Logging on with innovation

For more than four decades Graeme Elphinstone has been coming up with innovative and forward-thinking solutions in log trailer design and manufacture. His ongoing goal is to keep improving efficiencies in the highly competitive transport realm for the benefit of the industry and the country.

Graeme Elphinstone grew up in Highclere in Northern Tasmania in a farming family. In 1971 he moved to Triabunna on Tasmania’s east coast where he worked as a tree faller.

Thirteen months later Graeme became a logging inspector with Tasmania Pulp and Forest Holdings. Whilst in this role he repaired chainsaws at night and on weekends. This led to the formation of Elphinstone Saw Centre in 1972.

The year 1976 saw Graeme importing on-vehicle scales from the USA with his brother. It was not long before he identified where log trailer improvements were needed and wasted no time making these happen.

In 1977 the first Elphinstone log jinker was manufactured and from then on Graeme and his dedicated team continued to evolve the trailers to suit the diverse demands of the logging sector.

While innovative design and manufacture of log trailers and log transport equipment have been a big part of Elphinstone Engineering’s operations over the years, the company has also produced specialist transport equipment for Antarctica and other countries with serious traverse requirements.

In fact, Graeme has completed four Antarctic traverses and orchestrated many design improvements in skis and sleds that enable them to better cope with the harsh Antarctic environment.

He has also been instrumental in the development of many new and improved loadcells and electronics for on-vehicle weighing systems, with all electronics being manufactured in Australia.

One of Elphinstone’s pinnacle achievements came to pass in 1986 when he designed, manufactured and patented the world’s first folding skeletal trailer with the registered trademark name of Fold-A-Skel.

Graeme describes as “monumental” the changes that have occurred in the logging industry over the last five decades.

“The log transport industry has gone from running rigid trucks carting short logs to very basic single-axle pole trailers pulled by single drive prime movers. Then we graduated to tandem-tandem pole and skeletal trailers, followed by tri-tris, eventually evolving into the A-doubles we have today.

“We’ve been involved with developing all the different variants including folding pole and folding skeletal trailers through to slide-up self-loading trailers,” Graeme says.

“I am pleased to have seen many changes in terms of the proliferation of safety features incorporated into trucks and trailers. The latest EBS braking systems have been a great development.

“I’ve also witnessed massive innovation in the design of equipment to achieve lighter tare weights, higher payloads and safer and easier working conditions.”

He proceeds to highlight on-vehicle weighing systems, introduced from 1976, which have given rise to highly accurate weight determination in the logging industry.

“Sadly, I have observed that many other transport operations are not taking load mass accuracy as seriously as they could or should. I think the log transport industry can be justifiably proud of the accuracy in terms of axle group and gross mass to which the trailers are loaded.”

Other changes Graeme regards as significant include the comfort and ease of operation for drivers with the modern features and innovations of trucks, trailers and associated equipment.

On the topic of Performance-Based Standards (PBS), Graeme says this development has allowed his company to build innovative trailers including the Long Logger which enables the haulage of 19-metre length logs on a tri-tri B-double.

It has also allowed the design and manufacture of Elphinstone’s patented Easy Steer suspension which Graeme says enables longer trailer bodies with higher payloads, while significantly reducing road wear in addition to minimising trailer suspension and tyre wear. It also facilitates the fitment of simple yet highly accurate on-board weighing systems.

Asked who he admires most in the industry, Graeme admits he finds it hard to pinpoint just one person.

“I admire those within the industry who operate with a high degree of integrity and professionalism in their respective fields,” he says. “I particularly enjoy seeing young people grow and flourish to reach their full potential.”

As for highlights in his career, Graeme describes winning the BHP Steel Award in 1985 and being awarded Most Innovative Trailer Of The Year in 1999 for the Easy Loader combination as significant high points.
“Another standout for me was the commissioning of our first tri-tri B-double Easy Loader self-loading trailer in 1997,” Graeme remarks.

“This came at a time when we were struggling financially and it proved to be a critical turning point for the business. Now 22 years on it is still a very important part of our business and we have progressed the design further to incorporate the present- day Easy Loader A-double combination.

In other comments, Graeme mentions that the inability of the PBS system to fully allow for real innovation concerns him.

“It can be a frustrating and time-consuming system which then makes us more reluctant to be innovative, which is unfortunate,” he says.

“Innovation done for the benefit of the industry and our country rather than for sheer profiteering by a few is very important. It is vital that those working within these organisations can see and understand this.

“I don’t think many outside the transport industry realise how competitive it really is and how hardworking you have to be as a business person operating within it.

“I admire those in the industry who successfully operate within the many rules and regulations and still achieve admirable results.

“I would like to see a higher standard of training outcomes throughout our training organisations with a focus on skill output as opposed to numbers output.

“We must not sell our young people short as they are not only the future of our industries but of our country.”

Graeme goes on to say he enjoys most aspects of the transport industry, in particular designing new innovations and improvements to make equipment more efficient, safer and easier to operate.

“I enjoy a good yarn and a laugh about things within our industry and the many characters that make it up,” he says. “I am also extremely fortunate to have a team of highly skilled and dedicated people working with me who have the passion and drive to keep the business moving forward into the future.”

Industry Icon
Made possible by Smedley’s Engineers. Industry Icon is a series dedicated to honouring the unsung heroes of the commercial road transport industry.

(Image: EasyLoader tri-tri B-double brought to market in 1997. The unique design won Elphinstone the Most Innovative Trailer of the Year award in 1999.)

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