SHAW’S WIRE ROPES IRON TEST
After winning a major contract late last year, Woodlot Harvesting needed to upgrade its harvesting fleet for the high-production job in the Benhopai Forest, south of Blenheim, with Caterpillar machines featuring prominently. Most interesting among the purchases made by crew owner, Brad Pyer, is the Cat 558LL, one of the first of this all-new model to go to work in New Zealand.
AS THE SKIES EMPTIED ON THE ALREADY SATURATED skid site overlooking ‘Spy Valley’, where the 5-Eyes satellite dishes are based south of Blenheim, Luke O’Hagan wasn’t about to abandon the warm, dry comfort of the new Cat 558 cab to come and talk to us.
And neither were we in any hurry to venture outside the ute for a closer look at one of the first of these new models to land on New Zealand shores.
So we just eye-balled each other through the driving rain and bided our time.
It turned out to be a great opportunity to talk a little further with Woodlot Harvesting Ltd crew owner, Brad Pyers, about the phenomenal growth his business has undergone this year, culminating in the arrival of the 558 – his fifth brand new Cat in the past 12 months.
Not bad for a crew that was still operating with just a couple of second-hand machines doing small forests and a bit of roadlining not so long ago.
Brad must have a very understanding bank manager……….and wife! “I’ve been told by Lisa I can’t buy any new machines for a while,” he laughs as we enquire about the extent of his borrowings.
Well, you’ve got to be doing the business in order to have a business, which means you need the tools to make that business work. For Brad, Caterpillar equipment is the preferred tool for his business.
“I like my Cat machinery, it suits us,” he says. “Seems to go really well and does the job we need it to do, and we’ve got good back-up from Goughs.”
Brad inherited his Cat preference from father, Ray, who has been harvesting in the greater Nelson and Marlborough regions for years and always swore by the yellow American brand. He now works for Brad. The family has a long association with logging in these parts, as Brad’s grandfather and two uncles also managed crews.
With such familial connections, forestry was always going to be the career of choice for Brad, who says: “I was pretty much born into forestry. I didn’t really have much option.”
But he did make the smart decision to start a forestry engineering degree down at the University of Canterbury after leaving school to improve his career opportunities. He just never got around to completing the course.
“I finished my first year at uni but realised after I came back and was working in the bush during the holidays that I didn’t really want to leave,” says Brad.
“I worked for my old man for a while and got a bit of hauler experience with Simon Raywood, then I went to Aussie and spent nearly 10 years there managing a land clearing company outside of Brisbane. We started out with two and ended up with 55 guys – it got very busy. But then I figured I might as well be doing it for myself and we came back here, formed a logging partnership.
“We started doing woodlots (hence the name of the business) around five years ago with a digger and a skidder, me, my business partner and my brother in-law. We’ve recently gone our separate ways and I’ve bought him out.”
Brad had big ambitions to grow the business and it’s fair to say he’s been on a meteoric rise since taking on the whole company himself.
The big expansion plans were spurred after landing his current contract last Christmas, which saw Woodlot Harvesting take on a twoyear road building and harvesting stint in the Benhopai Forest at the end of the Waihopai Valley. That necessitated a massive splurge on new equipment, much of it wearing the Cat logo and purpose-built for the task, which resonates strongly with Brad.
“My old man had Cat gear and I’ve always been a fan of it,” says Brad, adding that while he’s got yellow blood coursing through his veins, he has been impressed with some of the other equipment they’ve used.
“This Hyundai here – our first machine ever – was second-hand when we got it, with about 500 hours and has now done 10,000 hours and is remarkably unscathed for a machine that was out doing shovelling at the start – we like to look after our gear. And we also had a (John Deere) 648 skidder.
“But as we progressed we started off down the Cat path and bought a second-hand Cat skidder. Then a 324DFM, which is our shovelling machine, and we’ve just got a new skidder, a 545D. We bought a new
320DFM (32-tonne loader) in the middle of last year and a 552 Series 2 felling machine with a SATCO 325T head. We took delivery of the 558 around March.”
The new 558 heralded a shift to becoming a fully mechanised operation. Before its arrival, a chunk of the log-making was done by hand, with the 552 felling for a couple of days and then using the SATCO head to process on the skid for three days each week.
