SHAW’S WIRE ROPES IRON TEST
Gisborne-based Kuru Contracting has finally converted its roadlining operation to mechanised felling, opting for one of the first TimberPro TL765C levelling harvesters to come into New Zealand. It’s an interesting machine, harking back to the Timbo of the 1980s and it’s no coincidence both owe their existence to the same man. Our Iron Test team looks at what has changed over the past 30-odd years.
Roadlining has come a long way from being solely focused on building tracks, landings and skid sites, with maybe a few trees processed along the way.
THESE DAYS ROADLINING OPERATIONS CAN RIVAL the output of the production harvesting crews they are prepping for, so long as they take the right approach. For Gisborne-based Ricky and Leanne Kuru, the decision to take their roadlining business to the next level meant a slight change of approach from their tried and tested motor-manual methods, with the introduction of a tree-falling machine.
Without any prior experience of mechanised harvesting the Kurus relied on the guidance of trusted suppliers to steer them in the right direction.
In this particular case, Komatsu Forest’s John Kosar nudged them towards the new tilting TimberPro TL765C, the largest purpose-built harvesting base in the company’s stable.
The big harvester has been a long time coming for Komatsu Forest, following the demise of the Valmet 475FXL. Whilst the key harvester/feller buncher models have all been upgraded recently under the Komatsu brand, there was no sign of a 40-tonner making it into the new X3 range. That’s understandable. There is a limited market for a machine of this size outside of North America and Australasia, so it was left to affiliated forestry equipment manufacturer, TimberPro, to fill the niche for Komatsu Forest. Some six years down the track, that’s finally happened.
NZ Logger first clapped eyes on the new TL765C at the AusTimber 2016 show, where it made its down-under debut, albeit with red livery, rather than Komatsu yellow and we’ve been waiting expectantly for it’s machines to arrive on our shores.
Ricky and Leanne Kuru took delivery of one of the first two TL765C machines to arrive in New Zealand last year and matched it with an appropriately sized implement – a Woodsman Pro FH1350 felling head. Having settled into its work over the past six months, it’s time to saddle up and head to Gisborne to sample the new TimberPro.
This is the third Kuru machine NZ Logger has Iron Tested over the past decade and as Sam Keefe and I pull into Tolaga Bay, where their operation is based, among the first people we meet is smiling family patriarch, Jack, who is among the welcoming crew for another big dozer that is joining their road building enterprise. But it’s the wrong type of machine and colour for us today. We want to see red. Literally.
First, a chat with Ricky over coffee to explore the reasons for the TimberPro turning up in his operation.
The purchase was prompted by a declaration from forest owner, Hikurangi Forest Farms, that all crews in its estate needed to become fully mechanised for safety reasons.
Ricky’s crew was one of the last motor manual teams working in the HFF forests and he freely admits: “I was dead against mechanisation, for the pure fact that I prided myself on being the best at working with chainsaws.”
He pauses for a while, before adding: “And then I seen the light.”
When the laughter dies away, Ricky says the HFF edict wasn’t unexpected but “it brought it home to me and I thought, oh well, better go grab a processor”.
It had to be a full-size processor/harvester, because the wood in these parts is big. We’re talking an average piece size of three tonnes. What are they feeding them up here!
These days contractors can have their pick from a wide range of machines to tackle this sort of work and Ricky agrees that he was spoiled for choice, adding: “There’s a lot of equipment out there but I’ve only ever bought Volvos, Komatsus and Cats. They’re all up there and I generally go with the salesman to be honest.”
That’s only partly true. Ricky then proceeds to tell us why he likes the TL765C and what it has going for it that others don’t. He’s done his homework. The final choice came down to a machine that suited where his crew is working, as much as a decision made for personal reasons.
The reasons all make good sense.
“This machine is spec’d up way better than the rest of them,” Ricky goes on. “This one has a self-levelling button, which saves a lot of mucking around. Longer track frame. Everything seems to be bigger than everyone else. Motor size and other stuff. We’ve got some big wood up there so it needs to be able to cope with that.”
