"No worker on the slope, no hand on the chainsaw" is the vision of Future Forests Research, which is co-investing with the Ministry for Primary Industries in innovative harvesting technologies that will improve productivity and worker safety in steepland harvesting in New Zealand.
The New Zealand forestry sector and the Ministry for Primary Industries have both identified steep-country harvesting as a key bottleneck to achieving greater profitability in forestry. Worker safety is also an issue. Future Forests Research (FFR) has formed an alliance of research providers, forest owners, and tree harvest engineering and machinery companies to deliver a programme that could extend commercial forestry establishment on steep marginal land.
The programme aims to:
reduce steepland harvesting costs by 25%
grow harvest machinery manufacture in New Zealand to future-proof the sector
make harvesting jobs safer.
The centrepiece of this programme is the development of a steep-slope, feller–buncher machine which can operate safely and efficiently on steep slopes without endangering workers.
The ClimbMAX, as this ground-based harvester is called, has been built by Kelly Logging and Trinder Engineers in Nelson. The machine is now commercially available from ClimbMAX Equipment Ltd and is successfully harvesting trees on slopes of up to 45 degrees in New Zealand and in North America.
In addition to the ClimbMAX, the programme has developed new systems, including remote controlled machinery, advanced hauler vision, grapple control and innovative yarding technology to improve the productivity and safety of cable harvesting systems.
The programme has recently been extended by one year and is now in its last year of a 7-year programme.
Development of the ClimbMax harvester, a new ground-based harvesting machine which can fell and bunch logs on steep slopes and remove the need for chainsaw operator has been completed. The machine is marketed by ClimbMAX Equipment Ltd. Eleven ClimbMAX machines have now been sold – 7 in Canada, 3 in New Zealand, and 1 in the United States.
In initial trials, the ClimbMax machine has shown an increase in the volume of logs cut and bunched ready for extraction of 65 tonnes per unit per day (a 26% increase in productivity) and a net cost saving of approximately $3.50 per tonne (10%) over conventional harvesting methods (a direct cost saving of $8m per annum within 5 years). Worker safety is also improved by removing the need for manual labour on the ground on steep slopes.
The programme achieved teleoperation (control beyond line-of-sight) of a commercial feller-buncher, a John Deere model 909 harvester, in 2016. This is believed to be a world first. A field demonstration of the system including the operator cabin and console built to tele-operate the feller-buncher was held in July 2016 in Nelson.
Development of the prototype tree-to-tree felling machine (dubbed the "Stick Insect") for steep country felling was completed over the last year. A field demonstration of the machine moving from tree-to-tree without touching the ground, using remote control technology to operate the machine from safe working distances, was held in Christchurch in September, 2016. With further investment this machine has the potential to change the way steep terrain harvesting will be undertaken in the future.
Other achievements include:
The Alpine Grapple – a light weight, low cost option for grapple yarding which increases the productivity of cable extraction and eliminates manual breaking out (the process of gathering and hauling logs up slopes). To date 13 units have been sold in New Zealand.
The CutoverCam advanced hauler vision system, which streams high resolution live video of the breaking out and log extraction operation into the hauler cab, providing great visibility of ground operations for the hauler operator who no longer needs to rely on radio and other audio signals. The CutoverCam is marketed by Cutover Systems Ltd and to date three units have been sold.
Development of a prototype of the Awdon Skyshifter, an innovative twin winch skyline carriage designed for rapid shifting of the cable logging skyline, which is now in production field trials.
Installation of remote control technology into a mobile tail hold anchor machine (a Volvo 290 excavator)
Development of the Doherty automatic quick coupler attachment enabling the machine operator to switch between a processor head and a log loading grapple without leaving the operator cab.
These innovations are providing forest owners and contractors with solutions to improve productivity and reduce the exposure of workers to hazards on steep terrain.
Sector wide benefits arising from the programme and related outputs to July 2016 are estimated to total $94.8 million from operational cost savings and machinery and equipment sales.
In addition the programme has been an important contributor to the reported decrease in serious harm incidents in forestry and logging since 2012. Serious harm injury rates dropped from 194 incidents in 2012, to 160 incidents in 2013, to 107 in 2014 and then to 79 in 2015 – a 50% reduction over three years (Source: Work Safe New Zealand) .
An independent review of the programme was completed in November 2014:
Programme start: November 2010 Length: 7 years PGP funding: $3.7 million Industry funding: $3.9 million Crown funding paid out to programme for work done to 31 May 2017: $3,473,397.41 Commercial partners: Future Forest Research Ltd Estimated potential economic benefits to NZ: $129 million per year by 2019.
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