Sipping Their Way to Success
By Myriam Gauthier
Abattage B.C.D. is a well-known family logging business in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, a hard core forestry region a few hours north of Quebec City that is recognized for small wood and efficient contractors. In this area, which has been hard-hit by a challenging economy, survival depends on saving time and money, and constantly improving efficiency, a recipe made all the more vital by a U.S. housing crisis that has seen more than a 50% drop in lumber production volumes at local sawmills.
|Martin Lavoie, mechanic for regional distributor Hydromec, accompanies Abattage vice-president Stéphane Dionne out to the site to make adjustments on the Landrich harvester. Operator Serge Belanger runs the machine. Photo courtesy Abattage B.C.D.|
The Dionne family, which owns Abattage B.C.D., recently added a new ingredient to that recipe when it acquired a new purpose-built tracked cut-to-length (CTL) harvester designed to cut fuel costs. The Landrich LR-HV with a Ponsse H7 head has so far delivered on that front, saving the company 25% on its weekly fuel bill. The Dionnes chose to replace their old purpose-built harvester in 2011. At 10 years old, it still ran, but at a growing cost. “The machine was still good, but we had reached the point where the maintenance and repair would start costing more in the long run than buying a new harvester,” explains Abattage B.C.D. president Eric Dionne.
The goal in making the move was to realize long-term savings while immediately lowering the cost of producing a cubic metre of wood. Fuel economy remains a driving factor, notes vice-president of the company, Stéphane Dionne, who together with cousin Eric runs the company from an office in Saint-Honoré near Chicoutimi. “We try to bring down the price per cubic metre of wood in every way possible,” Stéphane notes.
Abattage B.C.D., which has an annual cut of 100,000 cubic metres and an annual turnover of approximatley $1.5 million, currently runs an eight-person team that works in remote logging camps almost 200 kilometres north of Dolbeau-Mistassini. They focus exclusively on the felling, delimbing and bucking of the timber. Since starting out in 1991, the company has supplied black spruce sawlogs to the Resolute Forest Products (formerly AbitibiBowater) sawmill in Girardville, which is located about a 30-minute drive from Dolbeau-Mistassini.
Resolute itself has been a pioneer in promoting fuel efficiency to its contractors as part of its own environmental and cost-efficiency drive. The Forest Stewarship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endoresement of Forest Certificaiton (PEFC) certified operation tracks fuel consumption on a litre/m3 basis in detail, providing contractors with weekly reports and incentives to drive those figures down.
|Abattage B.C.D. managers Eric Dionne (president) and Stéphane Dionne (vice-president), agree that the Landrich harvester has exceeded expectations to date. Photo by Myriam Gauthier.|
Looking Under the Hood
As part of their research in choosing their new harvester, Eric visited the 2010 Atlantic Heavy Equipment Show in Moncton, N.B., to see what machines were available. At the same show, AL Fabrication of New Brunswick had its Landrich harvester on display for the first time. It drew Eric’s attention, as did its performance stats.
“During the two days of the expo, I spoke with the chief engineer of the company, digging out more information on the machine functions,” explains Eric. “It was also important for us to learn about the vision of AL Manufacturing, and learn a little about its financial health.” The contractor was impressed by the overall design of the tracked harvester, but especially the parts design, the hydraulic system and the electronic interface designed by AL Fabrication’s chief engineer Yves-Michel Thibeault. The interface optimizes the harvesting head. “The Landrich is not a collage of disparate pieces of different companies,” Thibeault explains. “Each piece is unique and has been manufactured in a vision that aims to maximize the productivity of the harvester.” Eric was also pleased that the Landrich harvester included many of the conceptual and mechanical improvements he was looking for in their next harvester. “Many harvesters met our criteria, but the Landrich seemed to be on the cutting edge of technology, offering us more than we were originally looking for,” he says.
AL Fabrication’s roots run deep in the forest machinery, distribution, and servicing sector as they have worked directly with logging contractors for decades. When designing the unit, AL Fabrication’s staff consulted directly with contractors and operators. Thibeault says this in part explains the positive reaction to the machine from seasoned loggers like the Dionnes.
