By Paul MacDonald
To put it mildly, loggers are not impressed easily.
Over the years, many loggers have seen equipment come and go—and seen some innovations and new equipment fail to live up to its promise.
But a new piece of logging equipment is getting high praise in B.C.—and so far is living up to expectations.
Western Forest Products (WFP), the major forest licencee on the B.C. Coast, recently purchased the latest in grapple yarding equipment from B.C.-based T-Mar Industries: a Log-Champ (LC) 650 grapple yarder. And the company is pretty pleased with how it’s performing—so much so that it recently took delivery of another LC650. And two more LC650 machines are in the 2018 Capital Plan
“It’s a big step forward for us,” says Rick Bitten, senior maintenance manager for Timberlands Forest Operations for WFP.
Before it happened, though, the company did a lot of home work.
As part of an equipment review process, WFP did an evaluation of all 26 of their yarders, which are heavily weighted towards older Madill and Cypress equipment. This well-built and maintained equipment has more than earned its keep over the years.
Al Waugh of Accurate Appraisals was charged with doing the review.
“Al is a very experienced equipment guy,” says Bitten. “He spent hours going over each machine, determining its weak points, and any repairs that had to be done.”
In some cases, repairs made sense. In other situations, not so much.
“A machine may have a market value well below the repair estimates,” says Bitten. Essentially, the review confirmed the company had gotten pretty close to as much as they were going to get out of some of their current yarders. And that at some point, you have to step forward and commit to purchasing some very major pieces of logging equipment.
“As a result, we plan to aggressively pursue replacing our older machines—we have to because many of them are in the 35 to 40 year-old range,” Bitten says. With older equipment, parts availability can become an issue. “Eventually, our old grapple yarders are going to stop running for us, and we need to address that before it happens.
“What we are faced with,” explains Bitten, “is the median age of our grapple yarders is 30-plus years, with 40,000 hours on the clock. And it’s just not economically viable to put significant repair dollars into part of that fleet.
“So we have the tough decision that we need to start upgrading our equipment—and really the yarders are the first pieces of equipment that touch our wood.” Added to that, there will be a focus for WFP on logging larger, old-growth timber over the next few years to meet sustainability guidelines. So, they will be doing more steep slope work. They can use some of the newer tethered equipment on some of the steep slopes, but old growth timber harvesting lends itself best to grapple yarding.
“We need to be able to grapple yard a lot of that volume—we can’t do it by other methods, such as tethering or hoe chucking.”
Getting a good sense of where they were at with their equipment helped build the case for purchasing the new grapple yarders, says Bitten.
“We’ve got to be able to back up a request for capital with the company, so that step was helpful.”
He explained that they have two classes of yarders: highway-legal yarders, and the older 100-plus ton yarders that are moved with special off-highway lowbeds. For example, they have 11 Cypress 7280 grapple yarders in their fleet, which are still delivering the goods, day-in, day-out. “In terms of heavy yarders, the 7280 is our preferred machine.
“With the off-highway yarders, it’s all about durability and strength. With the highway configuration, the whole build of the machine is based upon weight, so they can be moved with two low-beds; the machine on one, and the boom and gantry on the other.”
Traditionally, WFP has opted more for the off-highway yarders, though they do have some highway-legal yarders in their equipment mix.
WFP, like a lot of coastal logging operations, has been very fortunate in that their older grapple yarders were very well built—in fact, they were overbuilt, especially structurally. They have been, and some continue to be, true workhorses for the company.
“We’ve found that we’ve been able to get two life cycles out of the machines structurally. But they’re getting to the end of that second life cycle,” says Bitten.
WFP’s Maintenance Team have worked diligently to extend their working lives. “We’ve been ingenious about prolonging the life of these yarders, and getting around having to purchase new equipment. But at some point, you have to take that step, and go in the direction of new equipment.”
And, in the case of WFP, that meant the T-Mar LC650. While new equipment may have a hefty price tag, machinery such as the LC650 has features that older grapple yarder operators could never even dream of—all the while having the same line pull, and being faster.
WFP had the advantage of possessing some very good knowledge about yarders through Phil Salter, who is now the company’s North Island Forest Maintenance Manager. Salter worked at T-Mar for two years during the development of the company’s LC550 and LC650 yarders. “I know the features of the T-Mar equipment pretty well,” he says.
And Salter knows that T-Mar also had the benefit of two top logging equipment designers and engineers in Jim Mantle and Ed Hughes, Both men were instrumental in ushering in a new generation of logging equipment with the new models of grapple yarders from T-Mar.
“Jim and Ed are two of the best yarder engineers in the business,” he says. The two men had been involved in the design of the Madill and Cypress yarders that form the core of WFP’s older yarder fleet.
