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Sept 2004 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

IN THE WOODS INNOVATIONS

Quebec equipment innovators

Historically, Quebec inventors have been strong contributors to the development of modern forest industry equipment—and the province continues to turn out innovations that help make timber harvesting equipment more effective.

By Tony Kryzanowski

The original developer of stroke delimber technology, Roger Sigouin, and son Jean with a Quadco delimber ready to ship from the shop.

Underlying a number of what are now accepted equipment innovations at the Demo International 2004 show in Quebec this September will be the contributions of a group of Quebec forest industry inventors and innovators. The evolution of the purpose-built forestry equipment manufacturing industry in the province can best be described as colourful, dramatic, and hugely important, with many ideas actually starting with loggers needing to solve specific problems. Many of these ideas were advanced by individual inventors working in small machine shops usually located in active forestry areas of the province. “Those inventions dramatically increased the productivity of functions like felling and delimbing trees,” says Quadco Equipment Inc founder and president Chuck Maclennan. “As a result, there was a substantial reduction in the cost of delivering logs to roadside.”

Quadco is a major forest equipment supplier headquartered in the province, and owns over 40 patents in various countries. With the province’s large forest industry, Quebec manufacturers have been leaders in developing purpose-built logging equipment and attachments for the past 50 years, particularly related to harvesting smaller diameter wood in harsh climate and terrain. Many established forest companies in Quebec realized by the early 1950s that the concept of mechanical logging offered many advantages. However, equipment manufacturers at the time were generally reluctant to invest in research and development for purpose-built forestry equipment and attachments because it represented such a small segment of the overall equipment market.

 The LogAll feller skidder (above) was developed in 1968 by Logging Research Associates in Quebec and had a felling-loading head mounted on a knuckleboom. The inset photo to the left shows a model of Rudy Vit’s first feller skidder, mounted on a Bombardier. It was first built in Quebec in 1957 as a prototype.

Yet, there was strong demand from forestry companies and loggers for mechanical tools to improve productivity, safety, and the working environment. Most of the logging was still being done with manual saws, chainsaws, even horses, often in deep snow and exposure to the elements. The onus fell on individual forest companies, local inventors and innovators, as well as organizations like the Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC) to conduct a research and development program, starting practically from square one. Among the first serious attempts at developing mechanical harvesting in Quebec occurred in the mid-1950s with the appearance of the Vit feller-skidder. Rudy Vit was a young Czechoslovakian student engaged in a project with Bombardier and the North Shore Paper Company in Baie Comeau, Quebec to design a mechanized timber harvesting machine.

Vit combined chainsaws and hydraulics to develop an articulated falling head equipped with two chain saws mounted on the front of a Bombardier. It was able to cut a tree and lay it on a rack behind the Bombardier. Because it could harvest an entire tree, it was considered a decade ahead of its time. All told, 11 of Vit’s Bombardier-mounted units were built over the next nine years, proving that it was possible to fall, accumulate and skid whole trees to roadside. Vit also designed the Bombardier Processing Unit for delimbing trees. It winched trees through a flail chain, which dropped them onto a conveyor, bucked them to length, then loaded the bucked logs onto a pallet. What is thought to be the first fully-mechanized system was developed in the 1960s through a Quebec organization called Logging Research Associates (LRA).

It was funded by the Abitibi and Canadian International Paper Companies. Under the direction of Doug Hamilton, LRA developed a wheeled feller-skidder called the LogAll. It consisted of a felling and loading head mounted on a knuckleboom, which cut the tree and loaded it into a rear-mounted clam bunk. LRA also developed the Arbomatik, which was a roadside processor that could delimb and buck the trees. The LRA project folded in 1971 during an industry downturn. One of the most important advances in the mechanical harvesting of standing trees was the transition from shearing the tree to the use of a feller buncher head that held the tree in place while it cut the tree using a high-speed disk saw.

FERIC’s Per Mulgren worked along with Amos, Quebec-based Harricana Metal Inc and Koehring-Waterous in Ontario to develop the basic concepts of high-speed disk saw feller bunching heads that have been improved upon and remain in general use today. However, as was quite typical of that time, several inventors were working in their machine shops in parallel making it very difficult to pinpoint exactly where the credit belongs, although certain methods related to how the grab arms work in tandem with the high speed circular saw have been patented. “Andy Larochelle, a French Canadian from Timmins, Ontario, put an interesting feller-delimber head on the market which, in my opinion, was the real ancestor of today’s harvester heads,” says Denis CIMAF owner, Laurent Denis. Denis CIMAF is involved in marketing land clearing equipment, but Laurent Denis himself played a pivotal role in the development of delimber technology. “My father, who was a logger and a blacksmith, used to tell me that the difficulty is not so much in felling the tree, but in delimbing it,” Denis says.