Abattage B.C.D. acquired the fourth Landrich harvester built by AL Fabrication in the winter of 2011. This is the third machine purchased in Quebec, the first two having been sold in the Gaspé region. Before delivery of the Dionnes’ machine, however, the contractor arranged to have some modifications made to the boom to meet local harvesting and regeneration protection needs.
The Landrich standard model comes with a dual-cylinder, articulated harvesting boom. The contractor prefers, however, to work with telescopic booms.
“All our machines have operated with telescopic booms from local supplier D.T. Telescopic Booms since 1994,” says Abattage B.C.D.’s Stéphane. “They’re more expensive, but easier to handle and we’ve found them more fuel efficient, because the adjustments are cut in half compared to a conventional boom.”
Such booms usually grace wheeled harvesters, so the AL Fabrication engineers first ran some engineering tests to adapt the structural strength and flexibility of the boom to suit the Landrich, and to add some shock-absorption technology aimed at reducing the impact on the machine and the operator. The contractor then worked with the Quebec Ponsse distributor, Hydromec in Dolbeau-Mistassini. Hydromec implemented and installed the AL Fabrication design.
“Yves-Michel Thibeault came repeatedly to the region to work with us to adapt the boom and was here for the delivery of the harvester,” recalls Hydromec customer service supervisor David Couture. “It’s very rare for a chief engineer be that close to the user.”
Local Testing Grounds
Once the Landrich was on site last February, it was put through the paces in a hurry. “We wanted to see it work in the toughest conditions to make sure it met our needs, says Eric. “So far it has performed beyond our expectations. There was some stress at first, because we could not try it in the woods before buying it, but all went well.”
Both Eric and Stéphane were surprised by the harvesting head’s speed. The multifunctional head fells the trees and cuts the logs to length. The Ponsse H7 head has its own dedicated hydraulics, and is controlled by Ponsse’s Opti 4G harvesting optimization system.
The Dionnes note that operators like the cab ergonomics and visibility. “It allows us to plan our work in the forest,” says Stéphane Dionne. “I see in advance the trees in front of and beside the harvester, and I can then target species and the size of trees to be cut. You lose less time, because you’re not constantly rotating the machine, which also saves fuel.”
|The harvester purchased by the Dionne family, the LR-HV Landrich with Ponsse H7 head, has been adapted for use with a locally produced DT telescopic boom. Photo courtesy Abattage B.C.D.|
In the terrain and conditions the Dionnes operate under, the harvester consumes between 18 and 21 litres of fuel per hour of operation. Their old tracked harvester consumed almost 27 litres of fuel per hour, saving the company about 25% per week in fuel costs.
According to AL Fabrication’s Thibeault, that makes the Landrich the most fuel-efficient track harevster on the market. “The closest to its fuel efficiency comes in at around 25 litres per hour,” he says.
The Dionne family feels they are guaranteed to save money long term. “We know that we save on fuel costs today and we are quite confident that we will save on maintenance costs down the road,” Eric concludes. “The oversized components of the Landrich should result in greater durability of parts.”
According to the manufacturer, the first three models sold have not required major repairs since hitting the woods. AL Manufacturing, which is now building its 10th Landrich, aims to sell a dozen in 2012, seven more than in 2010. The company is also considering the development of another forest machine model.
Back in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, the region was expecting the arrival of another Landrich harvester. Entreprises Forestiers Lemieux and Girard, Labrecque, which is another harvesting company located northeast of Alma, recently signed a purchase agreement.
So far, the Dionne family is satisfied with their own investment. “We want to keep the same philosophy as our forefathers when they started the company,” Eric says. “The company was among the first to acquire a combined harvester/forwarder in 1991. They saw at the time that new technology would spread, and they wanted the company to be at the forefront. That’s where we want to be.”
Originally produced in French for Opérations Forestières, this article was translated with additional reporting by Scott Jamieson, editorial director.