Remote tree logger aims to cut forestry deaths video

ALDEN WILLIAMS/Stuff.co.nz

The remotely operated John Deere 909 tracked felling machine goes to work at a demonstration near Nelson.

 

The forestry industry has unveiled a robotic tree logger to cut deaths and injuries and boost production.

From a distance, an operator uses a computer gaming-style controller to guide a John Deere 909 tracked felling machine towards a tree. He then guides a giant arm to clamp around the tree stump and an attached chainsaw cuts it down.

Felling machine operator Tony Irvine with the harvester which he controls from a distance.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Felling machine operator Tony Irvine with the harvester which he controls from a distance.

Future Forests Research (FFR) chief executive Russell Dale described the technology as a world leader which would go a long way to reducing forestry accidents. In 2013, there were 10 deaths in the industry, which has a fatality rate 15 times that of all sectors.

Dale said the technology reflected the mantra "no worker on the slope, no hand on a chainsaw".

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At a demonstration near Nelson on Thursday, the remote control system was displayed to politicians, officials and the media.

It was described as a further step towards a fully tele-operated, remote control system, in which an operator will sit inside a cab surrounded by large monitor screens, and is expected to be working next year.

The technology has been developed through the steepland harvesting primary growth partnership (PGP) programme, a government-private enterprise initiative.

It has taken three years of design and engineering research by an FFR team involving Scion, Cutover Systems Limited and ADM Design Ltd, working with harvesting contractor Wood Contracting Nelson Ltd.

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Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said every time he heard of a forestry industry or fatality he was concerned, so the mechanisation was hugely important.

"We are really starting to see results from PGPs, with top scientists and engineers working together to create productivity improvements and massive gains in health and safety," Guy said.   

Contractor Ross Wood said mechanisation in the forests he managed had increased productivity from 200 tonnes a day to 350 tonnes a day. 

Steepland Harvesting is a 6-year, $6 million programme between the Ministry for Primary Industries and a consortium of forestry companies and contractors, led by FFR.

 - Stuff

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