GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. - There's nothing backwoods about today's log hauling business. New technology has been widely embraced by the forestry sector of the trucking industry and it has changed the fac...
TRIPLE PLAY: Knelsen Sand and Gravel maximizes payload using tri-drives.
GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. – There’s nothing backwoods about today’s log hauling business. New technology has been widely embraced by the forestry sector of the trucking industry and it has changed the face of the business.
With slim profit margins and a narrow window of opportunity to get the logs out of the woods, log haulers have been among the first to adopt new configurations and technologies that have increased their efficiencies. Here are a few increasingly common spec’s that are having a significant impact on the log haul:
Three drives are better
Tridem drive trucks are becoming increasingly popular among log haulers – where they’re legal, that is. In Alberta, about 80 per cent of the logging trucks sold by Western Star and Sterling Trucks of Grande Prairie are now tri-drives, says general manager Dave Friesen. Dealerships selling other popular makes of log trucks including Mack and Kenworth are also noticing an increase in tri-drive sales among log haulers. Although you need a permit to operate them, Friesen says some of his customers are realizing substantially higher payloads thanks to the extra drive axle.
“Stability and traction are big advantages for safety and they can load up to 23,000 kgs on the tridem group instead of 17,000,” Friesen explains. “A tri-drive is ideal on every logging application – that’s the way to go.”
Knelsen Sand and Gravel hauls logs to Footner Forest Products and the fleet has begun replacing its tandem-drive fleet with tri-drives. Operations manager Abe Banman says the extra axle on the fleet’s Western Star 4900 SA with 515 Detroit Diesel power and 18-speed transmissions allows them to load up to 100,000 kgs compared to the 65,000 kgs they realized with tandem-drive configurations.
He estimates the log hauler has increased its efficiency by 25 per cent by spec’ing tri-drives.
“The roads have to be built accordingly,” Banman admits. “You need more room, but then you’re quite a bit more efficient.”
Although the tri-drives spec’d by Knelsen Sand and Gravel came at about a $15,000 per truck premium, Banman says the investment has paid for itself. However, not all log haulers are jumping on the three-axle bandwagon. Just a few hundred clicks to the south of Grande Prairie in Drayton Valley, Alta., LoBar Log Transport has found tri-drives don’t suit its needs as well as more traditional configurations.
“We bought one,” admits owner Greg Jacob. “But in our situation in Drayton Valley, it’s not as efficient as the other units. We’re using seven- axle tandem jeeps and eight-axle Super-Bs. The tri-drive competes against the seven-axle tandem jeeps and in the summertime we’re still further ahead to use the seven-axle units. We wouldn’t buy another tri-drive with the way the regulations are set at present.”
While LoBar may not be a fan of tri-drive tractors, the company is a proponent of on-board computers (OBCs) – and its drivers are too. LoBar’s on-board computers have been used to vindicate its drivers following an accident (a stolen car sideswiped one of its trucks and the data was used to verify the trucker’s story) and to follow up on complaints (motorists who called the company to complain its trucks drove too quickly through town have been found to be incorrect thanks to the speed-recording OBC).
While safety is the key motivator for most log haulers who implement on-board computers, there are also huge productivity gains to be had, says Tom Grabowski of Edmonton-based TruckBase.
“The log haul is getting increasingly complex and data is increasingly valuable,” Grabowski explains. “It’s not a simple mill to block to mill cycle anymore. A lot of times there are very complicated backhauls and the data can be really valuable in getting a fair rate assessment everyone can agree on.”
Another advantage is that OBCs allow a log transporter to better plan routes to identify bottlenecks and avoid them. This can be achieved through speed control or simply staggering the departure times of drivers. In LoBar’s case, restricting all trucks to the same speed in the same areas has helped in this regard.
“Lowering highway speeds didn’t increase our turnaround times, and now when you meet our trucks you don’t meet them in packs.”
One of the biggest limitations facing log haulers is the seasonality of the business. The pressure is constantly on to haul as much volume as possible while the roads are frozen, because after the spring thaw logging trucks tend to tear up the roads.
Enter central tire inflation (CTI) – the ability to adjust tire pressures to the road conditions, lessening the impact on roadways and extending the hauling season. So far, B.C. has led the charge in allowing the controlled use of CTI. But the results have been encouraging.
In a pilot project involving Weyerhaeuser trucking contractor, South Cariboo, the fleet was able to increase its truck hours from 2,100 to 4,000. The carrier also increased summer payloads using CTI which helped it attract new drivers.
“The increased hours and payload covered the cost of the CTI investment (for South Cariboo),” said Weyerhaeuser official, Dennis Young. “Driver acceptance of CTI was positive. There were some training issues and we had some issues with drivers wanting to adjust their CTI for certain road conditions. Even with CTI you have to shut down sometimes.”