No trouble at mill

A Liebherr wheeled loader is the critical link at the back end of a timber processing operation feeding the hungry biomass market……

As the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels dwindles, wind, solar and nuclear power generation have stepped into the breach. More recently those alternatives have been joined by biomass, the use of organic material to generate energy. Much of the UK-sourced product destined for the smaller power generators is in the form of sawmill residues.

A&J Scott is one of the UK’s largest sawmillers and needs more than 1,000 tonnes of raw material a day to enter its mill at Alnwick in Northumberland. The company supplies sawn softwood timber for a variety of uses, mainly outdoor and garden products, fencing, landscaping, DIY and pallets and packaging. It is also one of the country’s leading hardwood merchants, providing logs of all species and qualities.

The latest addition to the materials handling fleet at the Wooperton Sawmill is a new Liebherr L 556 XPower wheeled loader brought in to deal with the increasing amounts of sawmill residue leaving the plant each day. Scott has a long relationship with Liebherr equipment, including pick and carry machines for the incoming side of the business, and its latest acquisition replaces a five-year-old L 550 loader that had given excellent service.

The procurement process involved a number of leading suppliers and while a few showed interest, Scott’s Procurement Manager Adana Black believes others were less enthusiastic in competing for a single machine transaction. “We are always looking for the best over-all deal for the company and wanted to try as many manufacturers as we possibly could,” said Adana. “Some manufacturers didn’t even respond to our request for demonstration machines. We think this was because they were very swift in placing people on furlough as it was at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown period.”

Liebherr, however, responded swiftly to deliver an L 556 XPower complete with toe tip bucket which proved to be the perfect specification for AJ Scott.

Unlike the pick and carry machines that handle the large volumes of round timber entering the production line each day, the job of the L 556 XPower is to deal with the residue coming off the multiple lines and manufacturing stations around the mill. Site Manager Robert ‘Fritz’ Frater has the task of ensuring things go to plan. “We have up to 25 bulkers per day leaving the site with a variety of residue. We need the Liebherr to be able to load the trucks quickly and safely and also to move material from various parts of the mill back to the central loading area as and when required.

“Reliability is key to the operation running successfully. We need to ensure timber goes in at one end, but just as importantly, we need the residues moving quickly so that they don’t block up the plant.”

The 20-tonne loader is fitted with Liebherr’s industrial arm package which, at 2.9m long, allows for a 3.9m load-over height. The industrial linkage is said to give far greater control and performance over a parallel arm or Z-Bar linkage in this type of application. The machine is also equipped with Scott’s Viby high-tip bucket that was used on their outgoing machine. With a capacity of 7m3, that attachment is well within the capabilities of the newcomer and is joined to the loader via a Liebherr industrial quick coupler.

“We don’t use the loader for anything other than handling residue at the moment,” Fritz explained. “This may change in the future as the mill is constantly expanding and increasing its capacity. We like to think we have the loader somewhat future-proofed with this set-up.”

The step up to a larger machine has impressed regular operator Chris Scott. “I’ve been driving for 25 years and the new Liebherr is an excellent machine. It is so comfortable and well laid out, it is a pleasure to operate. The site can be quite congested and tight at some points but the view from the cab, even with the large bucket in front, is excellent.”

Carrying around four tonnes at a time, depending on the moisture content, the Viby bucket is much valued and, as it is no longer manufactured, was retained for the incoming machine.

When it comes to loading bark and sawdust into a number of vehicles around the plant Chris’s experience is evident, negotiating the machine into the bays to quickly load 27 tonnes of material on to a waiting truck. It takes just six or seven passes to fill a bulker to capacity and Chris will repeat the procedure up to 25 times a day.

Whilst fuel efficiency ranks below reliability on Scott’s list of plant requirements, the L 556 XPower has been impressively frugal during its bedding-in period on site and that’s attributed to the steady operating style of experienced driver Chris and the XPower transmission. “It’s a very smooth machine to operate,” said Chris. “The way it just wants to push into a pile of material with no wheelspin is excellent. We do a lot of shuttle runs from various parts of the plant with material and the way the loader handles the load and carry work is exceptionally good.”

The arrival of the L 556 XPower has contributed to the fast and efficient removal of residue from the plant, accompanied by an increase in performance compared to the older machine. And although there is no increase in bucket size, Chris and Fritz are very happy with the early performance and productivity of their new loader.

Spec Check:

Power is from a Liebherr 6-cylinder diesel delivering 228 hp and meeting Stage IV emissions regulations through an updated SCR system. Access to the engine compartment is simple thanks to an electrically operated engine canopy that opens fully to provide safe access around the whole engine bay.

Working in a dusty environment causes issues for the air management system on any machine and Liebherr’s solution is to position the radiators in front of the engine and high up behind the cab. This reduces build-up of dust particles that cannot only affect the machine’s performance but, in extreme circumstances, can result in fires. If that unlikely scenario were to develop, it would be dealt with by the Fireward suppression system incorporated into the machine.

Associated Businesses

  • Biggleswade, SG18 8QB