Sierra Forest Services puts new Cat machine to work
Matthew Stoppa knows that service and support from a manufacturer and its dealers are critical for a company that operates heavy equipment in order to avoid downtime and to keep running.
The owner and director of Sierra Forest Services, Matthew owns logging equipment from several manufacturers, but one company dominates: Caterpillar.
“I’ve sort of leaned back towards the Cat® machines because the dealers are close by,” he said, and parts are readily available. “Just local support. That’s what we’re moving towards -all our suppliers just to be within driving distance for parts.” Downtime is costly in terms of lost production, he noted.
Sierra Forest Services is based in Healesville, about 65 kilometres east of Melbourne and located just west of Yarra Ranges National Park. Matthew and his company were working recently in Starth Creek, about 70 kilometres north of Healesville, where he talked about his company’s operations and his experience with
Cat forestry equipment.
Matthew(41) started working in logging and launched his own company in 2000. He previously worked in his father’s excavating business, helping to build roads for logging. He transitioned into hardwood logging at first but has focused on harvesting trees in softwood plantations the past 13 years. “This year we’ve done a bit of eucalyptus for the first time,” he said.
“It was more of a lifestyle thing,” said Matthew, to focus on logging softwood. Working in hardwood forests was more remote and required more travel. “I didn’t see a future in it...I saw a future in plantation logging.”
His father has relied on Cat equipment in his excavating business, Stoppa Excavations, for more than 40 years, and working for his father, Matthew had plenty of experience with the Cat brand and Cat machines. His father has done business over the years with the William Adams Cat, the dealership for Victoria and Tasmania. “I’ve been going into William Adams... since I was that big,” said Matthew, gesturing with his hand to show how tall he was as a boy.
Matthew has a mixed fleet of logging equipment, but most of his machines -- four of the six -- are the Cat brand. The company is equipped with a Cat 545D Skidder, Cat 320C Forest Machine, Cat 320D Forest Machine, and the latest addition, a new Cat 538 Forest Machine.
Cat Forest Machines are versatile, purpose-built machines on tracks that can be configured for general forestry (GF) operations or primarily for log loading (LL) and log handling tasks. Those set up for general forestry operations, for example, can be equipped with harvesting, fellerbunching, or processing attachments for harvesting timber or processing the stems. Cat Forest Machines configured as LL machines can be used for shovel logging, handling and moving trees, stacking logs, and loading logs onto trucks.
Sierra Forest Services employs about three or four other people, sometimes five. After the bushfires of 2009, the company had up to 20 people at work for it.
The company performs tree-length logging operations. Track machines with harvesting attachments fell the timber. Other machines follow to shovel the trees to skid roads as needed, and the skidder picks up hitches of trees and drags them to a landing or deck. At the landing, a machine with
We’re taking a whole movement out of the system.
a processing attachment delimbs the trees and cuts them to length, and other machines sort and stack the logs and load them onto trucks.
The new Cat 538 Forest Machine is set up for general forestry work. It is equipped with a LogMax 7000XT attachment for processing trees at the landing. Matthew wanted a track machine for working at the landing, he said, for its reach and other factors. His other Cat Forest Machines are used for shovelling or loading operations.
He considered other manufacturers, but he and his father have had good experience with Cat excavators and forestry machines over the years “and never had any drama to them”.
Mathew has been doing business with Cat since he has been in logging, and his connection through his father’s company goes back even longer. That experience has demonstrated that he can rely on Cat and its dealers for service and support.
He has been particularly pleased with the Cat 538 Forest Machine for its fuel economy and quiet, stable operation. “Fuel economy is a big one,” said Matthew. He estimates he is saving 2-3 litres of fuel per hour.
“It’s quiet,” he said, in the cab for the operator and outside as well. He has been impressed by the heavy-duty track system and purpose-built undercarriage. “Built stable, very stable.”
Operator comfort is “really good,” he added. “It’s the best seat I’ve ever had in a machine.”
He’s planning to buy another Cat Forest Machine in the near future, a Cat 558 LL.
He owned Forwarders in the past but decided to sell them. “I moved away from forwarders because I wanted to get away from double-handling wood,” he explained. With his approach, trucks are loaded directly at the decks. “We’re taking a whole movement out of the system.
“That’s where a purposebuilt log loader works better,” he added, “stacking and loading.”
Sierra Forest Services works in hilly and steep terrain at times. Logging on steep ground is “tough,” he acknowledged... “it’s interesting.” He is considering the use of cable-assisted harvesters for felling timber in steep terrain.
Matthew enjoys travelling when he has the opportunity, and has visited the USA and Canada over the years to learn about logging methods in those countries and to see demonstrations of new equipment.
He and his wife, who handles the administrative duties for the business, have two children, ages 10 and 13. The company is named for their daughter, Sierra.
■ Matthew Stoppa (in red jacket) and Anthony Watson (Caterpillar's Forestry Industry Manager based in Tullamarine, Victoria) at the site in Starth Creek ,Victoria.