That 325T head has gone onto the 558 so it can process full time, while the 552 has received a new SATCO 325M, which still gives it measuring capability but without the topping saw, thus providing some back-up ability for both processing and felling. Brad is pleased with that decision because the stems dragged out for log making are already de-limbed, which saves time and also slash from building up on the skid.
And if that little shopping spree wasn’t enough, Brad recently purchased a Cat 928K wheel loader to speed up load-outs. Oh, and before we forget, around Christmas the crew also received another present from Santa, a Falcon winch-assist system built onto a Hitachi 280 base to enable the 552 to harvest some of the steeper slopes.
As well as building up the harvesting crew, Brad recently expanded the existing roading /earthworks crew, which now consists of a Cat D8T dozer, Cat 323FL excavator and a Hyundai 290-9 excavator which are leased for now, and a Cat 311FL, which was purchased back in February 2017. On top of that, Brad also manages a harvesting operation on the West Coast. Busy boy.
For someone in his mid-thirties, he seems to be in a hell of a hurry to create a sizeable business empire, but Brad says the growth spurt is at an end. For now.
And while it’s all come together very quickly, Brad seems to have no trouble coping with the growth, adding: “Having started out small it was good to get that experience running your own crew and managing a contract.”
It helps having good people around him. Foreman Luke has been in the bush a good number of years and has experience in most machines. And the roading / earthworks crew also runs under its own experienced foreman, Kain Percy.
“We worked for this forest manager three-and-a-half years ago and when we came back we picked up the earthworks job as well, so we do that and roadlining,” says Brad.
“That’s helped our production pick up quite dramatically and we’re their top producing crew now.”
Brad’s forest engineering course at uni has also come in handy, he says: “With this block I worked with the forest manager to plan it all, so I had input into where the skids and roads were going and when you get to build them yourself you get them in the right shape, the right spot and something that actually works.”
Makes life a whole lot easier, doesn’t it? And right now, life is just about to get a bit easier for the NZ Logger Iron Test team.
With the rain starting to ease, it looks like we may actually get to see the new 558 up close without getting ourselves drowned.
The 558 and its smaller brother, the 548, are the latest models in the 500-series expansion programme undertaken by Caterpillar.
Whilst the 33-to-35-tonne Cat 548 replaces the 324DFM, the 42-tonne Cat 558 succeeds the previous 325DFM in the Cat forestry line-up and some contractors might also view it as an option to the 336, because of its wide-ranging versatility that adds heavy-duty loading and shovelling to its potential as a mainstream processor.
He did consider the smaller 548 and says: “It needed to have enough oil to run that head, that was the main thing.
“And while there was talk the 548 could potentially do it, I didn’t want to be a guinea pig, I wanted to make sure I had a machine that would do the job.”
Brad was also offered a 336 but says that when he did the sums on guarding and prepping the machine for the forest, there wasn’t much difference from the price of a 558 and going down this route meant getting the rear-entry cab which he wanted for access-safety.
“I just like being able to buy something out of the factory and put it straight to work,” he adds.
“This guarding stuff and all that sort of thing, it’s not built for purpose, it needs to be built from the ground up for the sort of work we do. I went to the factory back in February and you saw that they are built from the sub-frame right up and that’s important, especially for a
processor that you are going to have for a long time. You want it to be solid and long-lasting.
“This one will probably go to 15,000 hours with us, but ultimately I have a goal of trying to roll them over at 6,000 hours if I can, to keep them under warranty, although it would more than likely be 8,000. Be nice if I can achieve that.”
Brad never got to see his new machine going down the line at the factory as it was already on its way to New Zealand, but he says the trip reinforced his purchase decision.
And when it did arrive, the new 558 was able to head out into the bush very quickly, with just the SATCO head needing to be plumbed in. Among it’s standard equipment is a 1.2m riser under the cab and a rear door entry.
“It came with pretty much everything I wanted, the rear-entry cab, which I like because there’s a spot you can attach a dicky seat to the wall, so someone can sit in behind the operator, or stand, as they do now,” says Brad.
