A grappler loading roundwood onto a truck bed at a Mercer Holz work site in the Harz Mountains.

Modern Truck Technology in Timber Transport

For many years, Mercer Holz has supplied the pulp mills Mercer Rosenthal, Thuringia and Mercer Stendal, Saxony-Anhalt with large quantities of industrial wood and wood chips. Since its acquisition by Mercer International in 2017, Mercer Timber Products, one of Europe’s largest sawmills, has also been supplied with raw lumber by Mercer Holz. In total, Mercer Holz procures approximately 7 Mio. Fm of wood annually for the three Mercer mills.

With modern and efficient machinery, Mercer Holz is able to provide appropriate services in both thinning and end-use forestry operations. In forests managed for timber production, thinning is probably the most important operation carried out prior to harvest as it is like weeding a garden, removing small, weaker, and poor quality trees to allow the better trees to thrive and grow. 

From the harvest in the forest to the delivery of the wood to the mills, Mercer makes it a point to invest in the latest equipment and machinery, continuously improving the processes used to be more efficient and effective. Here’s an example in the area of truck logistics.

Improving Work Safety Through New Developments

Mercer Holz staff worked with several suppliers to test and implement a new, innovative safety technology. As head of the fleet at Mercer Holz in Arneburg, Kai-Uwe Maaß has one guiding principle: “You always have to be on the ball.” That’s why he keeps an eye on technical developments, attends trade fairs, and seeks technical discussions with colleagues and even friendly companies. 

In 2018, Kai-Uwe heard for the first time that it would be possible to control a truck and operate a timber crane from inside the crane operator’s seat. Until now, the driver had to get out of the driver’s cab and switch to the crane operator’s seat to load and unload timber. To move the truck forward, he climbed back into the driver’s seat and then returned to the crane. If this were to be eliminated, it would bring both greater work safety and greater efficiency and time savings.

Inspired by this conversation, the shipping manager at the company asked the question: Does this technology suit the Arneburg location and the work in the forest? “Yes,” was the answer; with this technical innovation, Mercer Holz could make its fleet more future-proof.

With new, innovative truck bodies, it should be possible to safely and ergonomically control a timber truck in the forest from the crane cab and back it up at the timber pile without the driver having to leave the crane cab. Intensive research followed. After a test drive, he was finally convinced.

“I drove home with a grin on my face. And I had a plan for how this technology could improve our fleet.”

This could be implemented quickly because replacement investments were due for the fleet in the summer of 2018. The next step was to convince the drivers of the new operating system. “After all, technical progress always requires people to implement it,” says Maaß. 

The drivers’ initial skepticism quickly gave way to curious interest. Especially as every driver benefits from the new technology. After all, in an 8-hour shift, around 40 ascents and descents onto the loading crane and into the driver’s cab are saved, ascents via a ladder and platforms to a working height of around 2.5 meters. 

“The risk of falling from the ladder, especially in wet or icy weather, and tripping accidents on the sometimes uneven forest floor are significantly reduced,” says a pleased Ronny Pötzsch, head of occupational safety at Mercer Holz. A second advantage is significantly higher efficiency.

In the next step, Kai-Uwe Maaß convinced his superiors and the management. They agreed to the additional expenditure of around 8,000 euros that the innovative technology would cost per truck. A Scania chassis was ordered, equipped with all safety-relevant assistance systems: lane change warning system, automatic distance control, emergency braking assistant, front and rear cameras to help control the truck from the crane cab.

For the first time, the truck was equipped with air suspension on the front axle. “This has the advantage that this truck can achieve up to 30 centimetres more ground clearance in difficult terrain at the push of a button. In this way, we can prevent damage to the vehicle floor and drive the truck also on worse forest roads,” explains Kai-Uwe Maaß. And then luck came in: crane manufacturer Epsilon was one of the first companies to offer Mercer Holz a new development. “What is special about the crane is that it has a sensitive and ergonomic control of the crane operation, in combination with high lifting force and long reach,” says Maaß.

In June 2019, the truck with the “drive function from the crane cab” was delivered. A year later, a second vehicle followed, equipped with a crane. Why? Because the drivers are enthusiastic about how safely and successfully they can work with it. Involving those who will use new tools and technologies – that’s how Mercer collaborates for success.