Logging On

Transporting the harvest from plantation forests is made more efficient and safer with some innovative Volvo trucks.

Based on the New South Wales Central Coast, the Borg group of companies is an Australian success story writ large by the specialisation in the manufacture and supply of building and decorative board products.

Vertical integration and sustainable practices are key features of the business models across the collective operations of Borg.

The manufacture of the basic materials such as particleboard for joinery components begins at the extensive mill and processing plant located at Oberon in NSW, which features Australia’s newest $120 million particleboard production line.

Borg operate a similar wood processing facility in Mount Gambier in South Australia. The Plantation Pine Products division of the Borg organisation supplies the Oberon mill with its raw materials of renewable pine and other timbers from the surrounding plantation forests.

Oberon is the highest town in the Blue Mountains and due to its elevation often experiences snow during winter which presents challenges for heavy vehicles using unsealed forestry access roads.

Innovation is another constant factor in the Borg story to date and is evidenced by two custom built Volvo trucks operating in the Oberon area forest plantations and features what is probably Australia’s first remote control truck in a commercial operation.

The Volvo 6×4 FMX day cab has a 13 litre Euro 5 specification engine developing 500hp and 2500Nm of torque. The truck has a 4900mm wheel base and the 8mm thick chassis has inner liners.

A Tigercat 220D log loader is permanently attached at the rear of the truck. The specifications of the FMX have been selected to suit the hilly topography in which the truck operates and include heavy duty three leaf front parabolic springs which are stiffer than normal.

The Volvo I shift 12-speed automated transmission is fitted with Ultra-Low Crawler gears and multi speed reverse gears; and the driveline is completed by differentials equipped with hub reduction final drives.

What makes this vehicle unique is its ability to be driven by remote control. The remote control driving operation of the truck is made possible as a result of systems, such as the truck’s Volvo Dynamic Steering (VDS), are able to be operated remotely because of an engineering development known as EXSTER, which can be ordered from the Volvo factory and requires a package of systems to be fitted including the electronic braking system (EBS), VDS and the I-Shift transmission.

The main operational function of the Volvo FMX and Tigercat combination is loading B-double trailers from stockpiles of harvested pine logs which have been assembled close beside forest roads by various pieces of logging machinery.

The challenge met by this unit was to overcome the need to relocate the log loader once its telescopic arm had reached its limit of extension, preventing it from accessing the next stack of logs.

Loading B-doubles, this would happen roughly every one and a half trucks. Constantly loading in all kinds of weather, the operator was required to exit the loader cab, walk to the truck cab and move the unit ten to 15 metres to access the next stack of logs, and return to the loader cab to resume loading the logs.

Borg sought a better way of addressing this time-consuming method of operation so initiated development of the Australian remote control truck and loader combination for this particular forestry application.

The remote control units used here and overseas by Volvo are brought into Australia by Hace Industries which is an industrial remote control specialist based in Melbourne. There is the ability to program numerous operational functions and the technology and programming are continually evolving.

Models have recently been developed which have their own camera display.

The remote control used with the FMX wirelessly connects via the truck’s body builder module and allows the operator to stay in the Tigercat cab and use the Volvo remote control to move the entire unit along the stockpile. It’s a straight forward matter of raising the stabiliser legs, moving the truck, lowering the stabiliser legs and returning to loading the 6.1 metre length logs with no time lost moving from the loader’s cab to the truck’s cab.

Not having to switch from crane cab to truck cab creates a significant improvement in efficiency as well as safety and is achieved because the truck has the necessary hardware and software installed which interacts with various systems including the throttle, the VDS and the I-Shift automated transmission.

The operator is able to drive the entire unit from the crane cab or even walking beside the truck and delivering commands from the remote control unit worn around his waist.

Waiting time for the drivers of the trucks being loaded are also significantly reduced.

As would be expected, the technology features numerous inbuilt fail-safes as well as two emergency stop switches located on the exterior of the truck in addition to the emergency stop located on the remote control unit.

The truck is limited to 10km/h when operating in remote control mode so a brisk walk will keep up with it. The system incorporates tilt alarms and if the truck continues to move beyond a certain degree from vertical it will be automatically and completely shut down with the parking brakes applied and the engine switched off.

The entire system also shuts down if the wireless connection is lost between the remote control unit and the vehicle. In case the truck begins to travel at a speed higher than 10 km/h (such as when negotiating a downhill slope) the service brakes are automatically applied to slow down the speed back to 10 km/h.

Due to the capabilities of its ultra-low crawler gear transmission the FMX is permitted access into the state forestry areas without requiring a typical on-board tyre pressure system. All Plantation Pine Products trucks are equipped with a pull pin in the front bumper.

Due to its low gearing, the FMX has the capability to use a stiff bar connection to assist any other logging trucks when traction conditions are poor, whether they are fully loaded or empty, further adding to its versatility.

The other innovation-laden Volvo working in the Oberon forests is an 8×4 FH16 rigid with a 16 litre engine providing 600hp/2800Nm. The I-Shift transmission in this truck is fitted with Volvo’s ‘regular’ crawler gears rather than the Ultra-Low ratios fitted to the FMX’s transmission.

The Volvo Dynamic Steering option is only available for single steer axles and is not applicable for the load sharing twin-steer arrangement on this FH16 so this vehicle’s notable efficiency innovations are in other areas.

Although taking inspiration from popular European forestry applications where three rear axles are common and nine tonnes are allowed on a single steer axle, the FH16 has a dual front axle twin steer setup because under Australian regulations the weight limit for a single front axle is a much lower 6.5 tonnes.

The truck is fitted with an imported Lucar alloy body and a Palfinger Epsilon log loading crane. The truck connects to a five axle ‘quin dog’ trailer built by Vawdrey Trailers.

 

Originally to be a 23 metre-long combination under the Performance-Based Standards (PBS) arrangements, which is a common specification for B-doubles operating in this type of work in the Oberon area, approval had to be sought to extend this combination to an overall length of 25 metres in order to accommodate the operator’s cab on the Epsilon loader.

Despite the additional length the combination has a better turning circle and swept path than a B-double. In order to resolve the loss of two metres of crane reach, given the length of the trailer’s drawbar, the trailer has a slide mechanism which moves the rear log bay forward so the crane can load it, then the now loaded bay slides back so the front bay of the trailer can be loaded.

The truck’s body can be loaded at any time and the crane can also be utilised to load other trucks which are not equipped with their own log crane.
The FH16 has a high level of what Volvo terms ‘Customer Adaptation’ and includes an underslung exhaust system and split hydraulic oil tanks in order to support the operation of multiple PTO drives simultaneously.

Under PBS the combination can carry more weight than B-doubles operating in the forest, with the advantage of being self-loading. While the truck and dog combination will unlikely replace too many B-doubles, the unit is already generating interest from other logging operators.

The combination when fully loaded with 6.1 metre logs usually runs at around 64 tonnes and the Higher Mass Limit (HML) regulations of 67.5 tonnes allow for the situation where heavier wet logs are being transported.

These types of projects don’t occur overnight, and actually commenced in 2018, leading to implementation in 2020 due to insight and support for a number of Australian suppliers.

The considerable investment in time and componentry is already producing efficiency and safety dividends.