And going for the FH1350 felling head instead of a harvesting/ processing head was another good decision, he adds.
“We did look at putting a harvesting head on it, but in my opinion they just can’t handle them,” says Ricky. “It’s too steep, too heavy – you could probably do it for a bit, but overall there’s just too much weight, until they bring out a head that’s light enough to do that job.”
All the trees are cut into 17.5 metre lengths (or close to it) and transported out as stems to the HFF Optilog processing yard south of Gisborne, so there’s no need for processing in the forest anyway.
Sounds like all sweetness and light, then.
Not exactly. Days after the new TimberPro arrived to work in the Hurunui Forest, with Ricky himself at the controls, he was beginning to think he had made the wrong decision.
“I wasn’t happy – I wanted to give it back,” says Ricky. “I learned a huge lesson. The issue was me. I rang Jonny Edwards (ex-Woodsman who now lives in Gisborne) and said ‘bro can you get your arse over here’ and he turned up and away he went. Made me look like a dick.
“I’m just a digger man, eh. He said this is a purpose-built machine for one job and that’s felling trees. And he was so right. Within a week I cracked it and I thought ‘I ain’t giving this thing back, it’s mean’. I just didn’t know what I was doing before. Bent one bar, snapped a couple of chains. Made a mess of the trees.
“I reckon if you are a tree faller it helps heaps, knowing what’s going on. I didn’t know about two cutting, I was trying to cut the trees with one cut. They’re big trees and you have to put two cuts in them.”
Ricky spent the first six weeks on the TimberPro and eventually handed the keys over to full-time operator, Johnny Hutchins, who has just turned up and is ready to take us into Hurunui Forest, about 20 minutes inland, to where he is working with Log 2.
Johnny started his forestry career as a skiddy and manual faller with the Kuru team 20 years ago and he’s been operating processors and standard base falling machines more recently. Just the sort of background needed to operate a falling machine on steep land.
Interestingly, Johnny has been contemplating purchasing his own harvester with a view to doing contract falling and the TL765C was one of the machines in his sights. But when he saw on social media Ricky and Leanne had just purchased this one, he rang up on the off-chance they might need an operator. Ricky couldn’t vacate the hot seat soon enough and return to running the business, welcoming Johnny back to the fold.
So, here we are, in a block of standing trees in the middle of Hurunui with the big red TimberPro cleaned up and ready to rock and roll. We’re a short distance from where the rest of Log 2 is working, led by Ricky and Leanne’s daughter, Jasmine (Jaz).
Even standing still, the TL765C is an impressive piece of kit.
And if you think it has a familiar look about it, you’re right. This machine traces its history right back to the very first tilting harvester built back in 1979 under the red Timbco brand by legendary American bushman, Pat Crawford.
He sold Timbco to Valmet in 2000, which rebranded the models before being purchased itself by Komatsu in 2004. And then he started up another forestry equipment business, TimberPro, to carry on making the unique revolving cab forwarders before venturing back into producing tracked feller bunchers and harvesters again.
Effectively, the TL765C brings us back full circle and there’s obviously still good chemistry between the Crawford family and Komatsu Forest to enable this machine to be included under the larger company’s umbrella in far-flung markets like New Zealand.
Walking around the machine it’s like Pat Crawford went back and had a good look at the 475FXL, then decided to update the big fella, even down to using the latest version of the 9-litre Cummins QSLO.9 engine that featured in the 475FXL we Iron Tested in 2009. Except that he’s put the boom on the right-hand side, rather than on the left, where it was positioned a decade ago.
It still has a few of the old Crawford touches, like the toolbox built into the base, except that the 2018 version is more compact.
That’s because the TL675C now has the fuel tank and hydraulic fluid tank situated in the base as well. Why? Because it keeps weight down low, bringing the centre of gravity closer to the ground, which makes it feel much more stable.
