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Tried and True

New Brunswick contractor Claude Caron prefers the Ultimate head's reliability over the high speed-and possible high maintenance -of other heads.

By Tony Kryzanowski

When Ultimate fell on difficult times several years ago and the equipment line was picked up by Quadco, most logging contractors were pleased that a company with a solid reputation in Canadian forestry had stepped in to support a line of well-designed harvesting heads that, for its time, was an industry leader.

The adage that quality never goes out of style is still true today as a number of contractors continue to rely on Ultimate's strong performance and production capabilities. New Brunswick logging contractor Claude Caron has been in the business for 31 years and has experience with both dangle and fixed heads. For the past five years, he has operated Ultimate fixed harvester/ processor heads mounted on a Timbco 425 tilt carrier. He operated a model 5300 for four years, and recently purchased a larger 5600 head. The majority of his logging is cut-to-length in a clear-cut setting in the mountainous Green River area northeast of Edmundston, New Brunswick.

He harvests about 42,000 cubic metres per year for Alliance Forest Products, with the logs averaging 10 to 18 inches in butt size. It is mostly softwood.

At this point in his logging career, Caron wants a carrier/harvesting head team that provides him with consistent production and minimal downtime. The desire for reliability over speed in equipment selection is a trait often associated with experience and wisdom. So many young contractors leap at the fastest production unit not realizing that higher production speed is often associated with higher maintenance costs.

Carrying out regular maintenance on all his equipment, including his Ultimate head, is an important part of Claude Caron's logging operation. Doing regular maintenance work in the shop generally means less downtime in the bush.

To use a comparison, the Ultimate line of fixed harvester/processor heads are not considered Formula One racers. They are more like a Volvo. They can protect your assets because of their quality construction, while at the same time work for long periods of time without unscheduled downtime. With proper maintenance, they may last a lot longer than other harvester heads.

"I wanted to purchase a carrier and head package where I could get in the carrier in the morning, work all day and not have to work on the equipment all the time," says Caron. His desire to minimize downtime was the deciding difference between selecting an intermittent disk saw system on the Ultimate versus a chainsaw blade on a dangle head. In his opinion, he was spending far too much time maintaining saw chain.

Another advantage he achieves with the Ultimate fixed head is the attention given to guarding in the head design. He found that the hydraulic hoses on his dangle head were too exposed.

"With my Ultimate head, I have reduced my hydraulic hose and fittings costs by 75 per cent," he says. "The hoses are protected under covers and by coming down the centre through the yoke there is less chance of them being damaged by an outside source ."

From a production standpoint, Caron knows the Ultimate head does not harvest and process wood as fast as some other heads on the market. However, he meets his production target because he is spending more time in production and less time on carrier and head maintenance. The equipment is inspected every day and Caron evaluates whether repairs are required immediately or can wait until the end of the work week. He is also constantly monitoring production to see if he can modify the head to improve performance. Those modifications occur during spring break up.

The Timbco carrier and Ultimate head combination is an excellent fit mechanically, he says, and suits him for the harvesting he does on steep slopes. The Timbco carrier tilts 27 degrees forward, seven degrees back and 20 degrees side to side. For safety reasons, he harvests the wood climbing up hills almost exclusively. Because he is working on such steep slopes, he feels the fixed Ultimate head offers him additional advantages for manipulating the wood, as well as providing a safer work environment.

"A tilt cylinder controls the angle of the head and once the head is in float mode after cutting a tree, motors on the ring gear control the direction"

His 5600 is a fixed head with a bottom plate, so he is able to grab the tree, cut it, pick it up and shift it around in float mode, rather than simply cut the tree and have the head follow the angle at which the tree wants to fall. Having that additional control is always better, both from a processing and safety perspective. The head's ability to control the tree's falling pattern results in more processing ease, particularly handy on a windy day.

It's the yoke that connects the Ultimate fixed head to the boom. Atilt cylinder controls the angle of the head and once the head is in float mode after cutting a tree, motors on the ring gear control the direction that the operator wants to turn the 320degree rotation head.

From the safety side, the fact that it is a fixed head on the end of a boom is an advantage in steep terrain.

"When I am crawling down the hill, I can put the head two or three feet above the ground, and it gives me a sense of security," says Caron.

The head manipulation limitations on a fixed head, compared to a dangle head, do pose challenges when harvesting on a slope. "You have to be very careful when you are cutting your tree that you are not going into rocks or into the bank," says Caron. "That is a bit of an inconvenience because of the way you place your head. With a dangle head, you can place your saw where it is going to come out on the outside or away from the hill. With this one, you are pointing toward the hill ."

Once he began operating the 5600, one area where Caron thought there was room for improvement was in the operation of the head's measuring system. He says the measuring was not as accurate when the weather turned cold. Quadco has recognized the problem and has made modifications to the system.

Caron is still achieving a reasonable degree of success with processing accuracy. He processes to eight, 10 or 16 feet, down to a 2.5 inch top, achieving 95 to 95.5 per cent accuracy over 42,000 cubic metres. He hopes to achieve better accuracy in the future and there's incentive in the form of a bonus paid for accuracy in excess of 95 per cent. "If you are at 98 percent, the bonus is certainly a lot better," says Caron. "This is what I am striving for because it is a loss of income when I am not in that 98 or 99 per cent accuracy range ."

The Timbco/Ultimate combination comes with a standard Allen Bradley computer system. It offers about eight different preset lengths on 10 different wood species. The system is not fully automatic, as the operator must manually engage the saw. The Timbco carrier burns about 4.5 gallons of fuel per hour, which Caron feels is excellent.

There are certain unique circumstances where Caron says the fixed head comes in particularly handy. "When I am working in an old blow-down where you have small regen like alder, I can clean my area a lot better with this head so that I can see what I am doing," he says. With a clean area, he can avoid hazards such as rocks when he reaches down to grab and harvest a tree.

Caron says he chose the Timbco carrier because it is purpose-built for forestry use. He was impressed with its ruggedness, the undercarriage, tilt system, boom strength, hydraulics, and the speed that he is able to travel.

Working in remote areas as do most contractors, it's a relief to know that if you get into a bind, the equipment can help you to safety ." I've never had a problem getting stuck anywhere," he says. "If I've been in any soft terrain, I've been able to help myself ."

Although this combination has worked well for him, Caron stresses that it is important for contractors to take the time to evaluate their individual logging circumstances, determine what equipment is best suited for them and whether the dealer has adequate parts and service support after the sale.

"What is good for me may not be good for another person," he says. "You have to adapt to the particular circumstances that you are in. We work in very steep slopes, so I like the tilt machine for operator comfort ."

One important step he took before making an equipment purchase was visiting with a number of other contractors working in his area, evaluating what equipment they had chosen and listening to their beefs and bouquets.

Quadco recognizes that a dangle head has its place firmly established in Canadian forestry. The company is currently testing a dangle head prototype within 35 kilometres of where Caron is working.

However, given the advantages demonstrated by Caron, there is little doubt that the Ultimate fixed head design will remain popular with Canadian loggers for some time to come.

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This page last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004