Waratah gears up for boom­ing de­mand

New Zealand Logger - - Front Page - Story & pho­tos: John El­le­gard

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.

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