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February 2004

GUEST COLUMN

How to make harvester and forwarder purchasing decisions when making the move to cut-to-length

By Tim White

In the last column, I talked about some of the general details to factor in when making the move to cut-to-length (CTL) equipment. In this column, I’ll review some of the specific features to look at in making harvester and forwarder purchasing decisions. Consider a forwarder purchase the same way you would buy a logging truck, with power, travel speed, loader capability and payload the major considerations. The focus should be on cost per cubic metre. With the time spent on loading/unloading, you want to have a strong loader, with good reach and a big grapple.

Get the largest forwarder available for the contract, allowing fewer passes over the ground. You may want to consider a CTL logging system of two harvesters and one big forwarder. In choosing your CTL forwarder, the major considerations include:
• Transmission: bogie type, wheels
• Travel speed: operator comfort
• Loader: reach, tele and controls
• Grapple: size and speed • Payload: volume and log length
• Size: weight, width, and height
• Cab: visibility, room and safety
• Group pressure: tracks, widths
• Fuel consumption and tank size

When considering which equipment to purchase, it’s advisable to perform cost estimates of your current full tree system and the proposed CTL logging system. Look at utilization vs machine availability. In equipment costs, look at fixed costs vs variable costs, and operator costs and recommendations. It’s important to note that the CTL harvester is the only machine that has to deal with each tree; the forwarder deals with volume. Multiply the cubic metres required per hour by the average tree size to determine the number of trees needed. CTL harvester production can vary from 40 to 150 trees per productive machine hour. With utilization vs machine availability, get the facts.

Basically, you want to know what per cent of the shift are the machines ready to go. You get paid for productive hours, not scheduled hours. The key here is to focus on utilization—truly the Holy Grail of professional logging. Why is utilization so important? A one per cent increase in utilization will offset the effect of a one per cent increase in the finance rate. There are fixed costs with equipment operation, such as finance payments and insurance. Then there are variable costs, such as fuel and lubricants, where outside of choosing the most fuel-efficient model, control is limited.

But during a time of increasingly higher fuel costs, there should be fuel savings in making the switch to CTL. An example is that a feller buncher, skidders, delimber and slasher can require upwards of 511,000 litres of fuel per year, or 3.72 litres per cubic metre. A CTL harvester and forwarder operation, however, would require about 238,000 litres of fuel, resulting in much reduced fuel requirements of 1.76 litres per cubic metre. Once the machine purchase has been made, accept it and concentrate on your people. Operators, as any contractor will tell you, can make or break an operation. Select the best people and, importantly, train them. Take a look at your employee development.

This means looking at the number of employee training days each year, retention and turnover rates, compensation, and succession planning. Key capabilities for employees/operators include years of service, machines they can run, their mechanical capability, their comfort with reports and data, can they work as team players, their openness to new ideas, and their comfort with computers. Why should we train people? We want to be able to convert the experienced forest worker into the professional forest worker.

A good operator will respond to attention and instruction, just as a forest responds to thinning or an individual tree responds to fertilization. In terms of quality expectations from your customer, you should visit your customer’s sawmill(s) with your CTL harvesting crew. The focus should be on their quality standards. Look at the impact of the log length tolerance, and crook and sweep on the production process at the mill. And further down the production line, it’s important to understand the lumber grading process to see the rejects for stain, rot and defects.

In summary, the major items to consider in making the move to CTL are:
• Choosing your CTL machine suppliers;
• The machine types available and recommendations;
• Equipment considerations;
• Operator selection, training and motivation.

Research all CTL harvesters, heads, computers and forwarders to get the right match for your trees and forest. If you can, visit different operations in Sweden, Finland and in other parts of North America. Train, respect and motivate your operators. Consider an incentive pay system that acknowledges the effect of tree size on production, but rewards quality on the job. The move to a cut-to-length system is probably one of the toughest decisions a contractor will ever have to make on the equipment side of their business. But with the purchase of the right equipment, and executing a new approach to harvesting, the transition can be relatively straightforward.

Tim White of White Forestry & Associates is a forest industry consultant. He has been involved with forest harvesting equipment for more than 30 years, 20 years of that with a major logging equipment manufacturer. He can be reached at tim.j.white@sympatico.ca  or (519) 421-5469.

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