Faced with working with a smaller mill yard, Tembec's Huntsville operation had nowhere to go but up with its log storage and a Liebherr loader with extendible cab is helping them take the log decks up.
By Paul MacDonald
Doing more with less is a term that is heard quite often on the sawmill side of the forest industry, and it's often used to describe how a mill is making the most of a shrinking timber base. But Tembec's Huntsville, Ontario operation is also doing more with less with its log yard. Log throughput and mill production has expanded significantly in recent years, to the point where the three shift operation is now turning out 160,000 tonnes a year. This mill 200 kilometres north of Toronto, which produces hardwood flooring, has done extremely well over the last few years, with a healthy North American housing market-consuming flooring at a quick clip. A huge challenge it faced in the last year, however, was the loss of a large part-approximately 10 hectares-of its log yard. The mill site was previously adjacent to Highway 11, a major transportation route used by residents of Toronto and communities to the south traveling to what is called "cottage country".
Last year, the highway was expanded from two lanes to four lanes, with Tembec having to give up a good part of land in the process. In fact, part of a new overpass for the new expanded highway goes right over the now old mill yard. Yard manager Kevin Fisher and his group had the challenge of making sure the mill has a steady supply of wood in the yard, even though the mill is consuming more wood and now has a smaller yard to work with. The solution, it turns out, was in the log decks and with a specific loader. They now stack 'em high in the yard using the Liebherr A924, which is equipped with a riser cab that makes building higher log decks relatively straightforward.
The machine also has a built-in weigh scale that also helps to move wood through the yard and fits right in with the operation's move to a weight based measurement system that extends right through to the mill. In the summer months, the yard will receive about 20 truckloads of hardwood a day. At about 37 tonnes a load, that represents 740 tonnes of wood that has to be decked. Things crank up considerably in the winter, with upwards of 40 truckloads a day coming through the mill gate. "We'll see the higher volume from mid January to breakup in March," explains Kevin Fisher. "Before we lost part of the yard, we were running with a conventional loader," he says. "But the Liebherr has worked out well, now that we've lost that land, because we can deck higher. It really helped out this past winter. Not only were we able to store the logs for the mill, we were also able to store the pulp logs in the yard as well."
Pulp logs, which come in from company and private operations, are stored temporarily at the mill. They are sold to either the Tembec mill in Timiskaming, north of Huntsville, or an outside pulp producer. "It has really worked out fine for space." The timing was right for the incorporation of a new style of machine with the Liebherr, due to the loss of yard space. But Fisher explains that there have been other benefits, notably less rutting and erosion in the yard. This translates into cost benefits on yard maintenance. "We've since built some good roadways in the yard to support the machine. These roadways make it easier for the loader and trailer to load and unload with ease." A significant amount of gravel has also been put in the yard, as well as specialized roadways, which make it easier to deck higher.
Tembec staff did their homework before deciding to move in the direction of the Liebherr-Gerald Kroes, sawmill/forestry manager, and forestry superintendent Tim Lunham from the mill toured some other sawmills and saw different machines in action. "They knew right away that a loader of this type was something that we needed," says Fisher. "It has what we were looking for-good reach and an extendible cab. It's great for unloading pulp and log trucks and, of course, decking logs high. With that extendible cab, you can really get up there and see what's going on." With conventional loaders, the best they could do with log deck height was about nine or ten feet. With the new loader, they are now decking logs up to 20 feet high.
The higher decks mean the operation has effectively doubled its log storage space. "And the riser on the machine has been a huge benefit in terms of visibility," adds Fisher. "The operators can see better and place the shorter and longer logs properly so we can have sound and safe log decks. "When the Liebherr operators are unloading the trucks, they're up high and have a good knowledge of exactly where the boom is and what they are reaching for with the grapple." It also fit well with some of the other changes planned-now implemented-at the mill. At the mill infeed, a Cat 320 loader feeds the mill from decks positioned by the infeed chain. Its mobility, by design, is limited. The Liebherr loader fits right into that, moving right up to the Cat with its trailer of logs, which carries up to 20 tonnes of logs.
From the mill's perspective, the Liebherr has had a good uptime record. "It's a key part of our operation and we are looking for dependability. We ran it 24 hours a day from December to this past May without much downtime." As is usually the case with any new piece of equipment, operators-mill employees-needed to feel their way around with the Liebherr. The company brought in a simulator from Quebec called Simulog to help move this process along. Operators seem to be won over, however. "They think it's a great machine.
The operators like its adaptability." Multitasking, it appears, could be the Liebherr's middle name. "It works well for unloading, stacking high and forwarding. And with the weighing system on it, it's turned out great for scaling and weighing the wood." The weighing function fits well with an overall shift to weight based measurement at the Tembec Huntsville operation. A new weigh scale is being installed at the mill and production will soon be based on weight, rather than board feet or cubic metres. The new loader, with its weight system, fits handing love with this system. "Before we were cubic metres and the mill was board feet," says Fisher. "Now, we're all going to be straight tonnes." The machine can face a sorting challenge with each truckload of wood that comes in the mill. Some of the Tembec wood comes from company owned tenures and from large woodlots. But a good percentage comes from small woodlots all over the region and can consist of a mix of sizes and species. "Each load is different and the machine sorts for product and species." In total, there are 32 different sorts for product and species at the operation.
The mill has taken a different approach with this machine and the Cat 320, in that local equipment contractor Riley Kirkby owns them both. Kirkby said the Liebherr is working fine from his point of view. "It's capable of doing the job and loads and stacks the wood quite well. It's basically a good machine." There were some minor problems, such as replacing some wiring that was not built to withstand cold weather, "but nothing insurmountable". "We've never been stalled up for very long," he says of the machine, which had 6,600 hours on it as of midsummer.
At Tembec Huntsville, they still have conventional loaders working in the yard-such as John Deere 544 and 644 machines-but these days they are complementary to the Liebherr, rather than being the main wood moving machines. "We still have one machine on each shift as a support machine, but now they don't deteriorate the roadways like they used to," says Kevin Fisher. "They're loading bark trucks and sawdust trucks and other odd jobs." Although the Liebherr is running pretty much full tilt these days, Fisher says it may still possess some undiscovered talents. "We still want to make the yard work better with the machine and that takes time-we're still working on that. It seems like every week we learn something that could make the machine more efficient in the yard and better utilize its talents." In some ways, everyone is still learning with the new machine. "We weren't familiar with this type of machine before and we've all had to work hard to develop the yard so the Liebherr could perform efficiently" says Fisher. "And that's everyone from the operators to yard management."
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