March 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
Stepping up production
BC logging contractor Dave Gross has recently stepped up production and that has meant investing in new equipment, the latest of which—a TK 752 buncher equipped with a Loewen high rotation wrist—is working out just fine in the rugged ground of the BC Interior.
By Paul MacDonald
"You can’t get much better logging conditions and weather than this,” says third generation logging contractor Dave Gross, driving through one of the company’s timber harvesting operations midway between the towns of Merritt and Princeton, British Columbia.
The early winter weather was cooperating in the Thompson Nicola region of southern BC, with frozen ground allowing equipment to move around freely both in the bush and on the roads.
The ideal weather has been letting Gross and his crew of 12 really hit their stride in terms of harvesting. They’ve had some outstanding weeks, with 130 loads of logs coming out of the bush. On one particular Friday, they were running on all cylinders and were able to move 30 loads on that single day. Achieving such production numbers comes from a combination of factors that are not always present— good weather, good ground and standing wood, and handling some wood decked from the previous season.
“It’s not usual for us to get that many
loads, so we try to take advantage of it,”
But overall, the numbers are encouraging considering that the operation is relatively new to the latest in mechanized harvesting, specifically in the area of processing equipment.
In the past year, E C Gross Logging’s main customer, Tolko Industries, has significantly increased production at its Merritt sawmill. On the timber supply side, there have been reallocations and swaps, and an increase in harvest due to the attack of the mountain pine beetle.
On the mill side, Tolko’s recently upgraded Merritt sawmill operation will turn out upwards of 350 million board feet of lumber in 2006, operating on a three-shift basis.
Tolko’s contractors, including Gross, have stepped up to the plate, increasing their production out in the bush. Only a few years ago, Gross was doing 100,000 cubic metres a year; and not too long ago, the mill was quite happy that he was still focused on hand falling, considering they were working in larger timber and doing a lot of selective logging.
But, as the saying goes, that was then, and this is now. The 2005/2006 season will see a very ramped-up E C Gross Logging do at least 160,000 cubic metres, and perhaps as much as 200,000 cubic metres.
Keeping things happening in the bush for Gross is a mostly Caterpillar team, the most recent addition to that being a TK 752 buncher equipped with a Cat 24-inch head with a Loewen high rotation wrist. It joins a sister machine, a TK 923 with a Risley 22-inch Rotosaw head.
Bringing the wood into the landing are three Cat grapple skidders, a 525, a 535 and a 527. Rounding out the log handling side are a Cat 950F loader, a 322 power clam unit and a vintage 950B loader which, Gross says, is “tough as nails.” The 322 power clam has proven to be both versatile and nimble with their landing work, reports Gross.
In addition to the increased volume, Gross has also taken on roadbuilding work for Tolko Industries. Handling that work is a Komatsu D85 and a Hitachi EX 200 LC. They just put in a new undercarriage on the latter, and will be looking to put the Hitachi to work this year to make some dividends on that investment, Gross says.
The TK 752 buncher is working out quite well for the operation, reports Gross and operator George Jaarsma. It handles the steep slopes characteristic of the region without a pause. Equipped with the Loewen high rotation wrist—and its tilting features—it is able to easily take on tough situations in a productive way. Trees can be cut and placed in bunches at any angle with less carrier movement. The TK 752 has solid credentials in terms of specs: it has a lift of 9072 kg and a maximum reach of 8.6 metres. Flipping up the machine’s engine covers, Jaarsma lauds the TK 752’s ease of access and serviceability.
The two TK machines allow the operation to carry out some oft-times tricky riparian work around streams, and around fences, since this area of the province is also ranching country.
In the landings are the processing workhorses of the operation, two Waratah heads mounted on John Deere 2054 carriers. The Waratah heads—a HTH 622 and a HTH 622B—have worked out well. But since the operation made a rather quick transition to processing, they are still developing a maintenance “history” for the heads.
“We’re starting to get that history now, finding out how long the blades last, that type of thing,” says Gross. “But I like to be pro-active rather than reactive when it comes to equipment maintenance. So we’re in there replacing the knives on the heads probably before we absolutely need to.”
This way, they are making the decision when equipment takes downtime, rather than having downtime imposed upon them. “We need to be in control of when our equipment works and when it doesn’t, especially the processors,” adds Gross.
While they have now purchased the Deere/Waratah combos, Gross notes that he initially had the processing work done on a sub-contract basis. “I’m comfortable with it now, but I did not want to make the cash outlay until I saw how it all worked. I hadn’t used processors at all before, and like all equipment, you’re going to be making payments on that equipment whether it is working or not. But once I saw it working, and the more I talked to people using the processing heads, the more at ease I felt with buying the equipment.”
The crew has taken to operating the new equipment, but at a pace that Gross says is prudent.
“We’re talking about a $500,000 piece of equipment and I need people learning at my speed, not their speed.” Being keen, the crew’s tendency was to take a speedy approach to learning, but Gross has his own approach.
“They trained on the equipment, but my policy is first you get good, then you get fast. You don’t try to go fast until you get good. If you try to go fast too soon, you just have problems.”
While he notes that some of the equipment, like the first Waratah head, has some “war wounds,” he likes to make sure equipment is kept in good shape. “My equipment looks pretty good. I like it to look good because I want the crew to know that I care about the condition of the equipment. If I don’t care, the crew might not care.”
