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September 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

 

EAST COAST LOGGING

MEETING INDUSTRY DEMANDS

Times are tight for many contractors now, but New Brunswick’s Danny Lunn is finding a Tigercat 845B/ LogMax 7000 head combination fits the demanding industry times.

By George Fullerton

Danny Lunn’s life goal is to make a career out of working in the woods. That goal has so far taken him through several facets of the business. He started as a planting contractor with J D Irving’s St George District in southeastern New Brunswick in 1988 and then moved into pre-commercial thinning. Later, he started harvest contracting with a Timberjack cable skidder, handling buffer strip selection harvests and specialty pine management for Irving in the St George District.

In 1991, Lunn completed the mechanical harvesting course at Miramichi Community College. He did not immediately find an opportunity to get into mechanical harvesting, so he maintained his focus on his 16 to 20 saw operator, pre-commercial crew and specialty skidder work.

But in 2002, JD Irving provided Lunn with the opportunity to get into mechanical harvesting with a lease purchase deal on a Tigercat 845B tracked harvester with a Log Max 7000 head. The harvester was purchased from Strongco and the head was
supplied by Rocan, both located in Moncton, NB.

After three years of operating the harvester, Lunn looks back on a steep learning curve of running a harvester and is taking a hard look at the business side.

Lunn knew that a successful mechanical harvesting operation would require a very dedicated and highly motivated crew. He went out and hired two operators, Gilles Boudreau and Mike Simpson, both of whom, like himself, had virtually no fulltime experience with harvesting equipment. “We all went to work and trained together on the harvester,” says Lunn.

Danny Lunn (on the left) with operator Gilles Boudreau with the Tigercat 845B. “Essentially, the Tigercat harvester has been pretty well bulletproof.”

“I want to have a career in forestry that allows me to have a good quality of life and I want to be able to provide the same good quality of life for my employees. We have learned a lot over the past three years and we have worked steadily since the harvester went to work.”

Both operators and Lunn live on the eastern side of St George District, which means a commute time of up to one and a half hours. “A ten-hour shift and a couple of hours’ commute is a plenty long enough day. I want to make sure that my operators have regular home time with their family.” Lunn says that one of his priorities is to ensure that his operators have weekends off. So far, he has been able to maintain that goal, except once or twice a year when they have had a number of production issues or Irving has a short-term issue of wood supply to a mill.

The harvester is scheduled to work 120 hours per week. The operators take either the 7pm to 5am or 5am to 3pm shifts, depending on their preferences. Lunn is on hand from 3pm to 7pm to perform machine maintenance and operate, if time is available.

“Essentially, the Tigercat harvester has been pretty well bulletproof,” says Lunn. “We have had no major problems with the carrier.”

Even though St George District is noted for the prominence of large granite boulders, the only track problem Lunn has had is to replace one pad. “That, I would say, is a tribute to operator care and consideration,” says Lunn. And a tribute to the equipment. “As far as carriers go, Tigercat is the benchmark. It just continues to impress me with its durability. The only major mechanical work on the Tigercat was to replace the injector pump.”

The head, on the other hand, is a very technical and specialized piece of equipment that requires close attention. Lunn says that as the operators gained experience, downtime due to head breakdowns has come down markedly.

“No one ever says that education was cheap,” Lunn philosophically notes. “I missed a lot of sleep in the first year or so. I would go to bed, but would be listening for a call with a breakdown. Over the past year, I have been sleeping much better.”

The harvester is equipped with a data logger which Lunn says is a useful tool for determining the machine’s actual productive operating time. “It allows us to analyze machine utilization and productivity.” Lunn has a productivity goal of 11.5 cords per scheduled machine hour.

This spring, a Geneq GPS receiver and Panasonic Toughbook laptop were installed in the harvester. ArcPad software provides the harvester’s real time geographic location and a history of where they have operated. “It is a pretty good tool, especially at night. The operator can see exactly where he is in relation to cut block boundaries or buffers.

“It has all cut block information, including roads, watercourses and wildlife areas. It also allows us to print off a map for the forwarder, so they know the trail layout and any obstacles such as wet ground or ledges they have to operate around. It allows the forwarders to plan extraction so they can get part-loads out of difficult areas and top the load up on the way to the road, rather than having to finish up the block hauling part-loads out of a bad spot.”

