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Lo-Bar a Key Partner to Weyerhaeuser-Canada

Alberta Logging Company Uses New Votec Innovation Hornet 825 as Short Wood Processor in Aspen Stands

Date Posted: 9/1/2000

Alberta Logging Company Uses New Votec Innovation Hornet 825 as Short Wood Processor in Aspen Stands

By Diane Calabrese
Contributing Author

DRAYTON VALLEY, Alberta — There are many equations to solve in business. But there is a particular sort every logger tries to balance ahead of all the others. On one side, get the most useful material from a tree, leaving behind a minimum amount of waste. On the other, do the job as fast as possible.

Greg Jacob, the manager of Lo-Bar Logging in Drayton Valley, Alberta, a company that he co-owns with his mother and father, knows a good deal about the challenge of maximizing efficiency in logging operations. The manager became a part owner in Lo-Bar in 1988, the same year the company went mechanized.

When Greg’s parents started Lo-Bar in 1976, they geared up to operate primarily as a log hauling company and did so for 12 years. Today, though, Lo-Bar functions as a contract logging business that performs both cut-to-length (c-t-l) and tree length timber harvesting. The proportion of c-t-l and tree length work depends on the needs of customers, so it varies considerably over the course of a year.

The general index of the effectiveness and organization with which the 50 employees at Lo-Bar go about their work tells an impressive story. "We cut about 30 truck-loads a day," said Greg.

Lo-Bar’s biggest customer is Weyerhaeuser Co.’s Canadian subsidiary, Weyerhaeuser Canada. About 80% of the trees that Lo-Bar harvests are for the big forest products company, which is licensed to take trees from tracts in government-owned Forest Management Areas (FMAs). Weyerhaeuser Canada manufactures about 1.3 billion board feet of dimension lumber annually from its sawmills in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. The company also makes lumber for the truss industry, engineered wood products, composite wood products, pulp, paper and packaging.

The Canadian government works closely with forest products businesses in designating FMAs, Greg explained. Businesses manage the forest lands and earn the right to harvest timber in perpetuity if they maintain the land properly. Weyerhaeuser is licensed to work in more than 33 million acres across Canada. The companies that account for the 20% of the logging that Lo-Bar does — in addition to its big commitment to Weyerhaeuser — also are licensed to harvest timber in FMAs.

The FMA in which Lo-Bar does a lot of logging for Weyerhaeuser fits among the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in west-central Alberta. The area encompasses about 148,200 acres.

The region of foothills and valleys where Lo-Bar logs often has a soggy substrate. From April to June the ground is too saturated with moisture from melting snow and ice to negotiate with heavy equipment, so Lo-Bar conducts logging operations only from July to March. "We are very busy from November to March," said Greg. "The ground conditions are best because the ground is frozen."

Since wet conditions preclude logging in mid-spring to early summer, the three-month period is used for maintaining equipment, which Lo-Bar employees do themselves. Even though this interval allows time for in-depth maintenance without taking time from logging operations, Greg is not interested in servicing machinery just to fill up time. Any repairs ratchet up labor, parts and energy costs. Like other logging contractors, he aims to spend no more hours and money than necessary to keep his machinery running effectively.

A relatively low-maintenance, high-efficiency machine is always a welcome addition, like the company’s 825 Hornet from Votec Innovation in Calgary, Alberta. The machine, purchased by Lo-Bar in early 1999, reduced maintenance because the Hornet essentially does the work of two machines. It both delimbs and bucks. Votec Innovation labels its Hornet 825 a delimber-processor.

The Hornet functions as a "short wood processor," Greg explained."We previously used a stroke delimber and a slasher for cutting 8-foot, 6-inch pieces. The Hornet eliminates [the need for] a delimber."

Lo-Bar usually conducts tree length logging in softwood stands — which are largely white spruce and lodge pole pine — and cut-to-length operations in hardwood. It uses different delimbing equipment for working in the two kinds of stands. The Hornet is designed for harvesting in both species, although Lo-Bar uses the machine only in hardwood. In softwood stands Lo-Bar uses a roll-stroke Limmit delimber made by Risley Manufacturing in nearby Grande Prairie, Alberta.

The addition of the Hornet has improved the efficiency of the company’s c-t-l logging operations in hardwoods. "The feed-through of the Hornet [means that we can do] two jobs in one with the same processor," said Greg. "There is less waste [with the Hornet] than with the stroke delimber," he added. "We have cut waste by more than one-half."

Greg said the Hornet is "rugged" and "has reasonably low maintenance." The Hornet may be mounted on a variety of carriages. Lo-Bar has its Hornet mounted on a Komatsu excavator; the Hornet replaced the excavator bucket.

Greg described Lo-Bar’s c-t-l operation as "pretty generic." The company has three swing-boom feller-bunchers to cut trees, two Tigercat 860 machines and a Timberjack 850.

The Tigercat 860 is designed to function well at either temperature extreme. Because Tigercat designed the machine to have great reach, the model 860 can cut more with less travel, which reduces soil compaction.

The Timberjack 850, with a 20-inch, S566 disc-saw felling head, is designed to operate in large woods and on moderate slopes with up to a 30-degree grade. It is equipped with 30-inch tracks so the machine can maneuver on soft ground without sinking or compacting.

"We use grapple skidders to skid trees to the roadside, limbs and all," said Greg. Lo-Bar operates Timberjack 560 skidders.