The company has a shop in Merritt, and handling things out in the field is a shop truck. Gross says they are able to take care of the day-to-day maintenance on the equipment, but rely on the dealerships— Finning in the case of Cat equipment and Brandt Equipment with the John Deere—for the larger and more involved repair jobs.
A lot of the company’s general business operations are on computer, thanks to Dave’s wife, Karen, and daughter, Tina. Plans call for getting more equipment maintenance information on computer, so it can be managed more effectively.
Gross has been dealing with John Deere equipment and Brandt for a while, but he—and his father before him—have an extensive history with Finning and Cat equipment. “We’ve always been Cat customers, and I have to say that Finning and Cat have been really good to us.” The Finning service department in nearby Kamloops gets high praise from Gross. “Service is such a big part of this business,” he emphasizes.
The highly productive heads and carriers are the central pieces in accurately handling what can be a very diverse sort. While the Tolko sawmill in Merritt is their main delivery point, timber is also sorted for Tolko’s Heffley Creek plywood operation, and the Weyerhaeuser sawmill in Princeton. “They all take different wood,” says Gross.
Sorts might include whitewood peelers, fir peelers, nine-inch under and nineinch over fir, and nine-inch under and nine-inch over whitewood. “Then we might have long peelers if the mill wants those, and short and long sawlogs. The Princeton mill doesn’t handle anything over 18 inches at the butt, so we buck those off and send them to the Tolko mill.” Exactly what timber is in each block plays directly into the sort scenario, as well, of course.
The number of sorts pretty much dictates opting for using landings, rather than doing roadside sorts. “We did do some roadside last year, but it was when we only had a small number of sorts,” says Gross.
The processors will work both sides of a landing, with the skidders placing turns of logs appropriately. “Some guys might do what we are doing on two landings, but we try to do it on one so the equipment does not have to walk far.”
While the processor is working on one side, the loader is handling debris and the skidder is bringing in turns on the other side of the landing.
Operations at the landing are as well orchestrated as possible. “I’ve always been one for setting up my landings ahead of time,” says Gross, who readily admits he is a stickler when it comes to landing layout.
“Sometimes, we’ve moved a deck of logs on the landing because it turns out it is in the wrong spot. To me, it comes down to a choice. We might be on a landing for two weeks—do we want to be fighting where those logs are for that two weeks, or do we want to stop for two hours and fix it?” The answer is to fix it, a solution that pays off in achieving maximum equipment productivity.
Keeping all the equipment productive is key to the operation, and Gross and logging supervisor Jim Walker—an employee of 29 years—work on developing well-thought-out logging plans, carefully going over the detailed site maps, determining where and when equipment is going to be working.
While having the right equipment is certainly a big part of a productive operation, Gross is a big believer in communication and supervision out in the bush. “As my dad used to say, you have to be out there to see what is going on. Supervision is going to make or break you. I’ve got a good crew, but if they have questions, you need to be there to answer them.”
Gross praises his crew, many of whom have worked for him for 10 or 15 years. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. It’s not easy in this industry with the curve balls that are thrown at you. But overall, I think we do a good job of keeping it all together.”
The production they’ve been able to achieve this year is a marked, and very positive change, from the previous year. “It was a terrible year,” says Gross. “We had thaws and then rain. We were just hitting our stride when we got hit by weather, and then we got an early breakup. We’re still cleaning up from what we had to leave behind last year.
“This year, it’s been a different story. When we needed something weatherwise, we got it. When we needed a little rain because it was too dry, we got it. We were afraid that we were going to be shut down a lot last summer due to fire shutdowns, but that didn’t happen. The weather was on our side.”
Having gone through a steep learning curve—and admittedly a bit of a stressful time—with the ramp-up in logging operations, Gross is now focusing on the details of the operation. He’s planning on shopping around more for equipment parts, to try and reduce their costs on that end.
“We’re getting to the stage where I can worry more about what we need to do tomorrow, and next month, than what we are doing today,” he says.
Blount to produce Cat branded products
That was now Timberking will soon be Cat.
Blount International, Inc and Caterpillar Inc are amending their marketing and supply agreements to change their alliance brand of forestry equipment from “Timberking” to “Caterpillar” and “Cat.” This is a proposed amendment to an agreement that saw Blount selling certain forestry equipment under the Cat-owned Timberking brand and providing marketing and product support to Caterpillar forestry dealers worldwide. The Timberking line is sold exclusively through Caterpillar dealers, and consists of certain product lines manufactured by Blount and others by Caterpillar.
The alliance, now in its third year, has been a strong strategic fit for both Blount and Cat, the companies say.
Blount’s reputation for quality, innovation and longevity in the market, coupled with Caterpillar’s global brand recognition, distribution expertise and component capabilities has given Caterpillar dealers a complete line of forestry equipment to meet the needs of customers worldwide, and has enhanced Blount’s position as a market leader in the design and manufacture of forestry equipment.
Under these arrangements, Blount will continue to be solely responsible for marketing as well as providing product support to Caterpillar dealers.
Blount expects shipment of the first Cat branded products to begin in February with track feller bunchers/harvesters. The full line of Cat branded products will be available at Caterpillar dealerships worldwide within the next several months.
Blount will continue to sell its market-leading brands of forestry equipment under the Prentice, Hydro-Ax, Fabtek and CTR brand names through its separate network of Blount dealers.
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