By Paul MacDonald
Video cameras seem to be everywhere these days. With the development of small, rugged consumer cameras such as the GoPro, cameras can be mounted on the fenders of cars racing in NASCAR—or on your mountain bike.
And they are now being used in the forest industry, thanks to a new product from B.C. company, T-Mar Industries. It recently introduced a Grapple Camera that allows loggers to continue to operate on foggy days in poor visibility, and offers increased safety and productivity, virtually eliminating the need for spotting when using a grapple yarder. It offers faster grappling in blind spots and over long distances, and a bird’s eye view—in high def—of choker settings.
And it’s already proving its effectiveness with a B.C. coastal logging contractor, and forest company TimberWest.
Developing a grapple camera was a good fit for T-Mar since it is a leader in cable logging with its Log Champ yarder lineup and its well-known hydraulic grapples.
Tyson Lambert, forestry sales and support with T-Mar, which is based in Campbell River, B.C., explained that they saw a need for the Grapple Cam in B.C. logging operations.
“But we knew that we would have to develop something specific for the industry—we could not just use GoPro cameras. We needed something way beyond that,” says Lambert.
“A GoPro will survive anything a person can do, or maybe on a race car, but it won’t survive the rigging on a grapple yarder in British Columbia—not even close.”
Last year, they developed a prototype Grapple Cam, and started doing some testing at the T-Mar shop. “The camera worked fine on the prototype, but it wasn’t consistent—so if you stood between the camera and the receiver, the picture would cut out,” says Lambert. “So we started looking for more advanced camera and transmitter components.”
Lambert relates that it took some time to get there, but they now have a solid production Grapple Camera unit. Among its features is a rugged T1 steel housing that is CNC machined, a replaceable, scratch resistant Margard lens protector, a sealed electronics compartment with separate battery compartment, and a vibration/shock mounted electronics module. The battery run time is 12 hours, and its range in normal conditions is 1500 feet, with a range of 3,000 feet in direct line of sight. The Grapple Cam weighs 63 pounds.
Lambert emphasized that the system features HD digital video. “The operator is going to be looking at the monitor a good part of the day, and we wanted high def. Most of the security and machine cameras out there are standard definition video—which can be like watching something on an old tube-type TV. We did not want that.”
The camera uses a frequency which is good for going around and through obstacles—like trees.
“And it doesn’t require any kind of exotic antenna,” explained Lambert. “You can just use a whip antenna.”
The first Grapple Cam unit went out in the field, for testing, last year, with Vancouver Island logging contractor, Fall River Logging.
“The operator was really excited about getting it—he had seen grapple cameras used in New Zealand,” says Lambert.
And the concept proved itself from the get-go, even in field trials. “Normally, on foggy days, the logging crew would pack it in and go home. But they were able to log all day in the fog. That was something they weren’t able to do before.”
Early in the process, the realization just how tough the entire package would need to be was brought home, though, says Lambert. “We opened up the camera case, and literally poured the contents into a bucket. That was version one.”
The really encouraging part, he explained, was that the grapple yarder operator for Fall River Logging wanted to know how quickly they could have the Grapple Cam back—they wanted to get working again with it as soon as possible. “They were calling us every day, asking when they could get it back. They were hooked on the Grapple Cam.
“We did a number of iterations, and each time it lasted longer,” Lambert explained.
“We discovered a way to measure the shock that the camera and case were getting. Once we had some hard numbers to work with we were able to design the components to withstand the job.
“That was really the turning point, because once we could actually calculate and determine what was going on in the housing, then we knew what we were up against, and what we had to do.”
It was tough to determine the destructive force the Grapple Cam had to withstand, he explained. Most measuring systems that would be used in an application like this would, in fact, be destroyed in the measuring process.
“The conventional thinking,” he said, “is not to put electronics in this kind of situation. We were essentially trying to put electronics where it should not go—and it took a while to do that.
“Like all new technologies, it wasn’t cheap to do, and there were times that we thought about stopping. But with our work, the Grapple Cam was getting better and better with each version. And we saw there was a lot of interest in what we were doing, and kind of knew that it would be successful if we were able to build it.
“We saw that customers really needed something like this, and we kept going.”
T-Mar is fortunate, he added, in that it has very resourceful employees, from their design engineers to their machinists. “We have a very capable team of people who aren’t afraid to get a bit out of their exact field of expertise, and learn.”
