Nearly 20 years in the land clearing business has taught Don Anderson of Grand Rapids' Anderson Tree Service a few things about equipment. All things being equal, getting a job done faster is preferable to taking a slower route. But equipment with a faster processing speed is not necessarily more efficient. And efficiency is the key to profitability — especially when you are clearing a couple of thousand acres a year.
Anderson is a pioneer in the land clearing industry, and the first one to advocate the shredding of materials rather than burning or burying them. "We can completely disassemble a set of woods much faster than anyone else," Anderson said, "because we put the right machines in the right applications."
First he sends in the Hydro Axe 721's to "mow down all the little stuff" and "make it look like a park."
With this unhindered access to the property, they mark the log trees. Then they begin to take out everything else. They use a Hydro Axe 721 with a 22-inch high speed saw head to lay down everything but the timber. Afterwards the timber buyers (who buy it on the stump) come in to look over the timber that Anderson auctions off.
The loggers come in to cut down the timber, which Anderson skids out to the landing with his CAT 525 grapple skidders or a John Deere 648 grapple skidder. After the loggers cut off their log, Anderson chips the remaining tops directly into open-topped walking floor trailers. Finally, the area is ready for the stumpers to do their thing. Once the stumps are ground, the whole area is root raked with a D6 dozer and leveled off. The debris is run through a 13-foot tub grinder and hauled away, and the site is ready for excavation.
While there are many options to choose from in terms of grinding brush and clearing vegetation prior to excavating, removal of stumps has long been a problem. Digging them out to haul them away is slow and costly. Burning or burying them is not the answer. Grinding them with high speed dedicated stump grinders was another option that Anderson explored and actually used for a couple of years.
His first foray into this realm was with a 175-horsepower dedicated tracked stumper that proved to be undersized for his needs. He replaced this with a larger 275-horsepower model that seemed to be a better solution for about a year. But component breakdowns and unscheduled downtime for repairs forced him to consider other options. So he checked out other high-speed options but found that each one was likely too hard on the equipment — in terms of downtime and repair costs, not to mention the frustration that comes when breakdowns inevitably occur so close to the project's completion.
In keeping with his philosophy of putting the best equipment in the field for a particular application, Anderson investigated the SH700 — a low-speed, high-torque stump grinder offered by Fecon. The excavator-mounted grinder, which is powered by its own John Deere engine, promised better fuel efficiency and better observation of the stump-grinding process, but the processing speed was sure to be slower. What Anderson found, though, was that the SH700 offered stump-to-stump efficiency that its tracked counterparts could not match.
"The excavator-mounted grinder is not quite as fast on a per-stump basis, but it is far more efficient. We can do 20 stumps without moving" recalled Anderson. "By the time the other stumpers ground 20 stumps and moved to each one, we're way ahead with the Fecon."
He has also found operational advantages with the low-speed, high-torque technology as well. "We found that the visibility is 10-times greater than grinding in the blind," says Anderson. Because he can see the grinding disk and the stump at all times, Anderson always knows how much of the stump remains. Or whether there is a previously unseen tap root. That means that Anderson is able to provide a better clearing job to his customers, which is vital in keeping customers happy and earning future business.
Using the excavator to carry the stumper while on-site offers numerous advantages as well. The curling action of the excavator is an ideal platform for stump grinding, providing reach, mobility and control unattainable from dedicated, tracked stump grinders. Because the SH700 is self-powered, Anderson's crews can install it nearly as fast as they can change buckets. There are no hydraulic, fuel or electrical connections required.
The low-speed grinding allows longer tool life and mild debris discharge — which is safer than chips flung from high-speed stumpers. Because material is discharged to the right, the left side of the attachment can be positioned to grind close to buildings, roads or saleable timber.
While Anderson is sold on the Fecon concept of lower-speed grinding, he is most pleased with the differences in operating costs. The SH700 uses a John Deere 6068HF275 engine which delivers 225 brake horsepower (bhp) at 2,200 rpm. It is easier on fuel than the 275-horsepower engine in a self-contained tracked stumper. Both deliver approximately the same horsepower to the cutting head, but the Fecon has far fewer components to maintain or replace.
Both versions of the stump grinder accomplished the same amount of work, in this case about 1,700 acres to 2,000 acres per year. However, the costs to achieve that level of production are dramatically different. Fuel consumption is one consideration — especially as diesel fuel costs reach all-time highs. Savings on repair components and stumper teeth are an even larger consideration.
Anderson summed up the operating cost comparison by saying, "When I started running my Fecon, I started making money from my machine."
In addition to the original SH700 that Anderson Tree purchased nearly four years ago, the company also recently purchased another SH700 and has it mounted on a John Deere 270. "If I had enough work for 100 stump grinders," sums up Anderson, "I'd own 100 Fecons. This stumper allows us to grind on slopes, creek beds and hard-to-reach areas that other stumpers just can't get to without destroying the landscape."
While processing speed is certainly an advantage in many instances, no sane operator would choose speed at the expense of efficiency or profits. Anderson has found that the efficiency provided by his lower-speed stump grinder allows him greater profits on current projects, while increased visibility enables him to earn future projects and profits!
Fecon, Inc. manufactures self-contained skid-steer loaders and a broad range of attachments and accessories to make skid steers, loaders, and excavators more effective and productive. They are headquartered in Lebanon, Ohio, and have stocking dealers worldwide.