By Tony Kryzanowski
Winch-assist systems are becoming an essential tool for some Canadian loggers as they pursue options to help with harvesting harder to access—but valuable—timber on both steep slope and in adverse ground conditions.
While proven as a valuable tool working in steep ground, having access to a winch-assist system can also make the difference between equipment working or being parked during extended weather patterns like rain and accumulated snow pack later in winter.
Being able to work in less than ideal ground conditions can have a huge impact on a logger’s annual bottom line. It also results in happier clients as there is more consistent log flow to mills.
Having the ability to log in these conditions could also mean the difference between winning and losing logging contracts in future, says one B.C. logger, who has embraced winch-assist logging with a couple of systems in his fleet.
“There’s room to grow if you are willing to work in steep ground,” says Creole Dufor, co-owner of Essential Evergreen Contracting, of Revelstoke, B.C. “Mills are looking at tougher and tougher ground as a way to access fibre. So if you have the ability to safely do that, you are well-positioned.”
The question for loggers is whether to invest in a purpose-built winch-assist unit or to investigate quick-attach winch systems. Both systems are mobile, but each has pros and cons, starting with the upfront cost.
For example, a quick-attach winch-assist unit, like the one developed by a Canadian company called Inovforest Forestry Equipment and called the Timbermax, can be fitted onto an older excavator already in the logger’s fleet. It functions as an anchor to support equipment working on slopes, in mud, or in deep snow. This saves loggers the cost of investing in a purpose-built unit before becoming more experienced with the technology.
The Timbermax can also be installed on a forest machine working on steep slopes, with the cable tethered to a stump or other anchoring point, thus allowing the tethered forest machine to work more safely on a down grade either to harvest or retrieve logs.
Timbermax is distributed in Western Canada by Top Down Enterprises, of Kamloops, B.C., which specializes in equipment that supports steep slope logging.
There are three quick-attach Timbermax traction winch systems available: the T10, T14 and T20 series. The T10 and T14 require any 24 tonne and over excavator or dozer while the T20 unit requires a 30 tonne and over unit. Inovforest says that only limited modifications are required to the anchoring unit.
The deployment limits of the Timbermax traction winch system vary depending on ground conditions. However, the company says that experience has shown that it delivers optimal performance in grade from 35 per cent to 70 per cent. It’s iWinch control system provides the operator with continuous feedback on the traction capacity of the soil below the machine.
It comes with a quick coupler so that an excavator can transform from a road builder to a winch-assist system in under an hour.
In addition to a quick-attach Timbermax unit, Inovforest will begin offering a purpose-built winch-assist anchoring unit using Timbermax technology called the Elevator in 2019. It is a self-powered winch unit equipped with a Cat 305 hp, 7.1 engine. Weighing in at 12,500 kgs, it has a Cat 312 undercarriage and can be equipped with any series of the Timbermax traction winch units available.
The Timbermax iWinch control system is the control unit for the quick-attach unit. It is a remote control system operated from within the cab of the unit tethered to the winch anchor unit, with the ability to automatically recognize which direction the tethered machine is moving and can be set with either uphill, not moving or downhill settings. At any time, the operator can reduce the current tension between the anchor and tethered unit using the potentionmeter located within the tethered unit’s cab. Operators can also test soil traction capability by reducing the cable tension to zero to determine if the tethered machine can hold on to the slope unassisted.
This system is designed to limit the top speed of the tethered unit to 5 kms/hr while the winch is engaged, preventing overspeed so that the operator can focus on the task at hand. The iWinch system also gives the operator important feedback in real time on such important factors as the current slope gradient that the tethered machine is working on, and winch tension. It also delivers important information about the anchor unit, such as low fuel, low engine oil pressure, check engine, over temperature, and low hydraulic oil level. There is also a built-in movement sensor to detect if the anchor unit is moving.
A drum camera is mounted on the anchor unit so that the operator working in the tethered unit can ensure that the cable management system is functioning correctly.
While the decision whether to invest in a quick-attach unit or a purpose-built carrier will vary from logger to logger, Essential Evergreen Contracting decided to mount a quick-attach T10 Timbermax traction winch to a Hitachi ZAXIS 290 Forester excavator they already owned as the anchoring unit. Dufor says that they are using the Timbermax exclusively with a Tigercat 630E skidder.
