Contractor dan lavoie employs a number of tools to harvest effectively, including the first tracked harvester in Quebec equipped with the Ponsse opti 4G computer system, a Ponsse Buffalo dual and a harvester headequipped delimber.

From left to right, Jean Trottier of equipment dealer Hydromec, operatorJason Tremblay and contractor Dan Lavoie, in front of the operation’s Ponsse Buffalo Dual.

By George Fullerton

Dan Lavoie was one of the last Bowater contractors on the Mistassibi River watershed to make the change from full-tree to cutto-length. And despite his reservations about making the jump to harvesters and forwarders, the change has proven to be very successful for Lavoie and his operators, and he remarkably has the distinction of maintaining profitability in the first year of the transition. Operating from Bowater’s Camp Daniel above the 50th parallel, Lavoie requires an average of nine to twelve trees—and sometimes up to 20 trees—to make a cubic metre of wood. It’s not unusual for his Tigercat harvester to process 2,000 trees in a single shift. Living at a remote camp, and operating aroundthe clock, add to Lavoie’s operational challenges.

Lavoie says his success is due to good selections in new and used equipment, and a team of operators who embraced change and worked very hard—and patiently—to learn to operate and maintain new equipment. He adds that he received excellent support from both Ponsse and Hydromec Inc, which helped smooth the transition to cut-to-length harvesting.

The equipment team is not exactly as he had initially planned, and while it is somewhat unique, it has proved very reliable and productive. The lead machine in the new team is a Tigercat 860 with 17,000 hours as a buncher that was to have a Waratah head installed for harvesting. When the deal on that head was not completed, Lavoie opted for a Ponsse H7_ head and had it installed with the Opti 4G computer system, along with a GPS receiver.

“We wanted to have another brand of harvester, but once we started working with the Ponsse head, we were very satisfied with its performance and reliability, and now we are actually quite proud to work with such a good machine,” says Lavoie. “The Ponsse heads work even better than my expectations.”

Lavoie’s is the first tracked harvester in Quebec to be equipped with the Ponsse Opti 4G computer system. On purpose-built Ponsse harvesters, the Opti 4G, Windows-based computer system allows stem length and diameter measurement, and data recording to millimeter precision. It also offers programmable optimization capacity, for extremely fast and highly precise wood processing. On Ponsse harvesters, the Opti Control aspect of the Opti G4 system provides control of engine, transmission and crane function for Ponsse machines.

Buffer strip harvesting with a Ponsse H53 head has given second life to a usedKobelco/Denharco delimber.

The Opti 4G system on the Lavoie Tigercat provides harvester head control and GPS capacity. Bowater foresters have provided cutblock maps (ArcView) to Lavoie and loaded them on the Opti G4 system. The colour display provides a map of the cut block including location of roads, stream and lake buffers. The GPS capacity of the system allows the machine operators to see, in real time, where the harvester is working in relation to the mapped landmarks. Bowater foresters are testing the system and see the potential for an economic advantage through avoiding the need to employ technicians or foresters to flag cut block and buffer borders. They would rely on the Opti 4G and GPS capacity to guide the harvesters along water buffer and harvest block boundaries.

Lavoie also acquired a second Ponsse head, a H5_, and had it installed on a used Kobelco/Denharco D_000 delimber for buffer strip selection harvesting.

Harvest operations are allowed to remove _0 per cent of the wood volume from the 20 metre watercourse buffer strips, but are restricted from having machines traveling in the buffer itself. In the past manual crews using chainsaws and cable skidders were utilized for buffer strip harvesting. However, small diameter/ low volume trees and consequentially low production—combined with safety issues—minimized the amount of buffer strip harvesting. With the 20 per cent reduction on Crown land harvesting implemented by the Quebec government, a new emphasis was directed at buffer harvesting, and rail delimbers with harvester heads were put forward as a means of effective harvesting.

Lavoie had the H5_ head installed by Hydromec, the Quebec Ponsse dealer located in Dolbeau. Although a Ponsse dealer for only a few years, Hydromec has more than thirty years experience providing hydraulic, machine shop and fabrication services to the forest industry.

Sales manager Jean Trottier explains that adapting the H5_ head to the Denharco was not a difficult task, and that the machine has proven to be effective and economical for buffer strip harvesting. A Valmet 860 (14 tonne) forwarder typically works with the Kobelco, which operates only on day shift. A used 2001 Ponsse Buffalo 14-tonne forwarder works with the Tigercat harvester, on a double 12-hour shift basis.

