By George Fullerton
The Eltec brand of harvesters and log loaders has developed an enviable reputation for performance and reliability in the world’s toughest forest harvesting environments.
Born out of Volvo forestry’s discontinuance of their tracked harvester series, the machine designs were purchased by Technologies Element PSW Inc., and the manufacturing and assembly was moved to Val-d’Or, Quebec.
Under the management of the Element Family, the Eltec brand earned bragging rights for performance throughout northern Quebec and Ontario, and on the west coast of North America. The success of the Eltec series of machines caught the attention of loggers around the world and the Eltec distribution network now also includes the U.S., France, Russia and New Zealand.
Technologies Element PSW Inc., founded in 2011, is one of a family of businesses owned by the Element Family in Val-d’Or. Equipments Element, founded in 2002, sells and services several lines of forestry equipment. Hydraulic Val-d’Or provides a complete range of hydraulic parts and services. Foresco designs and manufactures machines and components for forestry, mining and construction industries. Les Abaitteurs Jacques Element, established in 1980, employs more than 100 people in forest products harvesting and transportation in addition to road construction.
The Eltec assembly factory is a rather modest set of buildings when viewed from the Rue des Manufacturers in the Val-d’Or Industrial park. However, once inside, the atmosphere is very professional with a culture focused on productivity and quality assurance.
The only visual clue that this small shop is the research and manufacturing centre for Eltec forestry machines is a pair of shiny red machines: a log loader and a feller-buncher, parked in the yard awaiting final testing prior to beginning a trip to their customers.
Karl Element is responsible for parts and co-ordinating services for the manufacturing business.
Karl is a grandson of Donat Element, the founder of the Element Family of businesses. Donat left his home in the Gaspésie when a teenager, and moved west and north through Quebec, working in sawmills and logging camps. Donat established himself and his large family in Val-d’Or, and in 1971 set up Donat Element & Fils, specializing in harvest contracting and road construction.
The family-based business developed expertise and extended its work in forestry and servicing the mining industry in Quebec and northern Ontario. Donat eventually became a Tree Farmer dealer, and built a solid reputation for service and repair to forestry and mining equipment.
The Element Family of businesses expanded in 1980, when Donat’s son, Jacques, formed Abbatteurs Jacques Element Inc., and established it as one of the major road building companies in Abitibi-Temiscamingue, serving both the forest and the mining industries.
In 1988, Jacques acquired Hydraulique Val d’Or, and in 1991 established Foresco, a business focused on process machinery fabrication and repair.
Technologies Element became a dealer for Direct harvesters which were being manufactured in Quebec City. Direct was eventually acquired by Volvo, and manufacturing moved to Korea.
In the 2008 financial crisis, Volvo undertook substantial restructuring, and the Direct harvester became a causality of the reorganization.
The Element Family understood the Direct technologies and jumped at the opportunity to acquire the rights to the designs for the harvester, with the intention to bring it back to Quebec, and establish manufacturing in Val-d’Or.
Technologies Element began manufacturing harvesters under the Eltec brand, and the first Eltec harvester emerged from the Val-d’Or shops in 2011.
The Element group had key resources to handle the ambitious enterprise including the hydraulic shop, the Foresco machine shop, and more importantly, an ambitious and imaginative leadership and a dedicated and highly trained team of workers willing to take on new challenges.
During a recent visit, Karl began a tour of the Eltec manufacturing process at the back of the shop, where steel plate is assembled into the Eltec cab.
“As part of the purchase deal, we acquired the design specs for the cab which is ROPS and FOPS certified for forestry and construction safety regulations,” he says. “We have made only slight modifications, essentially to make it better for forestry operations. We have grown up in forestry and we know what contractors and operators require to help make the machines very productive.”
The Eltec crew have also incorporated design changes to hoods and other body components, specifically to meet needs and requirements that customers and loggers have requested.
“We build a roomy cab, which allows operator comfort and room for personal effects,” he explained. “The cab can also provide room for a trainer to occupy space behind the operator seat for one-on-one coaching.”
Moving through the shop, a track body was being assembled, as well as booms and a stick.
