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Moving forward with changes
Langille Bros. Contracting have had to roll with a series of big time changes in the Nova Scotia forest industry, but they’ve responded to the changes with advanced equipment, including the first John Deere 1910E forwarder in the province.
By George Fullerton
The Langille Family has seen a lot of changes to the Nova Scotia forest industry since they started out as harvest contractors in 1981. Edmond and his son, Ron, formed E&R Langille Contracting, hiring a handful of trail cutters and moving short wood logs to roadside with a Timberjack 230 forwarder.
Their early contracts were with the Scott Paper mill at Abercrombie Point, in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, not far from the Langille’s home base in New Glasgow.
In mid-1997, Ron’s brothers Darin and Craig also came into the business, forming Langille Bros. Contracting Ltd., making them a complete stump-to-dump round wood contractor, and they added a chipping component to their operations.
The Langille’s have witnessed their primary employer, the Abercrombie Point mill, go through several ownership changes in recent years. The current owner, The Paper Excellence Group of Vancouver, has been operating the mill, now known as the Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Pulp Mill, very successfully since 2011.
The Port Hawkesbury Paper mill just across the Canso Straight on Cape Breton Island has also seen it’s challenges, experiencing a bankruptcy and a one-year shut-down, before restarting with investment from the Stern Group of British Columbia in 2012.
The downturn in the forest industry also resulted in the closure of the former Bowater Paper mill in Liverpool, along with numerous sawmills across Nova Scotia. The economic downturn also saw a lot of harvest contractors downsizing—or exiting the industry altogether.
In addition to mill capacity contraction, and ownership changes, the Nova Scotia government has also enacted policies to reduce clearcut harvesting and to eliminate full tree harvesting. It’s an understatement to say there is much uncertainty in the industry in the province.
As a result of cessation of full tree harvesting, the Langille’s saw their in-woods chipping operations consisting of one Morbark and two Peterson chippers come to a stop. Three grapple skidders and four chip vans used for the in-woods chipping operations were also idled.
On the positive side, however, reports from the Port Hawkesbury Paper mill indicate that it is operating profitably in its first year. Additionally the province, through Nova Scotia Power, has invested $200 million in construction of a 60 megawatt wood biomass co-gen power generation plant adjacent to the Port Hawkesbury mill. This plant will consume more than 500,000 tonnes of stem wood (limbs left in the woods) biomass annually. While biomass harvesting will require adaption in harvesting and trucking methods, it does create a substantial demand for increased harvesting capacity.
Despite hard sledding the past number of years, the Langille family realizes there is still opportunity in the harvest contracting business and made a major investment in new equipment for the 2013 season. When they got home with the shopping basket, they had two new Tigercat 855H harvesters, a new John Deere 1910 forwarder, a new Hitachi 210 Forester log loader and eight new Western Star 4900 tractors, four new BWS log trailers and four MAC live floor chip vans.
The new harvesters, forwarder and loader are matched up with a Tigercat buncher to form a harvesting team dedicated to operating on Port Hawkesbury Paper’s Crown lands operations in eastern Nova Scotia.
Ron Langille continues to have the leadership role as president in the business, and relies on the support of his wife, Laurie, who works as office manager. Darin works as maintenance supervisor of the harvesting operations and Craig supervises chipping operations.
Currently, the Langille forestry operation consists of four harvesting teams. Two teams consist of one Tigercat feller buncher, each supported by two Tigercat harvesters. Three of the harvesters run Tigercat 575 heads and one runs a Waratah head. The two other teams have a Tigercat buncher, each supported by Tigercats with Hornet/Target processing heads.
Harvesting operations run on double twelve-hour shifts, starting at 4:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Each harvesting team is assigned one service truck and a mechanic for one shift per day. In total, the Langille operations employ around one hundred people.
The Langille trucking operation counts 27 Western Stars and one Freightliner, hauling round wood, chips and floating. Three chippers are currently assigned to contract work producing clean chips for pulp mills and biomass chips for the Port Hawkesbury Paper’s biomass commitments.
Additionally, Langille works two excavators and a dozer for road building and operate their own floating equipment. There are five service trucks, five fuel trucks and a fleet of pickup trucks for crew commuting.
Their forwarder line-up includes their new John Deere 1910E (19 tonne capacity), a 19 tonne Valmet forwarder and four John Deere 1410 forwarders. While two of the 1410 machines are assigned to specific teams, the remaining two are assigned to a team whenever extra forwarding capacity is required.
