Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Alpine innovators take Lead on forestry gear

Making a worthwhile visit to Italian firms at the cutting edge of development

Bruce Lett

Last month I travelled to Northern Italy to visit several firms that specialise in different areas of the forestry industry. Though the province of South Tyrol is in Italy, before the First World War it was part of the Austrian empire and, as such, a German speaking region. It was annexed by Italy after the war.

With a lot of history under its belt, South Tyrol is today an autonomous region in Northern Italy. It is bilingual with both German and Italian being spoken, while all road signs are also in the two languages. As a result of the region's history, there is an odd blend of Austrian and Italian culture. When this is applied to business it appears to result in cutting edge development and the ability to sell it.

I was a guest of EOS -- Export Organisation South Tyrol -- that had lined up four companies for our group to visit.

The epicentre of the visit was Bolzano, a city nestled in a valley floor of the Alps. In the city and surrounding area, agriculture, manufacturing and tourism are all very strong industries. With its proximity to the mountain forests and farms, much of the manufacturing industry is focused on producing both agricultural and forestry equipment.

The following companies tend to be at the leading edge of their industries and, with the exception of the Microtec, are similar in size to many of our own agri-manufacturing firms.

Seppi M

This firm has an increasing presence here in Ireland and would be recognised for its heavy duty mulchers and stump grinders. Established in 1939 by Max Seppi, the firm initially produced a variety of agricultural equipment. In 1971, Max's son Luciano developed the firm's first flail mulcher for use in vineyards. This machine could be used to both cut the grass between the rows and mulch up the vine prunings.

In 1980, the firm shifted its focus entirely onto mulchers, developing stronger machines for forestry. Then in 1987, Seppi M developed the mulcher concept even further, producing its first stone crusher. In 2005 and 2006, the reins of the company were handed over to the third generation of Seppis, with Lorenz (president), Barbare and Susanne now running the firm.

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Today it has 65 employees and exports 80pc of its products to 70 countries. There are more than 70 models in the Seppi M range of flail mowers, flail mulchers and fixed head mulchers. But the product that has made the biggest impression here in Ireland is the Seppi M Multiforst.

Available in three widths of 2, 2.25 and 2.5m, the Multiforst is a dual-purpose machine that can work above ground to mulch all manner of wood, trees, scrub and gorse up to about 250mm in diameter. While in the ground, it can work to a depth also of 250mm mulching tree roots and stumps. For its final trick, it can crush stones up to 150mm in diameter.

Because of the type of work it is doing and engaging very tall vegetation, the Multiforst is operated by the tractor in reverse, so a tractor configured for reverse drive would be ideal.

What enables the Multiforst to do this kind of work is the design of the tungsten-carbide hammer, which is bolted in a fixed position to the machines rotor. With 44 of these (on the widest Multiforst) at more than €100 each, the hammer is the most important part of the machine. The tungsten-carbide tips are manually silver-soldered to the steel hammer head.

"If the hammer is good, the whole machine is good. If it is bad then the whole machine is bad," says Lorenz.

In Ireland, the Seppi M range of products is handled by Anthony Keegan, of Green Equipment Supplies near Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

For more information, call 086 2425237 or check out www.greenequipmentsupplies.ie

Seik

Next up is a company called Seik, located outside a village called Trodena in the South Tyrol. Seik is a relatively young company, founded in 1991 by Michael Lantschner, who sold his car to set up the firm.

Michael's firm designs and manufactures skyline cranes for both the forestry sector and the construction sector.

Fans of the various axemen and lumberjack programmes on Sky will be familiar with this type of kit. It is used as a method of carrying felled trees down mountains. A cable is set up above where the trees are to be ferried from and below where they are being deposited. Travelling on this cable is a 'truck', which is an independent crane unit with its own engine on board. This engine drives a hydraulic system, which in turn operates the crane cable and cable brake. All the crane's functions are operated from the ground via remote control.

Seik has developed aerial cable cranes for handling weights of up to 40t, across curved terrain and even a gantry running on two parallel cables. In Russia, the firm has designed a system to ferry materials up the side of a mountain to where a cable car system is being built for the Winter Olympics in 2014.

