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Equipment Profile - Forest Friendly

Contractors east and west rate the Tigercat 630 skidder as a forest friendly giant with power to spare.

By Tony Kryzanowski

There is no question that the Tigercat 630 skidder is big. As Canadian forestry evolves more and more toward careful logging, it might seem to be worth a second thought before making the investment in a larger skidder. However, when you consider the extra payload the Tigercat can skid to roadside and its ability to maintain power even in rough terrain, the picture changes quite dramatically. Michaud, a contracting veteran with more than 35 years in the business, owns Michaud Forest Resources with his brother Paul. They harvest approximately 160,000 cubic metres of wood annually, representing a mix of softwood and hardwood, in the area near Matheson and Iroquois Falls, east of Timmins.

The terrain they work in varies a lot but they generally expect a lot of rock, since they harvest timber in the boreal shield forest. The company operates a large fleet of feller bunchers, skidders and loaders, without any particular brand preference, adopting the philosophy that purchasing the proper tool for a specific job is more important than brand loyalty. "I don't feel that one company makes all the good equipment," says Michaud. Depending on the equipment's use, one manufacturer might have a slight edge over another. He likes to keep his options open. When Tigercat developed a skidder equipped with the largest grapple available on today's market, with a powerful Cummins 6CT8.3 215-hp engine and a variable speed hydrostatic transmission, Michaud decided that it was worth a look. Tigercat astutely recognized Michaud as a valuable asset, and called upon his years of experience to help tailor the skidder's performance for Canadian conditions. The result is a skidder that has plenty of con tractor input behind its overall design.

They provided Michaud with a Tigercat 630 to demo for a week, asking for his comments. He had plenty, and what impressed him was that Tigercat listened. "They didn't sit back and say, 'well, we're engineers, and we know what we are building'," says Michaud. "These guys listen to you. So, they came out with another skidder, and there were some big improvements made." Tigercat then invited him and other contractors to the factory, where they made more suggestions. The two Tigercat 630 skidders Michaud operates today have many of those improvements built in. The bottom line for him is that he can now justify the extra expense and fuel consumption with significantly improved production. "We're getting 50 per cent more production," he says, compared to his smaller skidders. "You are burning about 50 per cent more fuel, but it is a good tradeoff. It is costing you maybe another $50 per day for fuel, but then your production has gone up 50 per cent without having another machine. I was running four skidders. Now, I'm running three, and I'm not keeping my third one that busy." The Tigercat 630 is burning about 180 litres of fuel per eight-hour shift, compared to 110 to 120 for the company's smaller skidders. Another 630 skidder owner, Ted Freake of Whitecourt, Alberta agreed that Tigercat has bent over backwards to ensure that his skidder operates to its highest capabilities.


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Operator Kevin Gray (standing in the cab), Troy Michaud and Peter Michaud of Michaud Forest Resources. The logging outfit purchased two Tigercat 630 skidders for its harvesting operations east of Timmins, Ontario. With the machines' faster turnaround times and increased production, they are being used on longer skid hauls of 1,000 to 1,200 feet
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He adds that dealer staff members have gone out of their way to record and pass on contractor input. Over the past 20 years, he has operated a wide variety of skidder models. A year ago, he struck out on his own and spoke to several other contractors with Tigercat 630 experience. After much investigation, he found the skidder's combination of horsepower, hydrostatic drive and weight very attractive. So he purchased his own Tigercat skidder and hasn't been disappointed. "Powerwise, I don't think there is anything on the market that can compare to it," he says. Freake estimates that with the larger grapple, he is able to skid an additional six to eight cubic metres per load compared with other skidders, plus the ride is smooth and level. While he has not had an opportunity to operate the skidder where flotation and less environmental damage are issues, he suspects that the hydrostatic drive will deliver positive results. The hydrostatic drive also left a big impression on Michaud. "The thing I noticed was the smoothness, the shifting from reverse to forward and the smoothness of the ride." Plus, the skidder travels through the bush faster than the smaller skidders, and grabs twice as much wood. "Another thing that impressed me was at the skidway," says Michaud. "We weren't losing any time going over the skidway." His smaller skidders were getting hung up on the wood because it was stacked fairly high. The company was also losing time because its smaller skidders were spinning on the skidway, while at the same time delivering smaller loads. The Tigercat 630 has 24.5 inches of ground clearance with the standard 30.5X32 tires. Given the faster turnaround time and increased production he began to realize with the Tigercat 630, he starting thinking about its capabilities on longer skid hauls. "We put the big machine skidding at 1,000 to 1,200 feet," he says. "In places where we were trying this with the smaller machine, you weren't getting good production after 700 feet. Where you get into skidding maybe 300 feet, there's not too much difference."

Michaud's operator Kevin Gray has handled a wide variety of skidders for nearly a decade and, other than the need for an improved lighting package, has plenty of praise regarding the Tigercat 630. Cab comfort is obviously a priority with him, so the skidder's smooth ride has also left a positive impression. "You always feel like you've been in a skidder, but you can do a longer shift in the Tigercat," he says. "To do a 12-hour shift in the last skidder, it would have been pretty tough. With this one, you can do 12 hours, walk away and not feel too bad." There is plenty of cab room, he says. It's comfortable and the controls are "really accessible". He has also noticed a considerable improvement in traction with the Tigercat 630 versus the smaller skidders. "It's really noticeable," Gray says. "If you put this one beside the other smaller skidders we have, it just walks away on the hills. The traction is unreal. It's pretty rough here. There is a lot of smooth and jagged rock, and there is a bit of spinning on the rocks. It's nice to have the traction because it's not spinning a lot." The Tigercat 630 comes with two types of grapple booms, a dual function arch or a single function arch. The position of the arch is one area where Tigercat reacted to contractor input by improving visibility. A 104-inch Esco sorting grapple comes standard with the skidder.

Contractors have the option of purchasing a 120-inch or 131- inch Tigercat bunching grapple. Michaud Forest Resources purchased a Tigercat model because they had some concerns with the positioning of hydraulic hoses on the Esco model. In terms of economics, Gray says the Tigercat's larger grapple allows him to deliver a bigger payload in smaller wood, where volume is really an important financial consideration for the company. Michaud Forest Resources had some concerns about the skidder's extra weight in wet conditions, but it has performed beyond expectations so far. "We got into some soft ground, and it really performed well," says Michaud. "It's heavier, but for some reason it stays up better in soft ground." He has equipped one Tigercat skidder with 35.5X32 tires, whereas his first Tigercat 630 has standard 30.5LX32 16PR tires. He suspects the larger tires have contributed to better flotation in muddy ground. "Also, the power is more constant," he adds. "You have no shifting with the hydrostatic drive, so when you drive into a hole, you have constant power. With the hydrostatic drive transmission, it takes itself down. But it always has full power." Michaud notes that it is important on hot days to keep the screens circulating air into the radiators clean. The skidder ran quite hot during operation in extreme summer heat. As long as they kept them pressure washed, they ran cool even on very hot days. Other than a leaky winch on one skidder that Tigercat changed at no cost to him, Michaud says he has experienced no unscheduled downtime with his two units.

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