Langille Bros. Contracting general manager John MacLellan says that going to 19 tonne forwarders is a strategic move, to increase forwarding production and deliver increased service.
“We have seen forwarding distances increase significantly over the past few years, and the 19 tonne forwarders let us carry a significantly larger load. So, at the end of a long forwarding distance, we have a big load to pile roadside,” commented MacLellan.
“Ron ordered the Deere 1910E with big tires, a larger head rack and extended frame,” added MacLellan. “He’s convinced that this combination will give us better service overall. Our 1410 machines witness a lot of frame and differential stress as they drop off rock ledges that are very common in our neck of the woods. The bigger tires and frames will serve us better in the long run. But at the same time, we have a lot of admiration for our 1410’s, which have more than 40,000 hours, and still operate double shift.”
MacLellan said that the extended frame and enlarged head rack will allow the new forwarder to handle random length stem biomass effectively.
The Langille’s new forwarder is the first 1910E sold in Nova Scotia and was delivered through the Wallace Equipment dealership. Wallace operates branches in Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia, in addition to Fredericton, Moncton, and Bathurst, New Brunswick. In July, Wallace was bought by Regina-based Brandt Tractor, which has an extensive branch system in western Canada.
“We have a good business and service relationship with Wallace Equipment, and we have a lot of confidence in John Deere products,” said MacLellan. “We saw positive changes as Brandt’s management influence came to the Wallace operations. We immediately saw a greater investment in human capital and in their mobile service equipment. Brandt is a large company, and brings extensive experience and business volume to Atlantic Canada, which we believe will provide very good service and technical support.”
MacLellan explained that outside of a few electronic glitches at delivery, the 1910E forwarder has met their expectations. So much so that he has ordered two more 1910E machines for delivery in early-2014.
John Deere says the 1910E sets a new standard for forwarding, with its powerful 250 horsepower Tier III tubocharged engine. The machine features a rotating and leveling cab, promising greater operator safety and higher productivity. Langille’s operator, Emery Smith, said that the 1910E is a very smooth operating machine, but that the rotating cab took some getting used to.
“When I first started operating the new forwarder and the cab swung beyond the frame, it gave me a very uneasy feeling,” said Smith. “It was just not natural, to not have that frame under my feet. But after a few hours, I became very comfortable with the cab rotation.”
The cab rotates 290 degrees, providing the operator with a generous view of the surrounding work site. The cab levels six degrees forward and aft, and ten degrees to the sides, keeping the operator cab on a level plane and going a long way to improve operator comfort and safety. The cab tilts to the side for access to the internal mechanisms for service.
Forwarder operation is finger-tip controlled, through buttons in the ergonomically designed armrests on the air ride seat.
Smith went on to comment that the lights provide excellent illumination on the work at hand on night shift, and gave good marks to the cab comfort and overall visibility.
While the Langille’s have added some colour to their forwarder fleet, Tigercat is deeply entrenched on the harvesting side. MacLellan pointed out that that their Tigercat bunchers and harvester/processors continue to operate on double shift with more than 50,000 hours on their clocks.
Ron is dedicated to Tigercat, and the service and parts support from Wajax has been very reliable. “We consider Tigercat to be the leader in forestry equipment carriers. Other manufacturers challenge it, but Tigercat continues to set the bar, as far as we can see. They are simply hard to beat,” said MacLellan.
Dwayne Manthorne, harvesting supervisor, says that the 1910E is meeting their performance expectations. “The high capacity bunks allow the machine to get a good-sized load to roadside. The high capacity load allows the operator to mix product loads and avoid travelling trails a number of times to gather up all the wood. The machine has great traction, lots of power and we have no problem with any slope we have encountered so far.”
Manthorne supervises the harvesting team working for Port Hawkesbury Paper (PHP), and commented that the working relationship with the new management team has been positive. He pointed out that as a result of the reduced clear cut policy adopted by the Nova Scotia government, PHP is seeing a lot more seed tree cuts, shelterwood and selection harvest moose habitat focused partial cut prescriptions, on which the buncher/processor/forwarder team works well, adding that the Tigercats will work as harvesters where wood quality warrants.
“PHP foresters supply us with accurate maps and prescriptions as data and paper hard copies,” explained Manthorne. “We then load the maps and data on the Tigercat GPS system when we start a block. At the end of the operation, our cut data and mapping generated by the harvesters is downloaded and passed on to PHP forestry, so they can update their mapping and inventories. Our operators were sceptical about the effectiveness of electronic mapping data and GPS tracking, but they soon became comfortable with the system and have come to rely on it.”
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