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Promising first trials with low impact OnTrack forest forwarder

By merging well-proven technologies, Italien tracked carriers with Finnish forest machinery, the goal of the EU-funded Horizon 2020 OnTrack project is to construct a gentle giant, smooth on the ground and on the operator, but powerful enough to maintain and – on soft grounds - to improve forwarding capacity.

The OnTrack prototype merging Italian track carrier tech with Finnish forest machinery here seen doing unloading tests (photo courtesy Skogforsk).

The OnTrack prototype merging Italian track carrier technology with Finnish forest machinery here seen doing unloading tests (photo courtesy Skogforsk).

Forest harvesting necessitates heavy terrain-transport of timber. This entails the risk of rutting and soil compaction. Therefore, sensitive soils have traditionally been logged in winter, on frozen ground. But with ever milder winters and higher standards of environmental performance, forestry needs a low impact forwarder, that can economically transport the wood to the nearest road with little risk of damages to the forest floor.

OnTrack – a joint research effort to lighten forest forwarding footprint

In the Horizon 2020 Innovation Action OnTrack, forest research institutes of five major forest countries joined forces with Finland-headed forest machine manufacturer Ponsse Plc and Italy-headed tracked utility vehicle manufacturer Prinoth AG.

By merging well-proven technologies from two different sectors, the goal of the two-year EU-funded project that began in September 2016 is to construct a gentle giant, smooth on the ground and on the operator, but powerful enough to maintain and – on soft grounds – to improve forwarding capacity.

– At Prinoth, we are proud to be part of the development of technologies for the emerging bioeconomy. Cost-efficient and low impact harvesting of forest biomass from sensitive areas are an important contribution, said Alessandro Ferrari, Vice President Sales at Prinoth’s Tracked Utility Vehicles’ division.

The concept prototype forwarder was built at Ponsse’s manufacturing facility in Vieremä, Finland. It is based on a second-hand Buffalo forwarder, where wheel tandems have been replaced with rubber tracks and undercarriage components of Prinoth utility vehicles.

The machine is a concept for testing rubber tracks in the forest environment, and Ponsse state that there are, thus far, no plans to begin manufacturing of such machines.

– Customers in forestry are demanding as are the conditions. Although many problems remain to be solved, I feel confident that the commercial version of the heavy-duty rubber track system together with our well-proven forwarder will shorten the way to a finished and functional product, said Kalle Einola, R&D Manager at Ponsse.

Comprehensive test programme

The prototype is an important platform for refining the tracked forwarder concept and if the OnTrack concept can be successfully developed into a competitive machine, it will establish a new environmental standard in forest operations, encouraging others to follow.

The field trials of general technical properties and practical forwarding with the prototype are currently being carried out in Sweden by the Swedish forestry research institute Skogforsk and Konstholmen AB.

Vibration test being performed at the Skogsforsk test site in Sweden (photo courtesy Skogforsk).

Vibration test being performed at the Skogsforsk test site in Sweden (photo courtesy Skogforsk).

The tests include measurements on Skogforsk’s vibration test track as well as actual forwarding on soft soils and will provide important input for the construction of a commercial tracked forwarder. Initial test results indicate that the machine combines low ground pressure and low vibration levels, with excellent off-road capabilities.

– For sure, this is not a production-ready machine, but a comprehensive concept machine for testing. The tests that we carry out within the project consortium are a necessary step towards the building of such a machine in the future, says Rolf Björheden, test supervisor, and researcher at Skogforsk.

After the initial test in Sweden, the OnTrack forwarder will be touring extensively for tests under various conditions and prerequisites. Finnish peatland logging will be tested by Metsäteho, traction tests and steep terrain manoeuvrability will be checked by NIBIO and Owren AS in Norway. In Latvia, SILAVA oversees tests on sensitive mineral soils while KWF in Germany will check the OnTrack concept on sensitive brown soils.

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