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September 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



Using a Ponsse Buffalo Dual machine, with its dual harvesting/forwarding capabilities, is allowing Quebec contractor Regis Gosselin to better utilize his overall equipment—as well as his employees—in some very low volume timber.

By George Fullerton

It’s clearly evident that once you are north of the St Lawrence, you’re traveling in the Boreal forest region, with the species dominated by black spruce and jack pine. Soils vary from stony to sandy, and an ample helping of black spruce swamp and bogs. The entire Saguenay–Lac St Jean region is subject to drying and, historically, fire has been the major forest disturbance mechanism.

Lac St Jean itself is the economic centre of the Saguenay-Lac St Jean region. The geography of the region offers numerous rivers draining into Lac St Jean and on to the Saguenay. This provides a tremendous hydro power industry that supports both the aluminum and the forest products industries, the economic backbone of the region.

Frederic Paquet (below) at the controls of the Ponsse Buffalo Dual machine. The Dual is based on Ponsse’s forwarder and is equipped with a 245 horsepower Mercedes-Benz engine.

The Lac St Jean area has supported a thriving forest industry for more than 100 years. Through that period, forest management has moved further and further north, developing complex and expensive transportation and support networks. Further north means smaller trees, which, along with transportation costs, has driven up the cost of harvesting/ transporting timber and landing it in mill yards. The small trees and high production costs have led the Lac St Jean region to build a culture and knowledge base for achieving efficiencies in harvesting technology.

Since harvesting and roadbuilding operations are often more than 200 kilometres from the receiving mills, forest products companies operate woods camps, and contractors and workers make weekly commutes for more than 40 weeks a year.

Harvesting has evolved from manual to full-tree and the switch is now almost entirely to cut-to-length harvester operations, operating 24 hours a day, four-and-a-half days per week. In addition to challenges common to contract harvesting across the continent, Lac St Jean region contractors work in a forest where it requires an average of nine to 12 trees to make a cubic metre of wood. The low volume trees are a driving force for the extremely fast harvester cycle times, and a continual search for efficiencies to make the profit margin as strong as possible.

Notable among contractors on the Mistassini watershed and working for Abitibi-Consolidated is Regis Gosselin, owner of Forestier RG. Gosselin has earned a reputation for consistently high production, maintaining a highly motivated and productive crew, and for adapting rapidly to changing technologies.

Gosselin started his forestry career when he was twenty years old, with the purchase of his first cable skidder, and has worked exclusively in the town of Dolbeau-Mistassini, with the exception of a two-year stint as a hand faller working around Cranbrook, BC.

High cycle times naturally generate stress on harvesting equipment, and harvesters are recognized for being prone to relatively early boom system failures. Gosselin’s Timberjack 608 has had a “Fleche d’abattage DT” boom, which provides greater machine stability, reduces hydraulic oil demand, and allows quicker, faster and easier control of the harvester. The boom is built in Saguenay by MétalArt Soudure. On the forwarder side, a new Valmet 890 began service following spring break-up 2006.

The black spruce, jack pine and the occasional aspen is all cut into 16-foot lengths and tops greater than 1.5 metres to 4.5 centimetres top diameter.

On a harvest block 200 kilometres north of Dolbeau, the black spruce trees are short and offer low volume per stem. Regis’s son, Eric, notes that on a recent shift, the 608 harvester processed 1,900 stems that yielded only eighty cubic metres of wood.

As contractors made the move from full-tree to working with harvesters, they soon recognized that in average to better wood—with short forwarding distances—the harvester would generally produce more wood than one forwarder can handle. To balance the harvesterforwarding dynamic, Gosselin, like a lot of contractors, had put a second forwarder on the team. With forwarding distances reaching up to a kilometre, the two forwarders frequently balance the harvester quite well. However, on short distances with low volume wood, contractors were seeing one forwarder sitting idle for periods, while still paying the operator and the capital costs for the machine.

Regis Gosselin (right, on the Ponsse Dual) with Jean Trottier of Ponsse distributor, Hydromec Inc. Gosselin says the Dual has provided both flexibility and balance to their logging operation, which translates into efficiency and greater profitability.

