Smola Brothers, Inc. Transitions to Log Max Heads and Reduces Downtime

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ATHENS, Wisconsin — Downtime is a perfectly acceptable word. In some settings, though, the word can be provocative, as when downtime becomes a serious drag on productivity.

Reducing downtime – pushing it ever closer to zero – is a top goal for Brian Smola, who co-owns Smola Brothers, Inc. with his brother George Smola III. When we caught up with Brian in early August, he and his team were working 14 hour days — to complete as much work as possible ahead of a predicted interval of drenching rain.

The team’s push was made easier by the reliability of the Log Max harvesting heads in use. “We have way more uptime [with the Log Max] heads,” said Brian. More hours of run time contribute to higher productivity.

Smola Brothers began transitioning to Log Max harvesting heads in 2011 in part to ease a move into bigger hardwoods. The first purchase from Log Max was a Log Max 7000C, which was mounted on a rubber tire Timber Pro 630B carrier. The machines were bought new with the TimberPro coming from Pioneer Equipment Company in Rhinelander, Wis.

A dealer for TimberPro in the state of Wisconsin, Pioneer Equipment is also the Midwest dealer for Rottne Forestry equipment, and is factory authorized for new equipment sales, warranty, repair and parts.  The company sells and services Log Max, SP, Risley, and Quadco heads, and has recently become a new Barko dealer covering the states of Michigan and Wisconsin

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Good results with the Log Max 7000C led to two more purchases. In 2015, Smola Brothers bought a Log Max 7000B on an Eco Log 590D carrier and a Log Max 7000XT on a Barko 260 carrier.

The Log Max 7000B was purchased used in July 2015 after Brian tried it on demo. Eco Log, which makes rubber tired harvesters and forwarders, is headquartered in Söderhamm, Sweden. Brian gave the Eco Log carrier high marks from the start. “I liked the visibility,” he said. “I liked the comfort.”

Working in hardwoods, Brian also wanted a bigger head to bolster equipment options. The Log Max 7000XT became the next purchase

The XTreme series of Log Max heads was developed to provide a heavy-duty, track-carried partner in tough jobs. A bigger machine in the same series, the Log Max 10000XT cuts wood up to 35.4 inches in diameter.

The Log Max 7000XT on the Barko 260 carrier were purchased new in October 2015 from ATL Equipment, LLC in Rhinelander, Wis., which is owned by John Weiger. “We were looking for a track machine,” said Brian. And it had to be a track machine that could support a Log Max 7000XT with a topping saw. The Barko 260 met the need. Brian noted that despite its small size, ATL Equipment has been “a rock solid dealer, straightforward and honest.”

Barko is based in Superior, Wis. Its entry into track machines for harvesting is relatively recent. But the power of its forestry machines is informed by the company’s products for the construction industry.

From his first experience with the Log Max 7000C, Brian became a fan of Log Max harvesting heads. “The feed rollers come in from the side and just seem to feed so much better,” he said.  And a smooth, sustained feed reduces downtime.

“We purchase our own stumpage and merchandise it ourselves,” said Brian. Pulpwood goes to local mills.

“In our hardwood stands, sixteen- to 18-inch diameter [is the range],” said Brian. The Log Max harvesting heads provide speed for smaller trees and strength for larger ones, he explained.

Terrain traversed is not severe. “Most of it is flat to rolling hills,” said Brian. “Some is pretty wet.”

Including Brian and George, there are six members on the Smola Brothers team: George Smola, Jr., Drew Smola (son of George Smola III), Paul “Squid” Quednow, and Don “Cork” Rodman. “I run the Eco Log 590D [with the Log Max7000B head],” said Brian.

Shortly after the Log Max 7000XT was purchased, Brian had experience with it. “I ran it a little bit,” he said. “With the topping saw, it’s really nice in the wood we cut.”

It’s the “speed” first and foremost, that make the Log Max heads such welcome additions at Smola Brothers. But it is absolutely because speed is coupled with low maintenance and strength, explained Brian.

While Brian routinely runs the Log Max 7000B on the Eco Log 590B, George operates the Log Max 7000XT on the Barko 260. George also sometimes runs the Barko 295ML slasher and occasionally fills in on the Rottne forwarder or the John Deere 1110D forwarder.  A trial was underway this summer to assess whether slashing at the landing proved more efficient. The early results indicated it is.

“Mills only purchase wood under nine foot, but we cut at 17 foot,” said Brian. By forwarding the longer, 17-ft. lengths to the landing and then cutting them in half, work could be subdivided in a way that brought more efficiency – and productivity. Results were looking good when he talked with us. Once cut-to-length, the wood is transported to mills by a contract carrier.

Slashing after forwarding is an approach with which Smola Brothers had experience. For example, an LP Products mill buys 17-ft. aspen and then hires Smola Brothers to work at its mill site slashing the long lengths in winter. George goes to the mill site and runs the Barko 295ML slasher there. In choosing machines, Brian solicits all information he can. He explained that he visited and talked with perhaps every dealer in his region prior to beginning to adopt Log Max harvesting heads.

The U.S. supplier of Log Max products from Sweden is headquartered in Vancouver, Wash. The single-grip, harvesting and processing heads are manufactured by Log Max AB, a company based in Grangärde, