Future Tech, here now!
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE HARD-TO-GET TREES THAT REQUIRE manual falling, right? Wrong! It will soon be possible to reach those trees, even on the steepest and most dangerous slopes using machines. But not any machine you’ve laid eyes on before.
Enter the long-awaited Falcon Felling Carriage that Dale Ewers and his DC Equipment team have been developing over recent years.
Lots of people said a felling carriage suspended from a skyline would never work. It does. There’s even video to prove it, as Dale showed at last month’s Harvest TECH 2017 conference (see it on www. nzlogger.co.nz).
That video shows recent trials to prove it really does fell, bunch and retrieve trees and now the Nelson-based DC team is in the process of finalising the design and construction, and they are aiming to have a production version ready for sale by 2018.
This is one of many new innovations that have been flagged for forestry’s future that are actually close to fruition.
Last month, NZ Logger magazine looked way into the future to see how a totally new approach to harvesting and logistics would revolutionise forestry with the help of innovative technology.
In this issue, we focus on the here and now, the technology that’s already in the forest or very near to launch, starting with the felling carriage and then covering New Zealand’s first tele-operated harvester AND backline machine, plus much more.
It’s been almost three years since Dale Ewers let it be known that he and his team were working on attaching a felling head to one of their newly developed Falcon Forestry
Claw carriages to trial the idea of mechanically harvesting trees on unsafe slopes.
Dale has made it a passion to get loggers away from dangerous manual work, such as breaking out and
The Falcon Felling Carriage, mounted onto a Falcon tower hauler operated
by a Moutere Logging crew, brings up a tree that it had cut down in the
wind-throw on the hill.
falling. It’s been the key driver in the development of the grapple carriage that has displaced practically all breaker-outs in his own forestry crews, along with the Falcon Winch-Assist machines that are making significant safety and production inroads into steep slope harvesting.
Among Dale’s Moutere Logging crews, the Falcon Forestry Claw is now being utilised for 99.9% of tree recovery on the slopes. But it hasn’t been anywhere near as easy to mechanise that amount of falling. A certain percentage still has to be manually felled because it’s too steep or difficult even for a winch-assist set-up.
During a recent trip to Nelson, NZ Logger called in to the DC Equipment workshop and engineering centre at Brightwater to talk to the team behind the innovation and see the prototype first hand.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t see it working because the Moutere hauler crews are flat out with production logging and testing has to take place on rare occasions when it can be fitted in.
And, there’s another reason. It’s going to be disassembled soon to allow for major engineering modifications to take place and for separate testing of the felling head, says DC’s New Zealand Operations Manager, Barry McIntosh.
The carriage has had a hard life over the past three years. It’s still the original motorised carriage that DC Equipment converted to become a prototype for testing the theory.
Originally it was fitted with an old Bell felling head with a single saw to discover if felling from a skyline was actually possible and it surprised everyone when it cut down some trees. But it was very rudimentary.
“We already had the Bell and we put that on to prove that the concept was going to work,” says Barry.
“Once we did that we realised two saws would be a good option and we set about designing our own felling head.”
Other projects demanded more priority, so the felling carriage programme was put on hiatus for a while. Every now and then the team would discuss ideas, which grew into a weighty to-do list.
Last year, the project was kick-started in earnest, with a brand new felling head designed inhouse and constructed at DC Equipment, incorporating two saws; a smaller front saw that would be used to make a front cut and a larger rear saw to do the main cut.
This necessitated a completely new hydraulic system and a much larger diesel engine to replace the original motor.
“We needed to increase hydraulic flow to run the two saws and therefore we needed to considerably increase the horsepower from our current grapple carriages that run 19hp,” Barry adds.
The felling head is mounted onto an arm in a similar way to how it would be attached to a tracked harvester on the ground. Originally the arm was fixed, but the latest modification has seen a hydraulic ram attached so that it can pivot while the carriage remains stationary.
“With a fixed arm, as you are pulling the tree to make the cut, the weight comes on and the carriage does a wheel-stand,” says Barry.
“By having the ram, we can drop the arm down and it carries more level and takes a lot of stress out of the carriage.
“The other thing is, when the operator went to grab hold of a tree with the fixed arm, if he wanted to drop that grapple down, say 200mm, he would have to drop the skyline to do that, whereas it’s much easier with the ram to lower or raise the head and make fine adjustments. It gives a lot better control. A bit like having an excavator boom.”
The ram has only just been fitted and wasn’t used on the last test session, when the video footage was shot.
It will be a while before the ram is tested on the felling carriage, so the DC team has other plans to see how it works.
“We want to take the head and put it onto an excavator base, simply because we can’t get the time to test it with the carriage,” Barry continues.
