Certain parts of the country are known for particular enterprises, whether that be the west of Ireland for its family beef farms or the midlands border counties for poultry farming.
At the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Laois, many families are involved with the timber business given the abundance of forestry.
Mountrath native Peter Sheeran grew up on the family’s suckler farm before going to work in the local forests as a teenager. Here, he found his passion and so began carrying out thinning and clearfell work using just a chainsaw and a horse.
Today, Peter’s sons Eoin and Bill are heavily involved in the family business, with Eoin working full-time as field manager and operator while Bill is currently serving his time as an apprentice plant fitter working on forestry machines.
The firm runs two harvesters – a 2016 EcoLog 688 and a 2019 EcoLog 688E – followed by two forwarders, a 2019 EcoLog 564D Blue 2016 Gremo 1050F.
The Sheerans’ workload is made up of private and contract work, 60% of which is long-term contract work for Coillte in the BAU3 region. The remaining 40% involves buying, felling and selling privately owned forestry, mainly for farmers. The Coillte work tends to be 60% first and second thinnings, with the rest clear-fell.
Five people are employed full-time by the business, which can increase to six depending on workload.
Peter recalls buying a Silvatec harvesting head for a JCB track machine in the 1980s as his first major leap in terms of harvesting mechanisation. At that time, track machines were popular in Irish forests as wheeled machines were yet to take off.
By the late 1990s, wheeled harvesters were making inroads in Ireland. Peter decided to purchase a Gremo eight-wheel machine with the intention of harvesting thinnings, a job not previously suited to track machines given their wider working width. This opened up opportunities with Coillte to cut thinnings on contract.
Over the years since, he has run a mix of Gremo, Silvatec and Timberjack machines. In 2016, he bought his first EcoLog harvester.
While discussing previous machines, Peter singled out one in particular: “The Silvatec Sleipner harvester was one of the best I’ve owned. I ran it at the time alongside a smaller Gremo harvester. I kept it for eight years and clocked up 30,000 hours trouble-free.”
When the time came to change, the Silvatec presence had been winding down in Ireland before the manufacturer later ceased trading. The local Gremo dealer, LB Gremo in Tullamore, happened to be EcoLog too, as Gremo didn’t typically offer larger harvesters for clear-fell work.
Peter said: “At this point, we wanted a more versatile harvester suited to thinnings and clear-fell work.
“I wanted a machine to run a Log Max head. The 688 was the only eight-wheeler we found narrow enough (2.84m) as standard on 710 tyres for thinning.
“Its compatibility with the heavy Log Max 6000Twin head and superior crane slew power over the competitors left it as the obvious choice.”
In 2016, the first EcoLog 688 harvester arrived. Earlier this summer, it finished up a long-term contract with 14,000 hours on the clock.
Pleased with its performance, a second 688 harvester arrived in 2019, this one being an E series, which has since been replaced by the Stage V F series. The E series had a number of updates, the most major being the move away from Mercedes power to Volvo Penta.
“The EcoLog we felt was pretty much unmatched in terms of what we needed in a harvester. This and the backup of from the lads at LB Gremo left the decision easy. Their central location in the country leaves backup never too far away,” explained Peter.
A new forwarder was also bought in 2019. The initial plan was to buy another 10t Gremo 1050F, but the need for a slightly larger 12t machine saw the Sheerans opt for an EcoLog 564D Blue model.
The 688E harvester is powered by a Stage IV 7.7l Volvo Penta block. This six-pot unit churns out 286hp (210kW) and 1,250Nm of torque at 1,237rpm.
The 7.2l Mercedes engine in the previous generation produced 306hp (225kW) and 1,200Nm at 1,200-1,600rpm.
Eoin, who operates the 688E, said it has an abundance of power, with the slight increase in torque being noticeable over the older generation machine, even though it claims 20hp less on paper. However, he feels this may be down to the engine management system.
Eoin said: “The 688E has its torque lower down in the rev range so operates at a slightly lower rpm. It typically burns 15l/h on average, a slight improvement on our older machine.
“Both, to be fair, are very easy on diesel in comparison to some competitors, some of which would be burning 20l/h. The fuel tank holds 460l, which sees out two long days’ work.”
The 688E has a hydrostatic-mechanical transmission which offers a maximum tractive force of 200kN and a maximum speed of 20km/h.
Crane and hydraulics
A major selling point for the Sheerans was the simple, strong crane design and slew torque.
“It’s the most compact crane on the market, yet it offers more capacity than other brand machines in the same class. Its principle is similar to a digger with no parallel linkages and unnecessary moving parts.
“The absence of the crane right in front of you greatly improves visibility. This and the fact it moves as one with the cab is a feature you couldn’t do without once used to,” Peter said.
The Sheerans opted for the largest reach crane option at 11.5m.
The 688E is equipped with two hydraulic pumps in addition to its hydrostatic drive pump. A 275l/min pump takes care of crane movements, while a 285l/min pump looks after the Log Max head, both achieving these figures at 1,600rpm.
The Swedish-built Log Max 6000Twin head is described by Peter as the father of all heads: “From our experience, it’s the most reliable and best-performing head out there.
“We wanted a twin-roller (2wd) head, as it’s better in crooked timber. It’s also one of the few heads out there equipped with four knives, so it cleans the timber much better. It’s heavy, weighing in at over 1,500kg, but it’s exceptionally strong and well suited to trees of all diameters. For a big head, it doesn’t require that much hydraulic flow.”
Sensors at the top knife monitor the grip on the tree and makes instant adjustments based on how well the tree feeds through.
Another major point with the head is its accessibility from a maintenance perspective, something most manufacturers tend to forget about, Peter noted.
The machine clocks up in the region of 2,500 hours annually and Eoin feels the cab is comfortable, with all controls well located. It is fitted with an automatic hydraulic self-levelling function, which can be operated in manual mode also, Eoin’s preferred mode.
He said: “Visibility is super, even to the right given the compact nature of the crane.”
Both men were full of praise for the LED light package, which produces an even display of light. The cab is fitted with a night heater that can be set to warm the cab and de-mist the windows before the operator arrives in the mornings.
As well as that, hydraulic oil is kept warm so that it reaches optimum working temperature faster once the machine is started.
Based in Sweden, EcoLog is a relatively new name to market, building forestry machines under its own livery since 2004. However, the company has origins dating back much further, through several ownerships and acquisitions. These included names such as Skogsjan, Caterpillar and LogMax.
Last year, the Swedish company announced the acquisition of Gremo, a Danish forestry equipment manufacturer. This allowed EcoLog to complete its range, offering forwarders and harvesters to suit all size requirements. Gremo machines are now branded EcoLog and take on the firm’s yellow livery. It’s believed that EcoLog manufactures between 150 and 200 machines per year, with this set to increase with the recent acquisition. LB Gremo, based in Tullamore, is the official Irish importer of the EcoLog and LogMax brands. Up until EcoLog’s acquisition of Gremo, the Offaly firm had been importing Gremo too, hence the name.
Model: EcoLog 688E.
Engine: Six-cylinder 7.7l Volvo Penta.
Horsepower: 286hp (210kW) at 2,200rpm.
Torque: 1,250Nm at 1,237rpm.
Hydraulics: Crane pump 275l/min, head pump 285l/min at 1,600rpm.
Head: Log Max 6000Twin.
Kerb weight: 23,000kg.
Fuel tank: 460 litres.
Starting list price: €480,000 plus VAT.