A steady diet of boreal hardwood is raising new challenges for logging contractors such as Nighthawk Timber.
By Tony Kryzanowski
At one time, harvesting hardwood pulpwood was fairly concentrated, geographically speaking. However, with the expansion of the pulp and engineered wood products industries in nearly every Canadian province over the past decade, logging contractors have moved quickly to adapt to market conditions. One of the biggest growth areas has been in aspen and balsam/poplar logging, as this once underutilized fibre source has now become a desirable and almost fully allocated commodity.
Historically, many contractors operating in high volume aspen and balsam poplar regions have focused on softwoods because there was no market for the hardwoods. Now, many forestry companies are demanding total fibre utilization and management in the boreal forest, with the preferred method being the clearcut. While the practice of single pass, clearcut harvesting has existed for many years in some areas of the country, it is a newer concept in other areas, sometimes leaving softwood contractors with many questions. One challenge is finding an economically viable-yet environmentally sensitive- harvesting approach in a total clearcut environment. A second challenge is finding durable equipment to handle both a steady diet of softwood and hardwood.
Nighthawk Timber Co Ltd owners Dave and Don Stringer have 20 years of experience working in this type of environment and have been adapting to the environmental concerns raised when working in a clearcut boreal forest setting. Based in a suburb of Timmins, Ontario called South Porcupine, the company operates two feller bunchers, four processors and two forwarders. They are also responsible for their own road building. Their annual cut is about 120,000 cubic metres, consisting of about 30 per cent aspen and 70 per cent conifer.
The aspen is shipped to Grant Forest Products and the conifer to Domtar. They log roughly 10 months out of the year. About six years ago, they made a conscious choice to adopt a feller buncher/processor/ forwarder system. Their feller bunchers are responsible for felling the wood. Following closely on their heels are heavyduty, singlegrip harvesters that operate exclusively as at the stump processors. Processed logs are then transported to roadside using Timberjack 1710, 17tonnecapacity forwarders.
Dave Stringer says the company's decision to process at the stump and abandon skidders was mainly motivated by both their desire to reduce environmental concerns related to rutting and to promote natural regeneration.
By leaving slash in the cutblock and using forwarders to move the wood, their objective was to give the forwarders a mat to travel on and also to reduce the amount of road construction required. He says the company has been able to achieve both of these objectives. The rutting and natural regeneration issues would not have been resolved, however, had Nighthawk Timber not been able to economically process at the stump. They began using older Styer processors and, while they were adequate for their time, it was obvious that with the amount of aspen being processed the company needed something that required less maintenance. "Anytime we'd get into bigger wood with bigger limbs, we had a lot of mechanical problems. So we went looking for a beefier head that could handle bigger wood, with bigger limbs, especially poplar," says Stringer. "We didn't want to be welding the processor all the time. We talked to different manufacturers, got a list of customers they had, and talked to their customers."
The company pared its processor list down to three candidates and opted for a Waratah processor mounted on a Timberjack 735 purpose built carrier. They now have four Waratah/Timberjack processing units. "The biggest thing we like about the Waratah head is that it is rugged and durable," says Stringer. "There are things that happen with it, but on the whole you very seldom have to weld it. You could say that availability on the head is very good." For their operation, they have found that the Timberjack 735 carrier and Waratah combination is a good fit. Their oldest carrier has over 14,000 hours on it and it was just outfitted with a new processing head. Stringer says they selected the Timberjack 735 carrier because it is built as an offroad machine from the ground up. They wanted a rugged machine with a good undercarriage and boom reach. "Some people look at that combination and say it's overkill," says Stringer. "They may think there's too much money tied up in that machine. With us, what we were looking for at the time was availability and longevity.
The carrier has good guarding, a big undercarriage and lots of clearance." He says the Waratah head's production is reasonable, but they are looking for ways to improve it. In terms of accuracy, he says it is very capable of accurate processing as long as it is allowed to operate within its capabilities. "It is very capable as long as maintenance wise it is kept up and operator wise they are doing their due diligence," says Stringer. "Mechanically, the machine has the ability to measure quite well, and the mills we work for are pretty particular that logs are coming in at the right lengths." Because equipment demands are highly variable from cutblock to cutblock in their area of operations, the Stringers spend a lot of time allocating equipment for specific job sites. Their fourth processor spends about two thirds of its time doing custom processing.
Stringer is quick to point out that there may be better processors and carriers available in the marketplace. However, there are advantages to equipment standardization from a productivity standpoint. The company is constantly checking the equipment market to see if there is better equipment available "but it's not enough where we would immediately want to start changing our Waratah heads for something else. If we did that, our mechanics would have to relearn how that product works. You also have a parts issue with having to carry parts for two different heads." Stringer says the company also benefits by standardizing its processor carrier fleet.
By extension, it is not only a benefit from a maintenance standpoint, but also from an operator perspective. Operators become familiar with the capabilities of a single combination, so the transition from job site to job site is much easier. Also, when a company is dealing with a combination of processing hardwood and softwood, the operator has a good understanding of the unit's capabilities with either fibre density.
There is less guesswork involved, which should lead to less operator error and equipment downtime. While Nighthawk Timber is using its Waratah HTH 622 as a processing head, the entire line of Waratah heads is designed with the capabilities of a single grip harvester. The HTH series features five heads ranging from the smaller 620 model that weighs in at 5,900 lbs, to the 626 that comes in at 13,305 lbs. Their ability to handle wood varies from 23inch diameter to 34inch diameter. All models come equipped with a 330degree rotator that in the first four models has a lifting capacity of 60,000 lbs.
The larger 626 model has a 100,000 lb capacity. Waratah touts its HTH rotator design as the strongest in the industry and as the only dangle style head available on the market where the operator can push on the rotator with the boom and stick to aid the carrier in soft ground. The company adds that unlike chain driven designs, the HTH rotator is a sealed rotex bearing requiring minimum maintenance and has complete protection from water and dust. The HTH harvester heads come with three live feed drive rollers. There is one on each grab arm and one fixed on the body. They come together in a triangular configuration to achieve maximum traction and better tree alignment.
Waratah claims their angled drive arm design offers better control of smaller stems, resulting in less damage to smaller tops and easier backing up. The feed system also has a new eight stage proportional soft clamp feature on the closing of the drive arms. This results in less fibre damage by minimizing the feed roll pressure as the diameter of the log decreases while feeding. The HTH delimbing arms are equipped with front and back replaceable knives that undergo a hardening treatment for prolonged sharpness and durability in abrasive wood conditions. They are also long enough to access piled or decked wood.
The standard saw on the HTH 620 and 622 units is the heavy duty .404 Hultdins Supercut saw unit complete with automatic chain tensioner and cam style lubrication. A heavier 11BC 3/4 inch pitch saw unit complete with a larger displacement saw motor is standard on the HTH 624 Super and 626 Bigwood. It comes as an option on the two smaller units. Waratah says a saw home detector prevents feed roll activation while cutting and a built-in bar saver indicator light system always tells the operator the position of the saw. This is especially important during the falling process, where vision of your bar is lost or limited. It prevents unnecessary bar damage.
The Waratah Logrite Merchandising Measuring System is a PC based programmable software system. It offers controlled acceleration and deceleration, plus automatic stop at a maximum of 20 preprogrammed bucking lengths and up to six log species, as well as automatic stop on diameter.
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last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004