This article first appears in the May/June 2021 print issue of Canadian Forest Industries (CFI) Magazine and was written by Brian Mulvihil.
Equipment has always played a key role in keeping jobs moving and workers safe in the forestry industry. But there’s always room for improvement – even when you think your equipment and technology are as good as it gets. Just ask loggers like Logan McKenzie, owner of Tri Valley Construction, who operate these machines and spend day after day inside the cab.
EFFICIENCY IS KEY
Tri Valley Construction is located in the town of Princeton, in southern B.C. McKenzie, a third-generation logger, has a crew of 19 and 23 machines in his fleet, including a full line of forestry equipment and complimentary construction equipment.
The family has been logging since the early 1960’s, so they know reliable equipment is crucial to operations. They work in some of the toughest conditions and their operators spend 10 to 12 hours a day in the cab of a machine. Figuring out ways to work smarter has helped with their long-term success, but it’s easier said than done.
The daily challenges of logging are as unpredictable as the weather. Late springs result in a shorter summer season; too dry and they are dealing with forest fires; too wet and the equipment can’t get through the mud. They are increasingly working in darkness to try and increase the number of hours in the work day.
Add to this a changing market, a shortage of workers, a more difficult forest to harvest and increasingly strict environmental regulations and you’ve got a long list of challenges to contend with. Higher productivity, increased worker safety and efficiency are the answer, but how do you get there? It all starts with the right equipment.
So, when Tri Valley was given the opportunity to do extended field testing on the new Caterpillar 538 forest machine, they jumped at the chance – not just because it’s a Cat, but because it’s a totally revamped machine with some big improvements.
I asked Tri Valley what features of the next generation of 538s are making the biggest difference for them.
Here are their top five:
1. OPERATOR COMFORT AND SAFETY IS NO. 1
For Tri Valley, the increased comfort of this next-generation machine has been a game-changer. The better their operators feel at the end of a shift, the safer and more productive the whole operation becomes, whether they are working day or night, during the summer heat or freezing winter temperatures.
“The biggest difference is the cab and comfort for the operator,” says McKenzie. “My operators are in the machine for 10-12 hours and they’re not sore or fatigued at the end of the day. These machines are their second home, so you want them to be comfortable.”
Large windows, smaller cab pillars and a flat engine hood have improved visibility by 50 per cent and with lighting and rear-view cameras, it further enhances visibility and safety.
2. LESS DOWNTIME MEANS BETTER PRODUCTIVITY
Keeping forestry equipment productive and on track can be a tough job even in the best conditions. Traction, power, speed and fuel efficiency all play a role. Features like added swing torque, higher ground clearance and better control allow the Cat 538 to work faster, surpassing Tri Valley’s older machines which process 100 pieces per hour.
Tyson Leduc, an operator for Tri Valley, says there are a couple of other new features that make this machine stand out from the pack. “Caterpillar has ramped up the horsepower on this machine, adding swing torque, and increased the ground clearance. I just love the performance on this machine. The swing torque is really nice, especially in this heavy wood. You’ve got more traction and control from the track power and it’s faster.”
Doubling the fuel capacity has also added to the performance. “With the increased fuel capacity, I don’t need to fuel up every day. I can go three 10-hour shifts no problem and having the extra weight in the back means the stability is really good on it,” Leduc says.
Operator comfort also has a huge impact on productivity. The added comfort means less stress on the body and the easy-to-use controls mean operators get more done in less time.
According to McKenzie, “The biggest thing about the cab is that you’ve got the room to get in with all your stuff, no problem. I really like the controls on it now that they’re integrated on the touch screen. There’s lots of visibility and you can see past the boom now and you’re not tired at the end of your shift. I actually look forward to coming to work to get in that machine every day.”
3. EXTENDED MAINTENANCE INTERVALS SAVE TIME AND MONEY
Unpredictable weather and ground conditions means forestry equipment is at a greater risk of breakdowns, which can result in unplanned downtime and costly repairs. The next generation of equipment is ready to go from the moment it arrives on the jobsite. With extended maintenance intervals, the machine doesn’t need servicing as frequently, which means less downtime. This also results in lower maintenance costs and fewer oil and filter changes.
Working with the right equipment dealer is also key. It can ensure not only the best service for forestry equipment but that it stays healthy and well maintained. Tri Valley is half a day’s drive from anywhere but, according to McKenzie, a good relationship with Finning (their service provider) is key.
“We have a field mechanic in town that provides us great service and they always have parts available when we need them,” he says.
4. UPGRADED CAB AND INTUITIVE SETTINGS MAKE FOR EASIER OPERATION
The Cat 538 is designed with the operator in mind. As a result, cabs have been given a total overhaul – increased visibility, more space, heated and cooled seats, large windows and better controls.
Operators can start the engine with a simple push of a button. Touchscreen monitors deliver intuitive navigation and each operator can program and store their own machine settings. There is also the benefit of added visibility, which is especially important when operating in the dark or on a busy site where there are other workers and logging trucks to think about. The lights on the machine also mimic the same brightness as daytime, meaning loggers can feel safe operating day or night.
5. BETTER HYDRAULICS REDUCE WARM-UP TIME
These new 538s are coming factory direct with built-in systems that automatically check for low fluid levels in the engine oil, hydraulic oil and engine coolant and alert the operator through the monitor. Hydraulics is a huge component of these machines since they are often working in extreme conditions and cold temperatures. Previously, it would take up to half an hour to warm up the machine and bring the hydraulics up to temperature. With the new warm-up feature, it now only takes minutes.
NEXT-GEN FORESTRY MACHINES
The forestry industry is experiencing a big shift – older workers are set to retire and there are challenges attracting the younger generation to the unpredictable career of a logger. Unlike the controlled environments of construction and mining, a forestry site is constantly changing and needs on-site operators, so remote operation is unlikely to solve the labour shortage. Loggers are increasingly forced to move to higher ground to access the trees, which means slopes are getting steeper and the jobsite more unpredictable. As a result, more specialized equipment combined with highly trained on-site workers are needed to operate at these higher elevations.
It may not be the answer to all of McKenzie’s challenges, but adding the Cat 538 to his fleet has been a game changer for his productivity.
“This goes above and beyond my expectations, with what they’ve done,” he says. “The 538 has always been a great platform, but this one has hit it out of the park. I can’t wait to get a fleet of them.”
With the new 538 offering an extended lifecycle, higher productivity and minimal downtime, Tri Valley can harvest more wood in less time while keeping operators safe and comfortable, which is all a logger can ask for.