By Paul MacDonald
Wood residual hauling, general freight, heavy haul, and freight brokering are the mainstays of Sutco Contracting, based in the small town of Salmo, surrounded by the Selkirk Mountains of B.C.’s West Kootenays region.
As the transportation needs of Sutco’s customers evolved, they have continued to seek new and better ways to maintain their commitment to being transportation specialists.
Responding to a Need
Along the way, they have also ramped up meeting the needs of their forest industry customers, setting up a chipping division, BC EcoChips.
These days, the chipping operation principally meets the needs of one customer in particular, the Zellstoff Celgar pulp mill in Castlegar, B.C. Sutco set up a chipping operation in the region to supply the pulp mill and transport the chips using Sutco trucks.
The chipping operation, which includes the transportation of the chips, is an excellent fit for Sutco, with their strength in trucking—and chipping.
“As a general rule, all of the trucking is done with Sutco trucks,” says Sam Beaulieu, who manages the chipping operation on a day-to-day basis.
Chipper Meets Demand
From the start, the BC EcoChips chipping operation has been operating with a Peterson 5000H chipper, from Peterson dealer Woodland Equipment, and Beaulieu says it has been an “incredible workhorse for us—and fast.”
Sam adds, “Watching the chipper right now, the loader operator is taking the pulp wood off the truck, and I can pretty much guarantee that by the time the driver has his trailer loaded and is scaled out, the wood that he brought in will have gone through the Peterson—and will be wood chips on the ground.”
Depending on the operator, a load of logs goes through the chipper every 20 to 25 minutes.
BC EcoChips has made some changes to the chipper, but Beaulieu says running the Peterson efficiently often has more to do with having a feel for its operations.
“It’s knowing what the chipper likes,” he says. “A lot of times, we will go from the really small stems to the larger stems, and you’ve got to feed the machine differently. It has three flails, and with the bigger wood, you might turn off one flail and lift the wood because that way, the bigger wood will feed in better. And with smaller wood, you might have all the flails on and turn them up really high.”
They have made some minor changes, though, notes Beaulieu.
“We’ve changed the end of the chip chute,” he explains. “Wood chippers generally work in the bush on a landing, and the chip trucks drive right under the chute, and you hot-load them.
“But we have two chutes; we have one for hot loading, and we have another chute that we use to shoot the chips to make piles.”
Beaulieu says they have put on some belt shrouds and made some alterations to radiator mounts. “But for the most part, the Peterson is original—they are good machines.”
The operators gauge how to run the chipper. Beaulieu says that lately they have been hiring some younger guys as operators. “They might have a little less experience, but we train them—show them how to run the chipper and fix it.
“Once they get the hang of it, they just run with it. These young guys just need an opportunity, and if you give that to them, they want to do the work.” One of their newer operators has taken a heavy equipment operator’s course.
They now have four guys that can run the chipper—and their Hitachi 200 log loader, the Link-Belt 290 butt ‘n top, and the two Volvo wheel loaders. The Volvo machines came from Great West Equipment, and they got the Link-Belt from the Inland Group (formerly Parker Pacific).
“So everyone knows how to run every piece of equipment we have here,” says Beaulieu. “That way, they can go from machine to machine all day.” This gives the operation great flexibility if someone needs to take a day off, he adds.
The chipping operation uses dealer services on the mobile equipment and the chipper if necessary, but the emphasis is on doing their own repairs.
“We probably do 80 percent of our maintenance. For example, if a pump goes on the chipper, and we have an extra one, we’ll change it out before we call a mechanic from the dealer.
“I’ve welded the boom on the chipper, refurbished a chip bucket, and surfaced the tips on the grapples,” Beaulieu says.
“We also have a hose press, so we can make 95 percent of the hoses we need for our operation. It’s not very often that we have a lot of downtime due to a hose or something like that. We can usually get the equipment going if we have the parts, and it’s not a major component failure.”
