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Doing it all - from log loaders to locomotives

Western Forest Products’ Englewood Logging Division on Vancouver Island is one heck of a busy operation, with three maintenance shops taking care of everything from log loaders to locomotives.

By Paul MacDonald

When it comes to servicing heavy equipment, the Englewood Logging Division of Western Forest Products on northern Vancouver Island covers it all. From the boom boats that sort logs at the division’s Beaver Cove dryland sort to the diesel electric locomotives operating on one of Canada’s last remaining logging railways—and all the logging equipment in between—the maintenance shops at Englewood handle it all.

“It can be complicated,” says Rick Bitten, master mechanic at Englewood Logging Division. “We’re moving people around constantly to handle the different service needs of all of the equipment in the division.”

All together, the three maintenance shops—Woss, Nimpkish and Beaver Cove—at the division are responsible for some 150 pieces of heavy equipment, from log loaders to stackers to the locomotives working on the logging railway.

In an average year, the division logs 890,000 cubic metres of wood a year, a mix of old growth and second growth coastal timber, all of which is sorted at Beaver Cove. About 800,000 cubic metres of that is hauled to Beaver Cove on the logging railway. The division has two contractors; one hauls wood directly to Beaver Cove and the other hauls to the railroad.

“We’re moving people around constantly to handle the different service needs of all of the equipment in the division,” says Rick Bitten (above), master mechanic at Englewood Logging Division.

The division’s logging operations deliver, on average, 4,300 cubic metres a day, with 3,000 cubic metres of that coming from the company’s own logging operations. And keeping equipment up and running is key to the success of the whole outfit.

The selection of new logging equipment for the division is done by committee; this includes the division manager, the supervisor who will be in charge of the equipment, and Bitten. Bitten explains that there have been some major equipment acquisitions in recent years, as Englewood has moved into doing more second growth harvesting.

“It used to be all hand-felled wood, grapple yarded into the landing,” he says. “Now we’re running feller bunchers and processors that will do 300 or 400 cubic metres a shift.”

To make sure the most efficient—and cost effective—equipment is purchased for Englewood, the division has an extensive review process.

As far out as two months in advance of actually making an equipment purchase, they’ll start preparing a spreadsheet with all the specifics of the different brands of equipment, whether it’s a log loader or excavator. Some of the categories include safety features, cab ergonomics, serviceability, parts availability, warranty, the equipment’s past history, its weak/strong points, and costs.

There can be upwards of 25 categories for each piece of equipment. The input of everyone who is going to be involved with the equipment, from the operator to the heavy duty mechanics, is sought, to get information for the spreadsheet.

“It’s an interesting process and a good process,” says Bitten. “We’ll complete the whole spreadsheet and then compare each of the brands. Then we’ll narrow it down and look at the two or three machines that we think would work best for us. That way, we’re not going all over the place, looking at equipment that we don’t need to look at.”

The Englewood Logging Division of Western Forest Products has one of the last logging railways in Canada. The railway hauls logs to the division’s dryland sort at Beaver Cove.

They recently needed some additional log handling equipment at Beaver Cove and Cat dealer Finning—along with the other equipment dealers—had to run the spreadsheet gauntlet and eventually emerged victorious. The division opted for a couple of Cat 345B tracked log loaders.

At one time, Englewood, when it was owned by another forest company, Canfor, had an equipment alliance with Caterpillar and Cat dealer Finning, which involved Finning meeting all its equipment needs. Bitten says this set-up seemed to work fine, but these days, the division is not set on any particular brand of equipment. For example, they have—in additional to the Cat equipment—Deere, Komatsu, Kobelco and Madill log loaders. Their logging trucks, both highway and off highway, are all Kenworths, however.

With the very thin margins the forest companies are seeing these days, going the distance to ensure you’ve got the best equipment—and the best deal—is no longer an option, it’s a necessity, says Bitten.

