Alberta logger Seth DickinsonMAXING OUT on communications tools—in logging

Alberta logger Seth Dickinson is gaining benefits on a number of fronts using communications tools now available on John Deere logging equipment.

By Tony Kryzanowski

The tools in the equipment cab and in the office are becoming just as important as the tools used in the field by today’s loggers because modern communication systems and devices are helping to drive greater efficiency.

Essentially, this technology is reducing the amount of guesswork and anxiety for loggers related to day-to-day logging operations on a number of fronts, including equipment deployment, monitoring production volumes, and—at the end of the day—the financial health of the company.

Dickinson Logging of Hinton, Alberta, is a good example of how companies can benefit from these tools.

Owned by Seth Dickinson and his wife, Charlotte, this stump-to-dump logging company was established in 2009. They started out as a sub-contractor, and in 2015 earned a harvesting contract with West Fraser Timber. They log about 400,000 cubic metres of both hardwood and softwood annually and have over 70 employees, including sub-contractors.

Alberta logger Seth DickinsonSeth Dickinson grew up in a logging family from New Brunswick, who moved to Alberta to find work in the industry, settling in the Hinton area.

The company has grown quickly and significantly over the past decade.

With an interest in forestry for as long as he can remember—he was born to a logging family in New Brunswick—Dickinson is excited by the benefits he is realizing from John Deere’s new, on-board, TimberMatic Maps, which is a web, cloud-based management platform, working in combination with his TimberManager planning and management software.

TimberMatic Maps can be installed in John Deere skidders, wheeled and tracked feller bunchers, wheeled and tracked harvesters, forwarders and swing machines like log loaders and excavators. A screen mounted in the machine lets the operator know where he is situated in the block, and the system collects and transmits job site and production data to other John Deere machine operators and to TimberManager in real time.

TimberManager can be utilized on computers, tablets and cell phones via a Chrome website browser. TimberManager is linked and accessed via a customer’s MyJohnDeere account.

Dickinson purchased the software when he bought a new John Deere skidder and feller buncher last spring. He says that the availability of these systems did influence his purchasing decision. He recognized immediately how he could reduce travel time to and from the cutblock.

When compared to TimberNavi, TimberMatic Maps revolutionized this system and now offers compatibility with all industry map formats including: Simple hand drawn, Shape Files, .NAV files, and Georeferenced PDF’s.

The other biggest differentiator is the capability to gather, track, and display productivity and production data and metrics in real-time:

  • M3 & trees/hour
  • Average skid distances
  • Truck loads

Alberta logger Seth DickinsonA John Deere 948L skidder is one of the newest units in the Dickinson Logging fleet, equipped with dual back tires for flotation as well as the TimberMatic Maps communication program.

This information is synced with TimberManager, and shared with all machines on site in real-time. TimberNavi was not real-time.

The design of TimberMatic Maps also allows for standard satellite imagery or topography to be loaded directly through a JDLink cellular connection.

TimberManager works as both a planning and monitoring tool where cutblock maps provided by the sawmill client can be custom designed in the office, transmitted to individual machines, and then updated and shared by machine operators as new information becomes available related to production numbers and topographical features in the cutblock.

Maps can include hard boundaries for cutblocks and sensitive features like creeks, setting off an alarm in the cab and an alert to supervisors when a boundary is crossed.

TimberMatic Maps can even provide estimated volume data on two separate species, a significant benefit for loggers like Dickinson, who harvests both hardwood and softwood. This is unique to the Deere tracked feller bunchers and requires manual operator input. When this system runs in conjunction with Waratah’s H-16 Measuring system on John Deere machines, production visualization and location can also be provided on the map, of all sorts and species cut by a processor.

Dickinson says that he can take a PDF map from the mill, upload it to TimberManager, add his own instructions on the map and transmit the map with those instructions to the machine. For example, he can indicate where he wants cutblock roads built and he can also place a buffer around land features like creeks and springs.

Alberta logger Seth Dickinson“I can send the map off to all my machines that have this system installed, it comes up on their screen, they click on the block number, and it will show them where they are located in the block and track their production,” says Dickinson. “If the buncher operator, during the course of his harvesting, discovers a feature like a spring, he can put that on there—and his information will also go to the skidder automatically, and to me automatically.”

TimberManager also keeps track of how many bunches have been created and how many trees the feller buncher has harvested in a particular area. This provides Dickinson with an immediate indication of his production numbers, and also tells the skidder operator how many bunches are located in that particular area.

Additionally, the programs allows Dickinson to create a landing for the skidder, and allows him to keep tabs on the number of bunches delivered to that landing.

“I know what’s still in the bush for production and what’s at roadside for production,” he says, just by tapping into TimberManager in his office or in his truck.

The goal is to create a communication network, so that the feller buncher, skidder, processor and log loader share production information in real time. Because TimberManager has the ability to differentiate between pine and aspen log bunches at roadside, the loader operator knows exactly how much volume of each species he has at a particular landing.

