NEW ZEALAND: Custom-built Volvo excavators are helping drive a vital part of the New Zealand economy
by Jeff Rogers
The forested Canterbury high country of New Zealand is no place for the faint-hearted, especially during the winter months of June, July and August when frost and snow can force a drop in temperature to -20˚C. This rugged landscape, with the mountain range of the Southern Alps that extends along much of the length of New Zealand’s South Island as a backdrop, grows pine trees for export.
Key to harvesting this crop is the right equipment, and Volvo CE is now meeting customer demand by supplying forestry carriers that are specifically designed for the tough conditions in this area, also known by its Maori
With four machines in the range already in operation in New Zealand and another two on their way, two versions are currently available to customers – the EC250DL and the heavier EC300DL tracked forestry carriers.
Working hundreds of hectares in Canterbury’s Malvern Hills on the east coast of the South Island, Button Logging’s Rory Button operates one of the new EC300DL forestry carriers, which landed ready to go and was put to work immediately on arrival.
“Forestry is not the kindest industry in New Zealand. The gear has to be pretty tough for our environment,” he says. “Logging is a lot different here than, say, in Europe. The wood is much bigger and we use tracked machines more.”
The machines have been brought to market by Volvo CE’s Special Application Solutions team, led by commercial projects manager Peter Lam. New Zealand’s Volvo CE distributor TransDiesel, with its head office in Christchurch, was instrumental in lobbying for the purpose-built excavator.
TransDiesel got exactly what it asked for and marketing manager Mark Keatley is delighted with the result. “We are just a small market down here,” he says, “but we made a lot of noise and Volvo sent its team.”
The Volvo team visited a variety of logging operations to be able to develop the purpose-built forestry machine designed for New Zealand’s demanding conditions.
The back country terrain is muddy with plenty of boulders ready to damage equipment. The forestry carriers feature a high and wide undercarriage with a special heavy-duty underbelly guard and full-length track guards. Among the machine’s plus points are stronger engine hood and side panels and reinforced fuel and hydraulic tanks. A specially designed and reinforced cabin plus three emergency exits from the cab – the rear window, the side door, and the roof hatch – are among a number of features that enhance operator safety.
The machines are fitted with a Volvo quick hitch, so they can work with a range of attachments, such as buckets or grapples depending on the task on hand. “It can harvest, process, load, stump harvest, trench, plant, and build roads,” says Keatley.
“The Volvo is one of the best I’ve driven,” says Button. “It’s really nice to operate and has a fast boom action, which means it’s much more efficient.” He can keep an eye on what is happening at the rear and right-rear blind spot on a screen taking feeds from two on-board cameras.
The excavator is also fitted with a CareTrack telematics system which not only means the company knows the machine’s geographical location, but it can also monitor how efficiently the operator is using the machine, including fuel consumption and operator hours. It also alerts the operator and sends messages back to TransDiesel when the excavator is due for a service.
The country’s third largest industry after agriculture and tourism, forestry is a vital part of the New Zealand economy, bringing in more than NZ$1.6 billion a year (US$1.1 billion; €987 million). Native species such as totara and kauri, some of which are hundreds of years old and tourist attractions, are generally off-limit to harvesters.
But almost 1.8 million hectares – much of which is Monterey pine or New Zealand pine – are available to loggers. Douglas fir and various cypress are and eucalyptus species are also grown for domestic and export markets.
Just under half of the harvested logs and processed timber heads overseas, mainly to Australia, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United States, Indonesia and India. As well as logs, the exports include sawn timber, panels, wood chips, pulp and paper, and other products.
SAFE AND SOUND
Dave Button, Rory’s father and co-owner of the family business, loves his company’s latest acquisition and was keen to get behind the controls as soon as it arrived. “It’s going really well,” he says. “It works fast and is good on fuel, too.”
Economy and fuel efficiency are important elements for Button Logging which has three logging crews and a road crew working at different sites in Canterbury. Christchurch is in the process of being rebuilt after the devastating earthquakes of 2011 which wrecked the city, killing 185 people and leaving thousands homeless.
To its new owner’s delight, the machine needed no modification to its hydraulics, tracks or cab – the latter virtually destruction-proof, vital in an industry where the accident rate is a matter of controversy. A high fatality rate –10 deaths in 2013 – has put the industry under the spotlight, so the safety features of the Volvo EC300DL, including the specially designed, ROPS-certified cab with 31mm reinforced front screen glass, are being welcomed by New Zealand’s forestry industry.
A new Forest Industry Safety Council (FISC) is working on improvements such as better training and equipment. It is already paying dividends with just one fatality last year and serious harm notifications down by 60%. With the council pushing hard for safer gear, the new Volvo, with its extra strong purpose-built cab, is attracting growing interest.