On the 475FXL, the fuel tank was hung on the rear of the tail to act as a counterweight, but Crawford and his TimberPro engineering team figure it’s better to put that weight in the base. The penalty is that the new machine’s fuel capacity is 946 litres, compared to 1,362 litres in the 475FXL. Still big, and enough for Johnny to work for a couple of days without refuelling (averaging about 29lph), thanks to the use of improved technology that we’ll talk about shortly.
Whilst scrutinising the base, we give the levelling system the once-over, although it’s hard to see it in detail with most of the mechanism hidden from view. But the set-up is similar to modernday levelling systems used by leading manufacturers, although they vary in how much they tilt in each direction.
Ideally, you want maximum tilt in front when cutting a tree facing up a steep slope, but it’s still handy to have some tilt rear and sideways.
On the TL765C, it can tilt 22-degrees forward and 8-degrees back, but there’s a very good 20-degree tilt side-to-side. That’s not just an improvement over the old 475FXL, it also scores well against the competition, providing the Komatsu with the best sideways tilt of all, whilst keeping in the middle of the pack with forward and rear tilt. Adding to its stability is the 4.9-metre long and 3.4-metre wide Caterpillar 330 track frame that delivers a large, steady footprint.
A good all-rounder, you’d say, but it’s how this machine makes the most of its levelling prowess that counts. Again, we’ll get to that soon.
Before it heads into the cut-over, we climb around the engine bay and also check out the cab.
Entry to the cab is via a side door, so quite a steep climb up. Once inside, the well-appointed cab feels light, airy and the airsuspended seat is comfy. Lots of vision ahead and through the side screens thanks to Marguard making bars redundant. The Sure Grip controls at the end of each armrest are well positioned and there are two screens on the right-hand pillar (a 10” one for the machine and a smaller one on top for the felling head). The big screen can be tuned in to the rear-facing camera that gives the operator another set of eyes when swinging around tightlypacked trees. Sam explains more about the controls in his Iron Test column on page 32.
As with the old 475FX, the bonnet opens up like a clamshell and there’s great access around the Cummins for technicians to work on, even with the large canister feeding the standard Fire Suppression System sitting in front of the auto reversing cooling fan. Filters are right at the front of the engine, so no having to perform acrobatics to change them.
Many contractors will be familiar with the QSL9, which has powered a range of machines over the years. The version in the TL765C is rated at 255kW (342hp) and also produces a healthy 1,424Nm of torque, so there’s no shortage of power.
While those outputs are identical to the old 475FXL, there’s new management software to improve the power delivery and
economy, as well as making the engine smoother. And to make full use of every available kiloWatt and Newton metre, the TimberPro team has equipped the TL765C with a veritable swag of pumps and tech stuff that add real muscle, including dedicated swing and implement pumps.
More interestingly, is the fitment of an energy recovery system, similar to that used by Tigercat, which recovers energy as the boom and arm are activated to re-use when slewing or lifting. This system works like an accumulator, storing power and then making it available to help boost performance and reduce the effort required by the engine, thus lowering fuel consumption. We’ll see how that does its job soon.
Down on the ground, Johnny goes through his morning greasing formality, made easier with the powered grease pump fitted after the machine arrived.
This provides an opportunity to talk to Johnny about his background and how he is enjoying the new TimberPro.
“It’s my first leveller and it took a couple of weeks to get used to it, but I wouldn’t go back to a standard base now, even though the last two I had were beautifully set up,” he tells us.
“Yes, I felt very comfortable in those, being lower to the ground. Now I’ve operated a levelling machine I can appreciate the comfort it provides when you go on steeper slopes. Mind you, sometimes when you’re on a steep section at full tilt and you look back you think s__t, did I just climb up here? I’ve said that a few times.”
As well as falling with machines, Johnny has worked on processors on the skid more recently and he says this created some issues when he arrived at Log 2 to jump on the TH765C.
“When you come off a processor the mindset is a bit different,” he says.
