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New Southstar processing head performing well in B.C.
The Southstar processing head—new to Canada—hasn’t been working long for B.C. logging contractor Randy Spence, but so far he’s sold on the performance of the New Zealand-developed, Canadian-serviced, heads.
By Paul MacDonald
There’s a new processing head player serving the Canadian forest industry—and B.C. logging contractor Randy Spence is pretty happy about it.
Spence is working with the first two Southstar 23” 585 processing heads to be brought into Canada, and the heads, and the service behind the heads, have received a firm two thumbs up so far from the veteran logging contractor.
The first time Spence saw the Southstar head was on the Internet.
“I had an interest in the 585 head just by watching it on Youtube,” he explained. “I saw how it fed the big wood over in New Zealand, and I thought that is about the size of wood I am going to be in for the next few years.”
Spence added that his operation, which processes logs for Gudeit Forest Products Ltd. which in turn works for Tolko Industries in B.C.’s Southern Interior, is now out of mountain pine beetle-killed wood for the most part.
“We’re going into the larger piece sizes for hemlock, fir and cedar, so that demands a little bit bigger head than what I had before.”
The first time Spence actually saw the head in person was earlier this year, at the Southstar Equipment shop in Kamloops. “I liked the structure of the 585, how everything was welded together on the head, and how all the hydraulics were plumbed. It’s really a streamlined head.”
Spence bought his first Southstar head shortly after, followed by purchasing another head within a month—and he has been double shifting them since then, operating them 20 hours a day, five days a week. By mid-summer, he had put 500 hours on his first Southstar 585 processing head, on a Hyundai 2925 carrier, and had a few less hours on the second 585 head, also on a Hyundai 2925. The Hyundai carriers are supplied by Hyundai dealer, Woodland Equipment.
The Southstar head itself has a short, but interesting history.
Southstar Equipment was launched three years ago by Dave Cochrane, founder of the Waratah Group. Cochrane rewrote the book on bucking and delimbing over 30 years ago with the development of a mechanized processing head designed to withstand New Zealand and North American logging conditions. He is recognized world-wide as one of the industry’s leading forestry equipment innovators. He subsequently sold Waratah.
Cochrane’s goal with Southstar heads was to bring new, innovative products to the logging industry. With good old fashion ‘know how’, he has engineered a series of processors that meet the need of today’s logging contractors. The company offers a total of six different-sized processing heads.
And there is now a strong Canadian connection.
Earlier this year, ownership of the company was restructured, and the partnership for Southstar Equipment now consists of Dave Cochrane and Jeremy Disher from New Zealand, and Marcel Payeur, Michael Klopp, Jeff Rankel, Mike Sampietro and Brad Matthews from B.C. The Canadians bring decades of logging equipment experience to the company, which is one of the reasons Randy Spence opted to try the new Southstar heads.
“I wanted local support for the heads, and when I found out that Marcel and the group of people from B.C. were involved, well, I know Marcel looks after customers like nobody’s business,” says Spence.
After three decades in the logging business, and having worked with just about every head going, Spence knows very well what works—and what doesn’t. And the Southstar 585 is working very nicely.
“You know, you can have start-up glitches—we’ve had them with other heads we’ve used. But we haven’t blown one hose on the 585 heads. I had one O-ring weep a little bit, and the Southstar guys were right here,” says Spence.
“I know it’s the first couple of heads, and some people are going to say, well, you’re going to get babysat lots. And that’s fair enough. But the Southstar people really haven’t had any mechanical reasons to come out. The times they have come out, it’s to watch the machine work.”
He noted there have been some changes to the head. “I wanted to make sure the measuring is absolutely phenomenal, very accurate. So we’ve tried a couple of measuring wheels, and they are getting progressively better. This new one they put in is within one-inch either way on multiple species.”
Accuracy is essential to Spence. He’s working with seven different types of species, with different bark characteristics, which can have an impact on the measuring.