Then there is T-Mar itself. The company is a leader in industrial design, equipment manufacturing and re-life. It combines machining, fabrication, heavy duty mechanical and engineering under one roof in the Vancouver Island city of Campbell River, to provide a one-stop shop for industrial equipment needs.
That said, both Salter and Bitten were part of a committee of seven that objectively and thoroughly looked at yarder equipment, and were charged with coming up with a recommendation.
“Capital is very limited,” notes Bitten. “We have to be very wise with how we invest the capital we have.”
They broke down the machines that were considered into 28 categories, rating each on a scale of one to five. And the LC650 emerged the winner.
The depth of engineering in the LC650 is clear, says Bitten.
“The centre of gravity for the machine is computer generated,” he explained. “So every time they added something on the machine, they ran it through a computer analysis to make sure it resulted in a good centre of gravity.
“That has been one of the downfalls of most grapple yarders,” he added. “They are nose heavy when you are trying to move them. It creates a huge difference in the operational characteristics of the machine, and a difference in the maintenance costs and durability of the machine.”
There has been a historical drawback in yarders having a lack of haulback regenerative capabilities, and air compressor capacity.
T-Mar went aggressively after both of these areas with the new machine, says Salter. “It has an aftermarket hydraulically-driven air compressor that comes standard, and they have a Wichita water cooled haulback regenerative clutch on the machine. With the power input system, it is far superior. The way it drives the winch is dramatically different than any other yarder.”
Another advance has been eliminating the chain case, which transmitted power from the engine/transmission through to the winch.
“The new yarder has a differential that allows the machine to be far more balanced, so the engine/transmission can be more in the centre of the machine, with a differential to the winch.
“Now, you can stand on both sides of the engine and access the transmission and the pumps. Before, when it was cross-mounted, you had to go between the engine and the winch, and it was a difficult spot to work in.”
A clever feature both Bitten and Salter pointed out on the LC650 was the drum counter. An electronic sensor sends out an audible beep to the operator, beeping down to where the grapple, and line, had been placed before.
Most of the time, operators are looking to return the grapple to around the same spot, to pick up logs.
“The operator used to have to kind of feel it out, watch it closely, and slow down to get to the right range of cable being played out, with the hook tender telling him when to slow down,” explained Salter.
“But the LC650 has signals as the operator takes the grapple out, and it beeps down, like a back-up beeper. The operator does not have to look at anything—he can focus on running the grapple out there quickly, until he gets the beep. And then he drops the grapple down.”
An option on all T-Mar yarders is a grapple cam. WFP is opting for a grapple cam on all of its new yarders. “It’s a huge safety improvement because you are no longer putting people on the ground in the bight,” says Bitten. It also lets WFP’s loggers operate in bad weather conditions vs. parking the machine, and losing productive time.
Being a new machine, the LC650 is able to take advantage of technological improvements, and deliver some solid fuel savings vs. older yarders.
“It runs at about 15 litres an hour fuel consumption, which is exceptionally good,” says Bitten. “Most of our yarders run at 25 to 30 litres an hour. Its fuel consumption is part of what drove our purchasing decision—in a world with $1.20 diesel, fuel costs add up quickly.”
Bitten notes that T-Mar appears to have taken advantage as much as possible of technology on the machine, including digital controls that can be adjusted by the operator.
It’s been said that the logging industry has been somewhat resistant to technology—with some preferring to keep equipment simple. But Bitten and Salter argue those days are gone—and that making use of technology is now essential.
“Things have gone way past trying to keep equipment simple,” says Bitten. At some point, he says, loggers are missing the boat if they don’t employ technology on the equipment they use.
“Technology can do so much for you,” he says.
He notes that the Cat equipment they have, when it is connected to Cat’s VisionLink telematics system, can show exactly where a machine is operating, and advise them of any mechanical issues. “That technology is hugely valuable.” The LC650 is equipped with Vision Link technology.
As noted in the sidebar story (on page 14), Finning is also now a dealer for T-Mar products.
Finning, one of the largest Cat dealers in the world, has a very extensive branch network and service support system in B.C.
“The dealer support network for Finning is outstanding,” says Bitten. “They have also formed an alliance with T-Mar on what kind of parts they are going to have on the shelf, as the fleet of T-Mar yarders grows.”
He noted that it looks to be a good fit, considering a good deal of the yarder’s components are Cat, including the engine, transmission, track frame and undercarriage. The LC650 comes equipped with a Caterpillar C15 Tier 4 engine rated at 475 HP @ 2200 RPM, and a Caterpillar CX31 transmission.