 In the late 1970s, Quebec inventor Roger Sigouin ushered in the era of the sliding boom style delimber with what is commonly referred to as the Roger delimber. Denis was also instrumental in the development of delimber technology, integrating a unique telescopic concept into the design, with a triangular type boom, and a special chain drive system. Roger Sigouin’s son, Jean, later developed the Forestpro delimber concept, which is now part of Quadco’s equipment line. Along with attachments, Quebec inventors have also contributed greatly to the development of purpose-built wheeled equipment.

The Tanguay name, for example, has long been associated with the Canadian forest industry. Machine shop owner and inventor Jean Paul Tanguay produced a knuckleboom delimber back in 1982, and later spent several years developing and building slashers, loaders, and feller bunchers. More recently, Jean-Marc and Gaston Bouchard earned their place as Quebec-based innovators in forestry equipment. These two logging contractors founded Trans-Gesco Equipment in 1989, and at the time were owners of Scandinavian-type clambunk forwarders. They found these forwarders to be underpowered, unreliable, and very expensive to maintain in extreme Canadian logging conditions.

They hired an engineering firm to develop an innovative, 100 per cent hydrostatic drive system with a wheel motor on each wheel. Two prototypes were built and tested over the next three years, and in 1992, Trans-Gesco started to market the six-wheel drive TG40 clambunk forwarder. The company went on to expand its forwarder line, and has also expanded into feller bunchers. Pierre Gaudreault, president of Technologies Direct, must also be counted among the innovators. He launched his company in 1992, with the concept of modular equipment design based on customer criteria. The concept allows for a wider, more versatile range of purpose-built products because of interchangeability of modules to best suit customer needs. Roberval, Quebec-based Gilbert-Tech, founded by Sylvain Gilbert in 1994, has become well known for its feller buncher head innovations, specifically the full lateral tilt built into the head’s design.

Rotobec, founded by Marcel Cayouette, has developed into a North American leader in continuous rotation forestry attachments, specifically grapples and rotators. However, like many existing forest equipment manufacturers in the province, the company has diversified so as not to be too dependent on a particular product line. Companies like Rotobec are diversifying through both research and development and acquisitions, as has also been the case at both Quadco and Denharco Inc. Denharco was born from the amalgamation of Harricana Metal Inc and Equipments Denis in 1991, bringing together Harricana’s development expertise in specialized attachments for felling and log handling, and Equipments Denis’ specialty in the design and fabrication of processing equipment. Quadco was incorporated in 1988 through the commercialization of a research and development program, mainly built around the QuadTooth high speed saw technology, originally developed by Alain Morin.

It evolved from a business oriented toward replacement parts to actual tree felling attachments. Among its products is the 240 Levesque processor, based on a design originally developed by Quebec-born inventors, Gilles and Pierre Levesque. Now living in New Brunswick, the Levesques came up with the concept of the well-known and respected Target processor head. Growth through acquisitions among Quebec-based equipment manufacturers mirrors similar trends elsewhere, where smaller companies focused largely on research, development and manufacturing are acquired by companies with stronger marketing and service support networks, and who can also do business in both official languages. “There’s consolidation taking place in this industry just like with our customers in the sawmill and pulp and paper industry,” says Quadco’s Maclennan. “Everybody is consolidating—trying to get to a critical mass to reduce their unit costs.” There is now strong competition within Quebec from manufacturers in Western Canada, the United States, Scandinavia, and New Zealand.

This has brought home to Quebec manufacturers the point that their ability to deftly operate in the French language with local loggers is no longer the advantage it once was. However, while there is more competition at home, the trend toward smaller log diameters elsewhere is opening up new opportunities for Quebec manufacturers willing to expand outside the province. The last 50 years have been a wild ride in the development of Quebec’s equipment manufacturing industry, with fortunes won and lost. However, in the final analysis, those left standing today are stronger players in a market that seems destined to continue its trend toward global marketing.

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