“The controls will be the same but it will work on the digger instead of remotely on the carriage and we’ll give the head a real thrashing to see if any issues come up or not. Then it will either go back on once we get our next model carriage, or we may build another head, which means we can change some of the geometry on it.”
The old carriage has served its purpose, but it needed to go on a
massive diet to shed some of its four tonnes of weight. With a new, lighter carriage construction, a smaller, yet still powerful engine and other changes, the DC team predict they can shave as much as 1,000kg.
They’ve already eliminated some of the hydraulic hoses by installing pumps and other components into the felling head, rather than connecting these from the carriage. And both the carriage and the felling head are controlled via wireless connections (each on different channels, to prevent interference from the other).
Once these, and other improvements are made, the new Falcon Felling Carriage is planned to be in production in 2018.
“We’ve got a lot of interest in this so we need to start pushing it along,” says Barry. And the interest is not just from New Zealand. When Dale Ewers showed the video of the felling carriage to a steep slope harvesting conference in north America recently the reaction from loggers up there was equally enthusiastic.
However, there is still much to do and still much to learn about how to use a felling carriage.
“It’s still early days, but it’s showing great potential,” adds Barry. “It’s a bit like when we made our first grapple carriage. We thought we may use them about 50% of the time and we’re using them 99.9% of the time now, and there’s stuff we’re doing that we never envisaged and it’s probably going to be the same with this.
“Early testing so far suggests that the first 100 metres you might fall and pull to the skid site, and once you get past that point you start bunching with it, because you can only fell one tree at a time. We haven’t worked out the exact distance yet but at some point, it would be better to bunch than just bring in one tree.”
In a typical harvesting role, the DC team suggests that the felling carriage would fall for, say, six hours and then it would be brought up to the landing and swapped over for a Falcon Claw that would go back down the hill to pick up two, three or four trees at a time. Exactly how that works will not be known until a pre-production version is tested with a North Island forest company later in the year.
However, one unexpected result has come from the testing already carried out; the ability of the felling carriage to safely extract windblown trees.
“By chance, we were given the opportunity to cut some windthrow and it worked really well,” says Barry. “To be able to remotely cut windthrow from the safety of a cab 200-to-400 metres away is quite amazing.”
He says that by using the smaller front saw to make a cut and take the tension out of a fallen tree made the task much easier and safer.
The test was carried out using the remanufactured Falcon 70 Tower Hauler, which sports joystick controls that have been adapted to incorporate buttons for the saws and grapple opening/closing – the early version of the felling carriage was controlled from a module that sat in front of the operator.
Barry says the test showed the versatility of the felling carriage and suggests “there are numerous harvesting opportunities we may be able to use it in and you don’t know that until you start using it”.
The development of the felling carriage has drawn interest from WORKSAFE, which has visited DC Equipment’s Nelson facility to see the device and talk to the team about safety implications.
There’s has been discussion around the forestry traps about how a felling carriage can be used within two tree-lengths of hauler ropes under ACOP guidelines.
“WORKSAFE is looking at it and looking at that whole tree length policy in relation to this,” says Barry.
“There is no reason why we cannot fall within one or two tree lengths. If the tree happens to go over the rope, which we haven’t had happen yet, it’s not going to do any damage because there are no people there and your skyline is set to relieve the brake at a certain tension anyway. So if the tree hits the rope it is not going to go over tension, because the brake’s just going to release as long as everything is set up as it should be. There is no real danger.
“WORKSAFE said that people have told them you are going to tip your hauler over, but it shouldn’t affect the tower because you’ve got up to five guy ropes that should be tensioned properly. In fact, you are likely to put more tension on the ropes by high leading a 6-tonne drag in. You would get some sort of shock load as the tree comes down but you’ve got all the slack in the rope as well and generally when a tree drops it’s quite a slow thing.”
Another myth that has been dispelled during testing is the ability of a suspended felling carriage to fully control the tree as it falls.
Barry points out: “We have full control over tree direction with this far more than we originally estimated . Basically, you grab hold of the trunk and you can rotate the head to the angle you want to fall the tree and then you lift the skyline and it immediately tries to push the tree over and away from the ropes.”
Operating in high winds does not affect the stability of the carriage, either, he says. Thanks to the weight, it barely moves, even in strong gusts.
Another interesting point is that all the testing carried out so far has been with straight skyline settings, not the Live Dutchman set-up that has helped to make the Falcon Forestry Claw grapple carriages so successful.
“With a Live Dutchman it will make a heap of difference, because then we’ll have that lateral movement,” adds Barry.
There’s also the option that the Falcon Winch-Assist system is able to be used as a remote-controlled live Dutchman machine to provide lateral movement with the skyline.
Plenty of food for thought. And, as always, when the production version of the Falcon Felling Carriage is ready to go to work on the hills, NZ Logger will be there to tell the story.