December 2003 January 2004
Cutting time, saving money
Ainsworth Lumber is cutting the unloading time in its OSB mill yard by half by using a massive John Deere log loader.
By Tony Kryzanowski
Time is money in the forest industry, and Ainsworth Lumber takes that statement of fact to heart. Using some new mobile equipment, Ainsworth has been able to reduce the time it takes to unload logging trucks at its Grande Prairie, Alberta OSB plant by half. What has made this improvement possible is the company’s recent lease of a John Deere JD 800C log loader, the equipment manufacturer’s largest log loader and said to be the largest log loader currently in operation in the world.
The Grande Prairie version of the log loader weighs in at 213,115 kilograms, and it comes with a 454 horsepower, 957 cubic inch engine. But this giant has done more than make a dramatic dent in the time it takes to unload trucks. The amount of time it takes to load forwarding trailers from the plant’s inventory deck to the infeed area has also improved by at least 50 per cent. Typically, it would take Ainsworth equipment operators 11 to 12 minutes to unload a truck using smaller log loaders.
Now, with the JD 800C, it takes four to five minutes. With loading forwarding trailers, it was taking 12 to 15 minutes per trailer. Now that’s down to about six minutes per trailer. Two smaller log loaders and two forwarders typically handled the task of loading and transporting logs to the plant infeed during the log haul season. Ainsworth now only needs one forwarder working with the JD 800C log loader. Exchanging two log loaders for one has decreased the company’s equipment requirements and reduced overall fuel requirements. “To be honest with you, we’ve been the guinea pig for buying new equipment before,” says Ainsworth Grande Prairie yard team leader Darryl Dechant. “We were obviously quite concerned about moving from one product line to another. We felt it might come with complications, being the first of its kind. But this machine has been unbelievably successful. It hasn’t given us a bit of trouble yet.”
He adds that his operators are also very pleased with the log loader’s performance. Usually, he has a list of concerns from operators on a new piece of equipment by now. So far, he has received no negative feedback. John Deere, through its local supplier Brandt Tractor, made a substantial investment into converting the JD 800C into a successful log loader. Typically, this excavator is used in the oil and gas, water and sewer installation, construction, and mining industries. Brandt teamed up with equipment fabricator IMAC and Ainsworth staff to modify the excavator design to make it suitable as a log loader. The group made significant modifications to the cab, undercarriage, boom and stick, and grapple.
The first issue was whether the JD 800C had enough lifting power when stretched out 40 to 50 feet. The fact that this log loader performed better than competing brands worked in John Deere’s favor. The stick and boom consists of IMAC lift cylinders with OEM seals and packing, hoses on the stick instead of steel lines, extra lighting on the boom, and a lighter duty bottom cylinder guard. It comes equipped with a four cord short wood grapple with bypass jaws, tilt cylinder with float valve, mechanical timing link, heavy duty rotate bearing, and dual rotate motors and planetaries. This is the largest short wood grapple that IMAC builds. Dechant says that with the expanded field of vision available to operators because of the positioning of the boom and stick, they can load and unload in either direction.
This is a marked improvement over the log loaders the company used previously. Cab comfort was also an important issue with Ainsworth equipment operators. Brandt equipped the log loader with its West Coast rear entry cab. It is a large cab, measuring five feet five inches wide and seven feet six inches long. It also comes with an operator seat and trainer seat. Ainsworth had heating and cooling issues with other forestry cab designs, so its operators worked with equipment engineers to see if this problem could be rectified. Part of the solution was extra insulation, as well as the installation of two heaters and two air conditioners. The log loader worked in temperatures of 31 degrees Celsius this past summer, with no comfort complaints from operators.
The extra insulation also improves sound suppression. Ainsworth’s operators were also pleased that John Deere could offer pilot hydraulic control levers as opposed to electronic controls now common in the industry. Dechant says his operators prefer the feel and movement offered by the pilot control system hydraulics. Also, the cab does not come with a lot of extra electronic control switches. Dechant says this is a good fit for the Ainsworth working environment, because the log loader’s assigned tasks are limited and very straightforward. While the log loader proved that it could easily lift four cords fully extended, there was also the issue of stability to address.
To answer this concern, Brandt installed a gauge widener, which consists of a 20-foot wide and 20-foot long undercarriage. “Its stability over the sides and over the front is no different,” says Dechant. “It’s built like a box.” Extra guarding was also provided. This consists of under-house guarding, a hinged swivel guard, heavy catwalks, safety guardrail, reinforced service doors, rear radiator guard, and front right corner log deflector. Extra guarding sometimes leads to diminished serviceability. However, Brandt installed wash out holes in the panels, a quick service panel for engine oil, and SOS quick oil sample area. Brandt and IMAC were willing to invest time and money to modify the JD 800C according to Ainsworth’s specifications because they could see additional market potential for the product. Since Ainsworth’s commissioning of the unit, Brandt has presented the JD 800C’s log loader design to two other forest products companies for their consideration. With the modifications, the log loader sells for about $1.5 million.
Ainsworth expects it to remain in service for six years or about 30,000 hours. One major overhaul has been included as part of its maintenance plan. Ainsworth’s modifications to the log loader are closely tied to the Grande Prairie plant’s evolution from handling tree-length to cut-to-length logs as a means of improving plant production. Over the past seven years, the company has gradually switched from 100 per cent tree-length, to its current diet of 75 per cent cut-to-length and 25 per cent tree-length logs. The move to higher volumes of 16-foot logs has resulted in more uniform raw material entering the mill, with fewer air spaces in the strand batches.
The need for greater uniformity became obvious as the press ramped up to full design capacity. With tree-length logs, the infeed had difficulty keeping up with press production. Now with logs processed to 16 feet in the bush, this has helped the yard keep up with plant production. Another log management productivity improvement Ainsworth has made is to deliver as much of the plant’s fibre needs as possible directly from the bush to the plant infeed during the log haul season. Processing logs in the bush has made that possible. As long as the log load is the right species mix and moisture content, yard managers will direct 25 to 30 loads a day directly to the mill infeed, where a stationary Cat 345 log loader equipped with a pulpwood clam unloads logs directly into the four log ponds.
Typically, over 200 log loads will be delivered to the yard per day during the height of the log haul. By delivering directly to the infeed, this avoids double handling of the logs, which translates into higher log quality and lower yard management costs. Dechant says with the company’s involvement in the recently commissioned Footner Forest Products OSB plant in High Level, Alberta, it briefly considered log management in the yard using an overhead crane. However, the Grande Prairie plant has had considerable success with mobile log loaders since it began operations, so it decided to keep with that system. It was only a matter of investigating what equipment suppliers had available to more efficiently handle high volumes of short wood.
After a competitive bidding process, Ainsworth opted for John Deere’s proposal because of the direct input that company personnel had in the JD 800C’s design. Both Dechant and Ainsworth maintenance team leader Lindon Hembrow were actively involved in tweaking the log loader to their specifications. Brandt sales representative Lyle Dalgleish says that John Deere has become more active in bidding on business where larger equipment is required. “Right now, we’ve got the 800 as well as the 600 series, and we are just getting more and more product all the time,” he says. There was considerable pressure on Brandt and IMAC to deliver a reliable product. “It’s the only one in the yard now doing the job, so it’s critical that it is up and running 24/7,” Dalgleish says. Ainsworth handles equipment maintenance using its own forces, except for warranty work.
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