One of the largest timber producers in the US is using Volvo machines to modernise its Lewiston sawmill in Idaho.
Lewiston is a city in north central Idaho located at the joining of Snake River and Clearwater River, 30 miles (50 km) southeast of the Lower Granite Dam. Thanks to its vast forest, the city’s main industries are paper and timber products. The city also serves as a recreation destination for the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, which is a 10 mile (16 km) wide gorge located along the border of eastern Oregon. One of the largest timber producers in the US is family-owned Idaho Forest Group, who operate five mills throughout the state. Headquartered in the thick, green forests of northern Idaho, it has the capacity for nearly one billion board feet a year and exports its produce around the globe. The Lewiston mill alone produces one million board feet a day, equating to 200-300 million board feet annually.
Three Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) L180GHL high-lift wheel loaders are being used at the company’s Lewiston sawmill, which is currently being transformed into one of the most modern and technologically advanced mills in North America.
“Our theory is to be as efficient as we can and to keep up with technology to reduce costs,” says Dana Schmitz, business planning/analyst at Idaho Forest Group. “The Volvos give us the margins to keep running and compete for logs. It also gives us room to reinvest in the mill – and we need to reinvest.”
The company first saw the L180GHL during a visit to an Austrian mill and then at a facility in Michigan, so then decided to acquire the machine for its ambitious plans. With the company’s capacity expecting to rise, optimizing yard space will be vital when the facility upgrades are completed, which is the main reason why the high-lift capabilities of the L180G ended up in north Idaho.
“Being a purpose-built machine, these loaders are not as big as some of the others we looked at, but I think they pack the load and distribute the weight between the two,” says Schmitz. “That was one of the main selling points.”
“The L180GHLs are stacking logs at an average height of 18 feet (5.5m), whereas with the conventional methods in the US we have an average unassisted stacking height of 11 feet (3.35m),” says John Cushman, branch manager for Volvo CE’s local dealer – Clyde West Inc. “They’re gaining seven feet (2.13m) of log storage in this area which is huge. If you consider the cost of the storage area, then increase its capacity by 30%, and factor in the decreased travel distance for the machines, then this all adds up to shorter machine cycles, less wear, less fuel consumed and the opportunity to handle more logs an hour. This makes our machines a good log handling solution, offering the best utilization of the storage area at the lowest cost.”
The 13-liter, six cylinder turbocharged diesel engine provides high torque at low speeds with Volvo’s combustion technology, V-ACT. Low emission levels meet Tier 4 Interim/Stage IIIB engine requirements for ultimate efficiency and environmental care and the eco pedal encourages the operator to engage throttle with the appropriate amount of mechanical counter pressure (push-back).
Operators are equally enthusiastic about working in a cabin quiet enough to produce only 40-45 decibels of sound, while driving in an in-cab climate control system, with ergonomic controls and all-around visibility.
The three Volvo L180G loaders carry short logs with a hydraulic-powered grapple that rotates 360 degrees, saving fuel as they go.
“Fuel is just so key,” says Schmitz. “You look at some of the older equipment we’ve got and they’re using up 12-13 gallons (45-49 liters) an hour packing logs, while these guys, the last time I looked, are using 4.5 gallons (17 liters) an hour. Mind you, they’re not as busy as they will be in the future, but that’s just amazing.”
The company has estimated that during the lifetime of the three Volvo machines, their fuel savings will amount to more than $2 million (€1.8 million).
Picture 1: The Volvo wheel loaders stock up and pile high
Picture 2: Views across the Lewiston sawmill
Picture 3: Grappling with ease