By Paul MacDonald
It’s not really an old saying, but it sure could apply to a lot of people involved in the logging industry who try something else: you can take the logger out of the bush, but you can’t take the bush out of the logger. And it seems to apply to logger Adam Williams, owner of A.R. Williams Logging, of Englehart, Ontario.
It’s plain and simple: “I really enjoy working in the woods,” says Williams.
Back in 2002 after doing some logging and construction work around Englehart, Williams decided to try his hand at working in the construction industry in Ottawa. While he certainly enjoyed his time doing construction, he moved back to Englehart in 2014—and is very happy to be back in the woods, operating his own machine, harvesting wood in northeastern Ontario, near the Timmins area.
“I enjoyed doing the infrastructure projects in Ottawa,” he says. “I was learning something new. But I like the woods more. It’s so quiet out here, very peaceful. And I’m always learning something new out here, too.”
These days, Williams and his operator, Benji Demarce, have been learning the ropes on some new, but also familiar, logging equipment, from John Deere.
Earlier this year, Deere introduced its latest operator assistance control feature, Intelligent Boom Control (IBC), for the 900 MH-Series Tracked Harvester.
The development of this model is a result of global collaboration between the John Deere Wheeled Cut-to-Length and Full-Tree Forestry teams, aiming to implement IBC’s field-proven technology into the MH-series of tracked harvesters.
With IBC, operators no longer need to control each independent boom function separately. One joystick moves the boom tip horizontally, while a second guides it vertically, for faster cycle times and more precise control. Deere says IBC’s smooth and fluid motion actively dampens functional change of directions, protecting boom structures and increasing wear life. IBC also automatically controls swing speed based on the overall position of the attachment.
Over the past year, Williams has been demo’ing a John Deere 953MH Tracked Harvester with a Waratah 623C harvester head—and which features IBC.
“IBC is absolutely what you want for harvesting at the stump,” says Williams. “It makes boom operations much more precise and efficient compared to our 953MH machine, which doesn’t have IBC.”
IBC makes it easier to maneuver the harvesting head by reducing the operator inputs controlling the boom. “Without IBC you have to control the boom and stick functions separately,” says Williams. “Using IBC, you just position the boom tip where you want it using a single joystick. It makes everything more predictable so you don’t overcompensate movements.
“It’s so much smoother and easier,” he added. “And I’m not getting shaken around as much, so I feel less fatigued at the end of the day.”
The IBC helps to make operation of the machine more intuitive, from the operator’s perspective.
Plus, IBC is easy to learn, which makes it great for training new operators, according to Williams. “You catch on quick. It just comes so naturally.”
The technology has also helped his company’s bottom line. “IBC makes my work faster. Cycle times have increased compared to my 953MH without it, so I’m more productive. And I noticed a fuel savings right away compared to the other machine.”
One big benefit of the IBC is that it helps to steady the harvesting head, as the boom is extended, says Williams.
“With some machines, the speed can vary as the boom goes out, going fast and slow. But with the IBC, the boom is moving at one steady speed throughout, and the harvesting head is much more steady, and moving around a lot less—overall, it’s much easier to control.
“It really adds to the smooth operation of the machine and head. With the head more steady, you can more easily do what you want to do, grab a tree or pick up a tree.
“You really don’t notice it, it’s running so smooth,” he said. “It makes it easier to keep the processing head under control, and easier to run.”
He also noted that when he lets go of the joystick, or extends the boom fully, there is not an abrupt stop. “With the IBC, there is a cushion. It senses where the cylinder is, and reduces the pressure.
“If I boom out at full speed, it will go fast, fast, fast—and then the cylinder pressure will be reduced. That is a really nice feature, and I noticed the difference right way, compared to my machine.”
Deere says that improved productivity, compared to the same machine without IBC, was a strong focus with the new machine. IBC allows the operator to focus on controlling the attachment, helping improve efficiency. The controls used for reaching and securing trees for harvest intuitively mirror how the equipment might function—almost as if it were the operator’s arm, it says.
Williams has a great deal of experience operating equipment. He first started working in construction after high school when he took a job with a local company in Englehart. “During the winter, though, we’d haul logs. It was my first time doing anything with logging, and I really enjoyed it,” he says.
When he returned home in 2014 and purchased his first feller buncher, Williams was off and running. But because the contractors often had their own bunchers, he was usually the last one brought on. “I could make a good living with the buncher, but I was always on the bottom of the list.”
By 2017, the company for which he was contracting desperately needed cut-to-length machines. “Many loggers in the area were afraid to run harvesters because of the higher investment cost and lack of experience working on them,” he recalls.
Williams took the plunge in 2017 and bought a John Deere 903MH tracked harvester with a Waratah 623C harvester head. In 2019, he traded in the 903MH for a 953MH, and bought the same head, a 623C Waratah.
“I liked the way the 953MH opened up, and is easy to work on, which is one of the big reasons I chose to buy it. That really appealed to me because as an owner/operator, I’m the one doing any repairs on the equipment.
“It has been very reliable, so I’ve really only replaced normal wear parts. The head is solidly built, too. I just don’t have many problems with this combination.”
Reliability and uptime are top of the list when it comes to equipment for loggers like Williams, as is dealer support. Williams noted that the sales and service people at Ontario Deere dealer, Brandt Tractor Ltd., are very good to work with. The nearest Brandt branch, in Timmins, is about 90 minutes away from where he is operating.
