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March 2004


Solid wood yard support

Slocan’s Quesnel operation recently moved to handling cut-to-length wood and has some solid support on the log yard side from two Prentice ATL 640 loaders that are helping to make the yard safer and more productive.

By Jim Stirling

Hoist ‘em skyward. Building log decks 35 feet high is one of the strategies for dealing with cut-to-length wood at Slocan’s Quesnel Division. Physical log yard space is at a premium. Spreading out to help control and manage a new short wood inventory system is not an option. Building wood decks up addresses the challenges, and two new Prentice ATL 640 loaders possess the features required to get the job done. Switching to a cut-to-length system changes everything. It reverberates throughout the way timber is assessed and harvested, how it’s transported and the way in which the material is handled and stored in the log yard. It continues with the approach and equipment used in the sawmill and planer complex to extract the highest value and quality lumber products from available fibre.

The log yard is the critical junction between bush and mill. Slocan Quesnel’s new $35 million cut-to-length sawmill complex (see the February 2004 issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal for a profile of the mill) is located in the North Cariboo region of British Columbia. Mountain pine beetle-infested wood is the predominant fibre source. One of the objectives of the cut-to-length system is waste reduction: leaving fibre that doesn’t conform to saw logs in the bush while transporting out quality, accurately measured logs. The mill’s target maximum length is 16 feet. Slocan’s forest licences account for about 700,000 cubic metres annually. But about 40 per cent of the mill’s fibre requirements come from private log suppliers. Under the old long wood system, shorts were often contained in these shipments.

“The biggest thing we’ve noticed since going cut-to-length is that there’s very little loss of fibre due to breakage,” says Tom Skerratt, log yard supervisor at Slocan Quesnel.

Shorts can become dislodged during handling, producing a safety hazard to workers and equipment. And mixed in shorts also contribute to log breakage. The cut-to-length system and equipment like the Prentice 640s are designed to keep log breakage to absolute minimums. It’s working. “The biggest thing we’ve noticed since going cut-to-length is that there’s very little loss of fibre due to breakage,” reports Tom Skerratt, recently appointed log yard supervisor. There are additional benefits to reducing log breakage. The log yard is cleaner, making it safer and more productive. The log yard at “A” mill is an exceptionally busy place. Skerratt says it varies, but he estimates 100 loads a day come across the scale, typically in three bunk B-train logging truck configurations carrying around 52 cubic metres each. Unless it’s being hot loaded, fibre has to be unloaded and decked for later reclaiming and delivery to the mill’s infeed decks. Slocan also operates an adjacent specialty mill in Quesnel.

Then there’s forklifts handling lumber and the supervisory activities involved in the day-to-day operation of a log yard. Reducing breakage also saves Slocan tipping fees at the local landfill site. Inventory control and management is compromised by the lack of space at the mill site. The operation is shoehorned in between other sawmills in Quesnel’s Two Mile Flat industrial area. The cut-to-length system doesn’t change that reality. But as everyone becomes more used to the system, it should streamline material handling, including the number of times logs have to be moved between incoming logging trucks and the mill’s infeed decks. “It’s all new to us,” says Skerratt. Skerratt explains that logging trucks are directed at the scale where to deliver their loads. It could be to the “A” mill log yard for unloading and decking or to be hot loaded into the mill.

They may deliver to the specialty mill or logs could be assigned to a satellite log yard for storage. Largest of these is Pinecrest, which is located across busy Highway 97 from the mill. Inventory in Pinecrest means re-loads are necessary back to the mill as required. This is an unavoidable hassle given the space restrictions and the mills’ fibre requirements. Slocan invested in a couple of additional 10-foot wide hayrack style trailers to replace the old long log equipment on inventory rehauls. The rubber-tired Prentice 640s are handy here in that they can more easily access Pinecrest. Other expenditures incurred by cut-to-length wood entering the yard, compared with the old long-log system, include a trailer hoist to get the trucker back out in the bush, says Skerratt.

Woodyard supervisor Mike Lawson (left, above) with Bart Crossan of Terratech Equipment, the Prentice dealer in Prince George, with one of the Prentice ATL 640 units.

And de-wrap stations to quicken the unloading process. The operation’s two butt ‘n top loaders were refitted with pulp wood, power clam style grapples to better handle the short wood. On the plus side of the ledger, costs associated with log bundling have been eliminated. Slocan had to assess the pros and cons of various methods of handling cut-to-length logs in the millyard. Personnel visited other operations using cut-to-length/ATL systems and investigated the respective merits of equipment to meet the specific requirements of Slocan Quesnel.

The first of the Prentice 640s was acquired in September, 2003 with the second machine added late in October. The purpose-built loaders are manufactured in Germany and sold under a marketing agreement with the Blount Corporation, Prentice’s parent company. They represent 40 years experience with forestry loaders. Backup support and on-call parts service are a major consideration and are among the benefits offered by Terratech Equipment, the Prentice dealer in Prince George. Prentice also has a resident mechanic in Kamloops. The Prentice 640s are powered by Deutz engines rated at 225 hp. They utilize a pilot operated, load sensing hydraulic system for accurate and positive control. The machine’s two-speed hydrostatic Kassler transmission includes Linde hydraulic pumps and swing system. Other key components on the 72,000 pound machines include Kassler drive axles and transfer cases.

The gooseneck boom geometry allows lifting, swinging and a high stacking reach of 44 feet 4 inches. The 640s can deck up to 35 feet but how they deck is also important. A higher density is possible because unlike banded loads, logs roll in to fill voids in the decks. Similarly, experienced operators can build more even decks. Slocan estimated density and height differences produce about 50 per cent more storage volume per square metre than banded loads. For a space-strapped operation like Slocan Quesnel, that’s hugely significant.

The 640s have a hydraulic cab riser feature elevating the operator to eye levels in excess of 18 feet. That and the design of the cab provide good all around visibility. The machine’s operators report no specific problems familiarizing themselves with the capabilities of the 640 machines. That should only improve as learning curves flatten and experience and productivity levels increase. Part of the cut-to-length system introduction is a better understanding between operational phases. The logging contractors need to appreciate the yard’s problems and concerns in the mill and vice versa.

To that effect, respective groups are visiting each other’s workplaces and finding out first hand what goes on further up or down the log supply chain. “Working together is definitely part of our focus now,” says Skerratt. “And that’s good for all of us.”

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