Spence particularly likes the smooth feeding of the Southstar, its frame structure and the detailed welding. “The metal goes all the way though to the other side of the frame—it doesn’t just go to the side of head. The arm goes right up to the top plate, and through, and is welded at the top.
“It also has special bushings in the arms which use a special high composite material. There’s been a lot of thought put into this head, to stand up for a long time.”
He also liked the way the hoses go up the top of the stick and come down through the rotator. “There’s only a limited amount the hoses on the Southstar head can move, and that alone is going to save me a lot of money in oil and hoses. With other heads, the hoses can be dangling off the side of the stick.
“There are other good head products out there, and I’ve worked with a lot of them, but I like what I see with the Southstar.”
The new Southstar heads are also a good fit with his Hyundai carriers. Spence has used Hyundai carriers for a number of years, and has been happy with them, and the service from local dealer, Woodland Equipment. “The Hyundai machines go anywhere,” he says. “We do our processing at the stump because Gudeit Forest Products Ltd. uses forwarders, and they work well. The guys like the Hyundai machines because they are smooth, and they have the comfort of the load sense hydraulic system.”
Overall, all the equipment has to be a good fit with Spence and his operators. “The operators are the people who give you the production and quality you need. And quality is a big thing for us, and it’s very big for Tolko. Their expectations of us are pretty high, so we need to make sure the quality is going to be there.”
The folks with Southstar Equipment have plans to ramp up their head production, and distribution in Canada. Even though the heads are manufactured in New Zealand, the largest market in the world for processing heads is in Canada, followed by the U.S.
The timing for coming up with a new and innovative head for the Canadian market is good, says Mike Klopp, one of the owners of Southstar, and a heavy duty mechanic. “Pretty much all the major contractors out there are talking equipment replacement right now,” he says. “Due to the downturn of the last few years, they’ve been running their iron longer than they ever have before.”
A number of contractors in B.C., who are moving out of beetle wood and into larger wood, such as Spence is doing, are going to be looking for larger processing heads, he added.
Klopp noted that the head and its components are manufactured at top notch machining and manufacturing facilities in New Zealand, and the equipment is fully tested before it is shipped to Canada. “They live and breathe processors there—there are probably more processors built in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world.”
Once the processor heads arrive in Canada, the electrics are added at the Southstar facility in Kamloops, B.C.
The 585 head has received a lot of interest from loggers, says Klopp. “In most cases, when you go to a larger head, you can lose speed to make up for the bigger wood. But the 585 head is faster than the 22” heads out there, and operators are still getting feed speeds of 22 feet per second, which is unheard of for a lot of heads.”
He also noted that it offers versatility. “In B.C., you can go to a stand, and you’ll have 30 inch trees and 10 inch trees, so you need to have a head that can do it all.”
As satisfied as logger Randy Spence is with the head, Klopp and the other partners in Southstar are interested in making further improvements.
“Randy is very meticulous about his equipment, which is great for us,” says Klopp. “We talk with him and the operators and we want to hear even their small complaints because we want to continually make the heads better.
“We then talk with Dave Cochrane and Jeremy Disher in New Zealand about changes. The beauty about being a smaller company is we can make changes tomorrow, and the next head we produce will have that change.”
“The heads may be 99 per cent of the way there, but we are going to continually stay on it.“
For the time being, the company is focused on marketing Southstar heads in B.C., and it will also be bringing in a smaller head later this year, to complement the 585. “We want to expand from there, but we want to make sure the support base is there before we do that,” says Klopp.
Klopp noted that the company has fully equipped service trucks, and will also be working with dealers to support customers.
All of this comes with a cost, but Klopp notes that the Southstar 585 is still priced competitively. “Some people are going to shop around for price, but I think most people are going to look at the Southstar head and see that they are going to get good life out of the head, and that the value will come, in the form of good production and lower repair costs.” That explains the company’s motto: Built to last.
Randy Spence says he’s already seeing benefits. “This is the first processor head I’ve ever had where we haven’t had
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