Forest engineering under the spotlight

March 2, 2013

The world economy is flat, and the economic outlook for South Africa is being downgraded. Get used to uncertainty, and huge economic swings as the economic power shifts from Europe and the USA to Brazil, the Asian tigers and China.


Conference delegates brave the weather to view KLF's new harvesting fleet in action.


This was the message that Clive Coetzee, the keynote speaker at the Focus on Forest Engineering Conference held in White River in early November, delivered to delegates. Clive, the Chief Economist at the KZN Treasury, told delegates that the survival of their businesses would depend on their ability to adapt to the changing economic environment. 'Sustainability' is the new buzzword.

He said world trade is down but it will spike as outsourcing of manufacturing to China and the East accelerates. The world currencies are devaluing against the dollar, but the dollar is being ditched as the standard by world economies, and he expects the Rand to strengthen again. This is good news if you're an exporter, but not such good news if you're an importer.

In South Africa, the only sector doing OK is the services/tertiary sector – primary and secondary industries are declining. And next year is going to be worse than this year.

However, Clive did give delegates a glimmer of hope when he said that Africa is the shining light of the future, and will be the China of the next 20-30 years. In South Africa, we have the resources, and are better off than China or Brazil in this respect.

"So we are in the right place and next year might be the year that we start to put it all together," he concluded.

Haulage tractors

Peter Lyne of the University of KwaZulu-Natal said haulage tractors fill an important gap in the logistics chain, and are soon to be legalised for use on public roads, albeit with a load limit of 12 tons.

He said haulage tractors can play an important role in reducing logistics costs, but the legality of these vehicles operating on public roads has always been a contentious issue. They are used mainly for short hauls of up to 15 km, and have the advantage of being able to work in-field as well.

Negotiations about legalising haulage tractors for use on public roads have been going on since the Department of Transport created a separate category for haulage tractors in 2003.

"New regulations will be out soon so this vehicle will be legal at last," said Peter. He urged the Haulage Tractor Association to get together with stakeholders to lobby for an increase of the legal loads.

Peter Baloyi of the Road Traffic Management Corporation explained that proposed legislation amendments will shift the responsibility for overloading of heavy trucks from the drivers to the consignors and consignees. This will make it illegal for mills to accept timber from overloaded trucks, and will require that all heavy trucks have onboard weighing systems.

This follows the highly successful introduction of the Road Traffic Management System (RTMS) in the forestry, sugar and coal industries, which focuses on self-regulation of loads, driver wellness and safety, and has significantly reduced incidences of overloading among accredited transporters.

Some companies will only award contracts to RTMS accredited hauliers as the drive to reduce overloading, and the negative consequences in terms of road damage, safety and the environment, intensifies.

The RTMS has also played a big role in the introduction of the PBS 'smart trucks', which are authorised to carry bigger payloads. These vehicles are contributing to a reduction in the rising costs of logistics in South Africa, which are among the highest in the world.

Chris Stretch, Senior Manager for Freight Transport at the Department of Transport KZN, made the point that self-regulation in the sugar and timber industries has produced good results.

"We wanted to get our act together by the time the new regulations come out, which include the consignor/consignee clause."

He also pointed out that the average payload has increased at the same time that overloading has decreased. "We don't want to see under-loaded vehicles on the road because that means more vehicles on the road at the end of the day," he said.

He said that financial services providers like banks and insurance companies were also coming on board, providing better rates for accredited hauliers, while some growers will only use accredited transport contractors.

"Most decent contractors can become RTMS compliant quite easily. Let's not wait for the new regulations to come into force – lets rather regulate ourselves and comply with the rules of the road."

A presentation by Philip Hall of Forestry Plant and Equipment provided info on the work being done by the FESA working group on the establishment of standards for guarding operators on excavators. This is critical because he said there is a shift towards the use of excavators in forestry harvesting operations, and these machines are not equipped with the specialised protection that you find on purpose-built forestry machines.

Paul Snyman of NRCS gave a presentation on what forestry companies need to know about making labour carriers legally compliant.

Pierre Ackerman, Senior Lecturer at Stellenbosch University, presented information derived from a study that measured the fibre loss and recovery rates of a harvesting operation. He said that there is a lot of sound timber left behind as a result of high stumps, use of wide kerf saws, breakages and sub-optimal log scaling. This is a problem in harvesting operations around the world, not just in South Africa.

Total utiliseable timber volume recovered during the study was 92.07%. Volume losses were greater in motor-manual system vs mechanised harvesting system.

Muedanyi Ramantswana from Sappi reported on a study that focused on the effect of tree size and tree form on the productivity of an excavator-based harvester with SP 591 head working in Acacia mearnsii in the Greytown area. The aim was to determine if mechanised debarking is a viable alternative to manual debarking.

The study showed that in small volume trees, there was little difference in productivity, irrespective of tree form. However, productivity varied significantly between good form and bad form trees when the tree size got bigger.

The conclusion drawn was that mechanised debarking of wattle is a viable alternative to manual debarking, and there is a safety improvement as well.

There were presentations on the effect of tree size on the productivity and costs of cut-to-length and multi-stem harvesting systems in Eucalyptus pulpwood, and the latest innovations in tracking saw timber through the supply chain, including the use of radio frequency ID tags (see SA Forestry magazine June 2012).

John de Wet from Stellenbosch University reported on a woody biomass harvesting investigation that shed light on some of the do's and don'ts of removing biomass from a harvesting site. He said that if you remove all the slash during harvesting in Zululand, for example, you will lose all the essential nutrients in the soil over 10 rotations, and you wouldn't be able to continue growing trees there. It is also not possible to do short rotation energy crops in these soils because it would deplete the soil nutrients. He said leaves and twigs must be left in compartments during biomass harvesting operations.

Field Day

Conference delegates were invited to view a demo of KLF's new harvesting equipment at KLF's Witklip plantation between Sabie and White River.

KLF has adapted a Tigercat L 870C levelling feller buncher to a harvester mounted with a Logmax
10 000 HT head for clearfell operations.

The new Tigercat LH 830C is equipped with a Logmax 7000 XT. It is a zero tail swing machine ideal for thinnings. KLF harvests very big trees and the equipment they have put in place is designed to cope with these large size logs. Both of the harvesters are tracked machines.

The 1055 Tigercat forwarder has a 16-17 ton payload, burns 8-10 litres fuel per hour and is being used mainly in thinning applications.

The other forwarder is a TimberPro TF 840B, the biggest of the TimberPro forwarder range. It is a big, versatile and high productivity machine designed to carry a 20 ton+ payload. The cab rotates through 360 degrees so the operator can work comfortably on any side.

Benno Kriek of KLF said that KLF had selected these machines because they are built tough and uncomplicated for easy maintenance and good reliability.

AfrEquip has opened a branch in Nelspruit recently to enable them to support the Tigercat machines operating in the Mpumalanga area, and to establish their presence in the region.

The TimberPro is supported by Zululand-based Logmech. There are another five TimberPro TF 840B forwarders operating in South African forestry, so Leon van Eeden says they are able to carry sufficient spares to support these machines.

klf tigercat
KLF's Tigercat harvesters emerge from the mist at the field day.
KLF's Tigercat thinnings forwarder.
Big and tough, the TimberPro forwarder in action at Witklip.


Published in December 2012

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