“I can plan what I have in the block that’s ready to be delivered and what’s still to be harvested, and the loader operator can plan on how many trucks he needs and where he needs them,” says Dickinson.

Alberta logger Seth DickinsonSeth Dickinson’s equipment fleet includes a Tigercat 870C feller buncher and a Tigercat X870D feller buncher. Dickinson Logging harvests about 400,000 cubic metres annually for West Fraser Timber, and has grown significantly over the past decade to employ 70 people, including sub-contractors.

Dickinson Logging is required to have a cutblock map and a GPS tracker installed in each machine before starting to log a particular block, to ensure that it stays within block boundaries. Prior to installation of the John Deere TimberMatic Maps system, the company had to purchase and install an aftermarket GPS tracking system.

“Now with this John Deere system, it’s all installed in the factory, so there’s no more cutting, welding and drilling,” says Dickinson.

He can also use TimberManager on his phone to mark up a map with whatever areas he wants to avoid as he walks each block in advance of harvesting, use that information to develop a detailed map in the office, and send it directly and immediately to machine operators.

“Before, I had to physically drive out, give the operator a map or install a USB stick into the machine, which doesn’t sound like a big deal,” says Dickinson. “But when you are an hour-and-a-half away, it’s hard to get to everybody because there is so much equipment and we cover ground so quickly. Now, I am able to build a map, send it off to them, and monitor their production and progress.”

Unfortunately, he says that TimberMatic Maps and TimberManager only work with John Deere equipment. He still appreciates the overall benefits of other equipment brands working in his logging fleet and hopes that all the major equipment manufacturers can agree to a way to share communication systems. He notes that the communication system in his new Waratah processor head does link up with TimberManager. Waratah is owned by John Deere.

His fleet consists of a Tigercat 870C feller buncher, a Tigercat X870D feller buncher, a John Deere 903M feller buncher, a Tigercat 630E skidder, a Tigercat 625E six-wheel skidder, a John Deere 748GIII skidder, and a new John Deere 948L dual wheel skidder.

For processors, he has two Tigercat 855C processor carriers, one Tigercat 855D processor carrier, and two Tigercat 855E processor carriers, all with Waratah processing heads. One is a Waratah 622C multi-stem processor head, one is a Waratah 622B processor head, and the three remaining are Waratah 623C processor heads.

“I really like the Waratah 623C head because it can do the big aspen and pine wood without cracking or breaking up, and also measure well whether it is large or small wood,” says Dickinson. “I think it is a really good universal head.”

For log loading, he uses a Tigercat 875 carrier, a John Deere 2454 carrier, a John Deere 2656 carrier, and a John Deere 2554 carrier.

Dickinson keeps an open mind about advances in the industry. For example, he has adopted a practice he first witnessed in British Columbia. Rather than using the skidder to drag and create decks at roadside for the processor, the skidder simply delivers the drag to roadside and returns for another load. Dickinson has deployed a log loader at roadside to create the decks from the drags deposited by the skidder, believing that the skidder works more efficiently with this method, the decks are straighter for the processor operator, and that there is less wood breakage and mud in the decks. He says that the added production speed of the skidder easily justifies the use of the extra log loader, which in this case is either a Hitachi 210 carrier with a live heel attachment, a Link-Belt 240 carrier with a live heel attachment, or a John Deere 200LC carrier with a welded fixed heel attachment.

Their logging trucks are three Kenworth W900 units, a Kenworth T800 high hood unit, and two Kenworth T800 units. He also has one Peterbilt 367 unit.

Faced with softer ground conditions when logging in summer, Seth experimented with various skidder options. He tried a six-wheel skidder but is now using the John Deere 948L skidder with dual back wheels and custom chains for better flotation.

“It seems that a guy has to really think outside the box nowadays to try to get wood moving,” he says, even adapting a Kenworth C500 self-picker truck with large flotation tires to gather and forward logs to roadside.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal

September/October 2020

On the Cover:
Freya Logging has proven to be a versatile and diversified logging contractor in the B.C. Interior, taking on a range of logging jobs, including commercial thinning, with a variety of harvesting equipment, such as a Ponsse Buffalo King forwarder. Watch for the story on Freya Logging in the next issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal (Cover photo courtesy of Freya Logging).

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Maxing out on communications tools—in logging
Alberta logger Seth Dickinson is gaining benefits on a number of fronts using communications tools now available on John Deere logging equipment.

B.C. firm key to building new Alabama sawmill
A new sawmill to make use of under-utilized small logs is now turning out upwards of 200 million board feet of lumber a year at the relatively new $65 million (U.S.) Two Rivers Lumber sawmill in southwestern Alabama—and B.C.’s BID Group was instrumental in building the state-of-the-art mill.

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Despite the COVID-19 situation, Tolko Industries has been busy of late, completing work on a new state-of-the-art $60 million pellet plant, and $33 million energy facility, in Alberta.

The Edge
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The Last Word
B.C.’s forestry communities are fed up and frustrated with the industry’s ups and downs—and loss of jobs, says Jim Stirling.


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