Sutco Contracting is one of the leading trucking companies in B.C., but it also has a chipping division—BC EcoChips—that does contract chipping with what the company describes as a “workhorse”: a Peterson 5000H chipper.
By Paul MacDonald
Logging & Sawing Journal, November 2016, pages 18-22
Sutco Contracting is one of the leading trucking companies in B.C., but had humble beginnings.
Chris Sutherland, along with his father, Robert Sutherland, founded Sutco Contracting in 1995 with one logging truck-and a vision of maintaining a family oriented business while becoming the transportation specialists for their customers. From those beginnings, and armed with determination, a strong work ethic, and an ability to foresee the future demands of a growing customer base, Sutco quickly expanded.
Wood residual hauling, general freight, heavy haul, and freight brokering are now the mainstays of Sutco, which is based in the small town of Salmo, surrounded by the Selkirk Mountains, in B.C.’s West Kootenays region.
“The Peterson will go through a double-high row of timber, representing 75 loads of logs, in five 10-hour days.”
As the transportation needs of Sutco’s customers evolved, the company has continued to seek new and better ways to maintain their commitment to being transportation specialists.
Along the way, they have also ramped up meeting the needs of their forest industry customers, setting up a chipping division, BC EcoChips, managed by longtime employee, Rick Beaulieu.
These days, the chipping operation principally meets the needs of one customer in particular, the Zellstoff Celgar pulp mill in Castlegar, B.C. Sutco has set up a chipping operation in the region to supply the pulp mill, and transport the chips using Sutco trucks. Sam Beaulieu, Rick’s son, who manages the chipping operation on a day-to-day basis, explained that although it is located in Midway, B.C. now, it has moved a few times, following the supply of Zellstoff Celgar’s fibre in B.C.’s southern interior.
They started out in Malakwa, then moved to Lumby, Okanagan Falls, and have been in Midway for about three years now.
“We would go to a yard, and they might have 1,000 truckloads of pulp wood there for us to chip,” says Beaulieu.
They've since set up the operation on a site, just on the outskirts of the town of Midway, which is both central to the pulp wood supply and a decent hauling distance to the pulp mill. Castlegar is about 150 kilometres away. The location is convenient for hauling wood chips and logs, being just off Highway 3, the Crowsnest Highway, that runs through the B.C. Interior.
The chipping operation, and the transportation of the chips, seems like an excellent fit for Sutco, with their strength on trucking, and, now, chipping.
“As a general rule, all of the trucking is done with Sutco trucks,” says Sam Beaulieu.
From the start, the BC EcoChips chipping operation has been operating with a Peterson 5000H chipper, from Peterson dealer, Woodland Equipment, and Beaulieu says it has been an “incredible workhorse for us—and fast”.
“Watching the chipper right now, the loader operator is taking the pulp wood off the truck, and I can pretty much guarantee that by the time the driver has his trailer loaded and is scaled out, the wood that he brought in will have gone through the Peterson—and will be wood chips on the ground.”
BC EcoChips has made some changes to the chipper, but Beaulieu says running the Peterson efficiently often has more to do with a feel of its operations.
"It's knowing what the chipper likes," he says. "A lot of times we will go from the really small stems to the larger stems, and you've got to feed the machine differently.
It has three flails, and with the bigger wood, you might turn off one flail and lift the wood because that way, the bigger wood will feed in better. And with smaller wood, you might have all the flails on, and turn them up really high."
They have made some minor changes, though, notes Beaulieu. "We've changed the end of the chip chute," he explained. "Wood chippers generally work in the bush, on a landing, and the chip trucks drive right under the chute, and you hot-load them.
“But we have two chutes: we have one for hot loading, and we have another chute that we use to shoot the chips, to make piles.”
Beaulieu says they have put on some belt shrouds, and made some alterations to radiator mounts. "But for the most part, the Peterson is original-they are good machines."
It's the operators who gauge how to run the chipper. Beaulieu says they have been hiring some younger guys of late, as operators. "They might have a little less experience but we train them-show them how to run the chipper, and fix it.
"Once they get the hang of it, they just run with it. These young guys just need an opportunity, and if you give that to them, they want to do the work." One of their newer operators has taken a heavy equipment operator's course.
They now have four guys that can run the chipper-and their Hitachi 200 log loader, the Link-Belt 290 butt 'n top and the two Volvo wheel loaders. The Volvo machines came from Great West Equipment, and the Link-Belt from The Inland Group (formerly Parker Pacific).
“It’s amazing how fast the Peterson can go through that wood.”
"So everyone knows how to run every piece of equipment we have here," says Beaulieu. "That way, they can go from machine to machine all day." This gives the operation great flexibility if someone needs to take a day off, he added.
The chipping operation uses the services of the dealers on the mobile equipment and the chipper if necessary, but the emphasis is on doing their own repairs.
“We probably do 80 percent of our maintenance—for example, if a pump goes on the chipper, and we have an extra one, we’ll change it out before we call a mechanic from the dealer.
“I’ve welded the boom on the chipper, refurbished a chip bucket or surfaced the tips on the grapples,” Beaulieu says.
"We also have a hose press, so we can make 95 percent of the hoses we need for our operation. It's not very often that we have a lot of downtime due to a hose or something like that. We can usually get the equipment going if we have the parts, and it's not a major component failure."
