SHAW’S WIRE ROPES IRON TEST
Wheel loaders used to be popular in Woodhill Forest for stacking and log truck loading duties, but they disappeared a while ago in favour of tracked machines. They’re making a comeback, with the first in almost a quarter of a century now working for Stokes Logging. The NZ Logger Iron Test team puts New Zealand’s first forestry-spec Hitachi ZW220-5 under the spotlight.
ALL EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURERS PROMISE TO deliver more performance and productivity with each new model introduction, but how many of them manage to do that as a result of switching to a smaller AND less powerful engine?
Hitachi appears to have achieved this feat with its latest ZW220-5 wheel loader.
Replacing the 164kW (220hp) Isuzu 7.8-litre engine with the smaller Cummins QSB6.7 unit that puts out 145kW (194hp) in the recently introduced 5-series model might have been viewed as a retrograde step.
But slot yourself into the operator’s seat and it’s a different story. There’s power aplenty from the Cummins engine and hydraulic performance seems to have gone up a notch.
That was our opinion after Iron Testing the first of the Hitachi dash-5 wheel loaders to go into the forest in New Zealand.
This particular machine has been working with Stokes Logging for Hancock Forest Management in one of the northern blocks of Woodhill Forest for the past year and although it’s taken us a while to get around to looking at it, we’re glad we did.
The opportunity came about after arranging a test of the new Eltec that Steven Stokes is now jointly distributing in this market.
His Hitachi ZW220-5 has been on our radar for a while, however we always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But with the Hitachi working in another of Steven’s crews 20 minutes up the road from the Eltec that we covered in last month’s issue, the stars were perfectly aligned.
Crew 733 was formed specifically to work in the northern part of Woodhill and the Hitachi was purchased with that job in mind.
It’s been a long time since any wheel loaders have worked in this sand-based forest to the west of the Auckland metropolis.
Around 20 years, thinks Steven, adding: “I don’t know why, they just fell out of fashion.
“When I was young, my old man ran wheel loaders and my uncle drove one when they were in Woodhill Forest, so we decided to look at one when we were asked to move in here.”
Steven hasn’t had much personal experience with wheel loaders during his own logging career but he recognises that they can be a fantastic tool in the right locations and provide a real lift in performance. They are popular in parts of Kaingaroa and similarly flattish forests in the central North Island, as well as around Nelson and Marlborough, where ground conditions remain firm across all seasons.
Among the selling points for Steven was the fact that Hitachi distributor CablePrice has a branch at nearby Silverdale, which has a good reputation for providing back-up “and that was a real drawcard for me – I did look at other wheel loaders but it was the back-up that sold it”.
Steven freely admits that he doesn’t know much about wheel loaders, saying: “I didn’t even know there was a new model coming out when I bought this one.”
But after testing it at the CablePrice yard with some logs to make sure he was happy with the balance, there were no qualms about proceeding with the purchase. And he’s still happy with the new ZW220-5.
“It’s great, goes well,” says Steven. “Seems to do everything we ask of it and it’s been very reliable, we haven’t touched it since it arrived.”
Despite his lack of wheel loader knowledge, Steven recognises their plus points, compared to a tracked loader.
“In the right operation a wheel loader is extremely efficient and it
would be good to use in some of our other operations, but it’s the terrain – we can get away with it here because there is more flat areas where it can get around quickly and the base is sand,” he says.
“The turn-around on your logging trucks is twice as quick as a digger. And you can de-phase your skids, push your stacks out so it becomes a safer environment and you haven’t got diggers working on top of each other under pressure trying to put the wood away.”
There are significant cost-savings, too. Steven says: “We’re running one digger plus the wheel loader and if we didn’t have the ZW220 we’d probably need to have three diggers, so it replaces two machines.
“The biggest efficiencies for me is that we can do 400 tonnes a day with a digger and the wheel loader. If you’ve just got two diggers trying to do that sort of tonnage it’s quite stressful and you probably won’t reach your targets.
“The wheel loader takes all the pressure off the front end of the job. So loading out times are much quicker – he can load a truck in under 5 minutes – and with some of our loads going to Andersons down the road at Kumeu it means if your truck is doing four loads a day normally, you can get it back for an extra load. Trucking is a hell of an issue down here and it just makes it a lot easier for them, too.”
