Going vertical

by Carroll McCormick

Lac-Megantic, Que. — In less time than it takes to gulp a coffee, a truck coming to Tafisa Canada in Lac-Megantic, Que. is weighed, unloaded, weighed again and sent on its way. The secret to this trucker’s delivery dream is six giant truck dumpers with a no-nonsense approach to separating trailers from their woody contents.

Each of the dumpers’ 21.3-metre long ramps, driven by a pair of hydraulic cylinders that extend to 12.7 metres in length, tilts trailers, or both trailer and tractor, up, way up. The contents – chips, shavings or sawdust – slide out into giant hoppers.

Tafisa Canada, located about 250 kilometres east of Montreal, has a vast appetite for wood products. The plant gobbles between 700 and 1,000 truckloads a week of wood products to feed its plant, which manufacturers particleboard and decorative thermofused melamine panels for furniture and interior applications.

“There are tippers like this everywhere in the wood industry, but to my knowledge we are the only company with six dumpers, because we are the biggest particle board manufacturer in North America,” says Sylvain Martel, wood supply manager, Tafisa Canada.

Except for between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., the truck dumpers are open for business. “We are open to some local suppliers on the weekends, but most make their deliveries from Monday to Friday. The loading at the sawmills starts mostly at seven o’clock. The trucks converge on us between ten and two o’clock. This is the busiest time of day. At worst, there might be 10-12 trucks waiting,” Martel says.

For some of the truckers it is a five- to six-hour trip, one way, to get to Tafisa. Once they arrive, they do not have long to wait before they are motoring back home. It takes a mere 12 minutes to complete the circuit from weigh-in to weigh-out. First, a truck will register on the scale at the entry of the tipping area. Then it backs onto a dumper. The driver then unhooks the trailer rear door. 

The drivers operate the dumpers. “They push a button to make the tipper go up. If something does not go right, a driver can make the tipper go down, which take 30 seconds,” Martel says. It takes just one-and-a-half minutes to raise a ramp to its maximum angle of 63 degrees and one-and-a-half minutes to lower it. By the time the next truck backs onto a dumper ramp, conveyors will have already emptied the hopper, which holds one and a half truckloads of wood material. 

Surprisingly, at least for the uninitiated, the trucks are not tied down for their near-vertical ride. The driver simply backs up his trailer until the bumper is snugged up against a big bumper on the ramp. Gravity keeps the trailer firmly stuck in place. “We have chains available for the truckers, but nobody uses them,” Martel explains.

Some drivers leave their tractors hooked to their trailers on the ramp, and others do not, depending on a carrier’s company policy. Donnacona-based Transport Matte, which delivers around 300 loads a week, lets its drivers decide whether or not to de-pin. “It takes less time if the truck is not de-pinned, and we have no fluid losses from the tractor,” says Transport Matte co-owner Simon Matte.

The tipping process does require some care, though. Material can build up on the ramps, particularly in the winter. Sawdust or the other woody products can freeze to the ramps. Trailers can ride up on the accumulation, resulting in a poor fit between the truck and tipper bumpers.

“It is the responsibility of the trucker to make sure the material has been removed from the end of the tipper. We have a special team of cleaning guys who are ready to do the job, but the trucker needs to check,” Martel says.

Incidents are rare, perhaps once a year. One such unlucky carrier was Saint-Come-based  Transport LCC, which make around 125 deliveries a week. It had an incident three years ago when a tractor-trailer dropped into the hopper. Since then is has been company policy to decouple the tractor from the trailer. 

“We oblige all the drivers to de-pin the trailers,” says Transport LCC director Steve Dorval.

“Mainly it is bad maintenance on the truck, a rotten bumper or the dolly is rotten. If we see a truck in very bad shape, we won’t let it dump,” Martel says.

Tafisa strongly encourages the carriers to use 53-ft. trailers, and preferably possum belly trailers. “We are trying to get a lot more efficient with the truckers,” Martel says. “We are pushing the B-trains to do very volumetric transactions.” 

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