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Successfully managing change

Nova Scotia logging contractor Dana Day has successfully responded to the continuing changes in the forest industry, with support in this effort coming most recently from some new Cat harvesting equipment.

By George Fullerton   

Dana Day (right) and Matthew Day face competition for labour from new mines in Nova Scotia, and need to be able to compete—and face slim profit margins. “We have to get wages up in the harvesting sector so we can retain operators and allow a reasonable profit margin for the contractors,” says Dana.

Logging contractors continually face changes. They understand all too well that they have to adapt to changes in the industry in order to stay ahead in the game. Dana Day has seen his share of changes, having been introduced to forestry as a pre-teen, helping his father tend the horses in a woods camp, while the workers were out for the weekend. “I started contracting with a Homelite chainsaw in the 1970s, putting wood to roadside. Now I’m using $4 million worth of equipment—but still doing the same job, putting wood to roadside.”                                   

Day’s contracting career saw him advance through cable skidders on conventional logging operations, and on to mechanical harvesting, with a short excursion into trucking logs along the way. Today, Dana S Day Ltd operates from a home base in Stewiacke, Nova Scotia, and runs an eight-machine mechanical harvesting operation working for Neenah Paper in New Glasgow.                                   

One of Day’s most recent changes has been to move to Caterpillar-based equipment starting with a Timberking TK711 processor with LogMax 7000 head, purchased in September 2004. The second and third TK711s, also with LogMax 7000 heads, were quick to follow, delivered in December 2004 and January 2005.                                   

In 2006, Day added a TK721 buncher with Gilbert head to run with his John Deere 85 G buncher with Gilbert FG22, 220 degree rotation head. Day has a fleet of three Rottne 16-tonne forwarders to get the wood to roadside. The company has an annual production goal of 140,000 tonnes.                                   

Although Caterpillar equipment has had a significant presence in North American forestry, they had relied on an arrangement with Blount to produce tracked harvesters and feller bunchers under the Timberking name. Early in 2006, Blount and Caterpillar Inc amended their marketing and supply contract, changing the alliance brand forestry equipment name from Timberking to Caterpillar or Cat.                                   

“I only have purpose-built forestry equipment,” explains Day. “We operate in a harsh environment and we expect a lot from our equipment—and it was designed specifically to produce in a forest environment. As I see it, non-purpose-built equipment is a compromise that translates into increased failure and increased operating costs. It may cost significantly more money to get purpose-built, but it is technologically effective for getting the work done.                                   

“I also made the point to put my harvesting equipment on tracks. We were having issues with tires in certain situations— with tracks there are no more issues. I need tracks in order to be able to work at full capacity, all the time.”                                   

Atlantic Tractors and Equipment came to Day with a proposal for purchasing the equipment. Day was familiar with Cat products and the quality of the Timberking line built by Blount. He admits that the decision of Cat to use the Timberking name has resulted in some confusion in the industry about Cat’s commitment to forestry.                                   

“I told them that I needed to know they are in the forestry business and are going to stay in the forestry equipment business before I would make the move to Cat equipment.                                   

“I went to Fredericton and sat down with John Sansom, the forestry division sales manager, and had a frank conversation, and I came away convinced that moving to Cat equipment was the right move for me. I haven’t been disappointed. The service has been there and the performance is there, too.                                   

Dana Day is a fan of purpose-built equipment, such as the company’s TK machines (left). “We operate in a harsh environment and we expect a lot from our equipment—and it was designed specifically to produce in a forest environment,” says Dana.  

“In harvesting, felling is the key to profitability. We face a lot of variability in the quality of the wood we harvest. We see very few stands where a harvester can fell and process profitably. We have a lot of stands dominated by small diameter wood and the only way to harvest it effectively is with a buncher.                 

“The same goes for large hardwoods and large diameter softwood. We fell with the bunchers and then follow with the processors. Since the processor operators do not have to deal with reading the terrain and felling, they are very productive at processing.”                                   

Day says that when the operating plan calls for a selection or other partial harvest, he still has the equipment and operator talent to handle it.                                   

Day opted for LogMax 7000 heads with the LogMate 402 computer option. “The LogMate provides a lot of processing options and product parameters, so operators don’t have to concentrate as much on product selection. The LogMate is very accurate and consistent, so it reduces operator stress and allows them more time to concentrate on piling product and driving the machine.”                                   

The 7000 heads are powerful and fast and able to handle the big tough trees and also process the small fir and spruce very quickly, Day says. Combined with the LogMate computer, it is a very productive package.                                   

“We set the parameters, and the LogMate gets the most out of every tree.” They operate double ten-hour shifts, so they always have a processor following a buncher, and the third one rotating to keep the other processors caught up to the bunchers.                                   

They are currently operating two forwarders on two ten-hour shifts and one on a single shift. The forwarders haul multiple products on every load, which makes them more efficient at cleaning up trails. They start on a trail, maybe loading saw material on the bottom, then turn and load hardwood or pulpwood coming back out the trail. The operators turn before they are half loaded because turning with a full load is hard on the machine. Mixed loads provide a psychological benefit for operators by reducing the boredom of simply traveling around the cut block and handling just one product per load, says Day.                                   

“My philosophy for employee relations is: ‘You treat me good and I will treat you better.’ I have some real good operators, and I do my best to provide a workplace and a pay rate that they want to stay at. Currently, we face a lot of competition for operators, with several new mines announced for Central Nova S

cotia which will attract operators with good pay scales and short commutes.                                    “As a contractor, I have not seen a raise since the 1980s. Right now, we are not making much money. We have to get wages up in the harvesting sector so we can retain operators and allow a reasonable profit margin for the contractors.”                                   

Each operator is provided with a copy of the operating standards Day expects them to follow. They are required to sign off that they have read and understand the operating standards.                                   

The operation has a safety meeting on or near the 15th of each month, at shift change so all employees are in attendance. It provides the opportunity to cover any safety issues or other operations issues that need to be discussed and any other work-related items that operators want to discuss, says Day.                                   

“I also emphasize teamwork. We all work together in order to achieve productivity and profitability. I also extend that teamwork philosophy to all the suppliers I deal with, reminding them that consistent good service keeps us profitable and they understand their responsibility to keep us running.”                                   

“Ralph Larkin is a key man in this team. He first worked for me in the 1970s and re-joined the operation in 1994. He helps out with machine maintenance, and repairs that require an extra set of hands. He is also the guy I rely on for chasing parts and supplies. When things get caught up, Ralph loves to use our 80 Timberjack 80 skidder to move scattered big hemlock and white pines.”                                   

Day is required to lay out cut blocks, mark buffers for water quality, wildlife corridors and machine exclusion zones. “We have been doing block layout for years, but as environmental regulations and certification have come along, it puts an increased burden of responsibility on contractors. When I talk with my lawyer and my accountant, they question the legal liability responsibility and business risk that it presents to my operation. “Every time I locate a property boundary line, lay out cut block lines and lay out water and wildlife buffers, I think about that liability risk. Every time I see someone come on to our operation, I think about those risks. Risk has become a major business management issue for all contractors.”                                   

Day expects that the planned installation of GPS and data collectors on his bunchers in the spring of 2007 will be a benefit for harvest block layout. “The GPS will give us some help with locating block boundaries, buffer borders and layout, and the layout and spacing of wildlife leave clumps. The data collectors will give us a new picture of buncher utilization. If we have mechanical problems that are causing us repeated non-productive time, the data collector will help us identify the problems and we can focus on fixing them. I see the machine data collection as an important business tool that will improve our bottom line.”