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Well Oiled System

Slocan's cut to length and handling program in Mackenzie, BC has evolved into a welloiled system that has reduced breakage

By Jim Stirling

The cut to length log harvesting system used throughout Slocan Forest Products Ltd's Mackenzie operations in the BC Interior continues to exceed expectations. The method was introduced five years ago and has evolved into a well-managed harvesting/transportation system that has everyone involved working cooperatively. The result is a consistent, carefully monitored flow of clean, accurately measured wood to the company's two sawmills. "The focus is that wood is very valuable and care must be taken with it," says Steve McMullen, operations manager, fibre supply for Slocan's Mackenzie operations. Reducing log breakage was one of the factors motivating Fletcher Challenge Canada when the then owners of the Mackenzie operation launched the cut to length initiative in 1994. Losses of up to eight per cent of log value were occurring, which the company-understandably- felt was unacceptable. A principle cause of the losses was the multiple handling of the tree length stems during harvesting and dumping/booming/ towing/dewatering phases of a lake transportation system. Cut to length was seen as the optimum harvesting system to produce clean, sized, usable wood. And pressing into service a new ice-breaking log carrying vessel reduced significantly material handling and allowed a better-controlled flow of wood year round to the mills. Slocan has been refining and communicating the system's benefits since it acquired the Mackenzie operations in 1997. "All the different studies we've done through the last year indicates our loss to breakage is now less than 0.5 per cent," says McMullen.

Mackenzie is located at the southeastern end of Williston Lake, the largest manmade reservoir in Canada. It's a minisea, slicing 235 kilometres northwest through the Rocky Mountain trench. Its waters are used for hydroelectric power production, which, along with seasonal weather fluctuations, causes lake level variations of up to 18 metres. Slocan harvests about 1.52 million cubic metres of timber annually in the Mackenzie Timber Supply Area. About one million cubic metres of that is size sorted and bundled for travel aboard the $12 million Williston Transporter, owned and operated under contract by Finlay Navigation Ltd. The vessel eliminates fibre lost in the lake using the old towing system. The company's remaining 500,000 cubic metres is direct hauled by truck to the mill yard. McMullen says Slocan operates three major log yards and two seasonal ones on the main body and arms of Williston Lake. The furthest one from Mackenzie necessitates a 54hour round trip by the Transporter, including loading and unloading, depending on wildly varying lake and weather conditions. Slocan's woodlands division oversees the entire harvesting and transportation system from stump to sawmill in feeds. Lodgepole pine and spruce are the dominant species harvested with an up to 20 per cent component of balsam fir, says John Moreland, woodlands manager for Mackenzie operations.

The balsam is separated 100 per cent in the bush. Logging contractors use single grip harvesters on 70 per cent of the shows, double grip machines work the rest. But Moreland notes contractors are making increasing use of feller bunchers for falling because they provide better general availability, handle bigger wood and deeper snow packs. In those cases, the single or double grips come in for processing the bunched stems. Four basic sorts are delivered to the mills. The yellow sort comprises four-inch tops to 6.5 inches; blue, 6.5 inches to nine inches; red, nine inches to 14 and large headrig logs 14 inches and better. Red and headrig logs are processed to 20 foot four inches, yellow and blue to16 feet four inches. "Our contractors have become very good at getting our log quality, sizes and sorts right. They take a lot of pride in what they're doing," says Moreland. "We've achieved 96 per cent accuracy on our cut to length and the Swedes told us 92 per cent was the best we could expect." The system allows removal of log defect in the bush-merchantable fibre only is transported. Forwarders move the processed wood to roadside where decks, sometimes doubled, can reach 17 feet in height.

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Slocan harvests about 1.5 million cubic metres of timber annually in the Mackenzie Timber Supply Area. About one million cubic metres of that is sizesorted and bundled for travel aboard the Williston Transporter (above). The vessel eliminates the fibre loss in the lake the operation previously had using the old towing system. It is part of an overall system to significantly reduce material handling and allow a better controlled flow of wood year round to Slocan's mills

Three grapple-yarding operations harvest tree length and deliver to roadside for cut to length processing. Moreland says concerns about snow pack and walking the forwarders on debris mats of tops and limbs has proven a non-issue for silvicultural crews going in after to find plantable spots for the next crop. Species vary from site to site, but Slocan plants about seven million seedlings annually, says Moreland. The largest logging contractor is Tsay Tay Forestry Ltd, which harvests about 400,000 cubic metres/year for Slocan and Donohue Inc, which also has large Mackenzie operations. Tsay Tay is a joint venture between the Tsay Keh Dene Band, Kwadacha Band, Slocan and Donohue. Slocan also has a partnership with the McLeod Lake Band and its Duz Cho Logging which builds roads and harvests cut to length wood in the company's southern truck logging areas. Logs are trucked from roadside to lakeshore reload yards where they are decked by sort and bundled to await loading aboard the Transporter. Average bundle   sizes are 22 cubic metres for blue and yellow sized wood and up to 27 cubic metres for larger wood. The icebreaking Transporter is impressive by any yardstick. She's about 360 feet long, 100 feet wide and can carry a payload of up to 7,000 cubic metres. She carries two Volvo L330Cs for loading and unloading bundles.

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Each reload yard has a resident L330C. Finlay Navigation also operates the FN 11, a barge capable of transporting 12 loaded logging trucks at a time from harvesting areas on the western shore of Williston Lake across from Mackenzie. A compressed air bubble system keeps an approximately 2,750 metre long channel ice free in winter for year round wood supply to the mill yard. The Volvo 330s are workhorses in the neat and highly efficient log yard operation. The machines run three shifts a day with two on duty at any one time. Functions include unloading incoming direct haul trucks, trucks with bundles from the Transporter and storing and reclaiming wood in the 202 hectare yard. Every day, log-tracking coordinator Theresa Langevin receives updated information critical to the efficient running of the log harvesting and transportation system. Data coming into Langevin's mill yard office overlooking Williston Lake helps keep tabs on every stick at any given time in the company's sprawling log catchment area. The in-house tracking program evolved from a brainstorming session at the company's Ospika Camp in 40 below weather.


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Volvo 330C units are workhorses in the neat and highly efficient log yard operation. The machines run three shifts a day, with two on duty at any one time

The company involved representatives of everyone coming in contact with the wood and asked them how the system could be made to work. The result is a complete and thorough computerized system that tracks wood from the time it crosses a scale to when it's fed onto the mills' surge decks. Controlling fibre flow to ensure the mills receive the wood they require when they require it with the least possible material handling has benefits from contractor payment scheduling to lumber recovery factor determination. Inventory management is facilitated with fewer total yard inventories maintained and faster fibre turnover times. The system reflects the entire cut to length philosophy embraced and practiced by Slocan's people in Mackenzie. They are dedicated to treating each log harvested and transported as the valuable commodity it is.

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