Is Mechanizing the Future of Tree Work?
We’ve all seen the images of the monstrous Tree-Meks tearing apart trees from 100’ away while the operator sits back running the remote control tree destroying machine. The things are pretty legit when it comes to efficiently and safely dismantling a tree without the need for a climber aloft. For those that don’t know, a Tree-Mek or grapple saw truck is a knuckleboom crane with a Mecanil grapple attached to the end of the crane. The amazing thing about the Mecanil head is the fact that it has a built in chainsaw as well. This allows the operator to reach into the canopy of the tree, grab a limb or log, cut said limb and then safely set it down at the chipper. The efficiency that comes with these machines is unbelievable as is the safety factor of removing the climber from a possible dangerous situation.
While the remote controlled tree removal sounds great, there are always trade offs when it comes to these types of things and negating the climber from tree removals as a whole is completely unjust. There will always be a need for climbers in tree care regardless of what equipment you purchase. Tracked Lifts are being utilized with most every tree service I talk to and they definitely have their place on the job site as well. They can fit through small gates and can reach way up into the canopy but they also have their limitations when it comes to steep grades and tight backyards. This is another spot where a well versed climber can run circles around a machine.
For a long time I had refused to even think about buying a bucket truck. Then I started to really feel the wear and tear on my body that comes with the day in and day out of climbing, groundwork and running my own company. I saw the holes that could be filled by the bucket truck and how it could be utilized by my other employees instead of just me. Now I could climb a tree in the backyard while another worked a tree in the front yard with the bucket truck. Our production doubled with that one purchase. On that same note, I feel like there have been times that we have spent longer trying to get the bucket truck in or out of a tight spot than it would have taken us to just hustle up into the tree and get the work done. These are those never ending tradeoffs of equipment purchases.
While on the topic of purchases, let’s discuss the financial responsibilities of purchasing a larger piece of equipment. If you finance the purchase, you’ll have accrued interest that adds up as well as increased insurance premiums to insure that nice new shiny piece of iron. Increased fuel bills as well as increased maintenance costs should also be factored into this equation. The production that could be completed with a Tree-Mek is astounding but so is the purchase price or even the monthly payments on one of these machines. The fact that one of these trucks could cost 1-5 times the costs of your house is enough to make me want to vomit! But, the capability of increased production and margin of safety should be weighed into this equation as well.
For my company, I have found that mechanizing as well as utilizing my own climbing ability but also utilizing contract climbers has been the real ticket to making everything work relatively seamlessly. We originally purchased a mini skid steer to make the ground work easier, next we purchased a bucket truck and have just recently purchased a grapple saw truck. This progression has been fitting for our company and we are still getting all the processes figured out and when and where the equipment works best and also where bringing out the climbing gear works best.
On the note of bringing out climbing gear, I’d hate to skip out on the mechanizing of our own climbing kits as well. With the introduction of the Petzl ZigZag and then the progression of the Rope Runner and the Akimbo, the climbing world has been making some leaps and bounds in the way of mechanicals as well. When the Zig Zag was released it allowed the climber to move very efficiently down the rope as well as removed a bit of operator error from the equation by threading the rope onto the device in one direction and negating the need for a climber to “tie” their friction hitch onto the rope. This was a positive and negative thing in my head because it also took away the need for a climber to actually know how to tie their hitch because the mechanical made it so easy for them. The Rope Runner and Rope Runner Pro have been great additions to the SRS game in terms of efficiently moving on rope and great designs in general! This is another area where mechanicals could possibly improve productivity in the right hands.
So, is mechanizing right for you and your company? I can’t answer that for you but I can say that each piece of equipment as well as each highly skilled employee, whether climber or ground worker or operator, each has a place on our job sites when utilized to their best ability. There are jobs that only a climber can do but there are also jobs that a climber or bucket “could” do but I wouldn’t dare use them when I can get the grapple saw truck to it because that is the best fit for the given scenario. This is the same as humping my way into the tree with a Tautline and a closed climbing system instead of throwing on a foot and knee ascender and walking my way into the canopy. Sometimes the scenario calls for one or the other and it’s our place to make the decisions that work best for our given situation. Let us know what you think about mechanizing in the comments below!