A fleeting glimpse
The next time you carry in groceries from your car, you might want to spend a moment or two thinking about the brown paper shopping bag you’re holding. The bag material is known in the trade as “kraft paper” and comes from a useful byproduct of the timber products industry — woodchips.
How does dispatch radio tie in with shopping bags? Well, it turns out that radio communications plays an important role in this aspect of the forestry products industry in at least one location.
Lumberjacks and truckers
The city of Vernon lies smack dab in the middle of British Columbia’s thriving timber business. Major mills include Riverside Forest Products and Tolko Industries. These larger mills, together with several smaller operations, provide more than 1,200 local jobs in logging and silviculture. Serving the transportation needs of all these mills is Vernon-based trucking company DCT Chambers Trucking.
“We cover a wide cross-section of local businesses,” said Jaime Skinner, dispatch manager at DCT Chambers Trucking. “We have a flat deck division where we haul steel, plastic pipe and other building materials, but probably 80% of our fleet carries wood residuals for saw mills, paper mills and particle board plants.”
Thirty years ago, DCT Chambers Trucking began business with only two trucks. Today, it has grown to a thriving enterprise with a fleet of more than 200 trucks. Each truck has two drivers who work, in shifts, 24 hours a day, five days a week.
Where the rubber hits the road
With 200 trucks on the road at any given time, the trucking operation is a complex one, requiring dispatch and routing of trucks to pick up wood chips from the various mills and to deliver them to local paper mills. For years, DCT Chambers Trucking has used radio consoles to dispatch its fleet of trucks. The consoles, from Redmond, WA-based Zetron, were originally installed by another Vernon company, VMR Communications. When it came time to upgrade the consoles to match the trucking company’s growing needs, VMR Communications was again the vendor of choice.
“They had a model 4016 and a model 4018 with a model 4115 expander panel,” said Wilfried Mulder, a technician with VMR Communications. “We took out the model 4016 and put in two model 4118s, kept the existing model 4115 and added another model 4115 so they have two identical positions now.”
Get those truckers rollin’
To give an idea of the size and complexity of DCT Trucking’s operation, the company currently employs seven full-time dispatchers. The dispatch runs 24 hours a day during the week, with a single dispatcher working an eight-hour shift during weekends. Weekdays are proving to be so busy that the company will soon be running two full-time dispatchers day and night.
The Zetron model 4118 consoles support eight radio channels, one of which is through a local repeater. Two other repeaters use leased lines with remote radios. DCT Chambers Trucking also has one Internet link.
Mulder explained how commercial dispatching works at the trucking company: “The radios they’re using have a 5/6-tone page capability. When the truck driver pages in, his truck number comes up on the console screen so the operator knows which truck called in, on what channel they called in and in what order. Meanwhile, the console sends back an acknowledgment tone, indicating to the driver that the call has been received and to wait a few minutes for dispatch to call back.”
Stack the decks
The model 4118’s call stacking capability has proven to be a key feature in this kind of dispatch operation. As trucks call, in they are placed in a stack. When one of the dispatch operators hits a button, he sees the first truck that paged in. Each time a dispatcher reviews the page, it also clears it. To call another truck, the operator simply hits another button. The console can stack as many as 24 pages at one time.
“The dispatch also has the ability to call the trucks with a 5/6-tone burst,” Mulder said. “The mobile receives the page and sends back a tone showing that the radio has acknowledged it. If the driver is out of his truck when the message comes in, there will be a call light flashing on his radio when he gets back so he knows to call the dispatch.”
When the chips are down
The paging capability is also being used to monitor the level of wood chips in the chip bins.
“Together with VMR Communications, we’ve developed sensors in various bins or silos at different sawmills where they store shavings or wood chips,” Skinner said.
Located at each of the mills are chip bins that fill up with wood chips and sawdust. Mounted on top of the chip bins is a radio attached to a level sensor. Using DTMF tones, dispatch operators at DCT Chambers can interrogate each individual chip bin and receive a 5/6-tone reading that tells them the level in each bin. If a bin is full, operators then know they need to dispatch two trucks. Alternatively, if the bin is nearly empty, they know there is no need to dispatch a truck. Apparently, the system is surprisingly accurate.
“We’ve got it down to tenths of a meter,” Skinner said.
As trucking companies grow, their communications needs change. DCT Chambers found dispatch radio and paging suited its needs perfectly. Other companies may require more functions such as vehicle location or activity logging, or less, such as simple paging.
Trucking companies make convenient shopping possible, transporting items from the materials used to make the brown paper grocery bag to the food inside.
Entwistle is editor of Advantage magazine for Zetron, Redmond, WA. A version of this article appeared previously in Advantage.