By Tony Kryzanowski
Faced with a critically narrow log delivery season from cutblocks that can only be harvested in winter, Northland Forest Products Ltd in Fort McMurray, Alberta has opted to ship logs from those areas tree length, and process them in their yard—and it’s working out well.
Typically, logging in frozen muskeg begins in early November and starts to wind down by the beginning of March.
Having solved the delivery issue, this created the opportunity to evaluate ways to accelerate processing without sacrificing accuracy.
Northland Forest Products believes that it has found the answer by deploying two Canadian-built, KTI TreeKing processors for this function because of their demonstrated ability to significantly improve processing volume throughput by multi-stemming without sacrificing accuracy.
Howie Ewashko, General Manager at Northland Forest Products, says that they have doubled their processing volume by deploying these processors in the yard.
With this change and other capital enhancements, the sawmill has been able to increase overall sawmill production by 30 per cent over the past three years.
“Right off the bat, what the TreeKing’s do very well is multi-stem,” says Ewashko. “We are for the most part working in our smaller profile wood, so it can do three, four or five stems at a time, where we’ve found other processing heads couldn’t. It doesn’t look like its faster than a traditional processor, but when you put three logs in at a time, it’s way faster.”
They process logs in lengths ranging from 8’ to 16’, typically with a butt diameter of 10” or less, while processing down to a 2.5” top. These smaller diameter logs represent 35 to 40 per cent of the company’s total annual harvest.
About half of their overall processing is now done in the yard. These smaller diameter logs are processed through their HewSaw R200 AI MSA-SE small log line installed about four years ago.
Ewashko says that another advantage with the TreeKing processors is that the measuring system is on the processor bar and not following the tree profile. This has resulted in better processing accuracy because occasional bad log deflections were causing issues using processors equipped with rollers.
“We also found out that we could be more market sensitive in terms of what we could recover from the log,” he says.
With log processing in the yard, Ewashko says that they can be more selective in how they pick logs slated for processing from the decks, thereby maximizing lumber production by sending the right log profile through the saw line in response to market demand in a timely manner.
“The opportunity I see here is getting the right piece to the mill at the right time,” says Ewashko. “That flexibility we find is huge in our production.”
Also, this in-yard processing method provides them with the opportunity to produce more chips and hog fuel from collected defective and waste pieces. There is very little waste left in the yard.
The only exception is jackpine, which typically has greater stem variation and issues like rot, which makes processing those logs in the cutblock a better option. However, when Northland Forest Products encounters a quality stand, they also ship them tree length to the yard.
The company took its time when contemplating this processing adjustment, experimenting with it for three years and essentially using a traditional, single tree processor to supplement processed logs delivered from the cutblock, to weigh the pros and cons of yard processing. At the same time, they began evaluating other processing options like the KTI TreeKing, starting with a lease-to-purchase program on one head.
As the situation currently stands, Ewashko says as far as they are concerned, this processing method will be a permanent part of their operation, and if the numbers continue to be favorable, they might even consider adding more processing capability using this method down the road.
KTI TreeKing processors are manufactured under license by Kaymor Machining and Welding in Clairmont, Alberta. Depending on stem diameter, the company claims that with its large grab arms, its processors can multi-stem as many as eight trees at once without the use of rollers tied to a measuring system.
The TK 565 TreeKing model at Northland Forest Products is mounted on a John Deere 2054 carrier and the TK 500 model is on a Volvo 250 EL carrier. It was purchased from the local Strongco dealership.
“It is our first Volvo swing machine, but we run all Volvo wheel loaders on our mill site,” says Ewashko. “We’ve seen good performance and longevity as well as really good support mechanically from them and being able to get parts is definitely key right now.”
The TK 500 can handle up to a 16’6” log in one stroke and the TK 565 can handle 18’6” in one stroke. The minimum recommended carrier size for each unit is 22 tonnes. The head itself weighs in at about 8,000 lbs.
Les Kerik, TreeKing marketing manager and owner of the intellectual property, says that Northland Forest Products operated their first unit on a lease-to-purchase basis for only a month before deciding to purchase it outright, as well as a second unit.