That said, Beaulieu says they have received solid service from Woodland Equipment for the Peterson chipper, and they have a lot of the common parts needed, like bearings and certain coils.
Peterson makes a variety of products including hog grinders, drum chippers, and flails, and some of the parts are interchangeable and well stocked.
Larger components may have to come from Peterson production facilities in Oregon or South Carolina. “If we’re doing major component repairs, we’ll try to schedule it and order the part in advance so there is no delay in getting it.”
All wood chippers work hard, and the Peterson 5000H is no exception, so maintenance is key to its efficiency.
“In a 12-hour day, we might have to stop three times to change knives, and we’ll grease it and fuel it up. In terms of oil changes and other maintenance, we try to keep all our machines on a similar schedule, so if the chipper is ready for an oil change, so are the loaders.” They carefully track the maintenance that is performed on their machines.
As with all forestry operations working in tough conditions, though, repairs are not always scheduled.
“The chipper is hard on itself, and things can break. The other day we had a bearing go on the back of the roll case, next to the wheel. That took about 45 minutes, taking the old bearing off, putting the new one on, and some welding — and then checking it to make sure it works properly.”
Beaulieu says that as much as they monitor the chipper’s performance, it can sometimes go down quickly, without warning. “With some of it, there’s no way you can see it coming. It will run like a top for three months, and then something will happen.”
The Peterson chipper is working on its second motor, with 2200 hours on it. The first motor lasted 14,000 hours. “I was pretty happy with that,” says Beaulieu. “You have to remember that the chipper runs wide open, all day, every day.”
Pulp Logs and Sawlogs
This past summer, one of BC EcoChips operations was also sorting the wood they received for both pulp logs and sawlogs.
“As a general rule, we’re just chipping. But we’ve been doing a few different sawlog sorts, as well,” says Beaulieu.
He noted the amount of mountain pine beetle wood they are dealing with has tapered off.
“We are still getting some dry beetle wood, but it’s definitely not the same amount as we used to get,” he says.
“Now, a lot of the stands that are close to us . . . are small, tight, dense trees.” These will be 25 to 30 feet, four-inch at the butt, two inches at the top. “They’re really small trees,” says Beaulieu, and very suited for pulp wood.
They like to have a small sea of wood at the chipping operation. “It’s ideal for us to have at least 500 to 600 loads of logs in inventory at break-up. When the trucks stop hauling, it’s amazing how fast the Peterson can go through that wood.
“When the trucks stop hauling, you sure notice it,” he adds. “You don’t realize how much wood you are burning through.” An average day will see them getting as many as 30 loads of logs.
In five 10-hour days, the Peterson will go through a double-high row of timber, representing 75 loads of logs. Generally, it takes about 40 loads of logs to make 35 loads of chips.
The pulp company Zellstoff Celgar works directly with the loggers who are hauling the wood to the BC EcoChips yard.
Zellstoff Celgar set wood chip standards from the start, and these have to be steadily maintained. “Whatever we produce for them, it has to be the right species, the right size, and can’t have too much bark,” says Beaulieu.
“If they say our bark content is too high, we figure out a way to get the bark content down. That could mean changing the flail chains or changing the way we feed logs. There are a lot of things we can do to get the quality they need.”
The work BC EcoChips is doing reinforces the importance of an integrated forest industry, with pulp mills and saw mills and logging operations working together.
Much of the wood they are chipping, had it not been brought out of the bush, would have been burned as slash. In this sense, the chipping operation is adding value to the wood.
In the other locations where the chipping operation was set up, most of their logs were tree length. The majority of their logs now are cut-to-length, 35 feet and shorter.
BC EcoChips has looked into using the delimbinator on a long-term basis, but decided it would be best to leave that work to the logging contractors and focus on chipping. That’s what they do best.
On the Cover
Peterson 5000H chipper is hard at work at a Sutco Contracting site.
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