For years, clearing cross-ups in the in-feed deck has been a simple, and recurring, fact of life at the Swanson Group Lumber Mill, in Glendale, Oregon. To Mike Lawless, the log yard coordinator there, it seemed that continual repaving of the asphalt operating surface that surrounds the mill was another of those jobs that, no matter how well you do it, you will soon be doing it over again.
These jobs may never go away completely, but both of those problems have improved significantly for Lawless since last October, when he brought the mill’s first Sennebogen log loader into service.
The log sorting and cross up management problem was a side effect of an upgrade in 1997 to the dimensional lumber mill. High-speed scanning and production equipment was installed at that time. It was a state-of-the-art system, but the mill soon found that it would have to assign one of its log loaders to pick out occasional jammed/crossed up logs and clear the path as blocks were forwarded up from the de-barker toward the mill’s in-feed.
Mike Lawless’ equipment fleet did include a few log loaders, which are normally put to work decking blocks when the log processing output exceeds the mill’s production rate; a photo eye senses when the in-feed deck is full. The debarked, cut-to-length blocks are then diverted to a surge area so the debarking, scanning and log processing can continue unhindered. The loaders are also used to high deck and feed the mill a select diet of various sized logs to increase the mill’s production rate. The grapple-equipped loader selects and feeds the proper mix of logs, ranging from six to 20 inches in diameter, to ensure that the ratio of cants exiting the vertical band saws will keep both the twin and the ganged resaws operating at full capacity, without getting backlogged.
At first, the mill’s big wheel loader was delegated to correct cross-ups along with its usual duties. However, the short debarked segments are slippery and tricky to manage for the big machine designed to grab a full truckload of 40-foot logs.
The task was then given to the smaller tracked loader. Unfortunately, this solution came with its own perils. As described by Lawless, the nature of the processing equipment doesn’t lend itself to precision log picking! Seated in his cab, the loader operator had no clear line-of-sight into the conveying area where jams occur. Clearing jams became a painstaking job for two, with a “spotter” acting as a second pair of eyes for the loader operator, helping him guide the grapple to take hold of the jammed log and move it into place.
According to Lawless, the system was less than perfect — and small misses with the loader proved very costly. Occasionally, through no fault of his own, the loader operator would inadvertently damage a conveyor belt or another piece of equipment with the grapple. The mill’s production process, running at 50 MBF per hour, would come to a sudden and complete stop. The repair bill for the conveyor, alone, would cost Swanson thousands of dollars while the lost production cost considerably more.
Times like that gave Lawless more than enough opportunity to observe the other problem his track machine was causing. Pointing to a 12-inch deep puddle in the pavement, he says “…their steel lugs, constantly turning on the asphalt, just ground it away. Every couple of years it was costing us $15,000 to $20,000 to repair the damage to the asphalt surface. Add that to downtime and cost of replacing conveyor belts, this problem with the log cross ups was adding a lot of cost to the operation.”
Lawless first became aware of Sennebogen material handling machines as a possible solution when a magazine advertisement caught his attention. Popular in recycling yards and port facilities, the company’s green line machines are well known for their hydraulically elevating cabs. Further, in addition to their tracked undercarriages, the machines are offered with a rubber-tired platform ideal for operating on paved surfaces.
Lawless sharpened his pencil to calculate the potential cost savings. When the numbers were in, it was clear that the Sennebogen 825 M machine could save them money. Along with its low maintenance costs, the 825 M is much lighter than Swanson’s tracked machines and consumes considerably less fuel to operate. He contacted the company and arranged for delivery of a demo unit to give him a first-hand look at that elevating cab.
After six months on the job, the machine has proven to Lawless that it’s the right equipment for his particular application. Although smaller than the mill’s other loaders, the 825 M is fast, agile and able to easily complete all of its required tasks with time to spare. And without damaging the asphalt surface.
But it’s the machine’s ability to elevate the operator above the log jams that gives it a unique advantage over the other machines.
“Elevating 19 feet above ground level makes it easy for him to see the grapple at the end of the boom,” Lawless explains. “He can precisely locate the log he needs to free or move. And he no longer needs a spotter to assist him. There’s hours of employee time saved and the potential for equipment damage is greatly reduced.”
Fuel efficiency has turned out to be another significant bonus. Consuming less than half the fuel of the larger tracked loaders throughout its two shifts per day, the 825 M will net Swanson better than $50,000 in fuel cost savings for every year in service.
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