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December 2003 January 2004

Guest Column

How to make the move to cut-to-length equipment

By Tim White

Logging contractors and the management at forest companies are used to making important business decisions. Every day, they make decisions that will determine the direction and, ultimately, the success of their operations. A decision that many contractors are increasingly facing is making the switch to cut-to-length (CTL) equipment from conventional logging equipment. This move, which involves a significant investment in equipment and big changes in overall operations, can be made successfully if it is thought through and planned out properly. For most contractors, when we talk about making the switch, they are going from a full tree-length logging system—with a feller buncher, skidders and delimber—to CTL, which consists of a harvester and forwarder.

Less equipment is required with a CTL system, but that does not mean it is a simple system to operate and manage. CTL set-ups bring their own challenges—though they are manageable challenges. In my opinion, you need the right mix of only three things for a successful cut-to-length operation: trees, machines and people. On the equipment side, there are several important items to consider:
• Choosing your CTL machine supplier
• The machine types available and recommendations
• Equipment purchases and cost considerations
• Operator training and motivation
• Recommendations on CTL logging adoption Your CTL machine supplier is going to be your equipment partner—you should know that and, importantly, your supplier should know that.

This is a major business decision for a contractor, with over a $1 million investment in the machines alone. A strong business—not social—relationship needs to be in place with your equipment supplier. To put it bluntly, friendships and history are important, but that’s on the weekend at the barbecues. Contractors need to develop a business partnership to succeed. Some key factors to be considered in choosing your CTL equipment supplier:
• Their reputation and the number of years they have been selling CTL equipment • Service support and consultation
• The salesperson and their support team
• Their location and its convenience to you
• Parts support: delivery and price
• Trade allowance
• Field service personnel: training, experience, initiative and tools
• Product demos: start-up assists Although there is a variety of CTL equipment working in the woods today, and it is becoming more common, it has been around for a long time.

In 1976, I was running a harvester/forwarder CTL system in New Brunswick which was delivering 76 trees, or 13.2 cubic metres, per productive machine hour back then. These are pretty good numbers, even by today’s standards. Today, equipment manufacturers have not improved production capabilities much, but they have improved mechanical reliability, machine operability and product support to deliver better machine availability results. When it comes down to choosing your machine brand, there are some key factors to consider:
• Productivity and reputation
• Design: is the technology user friendly? • Reliability: serviceability and access • Price: financing
• Safety: ROPS, FOPS & OPS
• Warranty: policy and handling
• Resale value
• Environmental friendliness
• Fuel consumption: tank size Some of the factors that have an effect on production should also be considered. In order, the most to least critical factors: • Tree size: volume and length, branches, form • Prescription: clear-cut vs thinning
• Stand density: merchantable vs unmerchantables
• Terrain: slope, ground roughness, snow
• Log lengths: random, 16-foot vs eight-foot
• Operators: skill, training and motivation
• Product sorts: species and product When it comes to the harvesters, there are key advantages for the two types, rubber-tired and tracked. Rubber-tired machines are purpose-built, offer good travel speed and visibility, and are light and narrow.

Tracked machines offer reliability, simplicity of servicing, proven carriers, and the power to handle big CTL heads. There are limitations, too, to each type of harvester. Rubber-tired machines may have limits on cutting head weight and size, while the tracked machines may not offer optimum tail swing and have limitations in rocky ground. There are also obviously factors that affect production with forwarders. The most to least critical factors here would be:
• Distance: actual distance to the unloading site
• Terrain: slope affecting travel speed
• Payload: volume carried each trip
• Log lengths: random, 16-foot vs eight-foot
• Loader capacity: lift power, swing power and grapple size Forwarder cycle times are critical, with loading and unloading speed the key to high production, and a successful overall CTL operation.

The time spent loading and unloading the forwarder represents from 50 to 80 per cent of the total work cycle time, depending on the forwarding distance. I’ll talk more about what to look for in forwarders and harvesters in this column in the next issue of Logging & Sawmilling Journal.

Tim White of White Forestry & Associates is a forest industry consultant. He has been involved with forest harvesting equipment for more than 30 years, 20 years of that with a major logging equipment manufacturer. He can be reached at tim.j.white@sympatico.ca  or (519) 421-5469.

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