November 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
The region north of Baie Comeau, Quebec, provides some decidedly rocky and hilly terrain, posing challenges that are regularly surmounted by contractor Façonnage MG and its three-machine team.
By George Fullerton
Abitibi-Consolidated’s Camp Lac St Pierre is located 160 kilometres north of Baie Comeau on the Isoukustouc River watershed. Through the week, the camp is home to five contractor teams, support and forestry staff and road building staff, as well as tree planting crews.
The landscape is decidedly rocky and hilly, and the wood is predominately black spruce. Although regenerated cutovers contain a high percentage of intolerant hardwoods, they do not persist as the forest matures.
Despite the rocky landscape, there are also abundant pockets of sand and gravel for road construction. The landscape also provides plenty of black spruce dominated wetlands, which pretty much rounds out the physical landscape challenges for harvesting operations.
Mario Gauthier and his son Charles manage Façonnage MG, one of the contractor crews working at Camp Lac St Pierre. Every week they commute five hours home to La Baie, near Chicoutimi. The Gauthier crew has an annual target of 90,000 cubic metres of the camp’s quota of 450,000 cubic metres.
Mario began his contracting career working with his father about thirty years ago. In 1998, he moved from a full-tree to a cut-to-length harvest operation. The same year, Charles began operating equipment during summer holidays.
Charles continued to work summers on his father’s crew as he finished high school, attended CEGEP and completed studies in Finance at HEC in Montreal. Upon graduation, Charles traded the text books and downtown Montreal for a hard hat and safety boots and joined his father’s contract harvesting crew deep in the North Shore woods.
The Gauthiers run a three-machine team consisting of a three-year-old Tigercat 845 with a Ponsse H60 head, a Ponsse Buffalo King forwarder and a new Ponsse Dual. A Franklin forwarder is kept in the operation simply to transport fuel, tools and supplies to the equipment when the distance to the service trailer extends too far. The Gauthier operation can see forwarding distances extend up to one kilometre, although the average forwarding distance is in the 400 to 500 metre range. The team has six operators, and Mario serves as mechanic and fills in as operator when required.
The 845 Tigercat was purchased in 2003 after a previous 845 was lost in a fire. “The Tigercat is the best,” says Charles. “It is powerful and reliable and works well on slopes. We have a lot of rocks to deal with and we have had no problems with the Berco tracks in three-and-a-half years, and they are still in very good shape. We have replaced only three rollers in that time and we expect to get at least another full year’s service out of those tracks.”
Charles adds that at the end of next season, the Tigercat will have a rebuild, including a fresh engine, hydraulic pumps and undercarriage rebuild.
Charles says the H60 Ponsse head is the first installed on a tracked harvester in Quebec. He adds that they are very happy with the Ponsse’s performance, pointing out the 5.7 metre-per-second feed speed which makes it very fast. The Ponsse head handles stem diameters up to 60 centimetres or 25 inches, which exceeds tree diameters in the Lac St Pierre district.
The Buffalo King forwarder is an 18-tonne machine, with added chassis rigidity and strength, and the rear tire size has been increased to 750/55 – 26.5. The King’s width is 3.0 metres, which compares well with 2.96 metres for the standard Buffalo equipped with 700 tires.
Tractive force of the King is 21 tonnes compared to 18 tonnes with the standard Buffalo. The King’s hydraulic capacity is also increased 30 per cent. The King version features a brand new loader, the K100. The K100 was based on the Ponsse Dual’s K90 loader/harvester crane, one of the most powerful loaders on the market.
The lifting power of the K100 is between the K90 Dual and the standard Buffalo’s K90 system. The K100 S model offers a 7.6-metre reach and the M model reaches 9.5 metres. The pump is 190 cc. Like the standard Buffalo, the King also features the computer controlled OptiControl load sensing system. The King—as is the standard Buffalo—is equipped with a Mercedes Benz OM 906 LA engine that provides 900 Nm of torque. The engine is quiet and the OptiControl ensures optimal power delivery, both smooth and quiet.
The Ponsse Dual machine has been quickly accepted into the operation. “We looked at the Dual and thought the concept was very good. We attended a demonstration of Regis Gosselin’s Dual, and I operated it for a short while and just fell in love with it” says Charles.
The Gauthiers say that Abitibi-Consolidated encouraged them to add a Dual to their operation, pointing out that the added machine would provide them with the perfect machine fit. “They see the Dual offering a big advantage for contractors because it allows them to produce more overall, no matter what the wood or forwarding conditions are. The Dual can harvest or forward and guarantees full utilization of the other machines,” explains Charles.
The operators like the Dual for operator comfort and visibility. Charles says that although the head is smaller than the H60, it still has “awesome performance for a small head.”
Charles is the dedicated Dual operator on the opposite shift from David St Hilaire. The Dual operates 60 per cent of the time as a harvester, depending, of course, on the quality of wood in the block. Early in 2006, the Gauthiers were in extra good wood because just before break-up they had faced a spell of extra bad wood, according to Charles.
“The company moves the contractors between good and bad wood areas, so that it averages out with everyone getting a share of the good and bad.”
The Gauthiers have Ponsse Opti 4G computer systems on the Dual and on the Tigercat H60 head. He says the system provides very high accuracy on stem measurements and provides a lot of data on productivity. In addition to information on overall production, it also allows data analysis on machine utilization and details like individual operator performance in different stand conditions. Data analysis, Charles says, allows them to make better business decisions.
The Gauthiers are keen to utilize the computer and electronic capacity of the Dual to its maximum. Currently they are working with FERIC to test a satellite modem with the Ponsse OptiCom software to transfer data and information from the Dual to Ponsse dealer Hydromec Inc and FERIC. The data transfer can include mapping, machine production files and e-mail messages for parts or other technical information. The satellite modem will also give Hydromec direct access to the Dual’s Opti 4G system from a remote desk top server. This linkage will allow Hydromec technicians to help troubleshoot mechanical, electronic or programming problems that might occur with the Dual.
The last step in switching their Dual from forwarder to harvester mode was to attach a custom-made auxiliary fuel tank and parts/tool box to the chassis. Charles explains that the extra fuel capacity allows the Dual to operate 24 hours before refueling, and the tools and selection of hoses, bars and chains helps ensure the Dual will operate with only the shortest shut downs. “Hydromec fabricated the tank and toolbox for us. They make every effort to meet our needs and that helps us to stay productive.”
The Gauthier operation runs on a 42-hour work week with unionized operators. Mario and Charles note that they have a very well motivated and productive team. In addition to operators from their home at La Baie, the Gauthiers also employ several operators from the Gaspé region across the St. Lawrence
“Our operators are committed to the team and to production. But they are still individuals and each works with a different style and that is respected. For example, I don’t usually stop for lunch, but for other operators it is important that they stop, have their lunch and then simply relax. When they return to operating they can go at 100 per cent. But if they do not have the time they need to relax and refocus, you can see that they operate at less than 100 per cent of their potential. So we leave their break length up to them. We are all committed to maximizing team production. Each individual operator achieves their best effort in different ways, but in the end our team is very productive,” explains Charles.
In addition to a focused crew and a fine line of well maintained equipment, the Gauthiers have a remarkably neat and well organized service trailer. Besides extra good housekeeping, skylights provide extremely good day lighting. Despite maintaining the service trailer to a very high standard, Mario indicates that there are plans for a bigger trailer so that the heads can be placed inside the trailer for cold weather service. Charles backs him up, saying working on a head at 40 below with wind is simply painful.
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