April 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
Logging contractor Pierre Friolet has a committed
team working for him, including a relatively new
Direct 307 feller buncher on the equipment side.
Logging contractor Pierre Friolet knows that because he operates in one of the most demanding business environments in Canada, he has to have a committed team working with him—and the very best available tools to work with. That is why when he went looking for a new feller buncher, he scrutinized the entire field of manufacturers and considered long and hard before putting his name on the dotted line for a new machine.
Friolet’s quest for a new machine took the Bathurst, New Brunswick-based contractor to a new forestry equipment manufacturer: Direct Technologies in Quebec City. After meeting the design and engineering team and touring the manufacturing facilities, Friolet purchased what turned out to be the fourth Direct 307 model produced to work as a feller buncher.
“I saw the ideas they were incorporating in their machines and realized this is a top quality product, with a dedicated team behind it,” says Friolet. “I liked the two-side panel opening up for service access. I’m the mechanic, and I like to have lots of room to get around to service and access to components.
“The structure of this machine is also very strong. I have seen other machines crack. If I saw the boom on the Direct crack, I’d be very surprised.”
Friolet started his contracting career with a Tanguay slasher after finishing studies in heavy equipment repair at the Bathurst campus of the New Brunswick Community College in 1986. He worked with a series of two Case/Denis delimbers and in 1998 he purchased his first harvester, a Prentice 620 with a Rotobec RS 250 head. In 1999 he moved to a Koehring 618 feller buncher. In 1999, he added a Hyundai/Hornet 825 processor. And in 2004 he traded up to the Direct with a Quadco 22B head, and a Daewoo 290LL with a Hornet 825.
Friolet took delivery of the Direct harvester in 2004, through Paul Equipment in Balmoral, NB. The purchase agreement included a commitment from Direct to provide any updates that they add to newer models.
Friolet found that the Direct harvester has pretty much lived up to his expectations. However, he did see some stress on the D6 tracks. “I discussed the track problems with Direct and they came and upgraded it to D7 tracks, and there have been no more problems.”
Direct carried out a few more updates during spring breakup in 2005. Indicating the body panels, Friolet explains that Direct took the panels back to their factory for modifications.
“Direct had identified an overheating issue with some of their machines. We did not see any problem with our machine, but they installed the new louvering the new machines have. They also changed the hydraulically-activated engine fan to a Flexxaire air-activated system, which seems to be working equally as well as the original. It’s very positive to see a manufacturer putting effort into making sure their customers get attention and good service.”
In addition to a very strong frame, Direct uses Linde hydraulics which are amongst the best available, Friolet says.“They’ve got big plumbing that provides lots of speed and power.”
A 300 horsepower Cummins electronic engine provides lots of muscle, allowing the harvester to lift and swing a load of stems at full 32-foot, 10-inch boom extension. The machine has 85,000 footpounds of swing torque and the swing bearing is a hefty 54 inches.
Friolet says that the machine is extremely well balanced, with the fuel tank at the rear for counterbalance and an additional three-inch base plate under the tank. He says that the counterbalance provides the harvester with a very stable operating platform.
The machine’s stability and power provide superior capacity on slopes. Friolet’s operations extend into the Christmas Mountains in north central New Brunswick, where steep rocky terrain is the norm. While the common practice is to harvest working up slope, Friolet says that the power and the stability of the Direct gives him the confidence to harvest going down slope. “I have a good seat belt and going down hill burns a lot less fuel than working uphill.”
The machine’s excellent balance also helps on soft ground, adds Friolet. The machine wants to stay level, whereas some other machines with poor balance characteristics will tend to have the heavier end sink in soft ground.
The machine has a number of innovations
to enhance service and maintenance,
such as an electric pump to transfer
hydraulic fluid from the reserve tank
to the hydraulic system. Another Direct
innovation is the deflector that prevents
debris from falling in the space where
the main boom hinges to the harvester
frame. Where most harvesters simply
have a rubber mat that sometimes
doesn’t do a consistent job of keeping
debris out, the Direct has a track system
that is designed to keep it in place and
working all the time. Again, Direct
machines were having some issues with
the system and the engineers decided it
required an additional brace, which was
The Direct was delivered with a Quadco 22B felling head. “At first I was concerned that the accumulator arms were placed so low I thought it would be a problem. ”But my operators adapted quickly to the arms and it has worked well. It has very good tilt, which helps make the whole machine more productive.”