This situation was not uncommon among contractors and has become a major issue since the second forwarder is a major capital investment. And if the operator is not fully productive, it can simply be another financial cost borne by the contractor. Seeking the balance that achieves 100 per cent machine utilization has also become a negotiating point for contractors with companies.

The search for a magic formula for the most efficient machine combination has been an ongoing task for both contractors and the companies, without a totally effective solution.

One solution offered in recent years has been to test double-function machines that advertise the opportunity to harvest and forward with the same machine. The theory is that the machine can switch functions as wood quality and forwarding distances demanded. There have been tests of different doublefunction machines in the Lac St Jean region, but, unfortunately, most early offerings from equipment manufacturers have not proved effective for the contractors.

At least that was the case until the Ponsse Buffalo Dual showed up in North America and began working in the Lake states of the United States.

Jean Trottier, sales manager with Hydromec Inc in Dolbeau, says that when he saw the Buffalo Dual, he saw a practical solution for the machine utilization dilemma that contractors and companies were dealing with. A Ponsse dealer since the end of 2004, Hydromec has a long established relationship in the forest industry providing hydraulic,
machining, and fabrication services since 1975. Ponsse recently awarded Hydromec its best worldwide dealer award, in 2005.

“We looked at a lot of double-function machines and even ran field tests on some of them. But we were not satisfied that they would be successful in our forest conditions. When I saw the Buffalo Dual, I was immediately convinced that it could fill contractors’ needs.”

The Buffalo Dual is based on Ponsse’s highly successful Buffalo forwarder, with a 180 Kw or 245 horsepower Mercedes- Benz engine, double bogie configuration and 14-tonne payload capacity. The Dual shares the same engine, cab and front bogie with the forwarder version, and is equipped with the K90 Dual Ponsse crane that is more powerful and is modified to quickly switch between a log grapple and a Ponsse H53 harvesting head. The crane offers a tilt function that provides added agility in steep conditions. The Buffalo Dual rear chassis is modified to accept a removable two-piece log bunk system that can offer up to a six-bunk configuration that will handle any length of log.

Experienced Dual operators can switch (with quick coupling hoses and two locking nuts) between harvesting and forwarding modes in about ten minutes. As a forwarder, the Buffalo Dual virtually parallels the performance of the Buffalo forwarder. As a harvester, the Dual has a longer chassis than a purpose-built Ponsse harvester, which marginally compromises harvesting reach and processing location. Jean Trottier maintains that as a harvester, the Dual operates at up to 80 per cent of a purpose-built harvester. The H53 is the smallest Ponsse head, with harvesting capacity for trees up to 20.5 inches, a feed force of more than four pounds per foot and feed speed of up to 4.5 metres/second.

In October 2005, Gosselin took delivery of a new Ponsse Buffalo Dual, and his son Eric and Frederic Paquet became the Dual operators. Gosselin points out that the younger operators seem to be the most adaptable and are quickly able to get a feel for the Dual’s electric over-hydraulic controls and switch between harvesting and forwarding.

“The younger operators adapt more easily to new challenges and new technologies,” he comments.

Regis is convinced that adding the Dual to his harvesting team has been a positive decision. He says it has provided both flexibility and balance, which translates into efficiency and greater profitability for the harvesting team.

“I don’t have just one-inch wrenches in the tool box. We have a lot of different tools for a variety of jobs and applications. And it’s the same with harvesting. We need a variety of tools so we can use the right tool for the right job. With the Dual, when we need an extra harvester, we have it available. When we need more forwarding capacity, we just switch and we catch up on the forwarding.”

In addition to achieving 100 per cent machine team utilization, the Buffalo Dual fuel consumption of 12 to 20 litres per hour (depending on conditions and utilization mode as forwarder or harvester).

Regis Gosselin points out that the Dual allows them greater flexibility around major maintenance of either the harvester or the forwarder. If either the harvester or the forwarder is required to be down for extended periods, they are able replace it with the Dual and production continues at an acceptable pace. Having the Dual replace a down machine relieves a lot of stress and pressure for the contractor and the crew.

The Ponsse Dual is equipped with a more powerful and modified K90 Crane so the machine can quickly switch between a log grapple and a Ponsse H53 harvesting head (above).


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