“Because I had spent so long on processors we had to set this machine up to make the transition a lot easier. With help from Jonny Edwards I managed to get it with the right settings to suit me. Gone are the days when you hop out of a machine and had to do the valves. It’s all touch screen these days – dials on this and dials on that. I didn’t have to change much, mostly the operation of the felling head to suit the way I like it, slower to start off with. As I’ve got used to it I’ve started to make other changes, not just to suit myself but to suit the stand as well.”
Not all the changes could be made on the screen, however. The ground in this forest becomes very puggy in wet weather and the standard size single grousers easily filled up with mud. They’ve been extended and are now double the length, around 110mm, which is the maximum they can go without interfering with the tilt (or voiding the drive motor warranty). Johnny says they make a world of difference when the heavens open.
Komatsu also updated the machine recently with different cogs for the transmission (or the “funk box” as Johnny refers to it) accompanied by software changes to the engine.
“That’s given us more power – an extra 200rpm, so it peaks at 2,000rpm, instead of 1,800rpm,” adds Johnny. “You notice and hear the difference, but it doesn’t use that much more fuel.
“As I’ve got used to the machine, I’ve been able to work it a bit
more economically. I usually run it on half rabbit. You really don’t need any more than that.”
Johnny reckons he’s at the stage where he fully understands the TL765C and now he is working on how to maximise that potential in the stands by varying the settings of the machine.
“If you go into a smaller stand and you don’t need all that power in the lift rams or in the dipper arm you can either dial it down or divert it to somewhere else,” he says.
“The good thing is you can keep it all nice and smooth without any jerkiness. And that’s what you want on the hillside – a jerky machine feels uncomfortable.”
So, how comfortable is it, we ask? “Pretty comfortable, although the seat belt is not my choice – I’d prefer a proper 4-point harness because it holds you better.”
And we have to ask about quietness – Cummins have a reputation for being noisy. “I don’t have the radio going as I like to listen to the machine and what it is doing. The engine is a bit noisier than some, but it’s not over-powering other noises. I can still hear the pitch of the saw, which I’m mainly listening out for.”
Johnny likes the energy recovery system and reckons he can tell the difference when it kicks in, adding: “It never feels like it is bogging down. When you are dealing with these big trees that extra bit of slew and lift from the system is good – you don’t want it to bog down at a critical time.”
Greasing chores over, we discuss where to start the Iron Test and Johnny points to a stand of trees on a slope to the right of
the track heading into the forest, in the direction of where we can hear the manual faller working an area deemed too difficult for the TimberPro. It must be bloody steep cos Johnny reckons he can handle most slopes in this forest.
Climbing into the cab he fires up the Cummins and it doesn’t sound anywhere near as noisy as I had expected, due to better sound insulation and a newer technology exhaust.
Dropping off the roadside, the long track frame does its job steadying the TL765C as Johnny keeps his finger on the auto levelling button – an excellent feature that automatically tilts the machine to a more level position, so long as you keep pressing on that button. Johnny told us that it can be a little slow, but he does have the option of manually adjusting the levelling, which appears to work more quickly.
The first trees Johnny lines up to demonstrate his technique, and the machine’s felling prowess, are not particularly large, around 1-to-1.5 piece size, but we have spied some bigger ones on the other side of the track that we’ll test the TimberPro on later.
With a shortish boom and arm, only extending out to 7.2 metres at full stretch, the TL765C needs to be brought in closer to the trunk to set it up to manage the tree’s fall. Some competitors have a longer reach, which makes for better shovelling, but if it’s
too long it can be a handicap. TimberPro thinks this one is long enough and Johnny agrees – shovelling is just as much about technique as it is about reach and after bringing down the first few trees he shows us what he means, with fast hands and fast handling. It does help that he’s got more than 125,000Nm of torque driving the slew pump, with the energy recovery system adding more oomph. And with those extra long track frames, plus the hydraulic power, the TL765C can also lift an impressive 6,804kg at maximum reach. Perfect for a really big stem.