Karl shared that the U.S. trade measures on Canadian steel and aluminum had a major impact on their manufacturing process, and for a short period they sourced track body components from Korea. He said that as the embargo was eased in the spring of 2019, they were planning to acquire and cut steel to once again build their own track bodies.
Employees are committed to quality production and manufacturing. As the tour progressed, Karl noted a Cummins engine waiting to be installed, as the next machine was being created.
“We switched to Cummins for power and it has been a positive move,” he says. “We have excellent support for Cummins and they supply both Tier 3 and Tier 4 engines, depending on the specific laws in the country the machine will be delivered to. Cummins also works closely with us for any technical developments we require.”
Hydraulic Val-d’Or fabricates all the hoses for the Eltec machines. Each individual hose is identified with a proprietary coded tag. Karl explained that the code for any hose on an Eltec machine can be presented to any Parker hose dealer, and they can replicate the hose precisely to Eltec specifications, using a database shared by Eltec.
Wire harnesses are sub-contracted to a provider based in Montreal. Eltec installs their own proprietary software in their machines.
“The software allows for five separate operator control preferences,” he says. Eltec will manufacture their own prototype hydraulic cylinders to test new configurations or upgrades. Once a prototype has been proven and incorporated into the design and offered in the option sheet, the company relies on subcontractors to manufacture and supply cylinders.
“We know loggers and we know their requirements for getting optimum productivity from their machines, so we have incorporated those demands into the Eltec machines,” pointed out Karl.
Eltec also sub-contracts certain specialized technical service in the manufacturing process, including machining and installation of bushings in the boom assemblies. Karl pointed out that in terms of highly specialized technical work, contracting out the expertise for this specific work is currently the most cost effective, and provides the highest quality assurance.
Their Foresco equipment has two laser cutters, a plasma cutter and a large assembly of steel bending cutting and machining equipment. All the production machines are operated by focused team of technicians.
Asked about the technical challenges for operating the high tech laser cutter, the operator replied that when you are trained to repair helicopters, the complexity of the laser cutter is not so complicated.
The laser cutter allows components to be etched with part numbers.
The back end of the Foresco shop has recently been expanded to organize and store steel for the manufacturing process.
Eltec manufactures five separate models of machines and buyers have an option list to choose from, to incorporate specific items they require. All the machines are manufactured with the same five hydraulic pumps, but in each individual application (buncher, harvester or loader), the output of the pumps’ output is portioned to functions differently, depending on the specific application requirements.
The paint shop has a sand blasting room where they use steel pellets to prep the components prior to priming. The steel pellets are re-used. Eltec uses high quality paint, and applies multiple coats to ensure resilience.
Eltec machines destined for Russia and Australia/New Zealand receive extra attention to paint application, since the machines will be exposed to salt while in marine transit.
Eltec machines are finding eager customers in some very challenging forestry environments. The company is selling a lot of production to the Canadian west coast, and meeting performance demands on steep slopes, and in handling big timber. The success of Eltec machines in the Canadian Rockies has gained the attention of loggers in New Zealand, which carries out a good deal of forest harvesting on very steep terrain.
Eltec has also achieved marked success in Russia. Karl shared that the Russian forest resource is similar in many ways to Quebec forests, and their machines have been working productively in that country. Karl added that since Russia has close ties with Scandinavia, Scandinavian harvester heads have consequently been installed on Eltecs, and have made a very powerful and productive combination as harvesters.
Eltec machines have also been sold in France, in a buncher configuration (biomass thinnings) with a narrow track body to fit their particular forestry machine requirements.
Upstate New York has become a good market for Eltec, where steep slopes and large timber demand the traction and power advantages that the Eltec machines provide.
Eltec forestry machines are manufactured in four distinct models, and are ordered with the specific options that each purchaser desires. The 220 model features zero tail swing configuration as a feller buncher or harvester. The 270 features a longer track base, and is built for ether feller buncher or harvester applications. The 310 model features a tilt platform and is also available as a feller buncher or harvester. The LL317L log loader features a long stable base and a high, soundproof and roomy cab.
Regardless of the model and its configuration, however, every Eltec machine carries the Element commitment to quality and performance—wherever it works in the world.
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