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Tired of re-paving roads, forestry giant looks to technology: CTI systems can reduce wear on roads and tires, potentially slashing maintenance costs and even extending the harvesting season.

Field trials on a new road-friendly that may save forestry companies a bundle on their road maintenance bills and extend the hauling season for truckers technology are underway in Northern Ontario.

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Word is spreading in the trucking and forestry industry about tire pressure control systems, also known as central tire inflation (CTI), a 60-year-old technology that delivers higher traction capability for logging trucks and can extend the hauling season during the spring and fall months.

The system allows full axle weights on weight-restricted routes. Now the technology is just making in-roads into Ontario.

The Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC) and forestry giant Weyerhaeuser are testing the CTI system in Dryden with traffic studies on forestry roads this past summer and fall to determine if CTI-equipped trucks can reduce the company's road-building costs.

Already in use on truck fleets in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, CTI systems are saving forestry roads and public highways from damage caused by heavy truck loads while making money and improving productivity for truckers and forestry companies.

CTI allows truck operators to change the pressure in their tires as the vehicle is moving. A CTI-equipped truck exerts less pressure on the road and better distributes heavy loads. The size of the tires' footprint can be varied resulting in reduced wear and tear on paved and non-paved roads.

For forestry companies, says FERIC's Mark Brown, a CTI expert, they don't have to wait as long under soggy conditions for a road to recover until they begin trafficking with full weights again.

"The concept is you put less gravel on the surface of roads which reduces your transportation of gravel costs and road construction costs on the whole," says Brown, a transportation program leader, who is co-managing two active CTI projects in the North.

Another Northern Ontario trial is scheduled for early 2006 involving Tembec and Ontario's Ministry of Transportation focusing on the spring break-up period along a seven-kilometre stretch of road near Kiosk at the north end of Algonquin Park.

During late March and early April, when logging roads can be impassable, hauling half-loads are not cost effective so woodland operations usually shut down. The result is higher inventory costs and lower wood recovery.

But the crisis in Ontario's forest industry has some companies looking for any way to cut costs and increase productivity.

CTI is on the wish list of new technologies wanted by forest industry representatives serving on Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay's Forest Sector Competitiveness Council.

In their June 13 report, they expressed concern about the snail's pace at which proven road-tested technologies like CTI were being accepted by government regulators. They wanted Queen's Park to provide cash incentives for carriers to adopt these systems.

In Saskatchewan, the technology was first introduced as part of a partnership program in 1995, permitting truck fleets to operate with primary highway axle loads on secondary highways.

Just last year, British Columbia introduced CTI, allowing trucks to haul full loads on weight-restricted roads.

Allan Bradley, a Vancouver-based senior research with FERIC's roads group, who has worked with B.C.'s transportation ministry in starting a CTI program on certain approved roads, says all indications to date show trucks are not causing any extra damage to roads.

While he has no hard numbers on what B.C. truck fleets are saving, the payback period or rate of return on the investment, based on getting more revenue from a longer haul season, is between 18 and 24 months.

Tire pressure control systems have been used in the military since the 1940s to improve mobility and traction over unpaved surfaces. Only in the last 20 years have these systems slowly been used commercially beginning with the U.S. Forest Service in the early 1980s.

FERIC developed its own prototype in the early 1990s before handing the technology off to an Edmonton company. Tire Pressure Control International, which markets the system nationally under the name Tireboss.

Besides prolonging road life, there are a multitude of benefits for contractors and truckers as well.

For truck owners operating on sharp, crushed gravel conditions, CTI can extend tire life by as much as 30 to 40 percent during summer conditions.

For drivers, lower vibrations and a better ride quality ultimately translates into lower maintenance costs for trucks.

"Trucks with CTI have a more road-friendly vehicle with a higher traction capability," which may extend the hauling season depending upon conditions and regulatory controls, says Brown.

But the technology is not cheap

The one hang-up of CTI is the price tag. Installing a system for a full semi-tractor trailer can be as much as $20,000. Some in the forestry industry want Queen's Park to provide grants as an incentive for carriers to adopt these systems.

In B.C., truck operators equipped with CTI are offered extra weeks of work during spring break-up and are given favourable trucking rates. In some places, the system is mandatory.

"The true benefit to the mill isn't achieved unless you have an entire fleet operating the system," says Brown. "If you have half a fleet that's not equipped you're still damaging the road."

FERIC investigators hope to take the results from the Dryden trial and next spring's Kiosk run and follow it up with more broad-based trials across Northern Ontario.

If all goes well, says Brown the MTO may allow CTI to become part of the normal operation regulations in Ontario as early as 2007, but more realistically by 2009.

www.feric.ca

By IAN ROSS

Northern Ontario Business
COPYRIGHT 2005 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT: FORESTRY
Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Words:922
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