Lunn comments that the LogMax head has very good limbing power. “It will handle some pretty tough limbs in both spruce and hardwoods. But it does require a good maintenance program and a sharp eye in order to keep it working properly.”

Lunn says that Rocan has provided very good support for the LogMax heads and has identified some mechanical deficiencies through user feedback. They have made available modification packages addressing the units’ reliability.

On the production side of his business, Lunn has established a reputation as having a professionally run operation. Part of maintaining the high level of professionalism is achieved through attention to product quality. “My operators do their required quality checks on lengths and top diameters and I encourage them to do a quality check whenever they take a break or if they stop for repairs or to replace a chain.”

Lunn feels he has a pretty solid professional relationship with Irving staff. “If I have concerns or a problem, I can get a fair hearing. But it is no picnic, things are not a cakewalk. I run a very businessbased operation, I keep good records and document as much as I can, so that when I sit down with Irving staff I have a solid well-documented position.”

Danny Lunn (left) carries out maintenance between the operators’ ten-hour shifts.

Chris Hamlyn, operations supervisor with Irving’s St George District, says Lunn keeps a very close eye on the business and has a very practical and pragmatic approach to harvest contracting.

“A lot of phase contractors come into the business because they have experience and skills as an operator or mechanical skills. Some of these contractors don’t always see the business picture as clearly as they need to.” Hamlyn says that this lack of depth on the business side is often one of the big reasons contractors struggle to remain profitable. “Danny comes at contracting with a strict business attitude. At the end of every day, he knows where his business stands. We have a lot of good contractors working for Irving, but phase contracting remains very intense and very demanding work.

“If I was to pick out the good managers from amongst our contractors, Danny would stand out. He has excellent relations with his operators and together they have maintained their focus on quality work at all levels. You can put them to work on a block and you don’t have to worry that the job is getting done correctly. He hand-picked both operators and all three trained on the machine together. They are simply a good crew to work with. Incidentally, Gilles has become the highest production operator in the district.

“Some contractors have high operator turnaround, which results in high training costs and low production. Too much operator turnover is one of the leading factors for contractor business failure.”

Hamlyn says that Lunn’s approach with his operators is that he sells them on the requirements of their work rather than telling them what he expects them to do.

“He has genuine concern for his operators and he looks out for them. He leads by example. As a result, his operators have a high level of respect for Danny and want to work. It is seldom that Danny’s operation does not achieve the IQ200 monthly pay bonus.”

Hamlyn says that Lunn’s log quality is maintained at a consistently high level, both in the woods and in mill checks. He notes that Lunn’s consistent quality was significant in St George District, with the operation scoring a high quality wood award at Irving’s Grand Lake Timber mill.

“On the safety side, there are no issues with Danny’s operation. If there is an environmental issue like a spill, it is simply reported and the spill is cleaned up. Safety is carried out properly,” says Hamlyn.

Hamlyn notes that the Tigercat/ LogMax combination is a good machine for the St George District operations, pointing out the reliability of the Tigercat and the versatility of the head. “It is a good fast head, but it does see severe service with a lot of short limby spruce close to the Bay of Fundy. The head also gets a good dose of hardwood, incidental along trails and in some blocks that are not operational for our full tree hardwood operations, where we will get Danny to harvest the hardwood.”

Through the year, the Lunn operation will cut 80 to 90 per cent spruce.

This past spring, a Panasonic Toughbook laptop (below) and a Geneq GPS receiver were installed on the Tigercat. ArcPad software provides the harvester’s real time geographic location and history of where they have operated.

Even though Lunn declares that he gets a high level of satisfaction from running a tidy and efficient operation, he maintains a sober and realistic outlook on the general forest industry. “It is really tough making a living in the current economic climate,” he says. “When I speak with more experienced contractors, they say that the current state of the industry is the toughest they have ever seen.” Lunn says that when you look around at the current crop of mechanical contractors in the St. George District, most of them have been at it for less than ten years.

What does Lunn think the future holds for his contracting business? “The proforma that I have for the harvester indicates that if all goes well, this machine will be paid off in three years, and then I hope to see a little better profit margin. There has to be more to a business than simply a job and a big debt. There has to be something in it to reward owner-managers for the financial risk and the management energy they put into the business to make it a success.”

 

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