The Komatsu excavator moves on tracks, and the operator uses the Hornet to pick up the trees, remove the limbs and buck the logs to length. The Hornet can do its work even as the operator is positioning the tree over a stack of wood where he wants the bucked log to fall.

The butt plate of the Hornet is adjustable by mechanical means and can be set to buck trees at lengths between 96 inches and 127 inches. With an optional computer system, the Hornet can buck different lengths without the butt plate acting as a mechanical stop. The computer system allows as many as 10 lengths to be preset, giving the operator more flexibility in stands where he has to buck to different lengths.

The Hornet can handle trees up to 30 inches in diameter, according to Alf Mielty, the Pacific Northwest factory representative for Votec Innovation. The machine also can handle several small diameter trees at one time. The Hornet has a feed rate of 10 to 14 feet per second and boasts a lift capacity of 100,000 pounds in any direction.

The signature feature of the Hornet is its feed force, which is 12,000 pounds at 3,675 psi, said Alf. The power enables the machine to maintain its feed rate even when it hits large limbs. "Its processing heads are designed for big diameter trees with big limbs," said Alf. "It doesn’t slow down the minute it hits a cluster of limbs."

The Votec Innovation Hornet 825 is successfully being used by Lo-Bar and other Canadian loggers in aspen. Votec Innovation also is marketing it to other loggers in North America and is very close to making its first sales of the Hornet in the U.S., according to Alf.

Although Greg has Lo-Bar’s Hornet working at the roadside, the machine can be deployed in much tighter circumstances. The 300-degree rotation and 22-degree, two-way tilt minimize the working radius and maximize the reach. It has the bucking capability of a stroke-boom delimber but the compactness of a dangle head.

Lo-Bar uses Komatsu swing-boom loaders to put the bucked logs into the company’s 20 Western Star trucks.

Lo-Bar’s contract with Weyerhaeuser is strictly for logging. Weyerhaeuser takes care of the site afterwards, cleaning up the slash and limbs that are left behind in piles. "[In some cases,] company crews burn the waste," said Greg; sometimes helicopters are used.

Much of slash now is being committed to fuel for power generation. Weyerhaeuser and Drayton Valley Power recently formed an alliance; Weyerhaeuser agreed to contribute about 101,200 tons of wood waste per year for 20 years. The additional fuel will increase the power grid for Alberta by 10.5 megawatts.

Weyerhaeuser views its donation of wood waste as a way to benefit both the community and the environment, eliminating smoke and ash from open-air burning.

The hardwood stands in which Lo-Bar works are mainly trembling aspen and black poplar. "The aspen suckers itself back," said Greg, explaining why Weyerhaeuser does not need to replant trees in those areas. Weyerhaeuser uses the aspen and poplar to make oriented strand board, which in turn is used in paneling and as a plywood substitute.

Logging in softwood, Lo-Bar produces mostly saw logs for dimension lumber. Weyerhaeuser reforests the harvested areas with more spruce and lodge pole pine.

Drayton Valley is a town of about 6,000 residents; it is located 63 miles southwest of Edmonton, the capital of the province of Alberta. With 320 employees, Weyerhaeuser is the largest employer in Drayton Valley and Brazeau County. The Drayton Valley and District Chamber of Commerce estimates that another 320 people are employed by logging and hauling contractors that provide raw material to the company’s lumber and oriented strand board mill.

The discovery of oil near Drayton Valley in 1953 stimulated the growth of the petroleum industry in the area. About 5,500 functioning wells — known collectively as the Pembina Oilfields Area — produce almost 3 million gallons of crude oil and over 500,000 gallons of condensate each day. A pipeline system collects the oil and condensate and conveys the oil to refineries in Edmonton, where terminals connect with the Interprovincial Pipeline and the Trans-Mountain Pipeline.

Although loggers had long tapped the natural resources of the major forests around Drayton Valley-Rocky/Clearwater and Whitecourt, major forest products companies did not enter the region until the 1980s. The market for oriented strand board ignited the growth of the forest products industry because it spurred demand for aspen, which previously was ignored because the region’s sawmills preferred spruce, pine and fir.

Oriented strand board (OSB) has gained wide acceptance in the last decade. Japan buys much of the OSB that is exported from North America. A tactic that has helped Weyerhaeuser to penetrate OSB markets is cutting board to sizes specified by customers.

The dimensional lumber produced by the Weyerhaeuser mill in Drayton Valley is defined as premium quality; it has no knots or poor quality wood. The mill processes a large volume of raw material — more than 500,000 cubic meters of hardwood and about 500,000 cubic meters of softwood each year.

When he is not running Lo-Bar, Greg likes to rock-climb and ice-climb, activities that call for intelligence as well as physical agility. You might say that’s good practice for running a logging business.

Logging in the snow and cold for many months of the year is a given in Alberta. Americans may think of Canadians as being waist-deep in snow nearly all year and joke about 50 weeks of winter, but Greg said those views are wild exaggerations. For example, ice-climbing is only possible about five months of the year, he noted. The bottom line, according to Greg, is that the winter is not so long or harsh.

Greg’s grandfather immigrated to Canada from Germany, began farming and soon discovered he preferred logging. Family ties hooked Greg, and experience and "on-the-ground training" gave him the background he needed to co-own and manage Lo-Bar Logging.

The entrepreneurial aspects of having his own logging company are particularly satisfying to Greg. "In this business you have to be original," he said. Problems that arise make the business both interesting and challenging, and they give Greg an opportunity to be inventive.


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