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The Log - Issue five- Research activity - Onboard systems trial

image of onboard computersBy Martin Strandgard

Overseas experience has shown that onboard computers in forest harvesting equipment have been able to improve efficiency and productivity by up to 30%. Similar improvements are believed possible in Australia, but despite the potential benefits there has been little uptake of onboard computing here. For these reasons, a project trialling onboard computers in Australia was established, largely funded by FWPA.

The project will produce a selection and installation guide for onboard computers in Australian harvesting equipment. The guide will enable equipment owners to determine which computers are best suited to their circumstances and will provide information on installation, approximate costs and how to interpret results.

Three trials of onboard computers

Three trials were set up as part of the project to gain experience with onboard computers not often used in Australia, and to demonstrate to harvesting equipment owners the potential gains. The trials were set up to cover a range of forest types, harvesting equipment and onboard computers.

Forwarder and harvester computers used to improve utilisation data in radiata pine in South Australia

Onboard computers are widely used in forest harvesters in radiata pine, largely due to forest owners requiring optimisation of each stem. However, these computers are underutilised and there has been little uptake of computers in forwarders. A forwarder computer can be linked to the harvester to plan wood transport and can monitor forwarder performance. The forwarder is often the rate-limiting step in this type of operation.

GPS on the harvester can also monitor harvesting progress and be used to draw productivity maps. A trial was set up with ForestrySA and Kettles Logging in South Australia to install a Dasa forwarder PC and to investigate better utilisation of the harvester computer. Preliminary results showed utilisation data collected by the harvester computer had limited detail compared with other onboard systems. A major breakdown of the harvesting equipment during the trial emphasised the importance of long-term utilisation monitoring to establish realistic data. Utilisation is an essential input into harvest rate calculations and is often overestimated due to lack of data.

RouteHawks offer insights into chipper limitations in blue gum plantations in WA

Large areas of blue gum plantations have been established in southern Australia over the last 15 years. A large range of harvesting systems are used in these plantations, but there is little information on machine productivity. RouteHawk computers are being installed in a feller buncher/skidder/in-field chipper harvest system owned by Dohnts Engineering in Western Australia. The chipper is typically the rate-limiting step.

RouteHawks will produce better information on whether the chipper is limited by availability of trucks or wood, or by other factors such as maintenance or breakdowns. RouteHawks allow remote, real-time monitoring and can be configured to warn when problems arise, such as significant delays. The RouteHawks are installed in the harvesting machines and are being configured.

Multidats explore bottlenecks in native forests in Victoria

VicForests harvest Victorian public native forests. M and R Harvesting contract harvesting services to VicForests, and a trial of Multidat computers has been set up in their operations in the central highlands of Victoria. Garmin GPS units have also been installed to warn of proximity to hazards and no-go zones. Fully mechanised operations are new to this forest type, so there is little information on machine performance and considerable scope for improvement.

Multidat data has shown that the harvester and skidder in this operation are significantly underutilised and the bottleneck is on the log landing. The harvest contractor has used these results to improve log flow through the landing by moving responsibility for truck loading from his operators to truck drivers. The improvement in throughput moved the bottleneck to log haulage, which illustrates the importance of viewing the whole system. Discussions are underway with VicForests to determine how to improve the flexibility of their log haulage arrangements.

The future of the project

The onboard computing project will continue to collect results until 2011, when the selection and installation guide will be released. A series of workshops will be conducted around the country to launch the guide, explain its use, and outline significant findings from the three onboard computing trials.

For more information, contact Martin Strandgard.