Oct 2004 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
BUCKING the ODDS
BC contractor Managh Logging has bucked the odds in successfully making the transition to a cut-to-length system, despite a drastic rate cut.
By Tony Kryzanowski
Long-time logging contractors can sometimes offer a bit of a different perspective based on their extensive experience. And working with these veteran loggers can pay extra dividends in difficult economic times, something that Tembec is learning in its southeastern BC harvesting operations. One of its long-time contractors has not only found a way to survive drastically reduced rates, but it has also given the company the benefit of cut-to-length (CTL) harvesting. John Managh was one of three contractors chosen to work for Tembec as part of a contractor consolidation and rate reduction program the company initiated a couple years ago.
This program was implemented—along with many internal cost-cutting measures—in an effort to cope with the financial strain of American softwood lumber tariffs and globalization. Typically, Managh Logging harvested about 30,000 cubic metres per year of spruce, pine and fir on a year-to-year basis for Tembec, and 5,000 cubic metres of private timber. As one of the successful contract bidders, the company’s volume from Tembec increased to 40,000 cubic metres per year for five years, but at significantly reduced rates. Managh viewed this extra volume as an opportunity to pursue his dream of making the transition to CTL harvesting, and began lobbying Tembec to allow him to make the change. Up to that point, he had been using a conventional harvesting system consisting of a converted excavator with a directional felling head and a grapple skidder. “It took quite a lot of convincing to get approval,” says Managh. “The woodlands people have always been in favor of it because CTL does a superior job out there. When Tembec agreed to let me do it, they were a bit skeptical at first that I could work this cheaply and stay in business.”
What worked in Managh’s favour was his considerable field experience. This made all the difference in how he approached the transition to CTL. Managh immigrated to Canada from New Zealand in 1981, after a backpacking trip across Canada brought him to Golden, BC, where he met his future wife. He already had some forestry experience working in New Zealand, specifically in silviculture. Managh began his forestry career in Canada working for a small sawmill near Golden, and then won a small logging contract with local sawmill owner Crestbrook Forest Industries. Over time, he improved his equipment fleet, working with a four-man crew that he continues with to this day. In the meantime, Quebec-based Tembec purchased Crestbrook.
Managh was fortunate enough to earn a logging contract with Tembec as it went through its logging contract consolidation process. The notion of converting to CTL had been in the back of his mind for some time. “I wanted to get into CTL for 10 years, but never really had the volume to do it efficiently,” he says. “I was directionally falling all those years with an excavator and a Hultdins head. I knew that a CTL head would work for pretty much everything I was doing out there.” Managh knew that he couldn’t afford to purchase brand-new CTL equipment.
Nor could he take a chance on second-hand equipment with high operating hours. He had to strike a balance. “The secret is to keep your debt down,” says Managh. “That’s what will kill you. Also, it’s important to have a good preventative maintenance program. If you put the money and time into maintenance, then you won’t have the headaches later on.” For example, prior to making the switch to CTL, he had a skidder with 22,000 hours on it that hardly ever experienced any downtime. Given his years of experience as a logging contractor, Managh also knew where to find quality second-hand equipment. For example, he knew of a 1996 Timberjack 2618 tilting carrier that only had 2,500 hours on it. The dealer had only used it as a demonstrator.
He purchased the carrier, and once he was certain that he had won the Tembec contract, he immediately upgraded the carrier’s 762 head to a new Waratah HTH 470 harvester/processor head. “I probably saved about half the cost of a brand new purpose-built harvester by taking this route,” Managh says. He also purchased a new Fabtek 548 forwarder. It’s an eight-wheel drive unit, with a 16-ton capacity, that has been equipped with tracks on its rubber wheels for better traction and less ground disturbance. “It’s basically a middle of the road machine,” says Managh. “It wasn’t as expensive as a new Scandinavian forwarder, but it’s a bit more than a four- or six-wheel drive North American machine. It has John Deere running gear.”
