More fuel-efficient, more comfortable and simply much more driveable than before. The new Super powertrain has made life that bit easier for haulier Fermgruppen AB and driver Frida Lautin in the daily transport of timber in the forests of northern Sweden.
Tree after tree after tree. It’s all you can see for miles around when you travel through the countryside of Västernorrland and Gävleborg County in northern Sweden – because this is one of the main hubs of the forestry industry in a country that is the world’s third-largest exporter of wood pulp, paper and sawn timber.
Sundsvall-based haulier Fermgruppen AB is one of the many haulage companies that link together the supply chain of the forest products sector, which in 2018 generated 145 billion Swedish kronor in exports.
Each day, Fermgruppen’s trucks drive deep into the forests surrounding Sundsvall, picking up sixty-ton loads of logs from the nimble wood grabbing machines that follow in the wake of the heavy loggers that cut down trees with surgical precision. The timber loads are collected and delivered to the depots of the SCA group, the largest private forest owner in Europe.
Richard Ferm is the owner of Fermgruppen, which he started in 2004 when he bought the nine Scania trucks belonging to his father Lars and went out on his own. “According to my parents, ever since I was very little, I was always saying to them that I wanted to have my own truck. And now, I have 26, all Scania,” he says with a smile.
“The truck has to be reliable”
He’s fulfilled an ambition, but Richard is under no illusions. It’s a demanding business, where margins are getting tighter all the time. He says it’s essential that the trucks are fuel-efficient, but that they also have all-weather reliability on rough, unpaved forest tracks that are constantly changing according to the conditions:
“The most important thing about a timber truck is that it has to get you into the forest and back again. The truck must be reliable. We’re often driving without phone coverage and have to use a radio link between the trucks in case one of them has problems.
“The vehicle must work when it’s hot and dusty, and it must also work when it’s cold, icy and snowy. It’s also about security for the driver. They need to be safe on the road, and there are often narrow roads with loose shoulders.”
The truck that Fermgruppen is testing is a 13-litre Scania 560 R XT, with G33 Gearbox. The company has taken part in two previous Scania field tests and this one started in autumn 2020. So far, Richard Ferm is happy with how it is going. “Everyone strives for reduced costs and a higher degree of utilisation. And this truck has shown that during this time. In terms of fuel consumption, it’s 20 percent lower than our other trucks on the same route,” he says.
“I have been out driving the truck several times and the main positives I can see apart from the better fuel consumption are the driveability and the driver environment – it runs very quietly in the cab. I also find the new gearbox to be a benefit. “All in all, it’s a very nice truck, and I think the field test is a great interaction because your feedback is really taken on board.”
High mileage, bad roads: the importance of skilled drivers and good driveability
Another key ingredient for coping with the demands of forest transports is the truck drivers themselves. “The driver has to have a strong psyche, to be a self-starter but able to work in a group; a team player who can act independently. It’s a complicated mix, but those who can achieve it thrive,” says Richard Ferm.
One of those Richard can rely on to meet the demands of these transports is 25-year-old Frida Lautin, who has been driving for Fermgruppen for three years. Frida’s slight frame belies a strength of character that sees her deal with the late starts, tough roads and long days with no fuss. Neither has she suffered any adverse treatment by being a female driver in a traditionally masculine industry.
“I think it’s even easier now to get into the timber industry or to get into others like the construction industry or mining,” she says. “You do hear horror stories from others that some do not accept women, but it hasn’t been like that for me. Everyone has been very welcoming, and now there have been many more women getting into the industry as well. It is becoming more and more common.”
For Richard Ferm, the question of driver gender is a non-issue. If the driver is good enough, he’ll employ them. Today, there are nine female drivers in his crew of 49. Frida feels that the importance of the new Super powertrain’s driveability cannot be overstated. After all, her daily drives involve high mileage, bad roads and frequent stops and starts, as she waits in the middle of the forest for other trucks to be loaded with timber.
“The most important thing is that this truck gets me around when I’m driving in the woods. The good thing is that it ́s very quiet in the cab, and that it’s stable to drive and does not bounce, which is nice for the body as well. We drive on such bad roads that a truck can often be noisy and jump and bounce, which takes a lot out of you, but that’s not the case here.” Frida has also been impressed by the increased fuel efficiency and the extra power that comes from the new powertrain and gearbox.
“It is rare to get over 400 litres in two shifts. It almost never happens with this truck,” she says. “It’s quite low geared. You can go down quite far on the revs, which was a bit unusual in the beginning. You have to trust the gearbox as well, that it has the strength, and you get to test yourself. It still feels like it has the strength.”
Another key aspect of the truck is the liftable and disengageable tandem bogie, which answers one of Fermgruppen’s prayers. Not only does this new option save up to six percent on fuel, a substantial saving on return legs that can be 100 kilometres, it also reduces the vehicle’s turning radius, which is very useful on narrow forest tracks.
Lifting takes less than 25 seconds, with ground clearance of nearly 70mm. Most of the fuel savings can be attributed to the reduced friction inside the second (disconnected) axle gearing. “Because we have to load so much, the tandem means the trailer becomes lighter,” says Frida. “We have been waiting for the liftable tandem for several years, so we’re happy to have it now,” adds Richard.
“There’s nothing negative about this truck!”
Sometimes Frida finishes a shift in the early hours of the morning, when, after returning from delivering to depots that have massive piles of logs as long and high as a row of two-storey houses, the driver has to clean the truck inside and out. But she really enjoys her job.
“You get a sense of freedom when you are out driving. Sure, you have to drive to certain industrial areas, and your route is pre-determined, but it is still freedom with responsibility. And it’s great to be in the woods. You get to see many nice places,” she says. And, Frida adds, she’d be happy to keep driving a truck like this one once the field test is over. “That would be great,” she says. “There’s nothing negative about this truck!”
A most driveable truck
- Truck: Scania 560 R
- Application: Timber transports
- Engine: DC13 173 (560hp)
- Gearbox: G33
- No Retarder; Compression Release Brake Gross
- Train Weight: 64 tons