extremely helpful to us,” says MacMurchy.
“When we were looking at the machine in Idaho, one of the things that got our interest is that there are many different Sennebogen models, and you can interchange components, like the size of the boom and stick depending on the work and the volumes you want to do—that’s kind of when we started thinking that a Sennebogen would be a good option for Princeton.
“With all the options it has, you can essentially pick and choose what will make your work site successful.”
Sennebogen says it offers very flexible equipment configurations in terms of drive types, safety packages and boom lengths, for each application. The 850E, for example, can be fitted with one of several boom and stick configurations providing a maximum reach of up to 69 feet.
Weyerhaeuser Princeton were looking to do something different than just replacing their older machine with something similar in size. By opting for an 850E loader, they could, in effect, have an oversized machine for the work and the grapple, and avoid the reliability issues they had seen before with previous machines.
“We really wanted to improve the long term reliability of our new loader, and avoid the issues we had seen in the past with the carriers doing this work,” said MacMurchy.
With this, one of the goals with new equipment at the mill is to ensure, as much as possible, that they are able to get a high level of performance, day-in, day-out, and year-in, year-out. In other words, long term reliability.
One of the key considerations in Weyerhaeuser Princeton making the new equipment decision is that the Sennebogen is purpose-built as a material handler—around the world, it’s in use handling materials such as logs, bulk materials and scrap in hundreds of locations.
“It’s different from the other machines that we’ve had, which were excavator conversions—they were converted to log loaders,” explained MacMurchy.
Further reinforcing the move was the relationship the mill has with equipment and Sennebogen dealer, Great West Equipment, which has supplied the operation with a number of Volvo wheel loaders. They also have a solid relationship with grapple supplier, Weldco-Beales. The machine is equipped with a 24 square foot grapple.
“Great West Equipment has been fantastic,” said MacMurchy. “They really helped us understand what the opportunities were for the machine at Princeton, and helped us get the right machine for the site.”
The mill looked at a few different options with the 850E, including going for a rubber tired machine. But to achieve the greatest level of machine stability, and considering that the Princeton yard is only partially paved, they opted for a track machine.
Sennebogen’s modular design concept allows customers to order the 850E with a rubber-tired or tracked undercarriage, or illustrating its flexibility, it can be adapted to any other required mounting for gantries, pedestals, rail cars, barges and ship applications. The operating weight for the rubber-tired machine is 134,200 lbs. while its tracked sibling comes in at 146,300 lbs.
Dave Holland, lead hand at the Weyerhaeuser Princeton millyard, says the machine has received an enthusiastic thumbs-up from operators. “The operators talk a lot about how stable the machine is out in the yard.”
It’s also clear that Sennebogen has put a good deal of thought into the design of the 850E cab, which is very operator-friendly, and is designed for a comfortable work environment. The Maxcab on the 850E is longer and roomier than its previous iterations, providing more space for the operator, says Sennebogen. Known for its good visibility, the Maxcab on the 850E features joystick travel controls eliminating the steering wheel, ensuring an unobstructed forward line of sight. Dual cameras for rear and right-side visibility are standard.
With features like these, Holland said he considers the 850E a “game changer”.
The rising cab on the machine also makes it much easier, and safer, to stack timber in the yard.
“One of our goals is to keep the operators safe and stable, and keep the machine on the ground,” MacMurchy says. Previous machines at the operation could be light in the back end when operators are reaching out and up, with a full grapple of wood, he noted. That is no longer an issue with the 850E.
That was a major consideration: at all Weyerhaeuser Canada operations, safety is a high priority, whether it involves the safe operation of equipment, or setting up extremely detailed COVID-19 protocols, which the company was quick to do in the last 24 months.
The 850E models feature intelligent hydraulic design, without complex electronics, says Sennebogen.
In terms of serviceability, the machine gets good marks from Holland. “Access is good,” he says. “It’s better than most excavators I’ve worked on. You can get on both sides of the engine without having to cram yourself against the counterweight. It seems like the components are spread out, so you are able to get a hand in there and work on things.
“Some of the fittings are European metric which can be a bit of hurdle, but that is probably the only shortcoming I can really think of—we’ve got 1200 hours on our 850E, and it’s performing great.”
COVID has had an impact in terms for service training. The 850 E purchase includes a two-day training session, involving Sennebogen folks from the Sennebogen training centre in North Carolina, and the mechanics who are going to be working on the machine at Princeton.
With the border now open, it’s likely the training will be scheduled in the near future.
“There is always a bit of a learning curve with a new piece of equipment and new technology, which is where the two-day training course would have been handy. But our guys are resourceful.”
With the border scheduled to open soon, it’s likely the training will be scheduled in the near future.
The 850E is also offering the mill a “significant” improvement in fuel economy, with its Tier 4f compliant 298 kW Cummins engine, says MacMurchy. The machine saves up to 30 per cent more fuel thanks to its innovative Green Hybrid energy recovery system. Sennebogen says the motor and the hydraulics are matched for ideal power transmission.
In terms of on the ground servicing at Weyerhaeuser Princeton, the service and fuel trucks are taken to the 850E, rather than the other way around. “The machine weighs in at 160,000 pounds, so doing that minimizes track wear. And we’re trying to avoid wearing out the pavement we do have in the millyard, and keeping the machine out on the dirt, where it should be,” says MacMurchy.
As with any new machine, there is often some tweaking required, to best suit it to the operation. Holland said they did this in-house, with welders putting an extra step on the carbody for better access, and moving a handrail to achieve the best three-point access to the cab.
Another addition, too, is a nickname for the machine: it’s dubbed “The Ogopogo”, after the fictional lake monster that is supposed to inhabit B.C.’s Lake Okanagan. The name is painted along the side of the stick on the machine.
The report card on the 850E is good, so far.
“It’s done extremely well,” says MacMurchy. “The machine has been pretty much problem-free. We had a couple of little hiccups over the past year, but Great West Equipment was there to fix the problems as they came up.”
He notes that Weyerhaeuser Princeton handles up to 100 logging truckloads of wood a day, mixed species, that often needs separating in the millyard. “We need a machine that is very efficient and that can move a lot of wood up or down the decks, depending on the decks that we’re into, and the wood the mill is consuming.”
Their log levels will vary depending on where they are in terms of timing around break-up and the fire season.
“We work around keeping the mill in wood more than anything else,” says MacMurchy. If it’s looking like it might be a while before they get logs in, they will try to bulk up. For example, they were hit by seven weeks of fire season this past summer, which affected log deliveries, big time.
“We did not expect that, but we were fortunate in that we went into July with one of our largest log inventories—and hats off to our timberlands group that did everything they could to keep the mill running during that time.”
And they work to maximize the value of the timber, of course, with rotating the wood, with the mill consuming first the logs that have been in the yard the longest.
And handling a lot of this is the new 850E, giving operators good visibility, whether they are putting the logs up, or taking them down, and preparing them for the mill.
“We have not had to build the decks higher just yet, but it’s expected that will come with time,” says MacMurchy.
“With this purchase, we had an opportunity to get a machine that would help us grow for the future—and that is what the Sennebogen 850E has done for us,” he concluded.
On the Cover:
The payback in doing your due diligence on mobile equipment purchases can be rewarding in a number of ways, everything from more efficient operations to operator satisfaction—and the Weyerhaeuser sawmill in Princeton, B.C. is seeing that in spades these days, with their new Sennebogen 850E machine, the largest Sennebogen log loader operating in Western Canada (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald).
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