T-Mar was able to design a system, and all the electronics are mounted to that system, and it is designed to move, to withstand the tough working conditions.
The first production Grapple Cam has been out with contractor, Fall River Logging of Courtenay, B.C., since late last year—and it has not had to come back to the shop once. “They’re logging with it every day,” says Lambert. Fall River is using the Grapple Cam in logging it does for TimberWest, on Vancouver Island.
Lambert says Fall River Logging has even developed some additional uses for the Grapple Cam. “They’re using it for yarding back and forth, but they wanted to get a look back up the hill, where the yarder was. So they laid the rigging across the ground, so the camera was pointing back, so they could see the hillside.”
But Lambert noted the number one advantage of the Grapple Cam is that it is able to virtually eliminate the hooktender having to come up and spot the grapple yarder. “Hooktenders can get injured—there have even been fatalities—doing the spotting. It’s a dangerous part of the job. They might be too close to the grapple load to get out of the way if something goes wrong.”
Added to that is the complication of relaying communications. “When you are operating blind on the yarder, such as on a steep hillside or around some rock, the hooktender usually talks the operator on to getting on the logs. So you can imagine what that is like—someone on the radio telling you to move forward, back, close up. It can be a slow process.
“The Grapple Cam allows the operator to see what they are doing, what is going on, where the logs are. It speeds up the process quite a bit.”
And in terms of productivity, it frees up the hooktender to do other things related to the operation.
And it has proven to be dependable—and rugged. “The signal quality is good, the picture the operator receives in the cab from the Grapple Cam is good, and it survives west coast logging, which says something,” noted Lambert. “If you happen to fly it into some rocks, it will bounce off, and just carry on.”
Some of the knocking around the Grapple Cam gets comes from the rigging itself, he added. “Being attached to a heavy piece of cable like that, it is subject to being flung every which way. The rigging sees a lot of abuse—there is a reason the rigging looks like it does after a few years of working on the coast.”
Reports from the field on the Grapple Cam have been positive. If there is a learning curve with the system, it is short.
“It doesn’t take too long for the operators to get used to it,” says Lambert. They kind of divide their time between looking out the windshield at where the rigging and grapple is at, and then watch the monitor when they are ready to pick up the logs.”
Adam Wunderlich, President of Fall River Logging, said the Grapple Cam is delivering benefits in both safety and operational efficiency. “It’s working great for us.” It’s allowed them to reduce the risks for hooktenders, and provides greater opportunities to work in lower light and fog conditions, he says. It required some patience and commitment from the grapple operator and crew, he added, especially at the beginning of the development process, but the end result has been well worth it. “It’s a really good example of collaboration between the supplier, the contractor and the landowner,” he says.
Because of the potential of the Grapple Cam, Vancouver Island forest company TimberWest partnered with T-Mar on developing the system. They, like logging contractors, could see the safety advantages, and the efficiencies of a Grapple Cam. “We were real happy about that,” says Lambert. “TimberWest was good to work with.”
TimberWest was very interested in working with T-Mar in developing the Grapple Cam, and having their contractor Fall River Logging, try it out, says Aaron Racher, Contract Manager - North Island Operations, with TimberWest in Campbell River.
The company’s highest priority with the camera is reducing injuries, Racher emphasized. “It seems like there is a hooktender injured every year in spotting wood. In my mind, the camera should eliminate the need to spot for the yarder.”
In addition, there should be some solid production gains, as well.
“It’s going to have a big impact,” said Racher. “We have lots of days on the Island when it is fogged right out, and you can’t see the wood. It means either the crew goes home, or you have someone spotting logs, with the hooktender talking the grapple operator on to the logs. But that can be a safety issue, because sometimes the hooktender might not be in the clear after doing the spotting.”
Being able to work more in the fog is a huge advance.
“That alone is a big productivity win,” Racher said, that will be measured in more operating days per year.
“In situations with poor deflection, where the operator can’t see the wood, it’s going to mean a big increase in productivity. And on early shift in the fire season or in the middle of winter, when you have fewer daylight hours, it will make a difference—the camera can really see well in low light.”
Use of the camera should result in less log breakage because the operator will have a better idea how best to grab the logs.
