A visionary approach to timber

A visionary approach to timber

Hiab’s HiVision crane brings technology normally reserved for video games to the timber industry.

It’s an early morning start at the Lecab dealership in Karlstad, Värmland, where driver Mattias Johansson is just getting his day going. At first glance, Johansson’s R 730 looks like any other Scania timber truck – a V8 logo on the front, a crane in the back, bunks to secure the load – but closer inspection reveals that the truck is loaded with new technology.

Departing from the dealership and heading east, Johansson, who works for Kjell & Aste Larsson transport in Molkom, turns from a main road close to the town of Skattkärr and heads south down a dirt road, the truck kicking up dust as it passes forest, farms and train tracks.

While the routine seems so far quite normal, as soon as we arrive at the first loading point, it’s clear that Johansson’s truck isn’t like the rest. While most drivers would climb out to an external crane cab on the back of the truck, he instead slides over to his joystick-equipped passenger seat and slips on a virtual reality headset. In gaming the headset might take him to another world, but in Johansson’s case, it transports him to what amounts to a virtual crane cab, courtesy of a camera system mounted on the crane. The system gives him a panoramic view of the crane and its surroundings, and from a higher vantage point than a traditional crane cab would provide its operator.

Viewed from the outside, the crane seems to be operating almost by magic as it loads the wood stacked by the side of the road onto the truck. Thirty minutes later, Johansson removes his headset and the job is finished. As the crane folds back up, he picks up a remote control, and the timber bunks, Com 90 from ExTe, secure themselves and the load. He’s done all of this without leaving the air-conditioned truck cab.

In a business with tight margins, the use of such digital technology seems like it could be excessive, but Johansson insists that the crane and timber bunks save time, money, and weight compared to more traditional alternatives. “This crane is 25,000 to 30,000 Swedish kroner cheaper than a regular one because the crane cabin costs about that,” he explains. And the weight? “With this system we save 400 kilos, which means we can load 400 kilos more on our vehicle.”

Alongside weight and cost savings, Johansson says the ExTe timber bunks save him time when loading and unloading, as he can secure the load with the press of a button.

Johansson says it didn’t take him too long to learn operate the truck. “It took 5–6 weeks before I felt I got the hang of it,” he explains. Though he admits with a chuckle, “I’m learning new things every day.”