The Woodsman Pro FH1350 felling head is a pretty good match to the TL765C, having a fast saw, wide openings to accommodate these big buggers, full 360-degree rotation and good arms, with individual clamps that put a firm grip on the stems. Not lightning-fast, but fast enough. And it is built to stand up to the punishment dealt out by big trees.
What does impress, is how Johnny has full control over the direction of felling and that means he can guide the trees down to the preferred landing place to reduce breakages.
Demo over, Johnny brings the TimberPro back onto the track for
Sam to try his hand at falling, something he hasn’t done for a while, as he’s been sat in a processor this past year. No wonder he is feeling a little anxious and hangs onto Johnny’s every word during the briefing.
Sam set off at a deliberating slow pace to the stand on the opposite side of the track to fall some of the bigger trees. He seems to be having issues with keeping the cab on a level plane and later tells us he’d forgotten about keeping his finger on the auto button. He ended up using the manual adjustment.
As Sam lines up his first tree, I ask Johnny about the best way to approach it with this machine and he says: “When bringing down trees you get into a habit of timing the fall of the tree and you let go slightly with the clamps so that it’s not vibrating too much.”
Sam is making two cuts in each of the trees he brings down, but Johnny says his own experience has taught him which ones require a single cut and which of the bigger ones need two cuts.
With Sam still taking his time on each tree, not wanting to make a mistake that will damage Ricky and Leanne’s new pride and joy, Johnny asks me if I have used a drone in the forest yet. They’ve recently acquired one and he uses it to mark out boundaries to download into the TL765C’s computer and help plan the way he’ll tackle the harvesting. NZ Logger has recently purchased one, but we’ve yet to use it in anger until I get my UAV pilot’s licence.
So Johnny grabs the little white drone from the back of his ute, inserts his phone into the command module and sends the multi-rotor machine into the air above the TL765C. There we observe Sam from above and get in closer to the action than would otherwise be possible. Some of that footage can be viewed on the NZ Logger website and Facebook page.
Sam finally feels he has enough experience at the controls to call it a day and emerges from the cab with a big grin on his face – a grin that matches the one we saw on Ricky’s face earlier, when he told us the TimberPro TL765C is helping Log 2 achieve an incredible 25 loads a day. And doing it more safely.
Right: Great uncluttered view of the outside world without bars in the way, thanks to the Marguard – note the smaller display screen for the felling head, sitting above the main display. Below: Neatly laid-out hydraulics and electrical system are...
Top: Clamshell bonnet opens up to provide good access for daily checks and maintenance. Above: The base of the TL765C has a hidden compartment for storing tools, chains and bars, but it now has to share space with the tanks for the fuel and...
Top left: Johnny Hutchins started out with Kuru Contracting years ago and has returned to operate the new TimberPro. Top: right: Johnny Hutchins has a hydraulic grease gun to help with the daily greasing chores.
The short boom and arm means our Iron Tester, Sam Keefe, needs to get in close to fall these trees.
Top: The Woodsman Pro FH1350 felling head has good saw speed and plenty of capacity in the arms for the large Gisborne trees. Below: Big high and wide undercarriage sitting on those extended grousers. Bottom: Plenty of stability from the long Cat 330...
Below: The arms on the Woodsman Pro felling head open wide enough to enable a pair of large stems like these to be grappled in one go.
With plenty of weight in the base, the 38.5-tonne TimberPro always has falling trees well under control.
The TimberPro TL765C provides Komatsu Forest with a very effective levelling harvester at the top end of the range.
The new TimberPro TL765C, fitted with a Woodsman Pro FH1350 that is now harvesting trees for the Kuru Contracting roadlining operation near Gisborne.
Above: Filters are easily accessed at the front of the QSL9, with the Fire Suppression System cylinder tucked to the right. Below: The levelling base can tilt 22 degrees forward and, handily, 20 degrees from side-to-side, keeping the operator on a more...