FAMILY-owned KZN business, R&B Timber was established in 1952 by Bob Armour. Today it operates at corporate level with his grandson, Simon Armour, as the Chief Executive Officer and the fourth generation being groomed to carry on the legacy.
The company comprises two timber treatment facilities, Harding Treated Timbers in Harding on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast and Natal Forest Products in the inland area of Richmond. In addition to the company’s own 2 050ha of timber plantations in the Harding area, agreements with timber corporates and private farmers secures timber to supply the factories and meet market demand.
Products include fencing, vineyard and netting poles for the agriculture market. As well as building poles. They also specialise in utility and fibre poles used for power lines and fibre optic distribution. Chief Operations Officer, Cliff Gilson said national power utility Eskom is traditionally one of their largest customers.
“We supply decent volumes through their electrical contractor network supplying transmission poles. In addition, there is a good element of export, currently around 30%, primarily into Africa as wooden poles are the most cost-effective way to electrify developing countries.”
The company’s fleet of 32 Bell loggers is divided among the plantation operation and the two processing plants. The loggers in the plants work full eight hours shifts per day, with some units working an extended shift. Currently the machines average 8 000³ to 9 000³ of timber per month with the capacity of doing 10 000³.
The machines have proven themselves indispensable at the plants where they offload trucks of raw material, pack raw material into waiting bays, feed the kilns and treatment plants, stockpile the finished product and load delivery vehicles, either breakbulk or containers.
“Over the years the group has probably owned around 100 Bell loggers. Since we’ve started buying loggers from Bell, we haven’t introduced any other log handling machinery because we’ve always had a strong relationship with Bell and received good backup. The Bell logger is a tried and tested machine,” said Gilson.
The bulk of the fleet is A-series machines with between 8,000 and 12,000 hours, but some of the older machines have notched up close to 14,000 hours. “We’ve found the A-series to be a strong machine. We’ve been very happy with our Bell 225As but we’ll be phasing them out to be able to standardise on the F-series.”
R&B Timber has adopted a new policy of replacing loggers every five or six years or between 11,000 and 12,000 hours rather than the previous policy of five years or 10 000 hours.
To get into the new cycle, R&B Timber Group took delivery of three new Bell 225F loggers in the first half of 2021 and plans to take additional machines before the end of the calendar year.
He described the lower decibel rating of the F-series as “a massive benefit in our factory environment because we have a huge responsibility to the surrounding residents in terms of noise pollution. It allows us to run a night-time loading operation seamlessly”.
Safety is another plus. “Having all the greasing check points at eye-level means operators don’t need to climb onto the boom, and because they get checked more often. It also helps having oil and fuel at eye-level too. Fuel consumption seems to be better. The F-series is a more comfortable machine because there is less vibration through the pedals and the operator can still think at the end of the day due to the reduced noise level.”
R&B Timber’s F-series loggers have been fitted standard with Matriarch grabs and 16-ply steel belt tyres, which provide better wear in the aggressive plant environment where nails and wire are common hazards. The company has standardised on doors for safety and an anti-theft fuel sieve mechanism.
He added that Bell Equipment Sales South Africa’s Level 1 B-BBEE status had a significant bearing on the company’s choice of supplier. “Eskom is a huge customer and there is no way that we can maintain our scorecard if we don’t purchase from Level 1 suppliers, especially those with whom we have a substantial spend.”
R&B Timber is the single largest employer in the Harding and Richmond districts with about 600 staff. A further 300 to 400 people are indirectly employed through numerous stump-to-mill harvesting contracts.