Chipping Away at the Manufacturer/Customer Barrier


Boise, Inc.’s close relationship with its chipper manufacturer pays off in improvements and solid performance.

Across a broad range of industries, one of the complaints most frequently heard from equipment owners is: “My equipment manufacturer/supplier doesn’t listen to me.” It’s a puzzling statement, considering no one (including the manufacturer) knows that equipment better than the people using it on a daily basis. And, by ignoring the comments of their end-users, manufacturers are throwing away valuable hands-on experience—being offered at no cost to them—simply to maintain the status quo or save a few dollars.

At the Umatilla, Ore., whole log chipping facility run by paper giant Boise, Inc., suggestions for improving the site’s chippers do not fall on deaf ears, thanks to a close relationship between the maintenance crew at the facility and equipment manufacturer Morbark, Inc. As a result, Boise, Inc.’s chipping operation is the most productive it has ever been, and many of the suggestions offered by the Umatilla staff have been incorporated into subsequent chipper designs. It’s a win-win in every sense of the word.

Uninterrupted Supply

The operation at Umatilla is what is described as a surge mill, a facility that serves as a contingency chip producer in the event something interrupts the company’s regular chip supply. According to Larry Dahlin, the site’s maintenance mechanic, the Umatilla location, one of three supporting Boise’s paper operation, generates a fair amount of chips and other by-products.

“We have two chippers at each of the three whole log chipping sites, and each machine averages about 15-20 truckloads per day, most of which is used as furnish for pulp,” he says. “Here, our role as a surge mill means that, when either a sawmill or some other source secured by the company’s chip buyers goes down, they turn to us to make up the lost volume.”

Boise's Larry DahlinDahlin, a 10-year company veteran, says the Umatilla facility, which employs about 15 people, has remained fairly constant in its approach to chipping since its inception in 1990.

“About the biggest modification we’ve made has been switching our main chipping operation from stationary to portable. In the past, with a stationary unit, we often had to drag logs a fairly long distance to the chipper to be processed. Now we can move the chipper—and the hog we run in tandem with it—to where the wood is. Doing that also cuts down on wear and tear on our Wagner L-100 log loader, which has a whole lot of hours on it already.”

Open to Suggestions

Boise, Inc.’s log chipping operations consist of six Morbark Flail Chiparvestors: two Model 2755s at the Umatilla location, two of the same model at White Swan, Wash., and a pair of Morbark Model 2348s at their Cottonwood, Wash., location. While their level of satisfaction with the units’ performance has always been high, Dahlin says it is Morbark’s ability to take feedback from him and his team and act upon it that has kept them dedicated users.

“In an operation like this, there are bound to be situations where we, as daily users of the chippers, find a different way to do something, a better way for a component to operate, a way to improve on an already good design. A couple of these units have been around for a while: one was built in 1998, another in 2000, so we’ve had a lot of years to think things through. A good example of this was a suggestion we made, which involved the procedure for raising up and pinning the flail housings. In the old design, we needed two people to do that: one to hold the button on the stick and bring the roll up, and a second man down on the ground to clean it. We felt that it was more efficient—and safer—for one person to do that job, so Morbark put switches on both sides of the machine to make that possible. Now, one man—no matter which side he’s working on—can raise that flail housing and pin it in the up position.”

Another issue that Dahlin says had pestered them for quite some time involved the infeed section of their older model chippers, specifically, the case rolls on the bottom that move the log inward. In that original design, he says, the rolls didn’t extend the full width of the machine; they were short by about 5 or 6 inches. That created a dead spot that sometimes caused a log to hang up, which, in turn, blocked additional logs from coming in.

“We asked Morbark if they could make those rolls the full width of the machine and, at the same time, place the torque hub on the outside of the unit. They agreed to make those changes, and today there is no longer any problem with the case rolls causing a jam and the torque hub is a lot easier to service.”

From Both Sides Now

In addition to providing chips for Boise, Inc.’s paper operation, the Umatilla facility also recovers a percentage of the waste product from its chipper for use as hog fuel. It is in this area that another change suggested by Dahlin and his staff has had perhaps the biggest impact on their improving efficiencies in their chipping operation.

Boise, Inc. uses 6 Morbark machines

“Most flail-type chippers offer little, if anything, in the way of dealing with wood waste from the chipping process. Generally that material simply gets dumped onto the ground where it has to be picked up with a loader and taken for secondary processing. Because the demand is for cleaner and cleaner hog fuel, that’s just not a real solution for us. Morbark’s Flail Chiparvestors, on the other hand, offer a telescoping side-discharge conveyor for waste wood—and they are the only manufacturer we know of that offers that feature. So we simply park a horizontal grinder perpendicular to the chipper and, using that secondary discharge conveyor, send waste directly into the grinder to be processed into hog fuel. It’s very efficient for us.”

Because they regularly move their Flail Chiparvestors around the site, there have been many occasions in the past when, because of space limitations, it would have been far better to have the wood waste discharge off the left side of the unit rather than the right. So, once again, Dahlin talked to Morbark.

“Today, our units can discharge off either side, and, from a logistics standpoint, that has made a huge difference for us,” he says. “That’s another example of how working with your supplier can pay big dividends.”

Take it or Leave it

In addition to their Morbark chippers, Boise, Inc., has equipment at its various sites from other manufacturers as well. Not too long ago, just as a matter of due diligence, Dahlin says they contacted one of those companies to ask about a new chipper.

“We were told, in no uncertain terms: ‘This is what we offer, and there’s no deviating from that design.’ They just about laughed at us when we asked about an interchangeable side-discharge conveyor. That experience told me that we placed our faith in the right company. We have a great working relationship with Morbark, we get what we need and, as things continue to evolve out here, we know we will be able to easily adapt. That means a lot for us.”