Evergreen gets even greener

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Almost every facet of the logging and lumber mill business today is fiercely competitive - a reflection, it would seem, of the times in which we live. To maintain whatever edge they have, companies are almost forced to find ways to keep costs down - even if that means deviating from the 'normal' way of doing things. For Evergreen Fibre, that meant replacing one of its diesel-powered chippers with a stationary electric unit. Today, the Port Angeles, Wash.-based supplier of chips to area paper mills says that, what started out as an experiment of sorts, has resulted in improved performance, reduced emissions, a fraction of the energy costs, and a dramatically enhanced bottom line.

Turning Up the Volume
Located on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, just across from Victoria, BC, Evergreen Fibre, Inc., is one of the north Olympic peninsula's premier contract chipping companies. Founded in 1984, the firm, a subsidiary of Hermann Brothers Logging Co., has contracts to supply a variety of hardwood chips to several local and regional paper mills. According to Bill Hermann, Evergreen's co-owner along with his brother Fred, volumes that the company chips vary, but generally are in the 1.2 million lb. per day range.

'Moisture content is the real determinant with regard to volumes, but we tend to ship between 35 and 40 trucks of chips and another half dozen trucks of hog fuel each day,' he says. 'We have about eight employees for Evergreen alone and another 65 to handle driving, logging and maintenance in support of the trucking business. Our trucks work throughout the western part of the state but Evergreen tends to stay within about a 100 mile radius of Port Angeles.

Until last year, Evergreen's chipping operation consisted of a trio of diesel-powered Morbark Model 30 Total Chiparvestors (Morbark, Inc., Winn, MI): two used as portable machines working throughout the yard, a third as a stationary unit, the final step in a drum debarking line. It was this third chipper that became the subject of interest as Hermann and his son Mike, the company's Operations and Transportation Manager, looked for ways to trim operating costs.

End to an Upward Spiral
With nearly a dozen different loaders, excavators, chippers, grinders, etc., operating throughout the yard on a daily basis, the steadily climbing costs of diesel fuel had been raising red flags at Evergreen's operation for some time. Bill Hermann says they had been doing research on electric-powered chippers for a while; the upward spiral of fuel costs pushed them to make the move.

'We worked with Morbark and the folks at Papé Machinery, the area Morbark dealer, and replaced that stationary diesel unit with an identical, electric powered model. To ensure we could match the power we had with the diesel, we speced the new machine with a pair of 400 hp motors for the chipping function alone, then added another 200 hp motor to power the hydraulics. It's been an excellent move on our part; there has not been any loss of production whatsoever. And the fuel savings - the real source for the move - have surpassed even our expectations.'

Hermann says that, running nine to ten hours a day, the previous unit was burning about 35 gallons of diesel fuel an hour, resulting in a monthly fuel bill for that unit alone of about $14,000.

'And that was before the last round of fuel price increases. Even using those prices, however, we are still realizing a $9,000 to $10,000 a month savings in energy costs by going to an electric chipper. Mind you, there are limitations to doing so. It can't be implemented on a portable unit, for example. But it's definitely been a huge help for us.'

Additional Pluses
Dramatic fuel savings are not the only benefits Evergreen Fibre is gaining by its switch from diesel to electric. There are also maintenance-related issues that have either been alleviated or eliminated altogether, says Hermann.

'In high-volume operations like ours, clutches on a chipper are prone to wear rather quickly; that's just the nature of the beast. Depending on the severity of the wear, we can be faced with a $2,500 charge to simply replace the discs, or as much as $6,000 for a full clutch replacement. And even though my guys are good enough now where they can change a clutch in about four hours, that's still four hours of lost production every three months or so. However, an electric chipper has no clutch, so that issue is done away with and we are seeing a nice cost savings there as well.'

The change rang true from an environmental standpoint as well, Hermann notes. Because electric units put forth no emissions, Evergreen is able to process to its heart's content with no less risk of exceeding emissions guidelines.

'As a matter of policy, we work hard to make certain people from the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency never have cause for concern with our operation,' says Hermann. 'But they still pay us a visit every now and then to see how things are going in our yard. They can watch that electric unit all day and they won't see a hint of black smoke; that's just one more advantage we've gained.'

All About Satisfaction
While equipment of every make and configuration populates the yards of most chipping operations, Bill Hermann stands by his decision to use only Morbark chippers in his operation. That decision, he says, is based on nothing less than an excellent track record.

'We bought our first chipper, a Morbark Model 20 around 1981-1982 and have never looked elsewhere since. The performance has been everything we've needed and the service has been outstanding. Simply put: in the 25 years we've been dealing with them, had they not been the best we would have gone elsewhere - and we haven't.'

He says the same holds true for Papé Machinery, the company that sells and supports Morbark to the northwest. 'Papé is a quality organization that treats us well and takes customer service to heart. We appreciate that and, as a result, have been a good customer of theirs, not just for Morbark chippers and grinders, but for other equipment as well.'

In making the move to an electric machine, Evergreen also took the opportunity to make some modifications to its chip discharge process. Portable units generally use set of fan blades and a chip spout to blow the chips away from the chipper into a pile. While that's an effective method when processing in an open area, that was not the best solution for Evergreen's stationary setup.

'We are partially under a roof here and thought we'd change the discharge method a bit,' says Hermann. 'Since we are not moving this chipper, we decided to do away with the fan blades and discharge spout and go with a bottom discharge approach. Now chips are processed and fall down away from the chipper disk onto a box/chain conveyor and get taken away from the machine to a stacking conveyor. For us, it's fewer moving parts which, again, translates to lower maintenance costs.'

All About the Payback
While an electric machine is not a solution for every chipping application, Hermann says, given the range of benefits and savings, it is worth looking into.

'There's no doubt in my mind that if there is a way an operation can create a stationary situation, this is certainly enough incentive to do so. We can speak from experience. In the numbers I've run, I'd say that the savings realized in energy costs alone over a five year time frame - the normal depreciation period on a machine like a chipper - would pay for the machine itself. How much better can you do than that?'

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