The advantage of a wheel loader is not just about speed over the ground, it’s also those big forks on the front that can grab around twice as much as a tracked loader’s grapple. The Ensign-made beak on this particular machine can hold up to 1.7 square metres of logs and it will cope with an all-up weight of around 8 tonnes. Not bad for a machine that only tips that scales a tad over 18 tonnes itself.
Since the ZW220-5 went to work for Stokes Logging it has certainly lived up to Steven’s expectations.
“There’s lots to like about it, such as low operating costs,” he says.
“Because of its speed over the ground you can send it out to load wood at different skids. That’s probably the thing I like about it the most. It’s that fast. When you shift skids the wheel loader can go and start work at the new site and then it can shoot back to load out a truck at the old one. It can even do a little bit of 2-staging – if we get a pocket of wood say 100 metres down a forestry road and there’s no skid for it, we’ll sometimes shovel it back and load it out, and it’s still productive.”
Armed with that information and Steven’s ringing endorsement, the Iron test team sets off for South Head, not far from the entrance to the Kaipara Harbour. When we arrive at the Crew 733 skid site, the Hitachi ZW220-5 is loading a truck and trailer, with a second one waiting in the wings.
At first glance, it’s hard to spot the changes that separate the new 5-series from the previous ZW220 model from the outside.
We know the cab is a wee bit different, benefitting from the increase in size of the front and rear screens, which improves what was already outstanding vision from the operator’s seat.
This is further enhanced by re-shaping the rear bonnet to provide better close-up views behind the machine, which is augmented by a standard rear-view camera. Operators can see better in the dark too, thanks to an extra pair of front and rear lights.
And to keep the machine looking cleaner on muddy sites, the mud flaps have been
widened and elongated.
But it’s on the inside of the new ZW220-5 that the majority of the 5-series changes have taken place.
As mentioned at the start, Hitachi has replaced its Isuzu engines with Cummins in its medium range wheel loaders (ZW180-to-ZW220 models) for environmental reasons, although the units running in New Zealand are still Tier 3, not the Tier 4 Final ones used in other markets.
On paper, this would seem to be a step backwards performancewise, as the previous 7.8-litre Isuzu engine puts out 13% more (net) power than the new 6.7-litre Cummins. However, the Cummins delivers a similar amount of torque to the Isuzu and its peak is spread over a wide rev range, so the operator is treated to near-maximum levels of performance once it gets into its work.
To make more of the available power and torque, Hitachi has equipped the ZW220-5 with a new torque converter automatic transmission with five forward gears in place of the old four-speed box (it still has three reverse gears).
It’s an automotive-style planetary automatic transmission, which makes gear shifts feel smoother and more car-like, while the lockup torque convertor helps to improve fuel efficiency. Although it’s automatic, the operator can select the most appropriate gears for the machine to utilise, depending on the ground conditions – by selecting third gear, for example, it will shift through first up to third and down automatically, but not go beyond that limit.
During heavy work around the skid there’s an automatic shift-up delay of four seconds from second to third gear to provide the operator with more urgency and controllability, which is particularly handy when working in confined spaces.
Hitachi says all shift changes are based on engine load rather than rpm or speed, ensuring the transmission selections are made at the most efficient time.
Another neat feature of the new ZW220-5 is the ride control, which reduces vibration while the wheel loader is travelling on rough ground. This feature turns on when the machine is travelling and goes off automatically when it’s in loading mode.
To put Hitachi’s power smoothly and effectively down to the ground, the ZW220-5 employs torque proportional differentials, reducing wheel spin and minimising tyre wear. Heavy-duty axles ensure this loader can put up with the rigours of working in hostile forestry environments. The hydraulic system has also been enhanced to make it more responsive to operator input and smoother during finer loading manoeuvres. Another new feature is the anti-drift valve that prevents internal oil leakages that can cause creeping of the lift arm.
There is a choice of two work modes, which the operator can select to suit the job and working conditions; in the Standard mode the engine revs are controlled so that the emphasis is on smooth, efficient operation in normal conditions, while the Power mode offers extra traction for heavy-duty loading or travelling uphill.
When working in Standard mode, a quick power switch on the dashboard can be selected by the operator to deliver a power boost when extra lifting performance is required.
