BC logger Bruce Lind gives Cat's new 545 wheel skidder, now the largest in the line, a good workout in the rugged hills of the Okanagan
Logging in the hill country near Kelowna, British Columbia for some 35 years, logger Bruce Lind has gradually seen his operation move into steeper ground and increasingly rough terrain, with the company equipment fleet evolving with the changing conditions. "We keep moving farther out from town and higher up into the hills where the wood is," says Bruce Lind, a partner with his brother Bob in Kelowna based Lindwest Holdings. The brothers took over the firm from their father, Jim, on his retirement in the early 1980s. The rugged hills in the area are not easy on logging equipment, particularly ground skidders. The company runs strictly rubber tired machines, traditionally putting on about 1,200 hours a year and turning them out at about 7,000 hours or about five years of service.
Lindwest at one time ran almost exclusively Cat 518s, then 528s, and is now upsizing again. The firm commonly works on 25 to 30 per cent slopes. "We have looked at running a track skidder, which would be advantageous in deep snow, but otherwise the ground is so rocky your undercarriage costs would be prohibitive." The newest skidder in the company fleet is the recently introduced Cat 545, rated at 225 hp and with an operating weight of about 40,000 lbs. Now the largest wheel skidder in the Cat line, the machine is paired with a three-yea-rold Cat 530, about 4,000 lbs lighter and rated at 195 hp. Lind specifically sought both the added weight and power it has with the new skidder, along with some specific mechanical requirements. Contracting to the Riverside Forest Products mill in Kelowna, the company harvests an average 165,000 cubic metres of wood a year, with a production target of 1,000 cubic metres a day through the winter and summer seasons. Timber from the show-lodgepole pine, spruce and balsam ranging from a 6 to 15 inch butt diameter- goes to Lindwest's satellite yard near Kelowna, run by Bob, where it is sorted for size, species and market.
The logging side, run by Bruce, consists of a single roadside operation, employing mechanical felling and now exclusively grapple skidding. "At one time we ran six line skidders to get the same production we get now with two grapple machines. We don't double shift the skidders as a rule. With bunched turns and skids generally under 600 metres, they can each average 500 cubic metres a day. We don't have much of a comfort zone with only two machines, but with the economics of the business these days, that's the reality of it ." Lind's 545, acquired for the summer 1999 season, was the first delivered in the province by BC Cat dealer Finning. Although a new model, Lind had a pretty good take on what it could do, having run the same unit he purchased for 1,100 hours the previous winter as part of Caterpillar and Finning's "field follow" evaluation program for the model. Lind says the invitation to participate in the Cat field trial program was "perfect timing," as he was actively shopping to replace a similar sized and powered skidder due for turnout. "Our preference over the years has been Cat skidders, but we were looking at going a different way with a new machine, the reason being that we wanted front and rear differential locks. On the slopes and the kind of ground we are on, we feel that this is now mandatory. We won't run a skidder without it.
The problem was that you couldn't get differential locks on a Cat skidder, until this model." The new hydraulic differential lock (front and rear) system that was a must for Lind can be engaged on the go with a fingertip control system. "The reason we wanted differential locks is that they make the skidder a lot quicker, smoother running, and you don't get as much wear on tires and chains. It also gives you a much tighter turning radius-about 30 per cent better than the 530, even though it has a longer wheelbase. It makes it that much more maneuverable." This is particularly useful at roadside, where the working or turning area is usually very tight, he adds. A 5F3R power shift transmission, also new, has two additional forward gears compared with the 530, also a boon for faster cycles, says Lind. A heavy-duty torque converter features torque multiplication, designed to keep the skidder in its optimal rpm range and reduce the number of shifts required. The torque converter has an integral lockup clutch-another "must" on Lind's shopping list-that enables the skidder to operate in converter drive or direct drive, as desired. The 545 is powered by a Cat 3306 DITA (Direct Injection, Turbocharged After cooled) diesel; the 10.5 litre engine has the highest displacement available in a Cat skidder. The machine has a 151" wheelbase and 23.9" ground clearance. Standard grapple capacity is 16 cubic feet (1.5 cubic metres) and winch line pull is 45,200 lbs. Other notable 545 features include new design axles said to add durability and reliability, and a new front axle cradle that acts as a working counterweight to offset the weight of the load (and the winch or grapple), improving balance when skidding either uphill or downhill.
The machine's 15degree oscillation helps isolate the cab from axle movement for a smoother ride. The hydraulic system employs a variable displacement pump and pressure compensating system that continually monitors braking, steering and grapple hydraulic power requirements. The system is capable of full steering power at low idle, with the brake system maintaining priority. Load sensing hydraulics reduce the demand on the engine when peak hydraulic power isn't needed, making added power available to the wheels when skidding and reduce cooling demands. A dual function arch offers both extended reach and the ability to carry loads closein to the skidder when traveling, adding to its stability. Cat's AutoGrab system constantly monitors grapple tong pressure and adjusts to securely hold the load while skidding. During the 545 field trials, Lind suggested a slightly different configuration grapple, with a wider basket and different shaped tongs that would enable easier pickup and retention of loads with varying size logs. "Esco is working on a prototype now, and we've offered to be involved with the field trials," he says. In the cab, notable features include steering wheel mounted push button controls for the transmission, a single control lever for the grapple (four functions) and a tilting and telescoping steering wheel that enables full 90degree articulation in one-quarter turn. All of this eases demands on the operator, a key factor in the buying decision-along with cab creature comforts and ride, says Lind. Lindwest skidder operator Ken Dillon, with 23 years experience in the bush, was closely involved in the 545 purchase and the earlier field trials, a standard practice for the company with all new machines. "After the field follow program was completed, the 545 went back to Finning for the scheduled updates. At that point we looked at two other skidders, but we kept coming back to this one."
In overview, Lind and Dillon comparatively liked the skidder's speed, maneuverability, "excellent" stability on side slopes, visibility, and operator comfort. Lind describes the ride as "easily the best" he's ever seen in a skidder. "Certainly the machine had Ken's vote from the get go," says Lind. "Our operators are paid by volume rather than by the hour, which they prefer because they make more money. At the same time, they aren't making money if their machine is down, so they have more than the usual vested interest in what we run, and how it is run. They are also all very experienced-one of our operators has been with the company 28 years. "They know this equipment as well as anybody, so they should be involved." Changes with the 545 recommended by Lind and company operators through the field follow program included rerouting hydraulic hoses for easier maintenance, added guarding, the addition of side panel openings for easier access for debris removal and changes to the blade to reduce damage to timber during handling. As a hedge against machine downtime and lost production, Lindwest routinely starts its bush operations at a very early 3 am, with truckers and operators on the road by 2 am to that end. "The idea is that if there is a problem with a machine we can hopefully have a part out here by noon so that the entire day isn't lost. We can't afford lost time- the working seasons now are too short for that. Easy serviceability and dealer parts support have always been big considerations for us in choosing new equipment- now they are essential."
This page last modified on Monday, November 03, 2003