In Queensland, SunChip’s business is harvesting and transporting plantation timber grown in a vast swathe of forest stretching from Bundaberg to Brisbane. Growing time for the Caribbean pine from planting to harvest is 30 years, after which the land is replanted within six to 12 months and the cycle repeats itself.
SunChip has operated since its inception in 1997. The private company has operations in Queensland and New South Wales including depots at Maryborough and Gladstone as well as Bathurst and Tumut. Owner, Mark Blackberry, hails from Scottsdale in Tasmania where he cut his teeth as a harvester in the logging industry before seizing the opportunity to expand his horizons on the mainland.
SunChip’s General Manager, Dirk Koeppen, has been with the company for 20 years. He originally started as a truck driver before transitioning to machine operator and later moving into training roles for both truck and machine operators as well as Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) training.
“In the Maryborough area we predominantly carry long-length stem Caribbean pine which are 18 metre logs that go to the Hyne and Son saw mill at Tuan,” says Dirk. “Our quota to this mill alone is 85 B-double loads per day and across all our depots we shift approximately 600 loads per week.
“We load by weight so all the trucks and loaders are equipped with scales. We are allowed a gross combination mass (GCM) of 67 tonnes which gives us a payload of 45 tonnes.”
While the company’s name might suggest the timber it hauls is destined for wood-chipping, that’s not the case with these 18 metre logs being milled into structural timber.
“They not only supply the Bunnings (hardware warehouse chain) contract but depending on the circumstances the timber could be destined for the domestic market or for export,” Dirk explains.
SunChip currently operates 40 Super-Liner B-double day-cab prime movers. Each is fitted with the 16-litre MP10 engine delivering 685hp and 2,300 ft lb of torque, driving through the mDRIVE 12-speed AMT. At the rear end resides Mack drive axles with leaf spring suspension, which Dirk says enables the trucks to operate smoothly in some equally tough but diverse conditions, from summer downpours on the sandy tracks of the Queensland coast to the wintry ice and snow covered roads around Tumut in the Snowy Mountains.
“If it just gets too wet up north, I want to be able to send the trucks down to the Snowys,” he explains. “Likewise, if it’s too messy with the cold in winter down Tumut way, I’ll bring the trucks from there back up north. The Super-Liners meet that challenge with ease.”
It was interesting to hear Dirk expand on his preference for the spring suspension and mDRIVE combination in the Super-Liners. As far as he’s concerned, it’s the best blend for his logging operation.
“For our application this setup is far superior to a manual transmission with airbag suspension,” he attests. “In Queensland we operate in sandy conditions where the ground moves under the weight of the truck. This causes manual trucks with airbags to bog down and wheel-spin which corrugates the road whereas the mDRIVE with spring suspension keeps the power delivery smooth and uniform. It’s like two railway tracks that keep the wheels gliding across the surface. There’s no doubt the traction control also plays its part in keeping the wheels turning smoothly.”
This is the second round of Super-Liners SunChip has owned and fitted with the mDRIVE automated transmission. And over the last seven years it has really proved its worth.
“They’ve been virtually bullet-proof and our figures show it’s saving us between eight and nine per cent in running costs,” Dirk claims. “It’s not only fuel savings, there’s less maintenance costs for things like engine mounts and drive-shaft universal joints.”