He adds that he is very satisfied with the Fabtek’s performance. As far as the harvester/processor head, Managh says he spent a considerable amount of time researching various products before settling on the Waratah HTH 470. In fact, he was the first contractor to put this head into production in Western Canada. It was quite a gamble. He bought the product sight unseen, based strictly on its reputation after reading good reports about it in Quebec and Europe. “The biggest reason I went with the Waratah head was for its versatility,” Managh says. Managh Logging is engaged primarily in pine removal from areas affected by the mountain pine beetle.
Consequently, cutblocks can range in size from one tree to 25 hectares. Tree diameter can also range from four-inch pine to 30-inch spruce. While these larger trees are taken down using hand falling, the Waratah head will harvest a tree up to 24 inches in diameter. “We’ve got a head that can cut a 24-inch tree, but is nimble enough to work quickly in six-inch pine,” says Managh. The Waratah HTH 470 does have the added feature of being able to accumulate, having the ability to cut and process more than one tree at a time.
Managh says the accumulating feature works best in stands where tree diameters are similar or when harvesting pulpwood. As with most equipment, including heads, the Waratah does not hit a bull’s eye on absolutely all things in all work environments. The accumulation feature falls short when processing top logs in stands where there is a wide variety of log diameters. In this situation, Managh has found that the head does not provide an accurate measurement of the true diameter of each log at the small end when processing top logs.
Therefore, there is a quality reduction. One solution is to make an adjustment so that the processing head leaves a five-inch top instead of a four-inch top. However, in that instance, a company may be assessed a waste penalty. Managh adds that it appears that the head is designed for accumulating smaller trees. He found that the head has difficulty maintaining its balance when accumulating trees up to 75 feet tall, which is the case in his area. However, because of the average tree length, accumulating is not a critical function for Managh Logging to remain profitable. “Due to the .28 cubic metre stem profile in the Tree Farm Licence area we work in, I don’t have to multi-stem to stay in the money here because the trees are long enough that we are getting three and four logs with every tree anyway,” Managh says. “If you can get three or more 16-foot logs out of a tree, the multi-stemming is almost unnecessary.”
However, he added that it is a worthwhile feature in the right environment. “Another good feature on the head is that it has a four-wheel drive feed roll system,” he says. “So you don’t need as much clamping power and there’s less damage done to the logs by the spikes.” This gives Managh Logging the ability to use steel thumbnail rollers instead of the more expensive rubber tire rollers, with no reduction in fibre quality. “There is very little spinout ever,” he says, “and very little mechanical damage to the logs.”
The head is also “deadly accurate,” he adds. Managh Logging is most often processing to 16-foot six-inch logs, but also produces 14-foot six-inch and 12-foot six-inch logs, all with a minus two-inch and plus three-inch tolerance. “We’re getting great accuracy with the bucking specs,” says Managh. “So the mill is very happy with that.” He feels spending the extra $17,000 on the optional T-10 computer system was money well invested. Most of his operators are in the 40 to 50-year-old range and not completely up to speed on computer software. He says they find the T-10 computer system very user-friendly. It also has excellent diagnostics for troubleshooting.
Purchasing a carrier with a tilting cab was essential given the mountainous environment where Managh Logging is working. This equipment package gives the company the ability to mechanically harvest logs on up to a 50 per cent slope. The harvester works two shifts per day, from 4 am to 10 pm, five days a week. Each operator works a nine-hour shift, with one hour in between for servicing. The forwarder works one 12-hour shift per day, five days a week. The first year of CTL was definitely a steep learning curve for both the company’s operators and Managh.
He now spends a lot more time on administration and planning. However, with a year under its belt, the company has reached its production targets and personnel have successfully adapted to their new working environment. “The operators love it because they get way more hours than they used to due to our longer work season and they are working in a climate-controlled environment.” Managh is pleased to be working as a CTL contractor because he believes it is a better approach to log harvesting, cutblock and landing management, and stand regeneration. It’s also a win on the mill side; a sawmill designed to process short logs can save money by not having to slash tree length logs before producing lumber.
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