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In the not-too-distant future, this Alpine shovel logger will be fully automated to work autonomously on the slopes.

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T’S A RARE THING TO FIND A MACHINE THAT HAS BEEN developed specifically with harvesting woodlots in mind. Even rarer when that machine ends up providing small-scale crews with the sort of sophisticated high-tech wizardry that only larger, well-resourced contractors working in corporate forests have been able to access. The Alpine shovel yarder is such a machine. Or it soon will be. With the yarder components engineered in South Africa and then incorporated into an excavator here in New Zealand to suit our local logging environment, the Alpine is about to be transformed into a highly automated machine that can accomplish most of the work itself. A Forest Growers Research programme is funding the development of a prototype automated grapple carriage and hauler control system for the Alpine, involving stem recognition camera software that relays information back to the main machine to control yarder functions. It’ll be a very sophisticated piece of kit when the project is finished. Not unlike the developments taking place to automate the Falcon 171 tower hauler that was Iron Tested in the February issue of NZ Logger. The programme is at an early stage, but the first Alpine Shovel Yarder in New Zealand recently started work with Rotoruabased Complete Logging to provide practical experience with the machine before the high-tech stuff gets fitted. Whilst it would be fair to say that the Falcon 171 tower and Alpine shovel yarder sit at either ends of the operating spectrum, they’ll both end up working in a similar fashion in a few years……..with minimal human input. It’s the future of logging.

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That’s why the NZ Logger Iron Test team has travelled to a woodlot overlooking picturesque Lake Karapiro in the heart of the Waikato, so we can get a taste of the Alpine shovel yarder programme in its infancy and find out from Complete Logging’s owner, Major Nelson, what he thinks of the product of the South African/Kiwi joint venture so far. Our Alpine report coincides with a renaissance of interest in excavator-based yarding that is currently under way in New Zealand. The concept of converting an excavator/loader into a nimble yarder isn’t new – it’s been around for donkey’s years. American and Canadian loggers have produced a variety of them, which they refer to as yoaders. Here in New Zealand, the Harvestline is the bestknown example and EMS has developed it into a very impressive machine, exporting some to overseas markets. Traditionally, shovel yarders were suited to relatively low production operations or in combination with ground-based systems and sales have waxed and waned over the years for a variety of reasons. But as more woodlots come up for harvesting the advantages of compact shovel yarders have seen these systems return to popularity. Woodlots, or small-scale forests (ie those under 1,000 hectares), make up around 30% of the national plantation estate and, as many of them mature, it is predicted they could yield up to 15 million cubic metres per year across the nation from 2020 through to 2035. However, a large percentage of these smaller forests have been planted on steep land and are tucked away on the back of farms, often on narrow windy county roads where access is limited and it’s more difficult to employ larger pieces of equipment. These forests are often located further from mills and ports, compared to corporate forests, which adds even more to the cost.

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