“That also allows customers to be able to get Cat financing for the yarders, which is a huge step for the logging community,” said Bitten. “It can be a real struggle to get yarder financing through a bank—the Cat financing is a game-changer.”
For Western Forest Products, it means extending an existing relationship with Finning and Cat. “We have a lot of Cat equipment,” explained Bitten. “And over a period of time, we’ve built up a solid support system with the field mechanics at Finning.”
And the Cat equipment on the machine, of course, is under warranty. “With the assurance of the warranty coverage on the power train, it helps us to make the commitment to equipment—and it also tells you the commitment on the part of the manufacturer.”
The LC650 is getting good marks from operator John Gilbert. Gilbert is an experienced grapple yarder operator, having run his fair share of equipment, including a Cypress 7280 machine. He welcomes the new technology on the machine, from the variable controls to the grapple cam. Gilbert likes the speed of the machine, and the great visibility he gets from the cab. And he’s happy to provide feedback to T-Mar if he comes across something that could be improved on the LC650.
And like Bitten and Salter—and of course T-Mar Industries—Gilbert takes pride in the machine, which is now bringing 21st century technology to coastal logging in B.C.
It was a day of celebration when Western Forest Products took delivery of its first LC650 grapple yarder, not only for Western, but for equipment manufacturer T-Mar Industries and its dealer partner, Finning.
A major consideration in making equipment decisions for Western Forest Products is service. And a consideration in choosing the T-Mar LC650 grapple yarder is that several years ago, equipment dealer Finning became the exclusive dealer for T-Mar Industries Ltd. Log-Champ brand of swing yarders and cable assist systems in western Canada.
The agreement expands Finning’s forest product market offerings to include T-Mar machines for steep-slope harvesting. Customers will benefit from the convenience of one-source for forestry product support, service, parts and equipment, the companies say.
It looks to be a smart move for Finning, as steep slope harvesting in B.C. is expected to grow in the next 10 years, which could mean a significant increase in market opportunity for these products in the coastal and southern interior regions of the province.
Finning notes that T-Mar’s products represent years of development and testing in the centre of North American steep-slope logging country. These machines, when operating in conjunction with a mechanical harvesting system, can substantially increase productivity.
“This partnership allows us to provide a complete package to our forestry customers,” said David Primrose, Finning Canada executive vice president, core industries, when the deal was announced. “We can now combine our world-class Cat harvest and felling equipment with an industry-leading cable assist machine and swing yarders to provide customers with increased safety, efficiencies and gains in productivity.”
“We are very excited about this partnership with Finning Canada,” added George Lambert, president of T-Mar Industries. “This partnership combines the best aspects of both companies and ensures our customers have local access to first class sales, parts and service across western Canada. Customers now have an excellent source for all of their steep-slope logging needs.”
This partnership is said to be a natural fit given T-Mar is the only Canadian producer and designer of cable assist systems and both the Log-Champ cable assist and swing yarders utilize a significant number of Cat components.
On the Cover:
Rod Dillman Contracting crews were recently harvesting wildfire-blackened timber in the south Cariboo region of British Columbia. The fire-ravaged timber is the legacy from B.C.’s worst forest wild fire season, in 2017. Read about how they are approaching the salvage logging in this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, beginning on page 20 (Cover photo courtesy of Southstar Equipment).
Spotlight: First Nations and forestry partnership
A new training program in B.C.—adopted from Ontario—hopes to help make a difference for First Nations youth, and the forest industry.
Big yarder investment
B.C.’s Western Forest Products has invested in logging equipment big-time recently, with the purchase of a LC650 grapple yarder from T-Mar Industries.
Australian Salvage Logging
Two Australian entrepreneurs have mastered a means of harvesting still-standing drowned forests from the bottom of hydro lakes in the Australian island state of Tasmania, and it involves some pretty interesting equipment.
Harvesting B.C.’s fire-ravaged forests
Rod Dillman Contracting is now tackling harvesting fire-salvage timber in the Cariboo region, one of the areas hit by B.C.’s worst forest fire season, when more than 12,000 square kilometres was burned by megafires.
Veteran sawyer chooses veteran mill equipment
When it came to setting up his own business, veteran sawyer Gary Francis decided to opt for decades of mill manufacturing experience, and purchased a TimberKing band mill—and it’s now at the centre of the business, known simply as … Gary’s Mill.
New and Noted at the Interior Logging Association’s 60th
We take a look at the new products that were one of the highlights of the 60th annual Interior Logging Association Conference and Trade Show, held in Kamloops in May.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
The Softwood Lumber Board may have a low key approach, but it has delivered some very solid results, says Jim Stirling.