Since 1998, Friolet’s Astra Management Ltd has been subcontracting felling and processing to JMF Contracting. JMF is the prime contractor for the Chalueur Sawmill in Belledune, NB.
“Chaleur is a studmill and they process 10-foot, four-inch logs. Rather than run a measure wheel on the Hornet, we just set the butt plate on the 10-foot, four-inch mark. Both hardwood destined to the Group Savoie sawmill in St Quentin and aspen for the Weyerhaeuser OSB mill in Miramichi are cut eight feet, four inches, so we simply measure to a paint mark on the Hornet’s frame.
“We cut quite a bit of overmature balsam fir, which often has red butt that will not make studwood. But as long as it is 50 per cent sound, it will make pulp chips at the Chaleur Mill. They want it six feet minimum in order to handle it with the loaders and to fit the trailer stakes. Chaleur pays close attention to operations and they don’t want to see a lot of short butts in the woods. They would rather see it go as pulpwood.”
Friolet operates the buncher five day and four night shifts per week, while the processor operates two shifts per day, seven days per week. His operation averages 2,100 to 2,200 cubic metres per week (82,000 cubic metres annually), working in stands that average 15 cords per acre (13 cubic metres/hectare).
Securing good operators is an increasingly difficult task. “The forest industry is simply not able to compete on gross pay, and then there are issues around night shift and remote work sites,” says Friolet.“This is the first year we’ve had with no operator turnover. Two guys have been with me for two years and two have been with me for five years and one just one year. But one guy has indicated that he will not be returning after spring shutdown.”
Friolet’s operations are often in excess of 100 kilometres from his operator’s homes, so he provides a woods camp that allows them to stay on site through the week. The camp is a highway freight trailer that has been renovated into three bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and living area. The camp has a large freshwater reservoir and heating, cooking and refrigeration is by propane. An electrical generator allows for conveniences like radio, microwave, TV and VCR.
Friolet also went with a highway freight trailer for a mobile workshop, parts and supplies storage. The trailer has a large fuel storage tank sufficient to supply both machines for a week. He also maintains an Eagle highway tractor to move the camp and supply trailer.
Maintaining a harvest contracting business is increasingly challenging. Harvest rates, Friolet says, remain too low to offer any comfort. Pay rates are set according to production rates in certain stand conditions. When they encounter really poor stand conditions, it reduces their production rates, and there is no room for compensation or adjustment in the pay rate.
“When the jump in fuel came along, as it did this year, it creates a crisis for contractors. Taking the fuel issue to the mills will not get much sympathy. Fuel prices are not their concern,” says Friolet.“Contracting is a tough business and it is getting increasingly tougher.”
Friolet’s business plan for these tough times includes ensuring that he has the best available equipment, a sharp maintenance program and making every effort to keep good operators.
Direct equipment engineered from the ground up
Pierre Gaudreau, president of equipment manufacturer Direct Technologies, explains that when he and a group of associates started the company in 1992, their vision was to manufacture purpose- built forest harvesting equipment and sell them directly to people who work with this equipment.
In the first nine years, Gaudreau focused on attracting investors to launch the manufacturing enterprise. During this period, Direct Technologies’ team of engineers and technologists continued to provide engineering and fabrication services for special equipment including forestry applications, tower crane installations and special port cranes, as well as consulting services to forestry equipment manufacturers.
In 2001, Direct secured venture funding through a program supported in part by Quebec labour unions. Three years after securing funding, they started producing Direct harvesters, and the company moved to new facilities that allows for steel cutting and bending, and assembly of the entire machine at the one location.
“Performance is our first target,” says Gaudreau. “Swing power is the heart of a harvester, especially a feller buncher. We started with a large swing bearing and offer 85,000 to 100,000 foot-pounds of swing torque, compared to 63,000 foot-pounds, which is the benchmark for the rest of the industry.”
“It is significant that Direct was able to start with a completely clean board and engineer from the ground up. We were not compromised by prior design concepts or by parts or components already in stock that‘could’ be incorporated in a new machine design.”
In 2005, Direct Technologies completed a deal to market and service its harvesters through the Canada-wide network of Wajax Industries. Gaudreau says that their partnership with Wajax is very important for the growth of Direct, since it provides marketing infrastructure right across the country. Gaudreau expects Direct will come out with a wheeled harvester next year.
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