While they work hard to get the right piece of equipment, Bitten notes that if a weak point develops with a machine, and they are not able to get it fixed through the manufacturer or dealer, they’ll find their own solution. “Our maintenance people will come up with a redesign that will eliminate the problem—and it’s usually copied throughout the industry.”

In recent years, they’ve been making the move to mechanized logging and now have a TK 1162 buncher, two Denharco stroke delimber processors—a 4450 and a 4550—mounted on Cat 322 carriers, and a Waratah 626 mounted on a Cat 345. This equipment generally operates in second growth logging operations, which are run from November to April, in lower elevation areas.

While this equipment is generally working well for the division, Bitten notes that pretty much all manufacturers could really improve in terms of providing more maintenance information on what is now some pretty technology-heavy equipment.

“The mechanized equipment can be complicated and higher maintenance than the more standard equipment we’ve dealt with a lot in the past,” he says. They are relying on the manufacturer, and dealer, to help them deal with equipment maintenance, from the day the machine is delivered, and onwards.

“It can really be all about the information you get when you get the machine right through to the service behind the machine. That’s even more important now that so much of the technology is based on computers.”

In terms of equipment life, the operation strives to achieve the longest life out of a machine, to take a machine to what Bitten terms its “sweet spot,” but not beyond. “There comes a point when a machine needs to go or else you’re going to be looking at putting some major money into some big repairs.”

Being creative on the maintenance side is also a necessity. Bitten and the division are especially proud of a rebuild project they completed on four yarders. Rather than go for expensive new equipment, they wanted to rebuild—extensively—four Cypress 7280 yarders that form a key part of the logging they’re doing on the steep slopes on northern Vancouver Island. It was division manager Mike Manson’s idea, and he worked hard to sell the concept to Canfor’s senior management, who then owned Englewood. It got the green light.

After a bidding process, T-Mar Industries of Campbell River received the contract for the four rebuilds, each costing about $550,000. But before T-Mar even started, Bitten and the crew prepared a “book,” outlining what their expectations were for the rebuild. The book outlined in great detail all the changes that would be required, from safety upgrades to engine changes.

“We had a huge number of things done; it was very well planned out,” says Bitten. “It really gave us the opportunity to move the yarders up to today’s standards and eliminate some problem areas.” He cited an example of going from the original oil filters that were expensive and a nightmare to change to simple spin-on filters that were inexpensive.

“It was a very worthwhile project,” says Bitten. “I call what we did equipment re-life rather than just an equipment rebuild. The yarders did not come back the same—there were major hydraulic system changes, updated engines, new rad packages.”

With these kinds of projects, Bitten says, the devil is in the details. And with all their planning—and staying on top of the project—they tried to take care of as many details as possible.

Bitten went to the T-Mar shops to review the rebuilds once or twice a week and to go over any changes, to try to control any kind of upward creep in costs. “You have to be there to monitor the projects and costs.” To keep costs in line, some of the work was done at the Englewood shops.
The division sent one of its field mechanics, Cliff Lutz, to work at the T-Mar shops for the last three weeks of assembly and testing. “This was one of the reasons the rebuilds were done to our expectations,” says Bitten.

The end result has been satisfying to the maintenance guys and the guys operating the yarders in the bush. “We used to have problems with the equipment, but I can’t remember the last time we had someone calling in. Those yarders just don’t breakdown now.”

And there have been fuel savings by re-engining the yarders, going to Detroit Diesel 60 series engines with 550 horsepower. They’re seeing savings of $20,000 in fuel costs, per machine on a single-shift basis, each year. “We’re talking about going from an engine that was burning 30 litres of fuel an hour to going to an engine that burns 10 to 12 litres an hour.”

Everyone who participated in the project—from Englewood to the T-Mar people—had a stake in the success of the rebuilds. And now, says Bitten, they can all take pride in how well it went.
It has positioned the division well, in terms of equipment and logging costs. “It has put us in a different position in the industry—our yarding costs are way down. It’s put us in the right place.”