YardersFocus on Yarders

Innovation Drives Development of New Yarders

By Andrea Watts

New yarders are coming back to the market, driven by innovation and new technology designed to improve safety and productivity. They will be game changers for those contractors who cable log. Gone are the guy lines and choke setters. Now it’s a grapple yarder with no crew on the ground or on the landing. We now see motorized grapple carriages with cameras on the grapple carriage and TV monitors in the cab.

To learn more about how these yarders will change the workflow on the ground, we interviewed five companies that are bringing these machines to the market and asked them to share their approach to designing the system and its benefits. Below we hear from two companies in Part I of a 2-part piece.


Kelso, Washington

Products available: Smart Yoder, Smart Yarder, and Grapple Carriage (available in three sizes)

What is the driver for new yarding systems?

The timber companies want more production delivered in a safe manner and at a cheap price. The only way we’ve combatted this is by producing more so the equipment has gotten more efficient. Yet if you look around at manufacturing in general, from auto plants to farming, everything has gotten automated, and the logging industry has been really lagging.

I’ve always said the best way not to kill a hand cutter is not having one. The best way not to injure or kill a choker setter or rigging slinger is to not have them. This is a big shift in the industry, but labor [shortage] is going to continue to push us into the automated arena. I’ve seen logging operations in other countries where money matters a little bit more, and operators concentrate on being efficient.

YardersSummit machine in operation.

This is why my approach to designing the Smart Yarder is concentrating on automated cable systems that don’t require placing employees in dangerous conditions. Ten years ago, we began running tethered assist cutting machines. I discovered that if I can cut the wood quickly and pile it on the hillside, there’s no way I want to commit to picking it by setting chokers; I want to have a fully automated cable side.

I built a grapple carriage to pick up the arranged wood but then realized that the yarders we all run don’t work for automation. It’s the wrong machine. This is why I’m now concentrating mainly on yarding systems. A lot of what we do is based on being nimble and being quick. We used to pick landings where we had guy lines, which would dictate how units were yarded. Now we’re able to place the yarder wherever it is the most effective according to the ground.

What is your approach to designing the yarder?

To keep costs in line, repurposing a used machine is always attractive, and many logging companies have a base machine, such as a log loader, that we can turn into a cable assist machine. It saves them quite a bit of money, and they can use their machines longer.

While we do build some machines from the ground up, they’re expensive. However, over the last 10 years all the customers that we have worked with that are adopting the new technology are doing better, not worse. They’re leading the industry and they’re moving their companies forward.

In testing the prototypes with your own crew, what was your experience?

Our productivity went up by 100 percent, and we saw improvements in safety. There was also a reduction in costs. Yet it has been very expensive learning experience; I’ve destroyed a perfectly good logging company by testing theories and perfecting machines. I figure if a machine doesn’t make my company better, I have no business selling it to others.

What has been the reaction to the new yarders coming on the market?

Everybody is surprised. Every company that’s dabbled in building yarders since the days of Madill and Skagit, they’re all homeless and broke. Yet the future is in automated yarding, hydraulic systems, and electric systems. It’s not in the old pinion-driven gears and friction. Operators want to get into these automated machines with lots of TV screens. For our yarder, we have live streams of the drums, behind the yarder, and a dual view of the carriage. It’s really a –grown-up video game. It’s also a much more pleasant, fun job to do, and I’ve done both!

I work closely with Tigercat, and we share a lot of engineering and have a lot of back-and-forth conversation. For a big manufacturer to get behind an automatic hydraulic yarder says a lot about where the future is.

YardersWill these new yarders affect how harvest operations are carried out?

What will happen with harvesting is it becomes a system reliant on a few different things. The grapple yarder will not be as effective without tethered cutting, because it’s a group of equipment that works together. We will now have a systems approach from layout to road building, to road changes to extraction, since everything is reliant on the last thing. This is a full-scale change.

Landowners are going to have to change where they put roads and what they’re doing and how they support their contractors.
I think since the ’80s and ’90s there’s been not a real good relationship between landowners and contract loggers. Prior to that they were very dependent on each other. Landowners really need to go back to having relationships with logging companies.

Any last thoughts?

I want to become a petri dish where a contract logger can bring an idea written on a napkin to making it out of steel and testing the theory. I’m not opposed to testing out new ideas.


Campbell River, British Columbia

Products available: Log Champ 550, 650, and 680, hydraulic yarding grapple, yarder camera system

What’s been the driver for the new yarding systems?

Ten years ago, there was a drive for ground-based machines to replace cable logging completely. What we’re seeing now is a return to cable logging because in some scenarios this is a really good way to forward wood.

There are different drivers depending upon where we’re discussing. In the British Columbia (BC) Interior, it’s all about efficiency, the most cost-effective way to recover wood from steep ground, and being highly mobile. On the coast, the need is capacity for larger wood, and reliability. In New Zealand, it’s about production capacity. In the United States, it’s around maximizing the crew productivity.

Because of these different drivers, are your machines designed to account for these regional differences?

There are features that are incorporated into all the models, but each model has different strongpoints, intended for the ground and the scenario our regional customers find themselves in. For example, we built a very lightweight machine for the BC Interior. For the BC Coast and New Zealand, we built a high-capacity grapple machine. For the U.S. market, we focus on a machine that enables cable loggers to transition from using chokers to a grapple carriage without building new roads.

In the U.S. market, how are contractors making the transition to these new yarders?

We’re seeing a transition to swing yarders, a swing frame machine that can land logs in smaller landings or along the roadside, which goes hand in hand with the grapple system. The machine that we’re building to target this market can be used with traditional yarding systems or it can run with a grapple carriage or a traditional interlock grapple in a setting that was originally designed for those traditional systems.

For the longer spans that are typical of tower yarding layouts, the larger machine can handle some of those longer spans necessary to get deflection.

The first guy who ran one of our machines was just a few years from retirement, and he took to it within seconds since the touchscreen was just like his phone. Operators have told me they wish they had these machines 30 years ago.

You offer a grapple camera system. How many cameras are available?

Usually just one pointing down since you can get into settings where it’s tough to see what you’re picking up just because of the way the ground is shaped or when we have weather where we can’t see what’s going on out there.

There are several grapple configurations available for cable logging. What design elements does TMar consider in grapple productions?

This comes up a lot for all grapples. The grapples have to be designed so they can do the job and get a good grip on the logs without damaging them. We put a lot of time and effort into the shape of the grapple in terms of how it grapples a single or multiple stems. The contractors themselves spend a lot of effort and time thinking about that too, and how they fall the trees and how they make piles, so it’s all the way along the process.

For more info about T-MAR and its products visit www.tmarequipment.com.

TimberWest November/December 2013
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