Bell Equipment forges ahead with mechanised forestry solutions

November 5, 2013

Many foresters and Saasveld students braved cold and wet July weather to attend a demonstration of John Deere and Waratah forestry equipment in action in Tsitsikamma in the Eastern Cape.

Wet and cold weather did little to dampen the enthusiasm and interest shown by the foresters and Saarsveld students who attended Bell Equipment's forestry field day in the Tsitsikamma area of the Eastern Cape. Jules Larsen of Waratah was equally keen to answer any questions and provide technical data on the Waratah HTH623C head.
The John Deere 1710DS 8x8, operated by Enviromech, is fitted with double-wheeled bogey tracks and is capable of extracting a load of over 20t on slopes of up to 50% in clear fell or thinnings operations.

Bell Equipment, the official distributor of the John Deere range of forestry equipment and Waratah processing heads, hosted the forestry field day in Cape Pine's plantation in Tsitsikamma. Also in attendance were Simon Shackleton of John Deere Forestry and Jules Larsen of Waratah, who provided in-depth information about the equipment on show. Their presence at the field day illustrated the close working relationship that exists between the partners.

The Enviromech team carefully selected the harvesting system for the Cape Pine contract in collaboration with Derek Howe of Bell Equipment.

Derek did an in-depth analysis of Cape Pine's Annual Plan of Operation for a three-year period, taking into account the volumes, terrain, sites and conditions. Then he and Danie Scheepers of Enviromech configured a specialised, cost-effective, purpose-built harvesting system suitable to handle anything that would be encountered on the Cape Pine contract.

"We had a challenge to co-ordinate the introduction of the harvesting systems to ensure that the mills were adequately supplied over the transition from a motor-manual system to a fully productive mechanised system, from day one," explained Derek.

"We decided on a John Deere 753JH Harvester carrier fitted with a Waratah HTH623C head, along with a John Deere 1710DS 8x8 Forwarder to harvest and extract the cut-to-length timber from the plantation to the roadside, from where it is transported by road trucks to the saw mills," Derek said.

Enviromech secured the contract to harvest timber in the Tsitsikamma area for Cape Pine following a tender process, and took delivery of the John Deere/Waratah harvesting system recommended by Bell Equipment.

Completing the fleet is a Bell 225A Logger that is fitted with the safety kit, including doors and a three-point safety harness, which is used for housekeeping duties.

"The John Deere 753JH Harvester is equipped with John Deere's highly fuel-efficient 180kW, 9l engine with integrated design hydraulics. This machine has best-in-class reach with a purpose-built 8,5m harvester boom. Enviromech's unit also features wider and double grouser tracks along with the extremely stable U7 undercarriage, which is longer and wider, installed to suit the contract underfoot and slope conditions," explained Derek.

According to Jules Larsen of Waratah, the HTH623C Head is built in New Zealand and is mid-range in the Waratah product offering. With an operating weight of 2 800kg, the head operated by Enviromech has been fitted with "every conceivable accessory you can find", including an automatic paint marking system.

The HTH623C is a highly efficient harvesting head suited to the toughest conditions thanks to large, high-torque feed motors, delimbing power and good balance of feed speed. Importantly, the head is supplied fully integrated from the factory so it is just a matter of 'plug and play' when fitting the head to the harvesting boom before operations can commence.

In addition, TimberOffice software accurately captures daily and lifetime information for effective production and equipment management.

"The Waratah 623C head boasts power and torque, which is more than capable to suit the tree sizes and species to be encountered on the Cape Pine contract," continued Derek. "This particular head was selected for its durability and ability to process and optimise the various market demands of precision log lengths and quality, from 75cm down to 5cm. A first for South Africa, this head has diameter sensing, saw limiting cross cutting and felling, which only demands power when required, thereby increasing fuel efficiencies. This allows for precision automated log optimisation as per mill request, tree form and value. In addition, the head has a paint applicator for multiple market identification."

Once the timber has been felled and cut-to-length, the John Deere 1710DS 8x8 Forwarder gets to work extracting and neatly presenting the logs from the compartment to roadside.

"While various configurations are available, the Enviromech machine has a 5,4m bed with a 8,5m reach," continued Derek. "The Forwarder, when fitted with double wheeled bogey tracks, is capable of extracting a load of over 20 tons on slopes of up to 50% in clear fell or thinnings operations. These bogey tracks enable all weather on-the-move loading and extraction, while the fuel efficient 160kW, 9l John Deere engine 'just purrs along'."

This is the third fully mechanised CTL harvesting system that Danie Scheepers has worked with as his family's timber operation in Mpumalanga, Bosbok Ontginning, took delivery of its first system in 2008. This joint family concern now harvests about 400 000m3 annually with these three CTL systems.

"These operations have received accolades by many a visitor to our shores as being world-class," said Derek.

Danie explains the move to mechanised systems: "Back then, the stumbling block to marketing the full harvesting system to corporate companies was the reliability factor due to the scarcity of skills and parts, and the perception that these were First World systems not suited to our conditions. However, we realised that with the scarcity of skilled labour willing to participate in the harsh conditions found in the forestry sector, it was necessary to distinguish ourselves with mechanised systems.

"We did our homework well and we are familiar with these machines, having already used them for about five years in our Highveld operation. They are really working well and performing as we expected," he said.

"Currently, the machines work a full day shift, and training of new operators takes place during the night shift to ensure that they have the consistency and speed required by the operation.

"Since the arrival of our first units, Bell Equipment has also come a long way with their now large, stable and highly skilled after sales and technical support teams. We have exceptional commitment from Bell Port Elizabeth and it is reassuring to see people who are so hands-on. I believe we have made the right decision with our machines and Cape Pine, although they didn't buy the machines, can see that their contractor is getting the required service from their equipment supplier," he said.

He adds that daily maintenance is key to achieving a high level of mechanical availability. "If you neglect daily maintenance, you will pick up problems like a leaking hose or blocked grease nipple that could lead to more serious and collateral damage, increasing downtime. We are strict on maintenance and use John Deere's recommended maintenance schedule and it is working for us," concluded Danie.

The John Deere 753JH Harvester, operated by Enviromech, features wider and double grouser tracks along with the extremely stable U7 undercarriage, which is longer and wider, installed to suit the contract underfoot and slope conditions.
Simon Shackleton of John Deere Forestry and Danie Scheepers of Enviromech with Enviromech's John Deere 753JH Harvester in the background.

Published in August 2012

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