Despite a worldwide presence, the firm employs just 25 people at its premises in Trodena. Here, all the design work is carried out and key components such as the 'trucks', cable drum systems and electronic systems are both designed and manufactured.

Michael says: "We are not a big manufacturer but we are very focused on our products and work. We have contracts all over the world, including Malaysia, India and Russia. In Italy, we have nine Skyline systems rented out. This allows us to get the know-how and develop it."

For more information, check out www.seik.it

Resch & 3

In the early 1950s, carpenter Johann Resch came up with the idea of bringing the saw to the wood instead of the wood to the saw. By 1955, he developed his first saw and, with his brother Ignaz, started to produce mobile band saws. In 2006, the company was bought from the Resch brothers by three employees, Christoph Lunger, Martin Rieder and Rudolf Lantschner.

Today, the firm remains small but very busy, producing high-end mobile (and stationary) band saws. With just 10 employees, the firm builds eight to 10 machines a year, with each one taking one to two months to build.

As Mr Rieder says: "Each machine is built differently to suit what the customer wants, mobile saw, stationary saw, to process big trees, long trees, with a diesel engine or electric. Whatever the customer needs, we build it."

The advantages of a mobile saw are clear: you can bring the saw to the tree. Other advantages, according to the company, include a small bench footprint because the tree sits in it and the saw moves the length of the table, so it does not require a long support table either side of the saw. There is also no change time when adjusting the slice thickness so every tree can be cut as desired.

To increase the service life of the blade, Resch uses double pre-cutters to clean dirty sections of a raw log before cutting it. The firm also uses pressure guides to support the band saw blade to allow the cut to be made fast and accurately.

As Martin says: "In beech for example, there is a lot of tension so if you cut longitudinally with the circular saw and then with the band saw, the plank won't break."

There are an enormous number of variations and options offered. To date, the longest saw Resch has built is a 34m unit for one customer.

Prices typically vary from €100,000-200,000 depending on what the customer wants.

For the future, Martin says: "We don't plan to go big, we have 10 employees [and] are very flexible to produce whatever the customer wants."

For more information, check out www.resch-3.com

Microtec

With its headquarters in Brixen in South Tyrol, Microtec was the biggest firm we visited with 150 employees and a turnover of €29m. Founded in 1980 by three engineers, Microtec designs and manufactures equipment for scanning trees both before and after they have been processed.

But as CEO of Microtec, Federico Guidiceandrea says: "Customers don't want just scanning; they need control of the saw machine as well."

So the firm integrates its scanning systems with software to produce a 'cut plan' based on its scanning data.

Federico is one of the three engineers who began Microtec and has a background in bioengineering. This is clearly evident in the company's use of technology ordinarily found in the medical industry.

Scanning devices normally used there have been redeveloped to analyse the characteristics of harvested trees, looking for flaws, examining grain structure, checking moisture and dimensions. Used widely by Microtec are X-ray, ultrasound and CT scanning, but also used are lasers, special colour cameras, black and white cameras, radio and microwave scanning and infrared devices.

Describing what Microtec produces, Federico said: "Because machines cannot process information like a human eye and brain, we give our machines better eyes that simple [computer] brains can use. For example, knots have the biggest influence on how wood is used, these have a higher density than the surrounding wood so are very easy to see with an X-ray."

Essentially, the firm has developed technology to automate timber production.

According to Federico, Microtec has 1,500 customers worldwide and most of these are industrial sawmills processing soft timbers such as spruce and pine. With an enormous amount of trees passing through these plants, many of the devices developed by Microtec have been designed to operate at the production speed of these plants.

The firm's latest machine, the CT-Pro, is a high speed CT scanner that has been developed to provide a full picture of a log as it passes through. This enables timber yards to grade a log or tree depending on its volume and the quality of the timber. Any internal defects, knots or foreign objects will be seen on the CT scan, allowing the log to be priced accordingly.

The challenge when creating the CT-Log and CT-Pro, according to Federico, was to develop a machine that could scan at a fast enough pace for timber yards. A drum spins at 240rpm and produces 5,000 images/sec of the timber log passing through. One of these machines costs over €1m.

For more information check out www.microtec.eu

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