One improvement Racher says TimberWest would like to see is some kind of line distance counter with the system, so the amount of line out could be displayed on the screen. “In New Zealand, they do it with GPS. But whether it is GPS or a simple counter, it would allow the operator to be more efficient, and just run the line out to where they last picked up logs with the grapple.”
He said there are still some minor technical details to work out, such as getting better video reception by locating the antennas up on the booms, rather than on the cabs. “With the antenna on the cab, if there is too much ground between the antenna and the camera, the picture can be glitchy. But overall, I think it’s working pretty good for us.”
And it is now working for a total of six TimberWest contractors on Vancouver Island.
Now that the Grapple Cam is in production mode, it has generated a lot of interest in the wider industry. It had kind of an unofficial unveiling at the Truck Loggers convention this past January.
“The interest was instant at the Truck Loggers,” said Lambert. “Everyone who looked at the Grapple Cam wanted one. They had only two questions: Will that live in the bush, and when can I get one?”
And this spring, they were working on their production run of a dozen Grapple Cams—some of which are headed to New Zealand on their own, and some with T-Mar’s Log Champ yarders. New Zealand is a major market for the company’s yarders and grapples.
“It was interesting to see what they did with grapple cameras in New Zealand,” said Lambert. “But we decided to go our own way and designed ours differently, for the abuse that our rigging sees here in B.C. “
The logging in New Zealand is generally on less adverse ground than the B.C. Coast, meaning yarders are not subject to quite the same tough conditions.
“We are pretty hard on our rigging here in B.C.,” says Lambert. “Our yarding settings are pretty tough. You can get the odd real nice one with good deflection and a big bowl—but a lot of the settings are straight up the hillside, with not much lift, and the grapple is going to be bumping into stuff along the way. And when you get there, you might have to fling the rigging a bit to get on the logs.
“At T-Mar, we know well from our production of grapples what equipment has to withstand in the bush. The camera has to be designed so it can go along for the ride, and survive that.”
And it has to be able to do that day in, day out. “It’s a work tool,” explains Lambert. “So every morning, you have to be able to plug it in and have it work—the picture has to come up and stay up until the operator turns it off at the end of the day.”
With efficiency improvements, everyone always looks at how much something costs, and how soon it will earn back its investment.
With the Grapple Cam, the payback is, well, pretty darn quick, says Lambert.
“The first foggy day you’re able to work will pay for the camera a few times over. That is why logging contractors are so interested. On those foggy days, they would normally be getting zero production. It would be a situation of getting in the pick-up, and heading home.”
And if the Grapple Cam is able to prevent injuries, or save a life, then that, as the saying goes, is priceless.
“We might never know that, but it would be nice to think that the work we’ve done and the Grapple Cam will have done that, somewhere down the line,” says Lambert.
On the Cover:
The re-opening of the plywood plant in Cochrane has brought 125 jobs back to the northeastern Ontario town. In addition to the plant facilities, the deal to re-open the plant includes a guaranteed wood supply, with a provincial allocation of 200,000 cubic metres annually of veneer quality aspen logs. (Cover photo courtesy of Rockshield Engineered Wood Products)
Seeking more balanced timber allocation in the B.C. Interior
B.C.’s Interior Lumber Manufacturers’ Association is encouraging the provincial government to consider a more balanced approach to timber allocation, where commodity dimension lumber sawmills and value added wood product manufacturers each have access to the fibre flow they require to succeed.
New Grapple Camera offers bird’s eye view
A new Grapple Camera from B.C.’s T-Mar Industries is allowing loggers to achieve safer and more productive grapple yarding operations, offering a bird’s eye view of choker settings—in high def, no less.
The re-opening of the plywood plant in Cochrane, Ontario has brought a good number of jobs and economic activity back to the community—and it all started over a cup of coffee.
Double win: more production and uptime
Alberta logger Ted Freake is looking for more production per shift and uptime, and he’s confident he can achieve both with his new LogMax ProCut 2330 processing head—the first such head in Canada.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions and FPInnovations.
What was new at … DEMO 2016
Logging and Sawmilling Journal was there at the most successful DEMO show in years, held in Maple Ridge, B.C. in September. We highlight what was new in logging equipment and services in this issue.
The Last Word
The forest sector could contribute more to GHG reductions—and make money—with an aggressive plantation program, says Tony Kryzanowski.