“Currently our foreman (Luke O’Hagan) drives it and it’s quite handy for him because he can still be operating and the guys can pop in and have a yarn while he’s working. The rear-entry cab is good – just compare it to the 320 on a similar high riser, which is too high to be climbing up the side. We’ve used a fishing rod for the operator to hand over load dockets to the truck driver out of the door.”
Not that his 558 is ever likely to be used for loading logs, but Brad
does have a point about high cabs. Just think what it would be like if he had ordered the 558 with the optional 1.83m (that’s 6ft) riser for loading trucks – a fishing rod for handing over dockets would be obligatory.
For Brad and Luke, the 1.2m riser is quite tall enough. From the ground it puts the driver’s eyeball level at 4.3m, so the bigger riser would take it to almost 5m.
Brad has operated the new 558 himself, noting that the cab on his machine still provides an excellent advantage point for the operator to see the entire skid. Another good feature is the cab-over centre cam locks, which means no more bolts to hold the cab down, making it easy to shift, tighten and check.
Although the 558 now spends most of its time planted on the skid site spitting out logs, it has done some falling and trim work, too.
“This is a new setting and Luke has walked it down the track to grab what he can off the side to fall and process, helping out when there’s an opportunity – it’s still quite capable of doing felling and that reach is good for grabbing trees from the track.”
The 558 is not having to strain because, Brad says, “the piece size is supposed to be 1.5 tonnes but from
the figures we’re seeing it’s probably a little bit less, especially with these skinny trees along the edges.”
Right now, the 558 is having to work with some stems that have been plucked off the hills by the 552 and dragged behind the skidder with their root balls intact. On a compact skid like this you wouldn’t want too many of those to dispose of.
Fortunately, the rain has now stopped and during a pause in processing we trudge through the pooling water and mud to inspect the tall Cat and chat to Luke.
Standing next to the 558 you appreciate the size, even though it’s not the biggest model in the 500-series Cat range – that honour goes to the 568. But it’s still bigger than the 325DFM it replaces, especially with the larger tail that now houses a 989-litre fuel tank instead of 520 litres to provide more counterweight.
I leave our guest Iron Tester, Matt Goodall, talking to Brad and Luke while I get a much closer look at this newcomer, starting with the climb up to the cab.
Once up onto the tracks, the walkway is easy to negotiate thanks to handrails on either side and nice, wide steps to accommodate big boots. Speaking of boots, there’s a 3-sided cleaning brush bolted onto the top deck so the operator and any visitors can remove most of the mud before entering the cab. Great idea.
Plenty of space to open up that big heavy door into the back of the cab, and once inside it really is a nice warm and cosy space.
I see what Brad
meant about having enough room to put a small dickey seat behind the operator, as it really is roomy, with built-in storage for all Luke’s paperwork and other paraphernalia. No pie-warmer or fridge though. A later addition, maybe.
Sometimes these purpose-built rear-entry cabs can be a little narrow, making it hard for the operator to walk past the seat to sit down, but not in the 558 (unless you’re a Sumo wrestler). Love the big glass windows set into the floor either side of the levers, which give a great view of the ground and tracks.
In fact, the view all round is pretty good, especially to the left and forward, with minimal use of bars, thanks to the Lexan glass. The big boom does obscure the right a certain amount and there’s not a lot of vision behind when seated. But I’ll leave Matt to describe the operating environment in detail in his Iron Test column on page 32.
Back out on the top deck, a wide steel hatch opens up to the engine, allowing great access around it, as well as the cooling system to the right and exhaust to the left.
The Cat C7.1 ACERT engine in the 558 is the latest Tier 4 Final unit, capable of producing 178kW (239hp) of peak power, up a solid 17% over the old Tier 3 C7 in the 325DFM. It also makes dollops of torque, reaching its 1,039Nm peak very quickly and staying up there across a broad swathe of the rev range.
Among the many improvements are a side-by-side cooling system that boasts an increase of 33% over the previous machine, incorporating a better radiator package and standard auto-reversing fan that pushes out service intervals, as well as maintaining proper engine operating temperature.
The 558 also features isochronous speed control to maintain a constant engine speed of 1,750 rpm, regardless of load, for improved fuel consumption, even while driving a larger pump that produces more hydraulic oil flow.