While shopping for heads and forwarders, Lavoie was intrigued by a brochure that illustrated the new Ponsse Buffalo Dual. Based on the 14tonne Buffalo forwarder, the Dual can shed the log loading grapple and load bunks and hook up a H5_ (20-inch diameter capacity) harvester head in a 10- to 15-minute operation, providing a purpose-built dual function machine. Dan was so captivated by the brochure and discussions with Hydromec that he ordered the first Dual to be imported into Quebec in January 2005 and took delivery of the new machine in April 2005.

Jean Trottier, sales manager with Hydromec, says that Ponsse provided excellent support for the Buffalo Dual deal with Lavoie, and provided one of their best Dual trainers, Jarmo Udd. For more than a week, Udd worked on Lavoie’s operation and ensured that Lavoie’s operators were well trained in the operation and maintenance of the Dual.

Operating as a forwarder, the Buffalo Dual has the same dimensions, capacity, power and tractive force as the Buffalo forwarder. The outstanding difference is increased hydraulic flow capacity for the harvester head and increased power of the K90 Dual crane.

Initially, Lavoie was limited by his contract with Bowater to operate only one harvester, so the Dual began working life as a forwarder, and only replacing the Tigercat if it was down for extended maintenance or repair. After a short time, Bowater forestry staff saw added potential in the Buffalo Dual and offered remote road right-of-way cutting to the Dual since it could handle both harvesting and forwarding duties with only one float trip.

Again, Bowater identified the Buffalo Dual as the perfect machine to send to clean up small cut blocks or unfinished cut blocks.

In June 2006 the Buffalo Dual was teamed with the Buffalo forwarder and the Tigercat harvester, and was operating as a harvester one day per week, when small stem diameters slow harvester production and the forwarders have caught up.

Dual operator Jason Tremblay has high praise for the machine noting the cab provides a high degree of operator comfort and work site visibility. He also admires its stem processing speed and accuracy. He says that the machine has proven to be very reliable, which is good for the operators and the contractor.

Pierre Cormier, chief forester with Bowater Mistassini region, says that the double function machine is seen by Bowater as a positive harvesting concept. He indicated that as harvesting moves further north and trees get smaller, and transportation costs get higher, Bowater continually looks for opportunities that will make harvesting cost effective. The Bowater Misstassini operation covers 12,000 square kilometres and company roads extend _00 kilometres from its Dolbeau sawmill.

Cormier says that Bowater is challenged by the high cost of delivering wood to the mill. He says that both production costs and stumpage costs are very high. That said, their operations achieve good compliance with the environmental goals, and moose and caribou habitat goals set out by the government. Referring to a large map, he pointed to the details of the mosaic of cut blocks and retained mature forest cover.

Cormier notes that each remote forestry camp’s target production was based on 400,000 cubic metres per year. “With the government imposed 20 per cent volume reduction on Crown land operations, their production is now _25,000 cubic metres. However, the fixed cost for operating the camps is still based on 400,000, so we have to make some adjustments to remain profitable,” says Cormier.

“One thing the government has encouraged is the recovery of available wood from the 60-metre watercourse buffers. So we have encouraged contractors to mechanize that operation, since we have not had manual harvesting with chainsaws and skidder since 2002.

“We also move quickly to recover fire damaged wood, before it degrades. When we operate in burned wood it helps extend the green wood for the future.”

In harvest operations, contractors look for stem defects (crotches, scars, splits, etc) and remove them from the logs to help reduce the amount of carbon that will go to the mill.

The mills use Nicholson debarkers, and a very high quality control program is in place to eliminate carbon from the lumber and pulp chip stream. The small pulpwood logs are debarked in drum debarkers. The quality control identifies any black wood, and it is sent back through the debarker.

Although harvesting burned wood extends the wood basket, contractors recognize that it increases maintenance and repair costs. The burned wood operations require more frequent filter changes, workers are required to wear masks when on the ground, and machines witness increased puncture damage to engine compartments due to the brittle nature of the burned wood.

Cormier says that the Ponsse Dual is proving to be a practical tool in assisting Bowater to deal with the 20 per cent Crown land cut back. “The Dual is an important tool for cut-to-length harvesting since it helps contractors achieve full capacity with their harvester and forwarder team, in any variety of wood quality and at any forwarding distance.

“We expect in the next five years, Bowater will add more Duals since they are proving to be effective. As contractors retire, we will look to add Dual machines to established contractors,” Cormier adds.

Dan Lavoie says that he admires the versatility that the Buffalo Dual provides to his operation. “The Dual provides balance for our team. Because we can switch functions, all the other machines can operate to their full capacity and we don’t worry that the wood quality or forwarding distance will upset that balance. Also if we have a machine down, the Dual can take its place and keep the team productive. The Dual is very important to our success.”

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