Waratah gears up for booming demand
THE WARATAH FACTORY IN TOKOROA HAS BEEN GEARING up for a boom year, as sales of its harvesting and processing heads take off around the world. Demand for heads has been building in recent years as forestry continues to recover in most international markets, particularly in the Americas, and mechanisation continues to supplant manual methods.
Waratah estimates it leads the market for harvesting and processing heads worldwide, with the Tokoroa facility concentrating on larger models, while smaller ones come out of its plant in Finland.
A series of changes that have been introduced by Waratah at Tokoroa have increased productivity and will allow the factory to exceed its production volume targets in 2017.
Barry Gates, Production Manager at the factory, says: “In the last six-to-twelve months we’ve had a significant increase in production
with all the changes that we’ve introduced.
And it’s all been achieved without having to resort to additional overtime, he adds. In fact, the amount of overtime put in by staff has dropped, whilst the number of employees has remained largely static.
Staff aren’t keen on working overtime anyway, as they prefer to be with their families on weekends, so the need to produce more heads during the regulation 40 hours has become a major focus for Waratah.
Mr Gates took NZ Logger on a guided tour of the factory last month to explain the improvements that have taken place.
Among the most obvious is the installation of a computer-controlled machining centre that provides more capacity.
Another major difference is the way components are stored and handled at the various workstations.
Components required for each head are packaged together and placed on handy trolleys that stay with the head until it’s completed. The trolleys were designed in-house by Waratah engineers and then made by an outside supplier. They are height adjustable to suit the particular worker using them, thus preventing stress on backs and limbs from constant bending and stretching. Major components, such as cylinders and de-limbing knives are stored on vertical racks built on wheels, which stay with the head, too.
Workbenches used for sub-assembly jobs have also been designed to be height adjustable to suit each worker.
Mr Gates says these changes have been welcomed by staff as they make tasks easier and less stressful, and are a key part of the productivity story.
Reducing damage and re-work was also targeted for improvement, he says. The mobile racks that store the cylinders have been successful in better protecting the pistons cylinders, which used to get knocked when left on benches prior to fitting.
Any re-work that needs to be done has now been shifted off the production line and take place in a special ‘re-man’ area in the factory.
Similarly, the forklifts are no longer constantly driving down the aisle delivering boxes of parts, thanks to the introduction of the trolleys and mobile stacks, which removes another injury threat.
Some hoses are now fitted on the line, instead of later in the process when there is more space prior to the installation of other components, which reduces complexity and saves time.
Mr Gates says many of the production line staff are now trained to be able to work across multiple stations, rather than just on one. This additional flexibility means that staff can be deployed where they are needed, without losing production time.
The workplace itself has become more comfortable to be in, especially during the cold winter months, thanks to a new automatic space heating system that switches on several hours before they clock onto their shift, so that it is already warm when they start.
It’s not just the staff that benefit from a warm environment, anyone who has tried to bend a hose out in the bush on a frosty morning knows how hard it is.
Bending metal parts has recently been simplified, too, thanks to the installation of a computer-programmable press that is fast, accurate and easy to set up and operate. It can handle any of the sizes required to make parts for the Waratah heads.
To one side of the main assembly line are separate workshops where the hydraulic valve banks and electrical components are assembled and then thoroughly tested prior to being fitted to the head. Here, any leaks or faults are quickly identified and rectified before leaving the factory.
“It’s all about being able to work smarter and more efficiently,” says Mr Gates.
Many of the changes and upgrades have been suggested by those working in the factory. Ideas are submitted to the in-house technical team for consideration, which then debates their merits and approves further study if required.
Taking into account the complexity of the harvesting and processing heads that are produced at the Tokoroa facility, and the punishment they’ll face when they are put to work in the forest, it’s a testament to the skill and dedication of the Waratah team that this technology works so well.
They build nine different models, from the small 616 thinning heads up to the highly productive 625C and the venerable 626 Big Wood and all are benefitting from the changes described here, both in build quality and performance out in the forest.
Those changes have allowed Waratah to increase daily shift outputs without compromising product quality for the customer.
Earlier this year the Tokoroa team celebrated a major milestone with the production of the 2,500th Waratah 622B since its introduction in 2004. And in total, they’ve probably built more than 5,000 heads since the company was founded.
Next year will mark the 45th anniversary of Waratah and on current form, it’s looking healthier than at any time in its history.
Above: Two Waratah technicans put the final touches to this Australia-bound 625 at the end of the assembly line. Facing page: De-limbing arms are stacked on trolleys awaiting assembly.
Above: This hydraulic valve bank is connected to a line and tested to the same pressures that will be exerted by a base machine out in the forest. Below: All components and work tools are now placed on trolleys at convenient work heights for staff to pick from – even the head rotates, so there’s less bending.