Brad says he’s impressed with the economy of the 558, especially since it ticked over 500 hours, and Luke told us later that he fills up on average once every three days. It’s something we’ve come to expect when talking to contractors running Cats with Tier 4 Final engines – their advanced, high-pressure fuel systems are much more economical and cleaner than their predecessors. Even though it means the unit now requires a dose of Diesel Exhaust Fluid, also known as AdBlue, with every refuel, consuming around 30-to-35 litres of the blue stuff each week.
The filling point for the AdBlue is under a small flap in the first large step on the walkway leading up to the cab, which is easy to reach from the ground. And on my way down Luke points out the large storage box hidden under the top step for keeping saw chains, tools etc.
The next-door flap opens to reveal easy access to filters and hydraulic pumps and valve banks. The main pumps, control valves and hydraulic oil tank are located close together to allow for shorter tubes and lines between components, which reduces friction and pressure drops.
On the other side of the Cat a cavernous storage space sits within the riser (and the mechanism used to tilt the cab for transportation), next
to a pair of flaps that open to the batteries and radiators.
As we stand back to take it all in, I ask about the LED lighting package and Luke says it lights up the skid like a Christmas tree on early morning starts. Best of all, he’s got a remote-control device so he can switch on the lights from a distance when he arrives, which is a nice safety feature. Shame he can’t remotely switch on the heated or cooled seat before he sits down to work as well.
We all agree that the 558 looks the business, with a rugged frame and use of heavy-duty components throughout, from track gear to carbody, to boom/arm set. It’s built like the proverbial. With the stony ground conditions found in these parts, tracks also need all the protection they can get from rocks, as well as woody debris and the thick steel plate covers should do the job.
Furthermore, the 349 HEX HD track links are 216mm in pitch and are greased for added durability and reliability. Cat says the grease-lubricated tracks allow more usable horsepower because of reduced internal friction and this also extends internal bushing, sprocket and system wear life, reducing noise and minimising the chance of frozen track joints.
Being able to put more power down onto the ground also contributes to the improved drawbar pull, which now hits a maximum of 321kN (72,230lb). Cat has fitted more durable final drives to enable the operator to make use of that drawbar pull when climbing some of the steeper tracks.
Whilst on the subject of protection, it’s good to see Cat has engineered a big, strong corner guard on the front, ahead of the boom, rather than leave it for the contractor to get made locally. It’s such a vulnerable area on any processor. Additional guards are also fitted to the arm to protect the cylinders and hydraulic lines from wayward branches.
Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t improved in the 558 is the ground clearance, which has gone down from 760mm on the 325DFM to 749mm. Probably not a biggie here on the skid, but every millimetre counts if the machine has to go out into the cutover.
Our attention turns to the SATCO dangling under the drop nose stick, which had a tough life working predominantly as a felling head before going onto the 558. In spite of that, the 325T hasn’t given them any trouble over the 1,500 hours already racked up.
“We’ve had a pretty good run with it and they have good back-up service – if we need any parts we can get them down overnight,” says Brad.
The close alliance between Caterpillar and SATCO means the 558 hydraulics and plumbing is optimised to be compatible with the Tokoroa-built heads.
Talk time over, Luke needs to get back into the cab to deal with the pile of stems that built up during our inspection. He’s going to give us a quick processing demo while we watch from a safe distance and then call Matt into the cab for a close-up view and to provide operating instructions before the next phase of our Iron Test begins.
As Luke powers through the stems, cutting them into a range of 11 sorts destined for either the local mill in Blenheim or export, we’re struck by how quiet the 558 engine is. It was the same when we tested the smallest of the new 500-seres, the 538, last year.
It doesn’t take long for the stem pile to disappear, allowing Matt to join Luke for a while in the cab. Matt helps run a doublesize crew operating within the Moutere Logging family near Motueka. Although he isn’t a regular processor operator, he does have wide experience with many different types of machines/heads and has been very keen to see how the 558 goes.
He’s got his chance now, because Luke has just walked over to the office container while I replace him in the standing space
behind the operator’s seat to observe his efforts on the stems just delivered by the skidder, which also arrive with root balls attached.