That said, Beaulieu says they have received solid service from Woodland Equipment for the Peterson chipper. Woodland Equipment has branches in the area in Vernon and Kamloops. They'll have a lot of the common parts that BC EcoChips regularly uses, like bearings and certain coils, says Beaulieu.
Larger components may have to come from Peterson production facilities in Oregon or South Carolina. "If we're doing major component repairs, we'll try to schedule it and order the part in advance so there is no delay in getting it."
All wood chippers work hard, and BC EcoChips’ Peterson 5000H is no exception, so maintenance is key to its efficiency.
"In a 12-hour day, we might have to stop three times to change knives, and we'll grease it and fuel it up. In terms of oil changes and other maintenance, we try to keep all our machines on a similar schedule, so if the chipper is ready for an oil change, so are the loaders." They track carefully whatever maintenance is done.
As with all forestry operations working in tough conditions, though, repairs are not always scheduled.
"The chipper is hard on itself, and things can break. The other day we had a bearing go on the back of the roll case, next to the wheel. That took about 45 minutes, taking the old bearing off putting the new one on, and some welding-and then checking it to make sure it works properly."
Beaulieu says that as much as they monitor the chipper's performance, it can sometimes go down quickly, without warning. "With some of it, there's no way you can see it coming. It will run like a top for three months-and then something will happen."
The Peterson chipper is now working on its second motor, with 2200 hours on it, so far. The first motor lasted 14,000 hours. "I was pretty happy with that," says Beaulieu.
“You have to remember that the chipper runs wide open, all day, every day.”
This past summer, the BC EcoChips operation in Midway was also sorting the wood they received for both pulp logs and sawlogs.
"As a general rule, we're just chipping. But we've been doing a few different sawlog sorts, as well," says Beaulieu.
He noted the amount of mountain pine beetle wood they are dealing with has tapered off.
“We are still getting some dry beetle wood, but it’s definitely not the same amount as we used to get,” he says.
"Now, a lot of the stands that are close to us in Midway and Okanagan Falls are small, tight, dense trees." These will be 25 to 30 feet, four-inch at the butt, two inches at the top. "They're really small trees," says Beaulieu, and very suited for pulp wood.
They like to have a small sea of wood at the chipping operation. "It's ideal for us to have at least 500 to 600 loads of logs in inventory at break-up. When the trucks stop hauling, it's amazing how fast the Peterson can go through that wood.
"When the trucks stop hauling, you sure notice it," he added. "You don't realize how much wood you are burning through." An average day will seem them getting as many as 30 loads of logs.
The Peterson will go through a double-high row of timber, representing 75 loads of logs, in five 10-hour days. Generally, it takes about 40 loads of logs to make 35 loads of chips.
The pulp company Zellstoff Celgar works directly with the loggers who are hauling the wood to the BC EcoChips yard.
Zellstoff Celgar set wood chip standards from the start, and these have to be steadily maintained. "Whatever we produce for them, it has to be the right species, the right size and can't have too much bark," says Beaulieu.
"If they say our bark content is too high, we figure out a way to get the bark content down. That could mean changing the flail chains or changing the way we feed logs-there are a lot of things we can do to get the quality they need."
The work Eco Chips is doing reinforces the importance of an integrated forest industry, with pulp mills and saw mills and logging operations working together.
Much of the wood they are chipping, had it not been brought out of the bush, would have been burned as slash. In this sense, the chipping operation is adding value to the wood.
They are pretty much dealing with spruce, balsam and pine timber. "We get the occasional bit of fir and yellow pine-maybe a handful of logs in an occasional load."
In the other locations where the chipping operation was set up, such as Okanagan Falls, most of their logs were tree length. The majority of their logs now are cut-to-length, 35 feet and shorter.
These days, BC Eco Chips is not involved in the bush, but a few years’ back it was the first outfit in B.C. to work with the Chambers Delimbinator—and it sure did the job, says Beaulieu.
"It rips branches and limbs off like crazy," he says. "There is a bit of an art to making it work, but it works well. If you leave a log in there too long, it will chew it away to nothing. I watched it operating, and the logs would go in and they'd come out without a lick of bark on them. It was impressive."
They had previously tried to use processing heads on this wood, but the wood was short, big and had limbs right up to the butts.
“The heads just could not get the momentum up because the butts were so close and limby—the motor would try and pull on it, and it couldn’t,” explained Beaulieu.
BC Eco Chips looked at using the delimbinator on a long term basis, but decided it would be best to focus on chipping, and to leave that work to the logging contractors, who were already out there in the bush with the necessary equipment. “It seems like a better fit to do it that way.” Westwood Fibre is the Canadian distributor for the Chambers Delimbinator.
As mentioned, Sam Beaulieu manages the day-to-day operations of the chipping operations, and his dad, Rick, is operations manager. And overseeing BC Eco Chips' overall operation is Sutco president Chris Sutherland. "Chris is a real go-getter-he's always looking to keep his operations busy," says Sam Beaulieu. "It's great-you always have work with the chipper," he says.
Sam Beaulieu has worked at the chipping operation for eight years, so you might say that he knows the Peterson 5000H chipper, inside and out. "Some days, I feel like I do-and other days, less so," he says with a laugh.
“I do know that there aren’t a lot of parts on that chipper that I haven’t changed over the years—some of them three or four times.”