DC Equipment general manager Frankie Davidson (left) and chief executive Dale Ewers… targeting safety-conscious contractors.

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 such as 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.

Dale Ewers, founder and owner of DC Equipment, who runs a successful logging company says, “We got into this business to protect people in our own harvesting crews and it worked so well we offered it to other contractors.”

Designed and tested extensively in a wide range of slope and soil conditions the Falcon Winch-Assist has clocked up about 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 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.

TDF was among the early purchasers of the Falcon Winch-Assist and Mr Davidson says that although the key principles have not changed over the years, he has seen it become more refined and more user-friendly.

“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,” Mr Davidson said.

“The interesting thing is that contractors are not only buying these machines for working above certain slope angles, but a lot of people are 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-deg. 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 28 mm 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.

But even with such a huge breaking strength, the Falcon Winch-Assist operates to 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.

Falcon Winch-Assist, built onto an excavator base, is a multi-purpose machine 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.

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.”

Dale Ewers 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 on the 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.”