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HINTON, Alta. - When you're getting paid by the mile, hauling a truckload of nothing isn't an easy way to make a living. But between dropping off and picking up, unfortunately that's exactly what many...

HINTON, Alta. – When you’re getting paid by the mile, hauling a truckload of nothing isn’t an easy way to make a living. But between dropping off and picking up, unfortunately that’s exactly what many truckers in the forestry industry often have do. The Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC) has teamed up with some corporate partners to tackle the problem, and the end result is a prototype dual-use trailer for both logs and chips.

“In the forestry industry, we typically have trucks operating 50 per cent of the time without carrying loads,” says Eric Amlin, FERIC’s group supervisor, transportation and maintenance. “We typically have a situation where we have chips going south and logs going north.”

While dual-use trailers have been used before in Quebec and New Zealand, it was a new concept in Western Canada’s rugged logging terrain, and the idea was greeted with some skepticism.

The archetype trailer – currently running a full schedule with Trimac Bulk Systems in Hinton, Alta. – has been on the road for nearly a year now, and the benefits of its development are becoming much clearer.

Trimac regularly hauls logs to central Alberta mills in Sundre and Strachan while running chips back up north to Hinton.

It didn’t take a genius to realize productivity could be increased if those trucks weren’t hauling sailboat fuel 50 per cent of the time.

FERIC approached K-Line Trailers to see if they could manufacture a trailer that met the needs of both log and chip haulers. K-Line assigned project engineer Ed Boon to the task of designing the unit.

“It was a fairly big project,” says Boon, noting it took about seven months to build. One of the biggest challenges was getting the volume up on the dual design.

“The ideal volume would be the same volume as a regular chip van and we got extremely close to that,” says Boon. “So close, you could almost say it’s the same as a regular chip van.”

Because the aluminum walls are lined with bunks for logs, the TARE weight increased slightly, keeping the payload just under that of regular chip vans. The bunks have also posed another problem when unloading chips.

“Typically, this unit has to go up and down a couple of times (to dump chips),” says Amlin. “We’re not very satisfied with that and we are going to pursue that with K-Line and Bulk Systems.”

Boon explains it’s just one chip posing a problem – a veneer chip produced at the Strachan mill.

“It is a fairly difficult chip to handle so we do get some hang-ups with that particular chip,” admits Boon. “We’ve tried other chips and (unloading) does flow quite freely.”

Beyond that, the truck’s operators have had nothing but praise for the truck, says Amlin.

The side doors allow operators to see inside while loading logs, and Amlin adds, “the current arrangement for loading and unloading logs is working well.”

Because it has to be cleaned before being loaded back up with chips, it does take slightly longer to get it loaded and on its way.

But it sure beats running empty on the way back to the mill, points out Amlin. And now that there’s been enough time to study the efficiency of the trailer, it appears that those small inconveniences are well worth the sacrifice.

Trimac’s use of the trailer has resulted in a cost savings of up to 24 per cent when hauling chips and 35 per cent in the case of logs, leading Amlin to conclude, “The prototype design has proven to be successful.”

Boon agrees, but is already eager to begin work on a second version.

“It was an interesting project and we were pretty happy with the final outcome,” says Boon. “But like any development project, we could certainly build a better product the second time around.”

And as word about the dual-use trailer spreads, he may soon have the opportunity to do just that.

“We’ve been dealing with inquiries from quite a long way away – down in the deep south for example,” says Boon.

“There’s obviously quite a number of hauls that suit it, and some interest, so I’m sure there is some potential for it.”

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