Steven mentioned the good fuel consumption he’s seeing from the new ZW220-5 and additional fuel savings can be achieved with an optional auto-engine shutdown function that prevents excessive idling by switching off the machine after a set time, which is fitted to this machine. To help the operator maintain efficient work practices, an ECO monitor display shows when the wheel loader is operating economically in ECO mode.
Improved maintenance has also been a focus in the design of the new ZW220-5 and preventing the radiator from clogging up in dusty conditions without the operators having to get out and clean it themselves was one target for Hitachi. The reversible cooling fan can be set to automatic mode to provide a minute of reverse flow for every 30 minutes of operation or the fan can be reversed manually.
There’s better access from the ground to the daily maintenance points around the engine as a result of the redesigned engine covers, which lift up further out of the way.
Access to the cab is safer, thanks to steps that are
less steep because they’re angled further outward.
There are doors on either side of the cab but the primary entranceway is on the left side of the machine, which also opens out wider than before.
Up here, the fruits of the enlarged glass area are immediately noticeable. The operator has a completely unobstructed, panoramic view forward, with the front pillars moved further out. There’s good vision down to the ground on either side of the forks and to the rear, both sides of the counterweight can be seen clearly from the cab for better manoeuvring in tight quarters.
The heated air suspension seat is very welcome on cold early morning starts and it comes with adjustable lumbar support and a high level of travel to comfortably accommodate even the tallest operators, while the wrist and arm rests and side console are all adjustable.
Getting into the seat is also easier because the steering wheel can be tilted further forward when the operator is entering or exiting.
The layout of the new dashboard is much cleaner and more user friendly, but what we particularly like is the introduction of transmission controls to the joystick lever on the right, where the operator also works the boom and forks. There’s still a transmission lever on the steering column for traditionalists, but it’s largely redundant, as we’ll soon see.
The A/C system has also been upgraded and is better at keeping the cab warm and cosy in winter and cool on hot summer days. There’s a new sound system too, which incorporates an MP3 dock to allow operators to play their own choice of music.
Plenty of storage spaces around the cab, with a large space behind the operator’s seat for a lunch box and to the right-hand side is a cooler compartment that will hold four cans or bottles plus, there’s a large drink holder on the other side of the seat that will hold a 1.5-litre bottle.
I’ll leave it to Iron Tester, Stan Barlow, to further explain the nuances of the cab and controls in his column on page 36.
Meanwhile, regular operator Leighton Lipsham, has finished loading the first truck and is in the process of lifting the trailer off the back of the second truck to allow Stan to load the bunks and fleet around the skid as part of his Iron Test duties.
When Leighton joins us for a quick chat before Stan takes over we mention how easily the Hitachi seemed to cope with the weight of the flat deck trailer.
This trailer is probably around the 7-tonne mark, but Leighton says it has coped with more: “One of the 5-axle log deck truck and trailers that comes in here is 7,900kg and I can pick it up for the driver to reverse out without any problems.”
We don’t want to hold the driver of this unit up, so Leighton gives Stan a quick run-down on the ZW220-5 controls and points to the stack of logs that need to be loaded. This may be the last truck today, so we want to take advantage of the opportunity now.
With Stan under way, I ask Leighton how he is enjoying his time in the forest, as he’s only been in the industry since this crew was established last year.
“Really enjoying it, I was in earthworks operating a digger for a contractor, but that was with a bucket, so this is my first experience with logs,” he says.
Before he could be let loose in a machine in the forest Leighton first had to learn how a harvesting skid site works and he spent six months as a QC, with the occasional opportunity to hop into the ZW220-5 cab during smoko breaks.
The Hitachi started in this block with the highly experienced senior operator, Harold, at the controls and Leighton says he learned a great deal from the veteran logger.
“I count myself very lucky to be taught by someone like Harold – such an excellent operator,” he says.
As Leighton gained more experience he was able to sit his wheel loader ticket, followed by a fleeting ticket and then loading truck and trailer ticket. By Christmas, he was in the machine full time.
Does he like it?
“Yeah, although I’ve got nothing to compare this with as it’s my first forest machine – it’s completely different to a digger, especially one with a bucket, which is what I’ve been used to,” he says. “It took a while to get comfortable working with a fork, because you have to work with gravity whereas buckets are mostly about the controls.”