“That definitely played into the equipment purchase—we need to have that support.”
Without enough harvesters to go around in the region, Williams soon became one very busy guy. Before long he was running 24/7, so he hired another operator.
In this part of northern Ontario, Williams is working in some very up and down topography—with rocky and hilly terrain. “It may not be like B.C. and the mountains out west, but the slopes can get so steep in some areas that you can’t climb them.”
Fortunately, there is still plenty of land in between those very steep slopes where Williams and his operator do just fine. “But we still get every type of ground,” he says.
In terms of the wood his Deere machine is harvesting, it’s usually around 40 cm and under at the butt, though he noted the white spruce can get larger. “It can get 80 cm at the butt, easy,” he says.
“In hardwood, with poplar, it is usually 40 to 60 cm at the butt, but there is lots of smaller wood, too, mixed in with it.”
Williams gave a lot of thought to the size of the head on his machine.
“I know the area where we are operating quite well,” he explained. “The one thing I struggled with when I chose the processing head was if you go too small with the head, what do you do when you get into an area with a run of larger trees?
“If you get too small of a processing head, or too small of a machine, it’s not going to be able to do the job.” Fortunately, the Deere 953MH/Waratah 623C head fits the bill, with the range of wood sizes.
“The 953 with that Waratah head really shines when we get into the bigger wood. It doesn’t slow down at all—it’s not a struggle with the larger timber.
“Sometimes we get into spruce swamp areas in the winter. And it’s not really big wood, so you might feel that the machine is a bit of overkill. But then you’re on to the next job, and we’re working with 80 cm spruce, and those are big trees to wrestle with.” But the machine, and head, very ably handle the big timber.
The softwood he harvests goes to the EACOM sawmill in Timmins, while the hardwood goes to the Georgia-Pacific OSB mill in Englehart.
Williams says he was happy to participate in the demo for the new Deere 953MH Tracked Harvester with IBC, and Deere has certainly appreciated having his insight into the performance of the new machine. He has taken the time to provide extensive feedback on the machine’s performance, and provide them with important, in-the-bush, performance details. And it’s worked out quite a bit longer than either party originally planned.
“Deere said I would probably have the new machine for two or three weeks—and it’s going on a year now. The Deere people are very appreciative of the information and feedback I give them.”
Williams is already very familiar with the machine family, since he already has a 953MH, so if there are any minor issues with the prototype, he can easily fix them. Williams is really an ideal prototype partner for Deere because he likes a challenge. “I like learning, and figuring out problems. I like figuring out things, why and how equipment works.
“The Deere people have been great to work with. And I’m gaining from it, too—I figure more knowledge is a good thing.”
Since he has had the two Deere machines, he has been operating them each on daily 12-hour shifts, with his operator and himself, rather than the 24 hours he was operating his single machine.
Williams working with the two 953 machines allows Deere to kind of compare apples with apples, with how the 953 with IBC performs vs. its non-IBC sibling.
“Anything I’ve mentioned on it, they’ve acted on,” says Williams. “They are very interested in refining it and making it a better machine.”
Some computer updating was done on the machine, and it was done quickly and easily. “Deere sends it via cell phone, and I accept it, and the computer program is updated.
“There really has been nothing major,” he added. “I think the structure and set-up of the 953 is very sound. It’s really just refining the IBC since this is the first one—and they are refining it, but I think they’ve got it pretty right with this machine.”
Williams is encouraged by the way manufacturers like Deere are continuing to work on improvements, to help equipment operators and owners like himself be able to be more efficient.
For Deere, product improvement seems to be part of the company’s DNA.
“The continuous product development, new features and the updating of systems and solutions are integral parts of John Deere’s way of operating,” said Jim O’Halloran, product marketing manager of John Deere.
“Intelligent Boom Control is an example of an important operator assistance feature that we will continue to evolve throughout full tree forestry,” said O’Halloran. “Developing solutions for our customers’ needs is our number one priority, and investing in innovation, like IBC, is an example that helps the overall productivity and profitability for the whole machine life cycle.”
And this approach work well for Deere’s dealers, as well.
“We’re excited to see this technology coming to tracked machines,” says Allain Santerre, director of sales for Ontario and Eastern Canada at Brandt Tractor Ltd. “Deere has had the technology on wheeled forestry machines for a few years now, and it’s changed how operators do their work. IBC is intelligent, so it makes the operator’s task easier.”
Santerre and Brandt salesmen have been spreading the word about IBC on tracked machines and offering demos. “Everyone I speak with who tries IBC feels they are better at their job and less tired at the end of the day,” says Santerre. “We want customers to know their options. Like our TimberMatic Maps and TimberManager, IBC is another step ahead to help our customers succeed.”
On the Cover:
Adam Williams, owner of A.R. Williams Logging, of Englehart, Ontario, has been learning the ropes on some new, but also familiar, logging equipment, from John Deere, harvesting wood in northeastern Ontario, near the Timmins area. Over the past year, Williams has been demo’ing a John Deere 953MH Tracked Harvester with a Waratah 623C harvester head—and which features John Deere’s latest operator assistance control feature, Intelligent Boom Control (IBC), which the company has introduced for its 900 MH-Series Tracked Harvester. Read all about how IBC is working well for Williams beginning on page 22 of this issue. (Cover photo courtesy of John Deere).
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