“This tether is a first step toward working with several tethering systems,” says Dufor, with the company aiming to invest in systems that will work with their entire range of potential harvesting equipment used in steep slope logging. With the Timbermax quick-attach winch-assist system, they have been working out to 450 metres, with one worker in the tethered skidder cab managing the entire system.
“Forestry tends to be really hard on equipment and the margins are always very tight for loggers,” says Dufor. “So equipment has to work—and it has to be efficient. So far, the Timbermax has been working for us.”
Dufor is a second generation B.C. logger. His father moved to B.C. from Ontario to attend the University of British Columbia. He worked as a hand faller on the B.C. Coast during the summers in the 1960s and was well-acquainted with logging, having been born and raised in a logging camp in Ontario. So Dufor and his brother and business partner, Easten, are carrying on the family logging tradition. As youngsters, they moved around B.C. a lot once their father gave up teaching for horse logging.
“It was a non-traditional, North American upbringing,” says Dufor. “I was around logging all the time, and I worked the summers a bit here and there with my Dad. After I finished school, I bought a power saw and went to work.”
The Dufors owned a family woodlot license in the Cariboo region, so Creole partnered with Easten to log that area. They began logging more woodlot licenses, generating income through salvage sales and evolving toward working for major timber licensees.
Today, Essential Evergreen Contracting is established in the southern B.C. Interior in the area near Lumby in the Monashee Mountains, logging primarily for Tolko Industries in Lavington. Dufor describes the area as having lots of steep ground, big wood and wet hillsides. Having the Timbermax in their equipment arsenal in this logging scenario is an advantage.
“It takes us about 40 minutes to mount the Timbermax on our excavator on the long end,” Dufor says. “The fact that you can switch back and forth so quickly and that you don’t compromise the excavator’s ability to be a roadbuilder was an important selling point for us. It’s two separate systems on one machine and they don’t conflict with each other.”
He adds that the price point on this winch-assist system vs. other systems is, “substantially lower,” so that if the unit sits idle for a week, it is not a huge investment that’s not working to earn its keep. They talked a lot with Top Down Enterprises about the Timbermax system before deeming that it was the best option for them.
Dufor says that the quick-attach Timbermax can’t simply be transferred from one machine to another without a control system being installed in each machine. But the modified unit, like their excavator, can still work in a variety of applications. Inovforest says that installation of a control module in a new machine, including testing, takes less than a day.
Essential Evergreen Contracting gained experience with winch-assist systems by taking on a ClimbMAX winch-assist unit that Tolko imported from New Zealand and was investigating for its potential use in Canada. So, when they purchased the Timbermax, the Dufors already had an understanding of a winch-assist system’s capabilities.
Their experience with using the T10 Timbermax has been positive.
“As far as using the skidder, a 5/8” cable and 10 tonne winch is plenty of power as long as you are wise about how you lay things out,” Dufor says. “It’s definitely a more thoughtful style and you have to have the right operator doing it.”
The effort has been worth it, he added.
“You can access sites that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise or you would be putting yourself at risk,” says Dufor. “It also changes how you plan your blocks in terms of decking locations. So far, everything we have attempted with the winch-assist, we have been successful at.”
Where he sees tethering systems like the Timbermax really shining particularly in B.C. in future is in situations where tower yarding is difficult or not an option due to numerous ground deflections. With good planning, a tethering system can work around these deflections to harvest and deliver logs to decks. Also, fewer employees are needed to operate this system vs. a tower yarding operation, and there is considerably less set-up time required.
With greater buy-in from loggers and forest companies to tethering systems, Dufor says he can envision a logging future quite different from what it is now, with operators trained in new skills to work with these types of systems.
On the Cover:
Winch-assist systems are becoming an essential tool for some Canadian loggers as they pursue options to help with harvesting harder to access—but valuable—timber on both steep slopes and in adverse ground conditions. B.C.’s Essential Evergreen Contracting have mounted a quick-attach T10 Timbermax traction winch to a Hitachi ZAXIS 290 Forester to do steep slope skidding (cover photo by Anthony Robinson).
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