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June 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

 

HARVESTING

Getting more volume

Logging contractor SAN Forestry is countering the challenges in securing labour in booming Alberta by relying on equipment—including some new Tigercat skidders—that delivers more volume.

By Tony Kryzanowski

Logging contractor Nik Kuznetsov has mixed feelings when it comes to the current construction boom taking place in Alberta’s oil patch. While on the one hand, it offers him an opportunity to diversify his business through bidding on salvage logging contracts, at the same time he is losing good employees to the draw of higher wages in the oil patch.

Kuznetsov’s challenge of keeping employees is becoming a common problem for many contractors throughout Alberta.

“These days, it seems like we are almost constantly in training mode with our employees because we are losing people to the oil patch and it is hard to find good people to replace them,” says Kuznetsov, who owns SAN Forestry, of Plamondon, Alberta. “When you are training, people are just learning, so you don’t get the production from them. So it’s hard to make money.”

SAN Forestry expects to benefit from its two new Tigercat bunchers, with a longer service life on both the head and the carrier. “The Tigercats are built pretty well from a strength perspective,” says Nik Kuznetsov, of SAN Forestry.

On the other hand, SAN Forestry has made a major investment in new Tigercat feller bunchers and skidders, essentially to take advantage of Alberta’s booming oil and gas industry and its need for salvage logging to clear roads, leases and pipeline easements. The company has even won a contract with engineering firm, SNC-Lavalin, to clear a right-of-way for a power line.

Today, the company still makes about 80 per cent of its revenue from its longstanding logging contract with pulp producer Alberta Pacific Forest Products (Al- Pac). However, about 20 per cent now comes from salvage logging.

Kuznetsov says it is difficult to negotiate a rate increase with Al-Pac given the current state of the pulp market. Companies like Al-Pac are facing considerable competition from places like Brazil, where fibre grows in a fraction of the time and is situated much closer to their pulp mills. They can produce pulp more cheaply due to lower overhead costs.

Although salvage logging work in the oil patch is sporadic, he says the industry is currently booming, oil and gas companies pay well, and this helps him pay comparable wages to his employees to discourage them from leaving for greener pastures.

Nik, his brother, Arseny, and father, Steve, got their start in the forest industry 20 years ago in tree planting. The family was looking for revenue to supplement their farm income. “As members of the local Russian community, our income was mostly based on farming,” Nik says. “Farming didn’t pay as well as we had hoped, so we had to look for another business. We knew there were better opportunities and better rewards for our hard work.”

The challenge was finding a business that meshed well with the family’s strong views about not working on Sundays and certain other holidays due to their Greek Orthodox faith. Forestry provided the flexibility that they need. Today, Nik is the company owner, although his four brothers and father are employees of the business. A younger brother has just struck out on his own and has purchased half ownership in the company’s log haul fleet. Nik now owns one of the largest logging companies in Alberta based on volume, harvesting between 700,000 and 800,000 cubic metres of both softwood and hardwood for Al-Pac. Given that he is only 33 years old, it’s likely his story is only partly written.

The labour shortage issue had a strong influence on Kuznetsov’s equipment purchasing decision. Although his new Tigercat equipment was more expensive, the extra volume derived from the performance of Tigercat’s 630C skidder justified the added expense up front. Kuznetsov hopes that the extra production potential per individual machine will also translate into the need for fewer pieces of equipment, and therefore, fewer operators. In dollar terms, he hopes that his four Tigercat skidders will replace six older machines.

SAN Forestry expects to benefit from its two new Tigercat bunchers, with a longer service life on both the head and the carrier. “The Tigercats are built pretty well from a strength perspective,” says Nik Kuznetsov, of SAN Forestry.

“The extra volume we are able to skid in a 24-hour period with the 630C skidder is roughly comparable to the extra cost of the machine,” says Kuznetsov. Tigercat introduced its C series skidders in 2003. SAN Forestry’s units are equipped with QSC 8.3 litre Cummins engines delivering 240 horsepower.

When skidding a load, the engine runs at 2,200 rpm, but is computer controlled to throttle down when travelling empty to conserve fuel. The grapple has a capacity of 18.5 square feet.

From a feller buncher production perspective, Kuznetsov says there’s not a great deal of difference from one brand to the next. How he hopes to benefit from his two new Tigercat 860C feller bunchers is in longer service life on both the head and on the carrier.

