If you need a clear demonstration of how safety conscious harvesting contractors have become in the past decade, the sale of the 150th Falcon Winch-Assist machine provides convincing evidence.
It took just seven years to reach that milestone and manufacturer, Nelson-based DC Equipment, says demand is currently at an all-time high.
The shift to mechanised tree falling on steep slopes has accelerated around the world after the technology and safety of the innovative practice was proven in New Zealand.
Kiwi companies like DC Equipment are at the forefront of the tech drive, exporting safety-first forestry equipment to customers in New Zealand and across the globe as a solution to removing vulnerable workers from dangerous task such as tree falling and breaking out.
“I can’t believe we’ve hit Winch-Assist number 150, it just seems like yesterday we were building our first one,” says Dale Ewers, founder and owner of DC Equipment, as well as running a successful logging company.
“We got into this business to protect people in our own harvesting crews and it worked so well we offered it to other contractors. We haven’t looked back.”
Designed and tested extensively in a wide range of slope and soil conditions the Falcon Winch-Assist has clocked up approximately half-a-million operational hours and zero harm incidents across its customer base.
One leading customer is forestry equipment leasing company, TDF Solutions, which has purchased 27 Falcon Winch-Assist machines in recent years, including number 150.
TDF’s Business Manager, Frankie Davidson, was himself involved in the early years of winch-assist development with a company that built a double-drum, twin-rope bulldozer but he has since become a firm believer in the single rope system produced by DC Equipment.
“It’s an awesome product and it works bloody well,” says Frankie, whose company provides forestry equipment to contractors on a lease-to-own basis through New Zealand.
“You’ve only got to see how they have changed the way we work on the hills and the safety record. Perhaps the best endorsement is that the customers we have keep coming back for another one……..and another.
“Since we took delivery of the 150th Falcon Winch-Assist – our 27th – we’ve already signed up our 30th.”
TDF was among the early purchasers of the Falcon Winch-Assist and Frankie says that although the key principles have not changed over the years, he has seen it become more refined and more user-friendly.
“Compared to the first one, number 150 is different in almost every single way and yet it is exactly the same,” says Frankie.
“The way the control system works is incredibly simple to use for the operator and there’s years and years of development and hundreds of thousands of hours with machinery use and technology to develop how the system works to look after the machine and look after the operator.
“The interesting thing is that contractors are not only buying these machines for working above certain slope angles, but a lot of people are also using them for environmental reasons and in adverse weather conditions. Many operators who have been using them for a while find it very difficult to go onto any slope without a tether. Even on 20-degrees they feel very vulnerable and uncomfortable. To retain staff it is almost becoming necessary to have machines like this.”
The Falcon Winch-Assist has been designed from the outset with single-drum, single-rope technology. It uses the largest rope size of any winch-assist machine – at 1⅛ inch (28mm) diameter the swaged rope provides 71 tonnes of breaking strength ensuring that even shock loading will not compromise the strength or structural integrity of the rope. A larger rope also equates to longer rope life as it is more resistant to damage.
But even with such a huge breaking strength, the Falcon Winch-Assist operates to has a 21-tonne working load limit as a safety measure. Because the operator who is sitting in the felling machine only has to manage one rope when working on the slope it reduces complexity and the potential for snags.
Similarly, the design of the winch system means less mechanical and electrical complexity, which reduces the opportunity for faults and breakdowns.
The Falcon Winch-Assist has seen numerous improvements and safety features added over the years to eliminate operator risk, including:
- Overspeed alarm triggering a rope management system in the Winch which automatically slows it down to prevent shock-loading
- Movement alarm to alert the operator if the winch-assist machine experiences any movement
- Cab door tamper detection alarm
- Over tension alarms
- Drum over-speed alarm/arrest
- Maximum rope pay-out alarm/arrest, and
- Live feed camera for the operator to monitor the engine bay and winch drum.
The beauty of the Falcon Winch-Assist being built onto an excavator base is that it is a multi-purpose machine, being able to work as a loader, shoveller or digger through the option of fitting a quick hitch when the machine is not required for tethering.
Typically fitted to a 30-tonne carrier, the weight of the complete winch unit is comparable to the original counterweight, plus a completed Falcon is just 600mm longer and the winch system itself has minimal impact on the original specifications and performance of the base.
The raised bodywork also sees the winch unit almost completely enclosed by rear guarding for additional protection, whilst provision has been made for easy access points for maintenance.
Frankie Davidson concludes: “There used to be a lot of discussion around winch-assist being the future of steep slope logging – it’s no longer the future, it’s the now. If you are not looking at doing winch-assisting, then you are going to limit your ability to win contracts going forward. It’s that simple.”
Dale adds “With winch-assisting now accepted as the way to harvest most trees on the hillside, DC Equipment is currently developing the next phase of mechanisation in relation to our felling carriage – a skyline carriage equipped with a harvesting head for felling trees on slopes too steep for even the Falcon Winch-Assist to reach. Watch this space.