In spite of the extra weight of the root, the Cat doesn’t flinch as Matt grabs each stem and watches the SATCO screen to see what the optimisation system advises him to cut.
He’s surprised and delighted by how much power the hydraulics are feeding into the head, as well as the slew and lift – thanks to a 16% increase in hydraulic flow. Yet, the whole operation is incredibly precise.
Cat uses an electric swing priority circuit on the 558 to improve finer swing control and head movements. This also works with the Negative Flow Control (NFC) system and the main control valve to smooth out the whole operation. The NFC valve opens slowly during small movements of the joystick and opens rapidly when movement is faster.
There’s actually 35% more power in the swing, compared to the 325DFM, so it should be able to handle much bigger stems with the same amount of ease. If Matt had wanted to vary the power, he has three modes to select from; high power, standard
power and eco mode, which are selected on the console switch pad sitting on the left pillar. He’s decided to leave it in the power setting because it works so well.
In addition to the impressive swing, the 558 has plenty of lift. Like other manufacturers, Cat has also fitted an electronic boom regeneration valve that minimises pump flow when the boom lowers by regenerating oil from one end of the boom cylinder to the other. This saves energy and improves fuel efficiency.
And if there is a particularly heavy object to shift, Matt can call on the heavy lift mode, which delivers an extra 6%.
The only thing that takes Matt a little getting used to is the control for the main and top saws, which confuses first timers by requiring a switch to the top saw then a switch back to the main saw. It was Matt’s first experience of a SATCO, after all.
Luke admits he got caught out with the same issue when he first started using the 325T head and says you need to watch the screen to make sure you know which saw is engaged.
It’s only one very small gripe about a combo that is otherwise outstanding, or “unbelievable”, in Luke’s words
“It’s a big machine and when you see how nimble and well it moves, it’s unbelievable for its size,” says Luke.
“It has made a big difference to the operation. Although we did have the 552 processing part time, we were smaller and weren’t producing very much, but now we are a full-size crew and we’ve got to do the numbers this is the machine to do it.”
And Luke couldn’t be happier with his new ‘office’ environment, pointing out the two coat hangers on which to hang jackets and explaining how efficient the heated/cooled seat is and the A/C, adding: “It can make it too hot in here and you’ve got to turn the cooling on.”
The storage scores top marks as “being the foreman I’ve got a lot of paperwork I need to keep in the cab and when I haven’t got drags arriving I can whip it out, do it and store it away safely, so it isn’t loose flying around the cab.”
Luke is also enjoying the view from his new ‘office’, although there is a bar right at the point where he is looking at the head, so
reckons it could come
It can get very wet here at the head of the Waihopai Valley, south of Blenheim, but the ground conditions on the skid are very firm.
Facing page: Some of these stems are arriving at the skid site with root balls intact, but that doesn’t worry the Cat / SATCO combo. Above left: Matched with a SATCO 325T head, the new Cat 558LL is producing plenty of wood for Woodlot Harvesting.Above right: There’s plenty of oil flow from the Cat 558LL’s new hydraulic system for the SATCO head to cope with some of these larger stems.
Above: It’s tall, but the new Cat 558LL is very stable, even when working with some of these larger stems.Below: The stems arrive on the skid site very clean, so there’s little slash that needs to be cleared and much of it is cut over the side by Cat 558LL operator, Luke O’Hagan.
The tall cab on the new Cat 558LL outranks its Cat 320D sibling and provides foreman / operator, Luke O’Hagan, with a commanding view of the skid site.
1: A flap opens up to the AdBlue filler point set into the first step; 2: The new Cat C7.1 ACERT Tier 4 Final engine is more economical and greener than its predecessor; 3: The large storage box hidden under the top step on the right and a swing door opens to the filters and hydraulic pumps / valves to the left; 4: Plenty of storage in the riser for the oil and DEF containers, along with access to the cab tilt mechanism; 5: Handy boot cleaner fixed to the outer edge of the deck; 6: All the controls are well within reach of the operator, and there’s even a great view of the ground / tracks through the two glass panels in the floor.
Good view of the side steps and rails up to the rear-entry cab on the Cat 558LL.