Watching Stan manoeuvre back and forth to position himself between the trailer bolsters with a full load of logs in the beak, Leighton says it’s much easier to use the right-hand combination lever to work the gears and the arm/forks instead of the separate steering column-mounted forward/reverse lever.
“I did use the gear lever on the steering column when I started, but I don’t anymore,” he says.
“Once I used the joystick option I found it way better, you save a whole lot of time, especially when I go in for a grab with it in neutral or reverse and I can do it all with one hand.”
For a reasonably long machine – just under 8.5 metres from counterweight to the tip of the tines – the ZW220 is highly manoeuvrable. There’s limited room on the side of the trailer that is closest to the log stacks, but the pivot provides good steering lock to allow Stan to line it up easily without too much fuss.
Leighton agrees, adding: “One thing I like about this machine is its mobility. It’s good to move around on the skid, it’s fast and very agile, especially when I’m fleeting.”
When he’s just working around the skid Leighton prefers to minimise the gear changes and restrict the transmission to no higher than third gear.
“That’s more than enough,” says Leighton, and after checking the spec sheet to see that even in third gear he can still hit a top speed of 24.9km/h, I’m inclined to agree. Out on the track between skids it’s a different matter and the ZW220-5 can be given its head, provided the ground isn’t too rough, with a maximum of 36km/h possible in fifth gear.
“It’s quite handy to have that fifth gear when we’ve got two skids
running and I have to go between the two, you can get up and back a whole lot faster – it would take a digger half-an-hour to walk,” Leighton adds.
Like all modern equipment, the Hitachi controls can be customised to suit the operator or the operation itself and one feature he particularly likes is the ride control where he can set it for different speeds, ie firm for fast speeds when travelling longer distances and a low setting to deliver a smoother ride on a bumpy skid site.
There is, however, one setting Leighton doesn’t like; the dual lift arm auto lever.
“It’s kind of a nuisance because it probably relates more to using a bucket for loading metal in a mining or quarry situation,” he says. “When it’s on and I go in for a load it clicks back and then auto levels, which is annoying when I’m trying to flush out logs or clean something up and the stack starts to rise and it gets in the way, so I turn it off.”
But he is happy with just about everything else and says that even with a heavy load in the forks the controls respond quickly and precisely, which make loading a truck and trailer easier. And the machine feels very stable with the 2,270kg of counterweight on the back.
“It’s got a good tonnage ratio, so it will do 7 tonnes around the skid site easily and maybe 8 when I load a truck and trailer, but I wouldn’t want to go past 8 tonnes,” Leighton says.
“With a 4-axle truck, two grabs and it’s done, then two grabs and a top-up for the trailer. And with the 5-axle trailer its one grab for the first packet and then two for the back.”
Loading the truck and trailer is made easier with the excellent all-round vision, though Leighton says he keeps an eye on the reversing camera when backing up, because there are still blinds spots behind the big bonnet. He’s set it so the view from the rear-facing camera comes up automatically on the large screen whenever reverse gear is selected.
Stan has completed loading the truck, which has now moved off to where the driver can chain up, leaving the skid clear for a spot of fleeting. Leighton briefs Stan on where the cut logs are to be stacked and he’s off to get a feel for how the machine behaves in this role.
Being a Friday afternoon, we’re mindful of the fact the boys want to finish on time so they can get into town.
That’s not going to be a problem, thanks to the way the Hitachi ZW220-5 skips around the skid and leaves it tidy with minutes to spare.
If only more sites around the country were able to make use of a wheel loader – think of the lift in in productivity.
Above left: A couple of loads are enough to fill the bunk – much quicker than an excavator-based loader. Above right: Iron Tester, Stan Barlow, uses the precise controls to nudge wayward logs into place.Below: Regular operator, Leighton Lipsham, has no trouble lifting the 4-axle trailer off this truck.
Above left: The pivot provides an excellent turning circle.Above right: Cleaning up the skid site with a log in the forks helps smooth the surface for faster speeds.Below: Even with a heavy load, the Hitachi ZX220-5 keeps its wheels firmly planted on the ground when outstretched.
Good access to the engine and maintenance points from the ground.