Fu­ture Tech, here now!

New Zealand Logger - - Forestry Innovations -

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.


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