“The Tigercats are built pretty well from a strength perspective,” says Kuznetsov. “You can see it in the thickness of the metal. My feeling is that they could last a year or two longer than other competing brands.”

His 860C feller bunchers have QSL Cummins nine-litre engines delivering 280 horsepower at 1,800 rpm. This C series model was introduced in 2005. SAN Forestry’s models are equipped with efficient reach booms and a model 5702 felling head. An added option is the high rotation wrists that provide 340-degree rotation. The head has a 23-inch harvesting capacity and the reach with this particular boom and head combination is 27 feet, 9 inches.

Kuznetsov says there is a lot less welding required on this head. He has heard comments from other logging contractors in the area operating similar 860C feller bunchers, and they feel that it is equipped with the best head they’ve ever operated. He’s been equally impressed after 1,400 hours of service.

Although the new Tigercat equipment required a larger investment, the extra volume from the performance of the equipment, such as this Tigercat 630C skidder (above), justified the added expense for SAN Forestry.

The Tigercat feller buncher engine operates at a lower rpm than competing bunchers, which should translate to fuel savings. Kuznetsov says he has yet to test that claim.

For the past three years, SAN Forestry has been spending a portion of its time in mixed forest environments that require the retention of small spruce understorey.

Once a cutblock has been identified, the company will deploy its feller buncher down a corridor and harvest everything in front of the feller buncher. Then, the operator will reach into the block on either side and harvest all merchantable hardwood and softwood, so boom reach, strength, carrier rotation speed, and head rotation were important considerations when Kuznetsov purchased his new feller bunchers. Between each corridor, Al-Pac also requires that the company leave three-metre strips of natural forest.

SAN Forestry ran into one issue with the head, where smaller trees would criss-cross when the operator was accumulating. That had to do with the specific design of the head’s accumulating arms, which were meant for an environment with larger logs. Tigercat made some design adjustments to the accumulating arms, and SAN Forestry is no longer having a problem.

“Tigercat really works with the customer,” says Kuznetsov. “Any changes that they’ve made were beneficial, and service support response has been quick and dependable.”

SAN Forestry’s fleet consists of two new Tigercat 860C feller bunchers, two newer John Deere 853G feller bunchers, two 850 Timberjack feller bunchers, an older John Deere 853 feller buncher and 10 skidders. These consist of a Caterpillar 535 skidder, six John Deere 748G III skidders, and three new Tigercat 630C skidders. The company also has 11 delimbers. Four are Risley Lim-mit 2000B delimbers on both Caterpillar and Komatsu carriers. SAN Forestry also has four Denharco DM4400 delimbers, with three mounted on Komatsu PC200 carriers and one on a John Deere 2054 carrier.

This year, Kuznetsov purchased three new Denharco DMC 4140 delimbers mounted on Komatsu PC200-7 carriers. “The DMC 4140 delimbers are a dressed down version of a delimber that is suited for our area,” Kuznetsov says. “They require less maintenance and they don’t have a computer like the 4400. We don’t cut to length and we don’t cut exact lengths, so we don’t need a computer to measure anything.”

SAN Forestry simply cuts its logs to 32- or 37-foot lengths. The main objective, once Al-Pac’s environmental requirements have been met, is volume production. The company typically works about eight months a year. Employees work a single 12- hour shift, five days a week, with four delimbers working double shifts. At present, the company has 45 employees.

While the north central Alberta community of Plamondon historically has French Canadian roots, it is now home to 135 recent Russian immigrant families. Nik’s grandparents escaped Russia in the mid-1930s, fleeing from the Communists, and arrived in Canada after stops in China, Brazil, and the United States. The family is investigating the possibility of sponsoring more family members from Russia to immigrate to Alberta under a new program encouraging more immigration to help meet the province’s severe labour shortage. Kuznetsov feels that if the attempt is successful, it could go a long way to solving his labour problems.

Nik has maintained a connection with his Russian roots, travelling to Russia with Tigercat representatives recently to help with the job of translating from Russian to English. Tigercat hopes to sell its products into the Russian market. It is the largest country in the world and has a boreal forest resource almost identical to Canada. Russian sawmill owners are also extremely interested in learning more about Canadian harvesting methods because of how much more volume the Canadian tree-length harvesting method produces versus the typical Scandinavian cut-to-length method being used extensively in Russia.

 

 


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