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May 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



MAXING OUT Equipment Utilization

Logging operations Thunderbolt Enterprises and Ture North Timber Harvesting have seen a remarkable growth curve — with an anticipated 550,000 cubic metres harvest in 2005/06 — and helping to shape that growth has been their strong focus on maximizing equipment utilization.

By Jim Sterling

Much is asked of logging contractors in British Columbia. They have to produce precisely-specified stems, in on-demand volumes at often take-it-or leave-it prices. They must finance the expensive equipment necessary to do the job and endeavour to keep it working. Contractors must contend with uncompromising terrain and ground conditions, changing weather patterns and crew shortages. And they must try and do it all safely and in an environmentally sensitive manner. Based on all this, we should get loggers to work on a cure for the common cold in their spare time.

The company’s new Tigercat 625C is equipped with six-inch by 40-inch Quadco tracks on the back and wider tires on the front.

How these and associated challenges are approached is the difference between success and failure in an enterprise of laser-thin margins. For Alan Hannebauer, the challenge translates into innovative thinking and developing and sustaining strong partnerships. It’s worked and impressively so.

Hannebauer has guided the companies he’s involved in—Thunderbolt Enterprises and True North Timber Harvesting, both based in Williams Lake—through an explosive growth curve: from about 85,000 cubic metres harvested in 1998 to an anticipated 550,000 cubic metres in 2005/06.

One of Hannebauer’s key timber harvesting objectives that has helped shape growth is maximizing equipment utilization to move wood efficiently to roadside, regardless of ground conditions. The strategy keeps people and equipment working for more months each year. “We’ve changed our equipment profile to meet ground conditions for the most cost-effective harvesting that we can determine,” summarizes Hannebauer.

Their new Tigercat 625C six-wheeled skidder serves as a good example of his creative machine utilization. Hannebauer operates in the BC Interior, stricken by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. It’s increasingly wet ground. Dead and dying pine trees don’t take up water. Incessant rain in the summer of 2004 exacerbated the situation.

Those factors were in mind when Hannebauer visited the Tigercat factory last year. He’s familiar with the high performance standards of Tigercat equipment. He operates two 822 feller bunchers equipped with Tigercat side pocket heads and a 630 skidder in his harvesting fleet. “I think Tigercat is the most innovative equipment manufacturer around.” So when he saw the inert frame of the first 625C sitting on Tigercat’s factory floor and examined its design components, he said “I’ll take the first one.”

And he did just that, but he added some special features. He installed sixinch by 40-inch Quadco tracks on the back of the 625 and wider tires on the front. “That increased flotation by at least 50 per cent,” he explains. He had a lower gear transfer case installed, to provide more pull without spinning even on adverse grades. The standard rated horsepower from the 625’s Cummins engine is 205. He ordered changes to the engine side guards to improve access and modified the breaking system on the 18.5- square-feet capacity grapple.

“What we have is a machine to work in transitional areas between a conventional skidder and a forwarder and handle the mixed bag of wood we have in the Williams Lake region,” says Hannebauer. “The 625 fills that niche.”

Introducing new equipment is old hat for Thunderbolt Enterprises and True North Timber Harvesting: they were the first logging operation in BC to use a Cat 550 harvester.


Having the skidder equipped with the right tracks for the flotation required is doubly helpful with more responsibilities for demonstrating good forest practices being downloaded onto logging contractors. “We have to be nimble-footed and minded to maximize productivity for any given logging situation. With our companies’ road building and harvesting techniques, we do better than most.”

Introducing new machines is old hat to Hannebauer. Apart from the Tigercat 625C, he was the first in BC to use a Ponsse Buffalo forwarder, a 490 Prentice skidder and a Cat 550 harvester. “We’re willing to look at innovative machines,” he says.

Another key element in Hannebauer’s success and growth is his customer base. “We’ve been quite successful at diversifying our customer base between large licensees and a growing business in timber sales wood between Prince George and 100 Mile House.” The tenured wood, about 300,000 cubic metres annually, goes to West Fraser Mills and Tolko Industries.

Hannebauer is a fan of the BC Timber Sales program. “We can design our own roads, determine what equipment to use and decide on the timing of the harvest.”

Hannebauer incorporated Thunderbolt Enterprises in 1978. True North was formed in 1999 in his wife’s name, Caren Holtby. Hannebauer gives considerable credit to Holtby. “She’s a strong partner in our growing business and a very successful businesswoman.” True North does considerable road work for Tolko, runs a conventional logging side and a trucking division. Thunderbolt concentrates on West Fraser volumes and cut-to-length wood.

Both companies have benefited and grown from a shrewd series of acquisitions of other regional log contracting companies. “The equipment comes with them, and it’s a diverse range of the good, the bad and the ugly,” notes Hannebauer.

