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Thinking Outside the Diesel Box
Longview Washington's Pacific Fibre Products switches two 330 Cat log loaders from diesel to electric and saves thousands
By Diane Mettler
The innovative team at Pacific Fibre Products out of Longview, Wash., never says "no" to a challenge. The green certified mill, which produces 21 varieties of topsoil and bark, has continually put their employees' skills to the test finding creative ways to reuse machinery. In September 2008, however, they tried something that hadn't been done -- turn a diesel 330 Cat log loader into an electric log loader.
At the time, diesel prices were about $4.00 a gallon, and the company was looking for a way to lower operating costs. They came up with a radical idea. Could they switch out the diesel engine on the 330 Cat log loader and replace it with an electric one?
Taking a Closer Look
"We had been running remote electrical shovels on the mills for years, but none of them near the size of a 330 Cat," says Dave Elwood, maintenance supervisor.
Log Buyer Paul Hadallar (then Rolling Stock Supervisor) and Dave started researching the possibility. Unfortunately, there were no other electric 330 Cats out there to examine, but both Dave and Paul felt confident they had a team at Pacific Fibre with the skills to pull it off, and the economic return was worth the risk.
Making a New Machine
On September 30, they went into action. All the fabrication was done in house, and eight days later, the electric-powered 330 Cat was put into service.
The procedure was pretty simple, says Dave. "We ripped out the pump and the motor --basically we just gutted it, and all that was left was the frame. Then we built a motor base, using the existing motor mounts off the engine on the new plate. Then we put in an electric motor and a pump. It was so simple, it's unbelievable."
Paul adds, "We wanted to make it as simple as possible for everybody, including the operators. So one of our goals was to try to leave mostly everything in the cab stock, other than an on and off switch. So we had to do some things to kind of work around leaving a 24-volt system in the cab.
People behind the Project
Dave says it's about more than just fabricating the right parts. "What made it possible was the willingness of the employees to make it work and give input -- from the owner of the company to the supervisors, mechanics, fabricators, and electricians."
What also made it possible was solid research and economic purchases up front. Paul and Dave found that a new electric motor only needed two-thirds the horsepower of the diesel engine, so they purchased not one, but two 200 horsepower electric motors. Why? Because they were so confident the switch would work, they anticipated switching out their second shovel down the road. By buying in bulk from Motion Industries they were able to cut down on the price.
Once the shovel was in place and feeding the drum debarker, they discovered there was one drawback. Because the machine is fed power from the bottom, it wasn't able to travel.
The team came up with a simple solution. When travel is necessary, the shovel is disconnected from the power and hooked to a portable generator. "We throw the portable generators behind the service truck, and we run the power cords through the grapples and just walk the machine," says Dave.
Over Year Later
Over a year later, the 330 Cat is still working steadily and has more than 3,780 hours logged.
"The initial cost we had into the project was pretty much paid off in nine months, and the savings just keeps compounding," says Dave. "It gets cheaper and cheaper to run it every day."
Pacific Fibre Products is saving more than just fuel costs. It breaks down as follows:
Paul says another benefit is the noise reduction, "The operator, Paul Coburn, also says there's a quicker response in the hydraulics."
"The benefits have been phenomenal," says Dave. "People shouldn't be afraid to think outside the box."
The project was such a success that, in November, the Pacific Fibre Products team was already at work switching their second 330 Cat to electric -- this one capable of travel. It is part of a larger project where they are also changing out the debarker, redoing the pad work, replacing all the electrical, and more.
Although this project is unique, projects like these are commonplace for this never-say-no team. "We've done so many, that it's just not that big a deal," says Dave.
The projects are successful and smooth, in part because the group has worked together for so many years that they've taken teamwork to the next level.
"The average seniority in this company is 15 to 16 years. And that's all of our fabricators, electricians, mechanics, supervisors, and owners of the company," says Dave. "You hear companies talk about team effort, but this place lives it. Everyone has input, and everyone is listened to."
One just has to take a quick look around the mill, to see how talented this team is. When TimberWest was touring the facility, they were changing over their ring debarker to a drum debarker -- the fourth mill they've turned over.
Tips for Future Projects
One of the ways that Pacific Fibre keeps costs in check, in addition to doing the work in house, is attending auctions for machinery.
"One of our greatest experiences each year is when we get to go to auctions," says Paul.
"We learn more and see what other people did," says Dave. "And we also find equipment to incorporate into what we're doing."
The project has been a popular "tour" stop. Members of the FRA have been by to see it, as well as people from both Halton and Cat.
"We've had others come by too," says Dave, "but we haven't heard of anyone trying it themselves yet." Which is surprising, because Dave emphasizes that it's a pretty simple process.
Maybe you can say that when you're talking about a skilled team that's used to thinking outside the box.
The Loss of a Logger -- Robbie Melcher
Our hearts go out to the Melcher family, who recently lost their Robbie. Robbie Lee Melcher was a big part of the family-run logging operation out of Sweet Home, Ore.
Even if you didn't know Robbie personally, you couldn't be involved in the industry without knowing something about Melcher Logging. The family is well-liked and well-known for their innovative practices.
Just this year, Robbie and his older brother Scott, along with their partner Jim Cota, were recognized as Loggers of the Year by the Associated Oregon Loggers. Last year, they received Oregon Tree Farmer of the year and were also chosen as one of the finalists for Western Regional Tree Farmer of the Year. And that's just the start of a long list of accomplishments.
Robbie, who died at only 40-years-old, will be profoundly missed. Our sincerest condolences again go out to the Melcher family.
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