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Minimizing Downtime

Computerized maintenance system at BC's Pope & Talbot helps the company keep downtime to a minimum.

By Paul MacDonald

Part of the Boundary region in south-central British Columbia does, in fact, lie along the boundary between Canada and the United States. In the community of Midway, for example, employees of the Pope & Talbot sawmill sometimes cross the border into the United States for the 40 kilometre drive home to Grand Forks, BC. Driving home is faster through the US, despite the border crossings, because there's less traffic. 

But the Boundary region is also known to be home to some extreme weather, being the boundary between coastal BC to the west, and the Selkirks and Rocky Mountains to the east. 

Pop & Talbot's equipment line-up inclues a Tigercat 860 with a Denharco 4400 delimber.  Well-equipped maintenance trucks support logging and processing equipment out in the bush.

While the coast gets what would be considered balmy weather, the southern interior of the province can get, as the saying goes, a lot of weather. That extreme weather can pose some challenges for the Pope & Talbot logging crews and the equipment maintenance operation. "The weather is one of the big obstacles we have to deal with here in the Boundary," explains Frank Sanders, fleet maintenance manager for Pope & Talbot. 

"We have very hot temperatures in the summers and the winters can be very cold." In the summer, temperatures in the high 30s are not uncommon, and they can creep into the low 40s. To counter the hot weather in the summer, the crews focus on blowing out the cooling systems, the rads and oil coolers, and washing machines, where possible, to keep dust down. 

Extreme heat usually brings problems with hoses, so they are monitored more closely. Then there's winter. "The last few winters have not been bad, but in the past we've gone down to minus 30 for weeks at a time," says Sanders. All of this takes its toll on logging equipment. Pope & Talbot is one of the few forest companies in the BC Interior that still has its own company-operated logging operations. 

A Cat 325 butt 'n top loader helps to move the 700,000 cubic metres a year required by Pope & Talbot's two sawmills in the BC Interior.

While forest company operations are quite common on the BC coast, the vast majority of logging in the interior is done by contractors. In addition to doing its own logging, Pope & Talbot also uses four logging contractors. With this fairly large company operation, Sanders oversees the maintenance of a lot of iron. There's more than 300 pieces of equipment, everything from pick-up trucks to feller bunchers. "That's pretty much everything with wheels on it," he notes, adding that they also have tracked machines out in the bush. 

They have two of their own logging trucks, which provide the company with a real "window" on benchmarking hauling costs. Having its own logging operations out in the bush also helps to benchmark log production costs, whether it involves a feller buncher or a butt 'n top loader. And key to keeping their production costs down is minimizing downtime. 

To achieve that, Pope & Talbot uses the Maincam computerized maintenance system, which provides complete maintenance and cost records for every single piece of logging equipment. When a piece of equipment comes into the shop, heavy duty mechanics have already accessed computer records to see what has been done to the machine in the past-and what needs to be done now. All that information comes in handy on a day-to-day basis, and at trade-in time. "It helps me negotiate trade values," says Sanders. "The people buying the equipment have a very good idea of what has been done and how it has been serviced." 

But the driving force behind the maintenance system is keeping the logging equipment up and operating. Between company and contractor logging operations, the Pope & Talbot sawmills at Midway and nearby Grand Forks require some 700,000 cubic metres of timber a year. On a good day, 70 truck loads-a combination of five and seven axle units-will pass over the scales at Midway alone Each truck carries an average of 38 cubic metres. 

But there are also busier times. Going into break-up, the mills carry up to 3.5 months supply of timber in the yard. Loggers in this region of BC left the valley bottoms long ago and are now harvesting on the steep hillsides. Cut blocks on level ground are a distant memory. That and the fact that the cutblocks are smaller now pose some interesting challenges for Pope & Talbot. Equipment is moved around much more than in the past and the company tries to fit the maintenance schedule around those moves whenever possible. 

"If we've got equipment moving, we'll try to tie maintenance in if it is going past the yard." In the past, major maintenance work was done once a year, at break-up. Over the last five years, they have moved to doing semi-annual maintenance-at break-up and in the fall. "What we were finding is that we did not have a wide enough window of time at break-up to do all the repairs required on the equipment," explains Sanders. 

"When you're putting 2,500 or 3,000 hours on a processor and not bringing it back into the shop through the logging season, you don't have a chance to do all the preventative maintenance and it can end up costing you downtime. Your costs can really skyrocket." The equipment is brought into the shop in October/November, and the maintenance crew will go right through the machines, doing the necessary maintenance and repairs. 

This approach also helps to spread maintenance costs out over the course of the year. Previously, they were looking at a large "spike" in maintenance costs around break-up. The semi-annual maintenance works well financially, but more importantly it works well for the equipment, helping to keep it in good running condition. The work is also scheduled in consultation with the woods foremen so the loss of productive time out in the woods is minimized. For example, they may get a buncher to work ahead in some easier ground, which would then free it up for a week or so for the necessary maintenance in the shop. 

Having a maintenance program in place is great, but key to it all is having the discipline to follow it religiously, says Sanders. Rather than trying to push a few more hundred hours out of a machine, it's important that it get into the shop at the scheduled time. Getting that additional time might deliver more production now, but it could also result in some very expensive downtime later. 

"The production people sometimes have difficulty giving up the equipment which is understandable because they have a job to do out in the woods," says Sanders. "But they also know it is important that we look long term. If you don't do it now, it's going to cost you later." Supporting this whole maintenance program are four service trucks in the woods, one each for two of the logging sides, and one for each of the two areas where they are building logging road. 

The computerized maintenance system allows the company to keep tabs on every piece of equipment, allowing them to make solid decisions on when to consider getting new equipment. 

"With our maintenance program, we can keep a close eye on costs per hour for equipment," says Sanders. "For example, I find with skidders that it's time to replace them before we get to the point where we have to do major components like engines or transmissions. I start looking at a skidder pretty hard around 8,500 or 9,000 hours." (See sidebar story on the new Tigercat 630B Skidder on page 10.) 

Feller bunchers are a bit different story because of the higher cost of the machine. "With the higher initial investment in a buncher, you can probably afford to rebuild an engine." The higher horsepower on the more current bunchers pretty much results in a shorter engine life, anyway. At the 13,000 to 14,000 hour level, they start to look at a replacement-at that point a buncher is usually getting to the end of the life of its second engine and undercarriage. When it comes time to buy new equipment, Pope & Talbot, like many other companies, has an established team approach in place. 

Although the final responsibility for equipment selection lies with Sanders, he looks for input from key people-the woods foremen, the operators and the mechanics. Essentially, if people are involved with the machine, they are involved in the equipment selection process. In selecting their equipment line up, Sanders says they look for a smooth flow of wood. 

"We are looking for a good balance between what our bunchers can put down, how many skidders we need to move that kind of volume and what kind of processing power we need. In other words, we don't want any bottlenecks."

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