The companies have a few brands of equipment—their Timberjack equipment includes two 608Bs, a 1270 harvester, and 1210 and 1410 Timberjack forwarders.

Lately, there’s been more homogeneity in the equipment fleet with Link-Belt and Tigercat machines prominently featured.

There are training and servicing advantages to running machines from the same manufacturers. That introduces another Hannebauer tenet: building strong alliances with suppliers.

Hannebauer’s companies were in the market for new equipment last year, including five processors and a forwarder (the latter requirement was replaced by the Tigercat 625). He approached five equipment dealerships with a 14-page tender package detailing what was required of the machines and from their support and back-up services. Each item was assessed a rating and the equipment companies had 10 business days to respond. The tender package invited a what-can-you-do-for-us approach. The top two companies responding were then asked to re-submit their bids.

It was close, says Hannebauer, but Inland Kenworth Parker Pacific came out on top. The company handles the Link-Belt and Tigercat lines. “Inland Kenworth has been a very good company to deal with,” commends Hannebauer. That is amply reflected in the 19 new machines the dealership has supplied Hannebauer’s companies with since 2003.

A solid business relationship has been forged with another Williams Lake company: Heartland Toyota has delivered nine Tundra crew cabs. “It’s a very tough truck with lots of pep.” Hannebauer’s looking forward to the introduction of the 3/4 and one ton models that can be used as service trucks in the bush.

In-house service work became much easier after the opening in Williams Lake of a 5,000 square-foot shop in 2000 and a 2,800 square-foot office complex in 2004. The shop performs a full range of fabricating, welding and equipment rebuilding services. It facilitates equipment re-building. Thunderbolt and True North’s crews represent another key ingredient in the companies’ success.

“We’ve been blessed with some very good people,” he says. “We try and listen to our operators and mechanics.” Taking the time to do that and paying attention to details can contribute directly to positive machine modifications. Examples include additions made by Inland Kenworth at Hannebauer’s behest to five Link-Belt 210 processors, each equipped with a Waratah 622 head. Adjustments to widen and raise the frame have improved clearance, but the machine can still be moved around without a pilot car. A step and hand rail have made machine cleaning safer and access to repair kits has been simplified.

The Link-Belt equipment line-up at Thunderbolt Enterprises and True North Timber Harvesting consists of five Link-Belt 210 processors, each equipped with a Waratah 622 head, two 240 log loaders, and 210 and 240 Link-Belt road builders.

The other key element for Hannebauer, complementing a strong business partner, good crews, solid customer and supplier partnerships, is the companies’ banker. “We have good strong support from CIBC, which understands our business,” he says.

Other harvesting equipment apart from the Tigercats, the seven Link-Belt processors, Ponsse forwarder, the 490 Prentice and Cat 550 harvester include: a Timberjack 608B feller buncher and a Prentice 630; 1210 and 1410 Timberjack forwarders; a 1270 Timberjack, and a 608B with 762 harvesting head. Other Link-Belt equipment includes: two 240 log loaders (there’s also a Komatsu 250 and a Hyundai 210); 210 and 240 Link- Belt road builders; a 9030 Case; and a Bomag packer. Three crawlers (two Cats and a Komatsu), four Kenworth tractors, three Super B Peerless trailers, low beds, dump trucks, graders and support equipment round out the list.

The available equipment line-up is important but plug in the people on the front line and those in support and the focus sharpens: “They allow us to log in all ground conditions as efficiently as possible,” concludes Hannebauer.


True North, Thunderbolt Deleloped Their Own Safety Manual

True North Timber Harvesting and Thunderbolt Enterprises have introduced a comprehensive safety and policy manual. It was initiated through Grant Barley, operations manager, but has been refined and improved by co-operation and participation from company employees.

“The manual includes standard operating procedures, to be safe and environmentally responsible for each logging phase and inter-related procedures,” outlines Thunderbolt Enterprises’ Alan Hannebauer. “It’s a way of reducing risk and managing growth.”

The manuals include the provisions of the Forest and Range Practice Act, safety regulations and standards of practice required on-site by customers. Each piece of equipment carries the manuals in a protective container and operators are encouraged to consult it and ask for clarification when required.

Like many in the forest industry, Hannebauer is concerned about the shortage of trained equipment operators. He says part of the problem relates to stumpage bingo—short, intense periods of logging and hauling activity followed by prolonged slowdowns—which do nothing to encourage long-term employment.

“But we need young people with technical minds.”

Hannebauer cites other factors. “I think we’ve done a poor job of treating people as professionals—unlike in Europe and Quebec. We’re still in the rip and tear mentality where bigger is better rather than appreciating finesse.” The forest industry is further squeezed when experienced equipment operators and mechanics can find better paying, long-term work in the oil patch and mining sectors. “An answer might be in better training and creating a safe working environment—a place where employees can enjoy a home life and lifestyle amenities.”


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