In terms of the processor’s history, he says that he was approached by Robert Stegmeier, the president of Kaymor Machining & Welding, in 2016 to license the manufacturing of TreeKing products. It has been redesigned and improved four times since then based on customer feedback and hands-on experience. Kerik comes from a logging background and is a heavy duty mechanic. He used the product in his own operations and was able to achieve 100,000 hours of production time on four heads.
Prior to Northland Forest Products deploying its TreeKings, Kerik says that the sawmill had a 6” trim allowance using roller-style processors, but once they made the switch, they were able to reduce the trim allowance to only 3” while multi-stemming. The result is significantly more fibre recovery and volume throughput.
“Instead of cutting 16’6” logs, now we are cutting 16’3” logs. So that is quite a wood waste reduction. We can probably take it down to a 1” trim allowance,” Kerik adds. There are five sorts in 2’ increments from 8’ to 16’.
“Our measuring system is all non-contact,” he says. “It’s all mechanical. It doesn’t care if there is a bow or knot in the tree. It doesn’t spin out and there are no bite marks because it is a stroker. So there is much less fibre damage.”
Processing speed on the newest TreeKing models is 16’ to 18’ per second and they can handle logs up to 30” in diameter, with the ability to process any programmable length and even tree length if required.
TreeKing processors come with a ‘find end’ sensor but can also be equipped with an optional indexing plate so that all the butts can be adjusted by the operator to line up, as needed. This is particularly important for accurate multi-stemming.
Kerik describes the TreeKing as “very carrier friendly” with a hydraulic oil set up so that there is no cross contamination. The hydraulic valves are mainly Rexroth and all the hydraulic cylinders are identical and interchangeable for maintenance simplicity, except for the boom feed cylinder.
“We only need a pressure and a return line,” he says, “and it can be installed to work on either an excavator boom or a processor boom. It is very easy to switch back to an excavator if you have the excavator boom configuration, taking about four hours.”
He adds that thanks to Hank Derksen with Kaymor and Phil Corfe with Endeavor Equipment Inc, he feels that the TreeKing has the best hydraulic and computer control system in the industry.
The delimbing knives on the TreeKing have 18,000 to 24,000 ft-lbs of hydraulic delimbing force.
The computer control system is the Danfoss Plus 1 and typically an initial install once a carrier is selected will be about four days, but that could change based on current supply chain issues.
The topping saw and butt saw are the same, with the option of using either .404 chain and bar or 3/4” pitch chain and bar, simply by changing the sprocket bar and chain.
The processing head comes with a rotate motor allowing it to rotate 360 degrees with an automatic stop, hindering further rotation.
“One of the advantages from a mechanical and maintenance standpoint is that all our parts are interchangeable,” Kerik says. “Both the grab arms and the delimbing arms fit left or right and there are only three bearing part numbers on the machine. We’ve tried to minimize the amount of part numbers as much as we can.”
Also, the parts manual describes all the hydraulic hose ends and hose lengths rather than being organized by a part number so that the operator can phone in and have them prepared in advance rather than having to drive into town with just a part number.
“Our target with the design was for the owner to be able to get through a season without having to change chains, sliding pads and hoses,” says Kerik.
While Northland Forest Products appreciates the TreeKing’s multi-stemming capabilities, Kerik says the unit also shines in what he described as “big, ugly wood” like large diameter aspen and big, limby pine and spruce.
But its multi-stemming capabilities and benefits are obvious.
“Instead of needing three heads or two different kinds of processing heads, you can do it all with one head,” Kerik says.
On the Cover:
Moggie Valley Timber, located in southwestern Ontario, is a sawmill that sells to lumber wholesalers and retailers, and has been in business for nearly a quarter-of-a-century. Moggie Valley Timber also carries out logging, cutting about 10 million board feet per year. On the logging side, in order to harvest the larger trees that Moggie Valley Timber comes across on woodlots in this part of Ontario, the company has invested in an Eco Log 590F harvester. Read all about how the Eco Log 590F is working out for Moggie Valley in this issue, beginning on page 34. (Cover photo and story photos courtesy of Moggie Valley Timber).
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