BTB 34: Eucalyptus Specialist
Published on: Monday 1st July 2013
Mecharv S.A., based in Los Angeles, Chile, is not structured like your average harvesting contracting company. Mecharv founder and owner, José Hidalgo, started in 1991 as an employee in the mechanized harvesting department of Monte Aguila S.A., a company that owned and controlled extensive forest resources in Chile at that time. In 2000, Monte Aguila decided to wind down the mechanized harvesting department, instead favouring the use of independent third party contractors to fulfill the company’s fibre requirements. In 2001 Mecharv S.A. was founded as an independent company. José also went on to found a sister transport company, owned by Mecharv, called Transportes Reñico. “My objective was not to create Mecharv only for me but for all the people who worked for me in past years [at Monte Aguila] and were loyal workers,” explains José. These employees were given the opportunity to become shareholders in the new enterprise, giving rise to a unique closed corporation structure. José’s investment made him the largest of twelve shareholders but to this day he only holds 49% of the company’s shares. “If I had 51% ownership, the company would function like a dictatorship,” explains José. “The group of owners makes up a board and through the board they make active decisions and participate in management.”
José feels that this structure enhances employee performance because they have a real stake in the company. “If I have a proposal to invest very heavily, it becomes a board decision. Usually I make decisions because they trust me but I want the employees to know and feel that they participate in decision making. If I have their loyalty, I know that they will work hard for Mecharv.” To get started, José purchased a used Ponsse CTL system from his former employer. Unfortunately the machines were not in the best condition. “At the beginning, it was not easy,” José recalls. “We had a great deal of technical experience but not business or commercial experience. We were forced to learn in a hurry. We learned by falling and failing many times.” While the CTL system worked, harvesting around 15 000 m3 the first year, José dreamed of a day when he could operate equipment perfectly suited to the operations. He also envisioned owning a single brand to take advantage of economies of scale and to have the suitable mechanical knowledge to maintain and repair everything in-house.
One manufacturer and the best brand
In the early part of the last decade Komatsu had a marketing agreement with Silvatech Industries, makers of the Morgan hydrostatic skidder. “Komatsu invited us to see Morgan skidders in Canada,” José recalls. “We got to a jobsite in BC. One trail led up to where the Morgan skidder was working.” But as José tells it, there was another trail. “I heard the sound of a machine and followed out of curiosity.” It happened to lead to an area where a Tigercat skidder was working, explains José. “With my basic knowledge of English, I asked the operator about the machine and the operator said it was great. I was amazed by the machine.” (One can only wonder what the operator was thinking as he was confronted by the friendly Chilean in the remote BC bush.) José continues, “The operator was skidding downhill. I climbed in the cab with him and I liked the machine but I asked, ‘Can you skid uphill?’ He laughed and said ‘We don’t do it that way but OK, sure.’ And he turned around and skidded the load uphill perfectly. Back in Chile, I found out that Latin Equipment was the dealer for Tigercat and I told them that I wanted a 630B skidder. That is how my love with Tigercat started.” Mecharv has subsequently purchased 30 Tigercat machines. Although he does operate other brands, José qualifies by saying, “This is only when Tigercat does not make the machine I am looking for… such as small processors.”
Systems and operations
Manuel Chicioada is operations manager responsible for all of Mecharv’s diverse and varied eucalyptus harvesting configurations. Total monthly production is 140 000 m³, nearly ten times the volume of 2001 and the company now employs 190.
Monte Aguila was purchased by another forestry company, Forestal Mininco, in 2004. Mininco manages forests and exports cellulose and José is thankful that the company has evaluated and recognized the good work that Mecharv has performed. Mecharv currently operates two eucalyptus infield chipping systems for Mininco. One works full time and the second is used as a back-up in case one of Mininco’s other contractors fails to supply its contracted volume. “The back-up maintains and guarantees the chip supply for Mininco’s Santa Fé facility,” says José. The single chipping system produces 35 000 m³ per month with a 724E drive-to-tree feller buncher, two skidders—a 630D and a 620D—and a Precision Husky debarker/chipper. Mecharv’s two full-tree systems each produce 20 000 m3 per month. The configurations are identical with one 724E feller buncher, two 620D skidders and one T240 equipped with a ground saw slasher. Two machines, a truck-mounted 220C and T250, are used for loading. José explains that the 220C is employed in case they decide to leave a job with wood still at roadside. Later on the truck can drive back easily to the site to load the wood. These two operations supply Mininco’s Santa Fé cellulose mill. Wood is trucked full-tree, topped to 5 cm with branches and bark intact. The mill debranches and debarks at its own facilities, utilizing the material as biomass fuel for the mill. Another system provides a similar full-tree product to Forestal Celco SA, a subsidiary of the Arauco Group, except the system operates on steep slopes. It is comprised of an L830C feller buncher, one 604C cable skidder as well as 610C and 620D skidders equipped with winches. A Timberpro 630 with a grapple saw works at roadside. Chile is a mountainous country and there is no shortage of eucalyptus plantations on steep terrain. The steep hillsides often offer an excellent climate and ideal growing conditions. Generally the valleys and lower sections of the mountains are planted with eucalyptus and radiata pine. The higher elevations approaching the Andes range to the north are planted primarily with radiata. Mecharv has a couple of additional mechanized steep ground crews. One system consists of an old Valmet track buncher (soon to be replaced by a Tigercat L845C which Mecharv has already ordered), a Tigercat 604C cable skidder and a T234 slasher-equipped loader. The trees are bucked to 5–7 m lengths with bark and branches intact.
The newest steep terrain system—working on Mininco plantations—utilizes a Tigercat LS855C shovel logger equipped with a Satco processing head. It fells, shovels and pre-bunches for the skidders. A new 615C, the first in South America, and a 604C skid to roadside where the trees are bucked to length with no further processing. The shovel logger and six-wheel skidder work very well together, with the shovel greatly improving the productivity of the skidder by conveying the wood uphill from the steepest sections of the block. José, a pioneer in Chile with the LS855C, explains that the shovel logger is a very versatile machine because it can crosscut at roadside and can even load trucks if required. He adds that few in Chile thought the concept would work, yet he has created a very productive new operation based around the machine and now others are taking notice.
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