Shaws Iron Test
Imagine yourself at the controls of this flash new Falcon 171 tower hauler…….at your breakfast table some 500 kilometres away.
Yeah right! Actually yeah, it could soon be right.
It’s quite conceivable that this bright blue hauler, currently working for Moutere Logging in Titoki Forest in southern Hawkes’ Bay, won’t need anyone sitting in the cab by the year 2025. The controls will be worked by someone – anyone, not necessarily a logger – sitting at home, or in a building in the centre of a city, well away from the forest.
That operator may, in fact, be controlling more than one hauler at the same time. The other one could be in a forest in the South Island. Not hard to do, because there’s always plenty of waiting time as the grapple brings in a load or travels out, and technology will do most of the work anyway.
Vision or fantasy?
It’s Dale Ewers’ vision and he reckons it’s far from fantasy because much of the technology to make it happen is already in the marketplace, it just hasn’t been adapted for the forest yet.
This Falcon 171, completely rebuilt by Dale’s Nelson-based DC Equipment, using an old Madill 171 slackline hauler as its donor, has been fitted with the latest technology control systems that will eventually allow that scenario to play out.
“We’re pretty much there already,” says Dale, explaining that there are still some key items to be perfected and, of course, the all-important task of establishing a fool-proof telecommunications connection between a machine far from cellphone towers and the outside world – losing the connection between driver and machine at a crucial part of a log hauling operation wouldn’t be a good look.
Before arriving at Moutere 8 to see the new Falcon 171 up close and operating, I’d already familiarised myself with the inside of the smart new cab via photos that Dale had used in a powerpoint presentation to an industry event a few months earlier.
At that event, Dale spoke of his vision for creating a steep slope harvesting operation that would eventually see most of the equipment handled by people outside the forest. “Logging from afar,” he calls it.
“So our target is, by 2020, to be able to retrieve a tree by the push of a button, and with the work we’ve done with this machine so far it should be quite capable of doing just that, and then to have a fully automated system a while later,” says Dale.
This first step has seen the myriad of levers and switches that festooned the operator’s station in the old Madill cab replaced by a pair of modern joysticks with push-buttons to work all the functions in this brand new Falcon cab. Think of it as comparable to the way an excavator is operated...
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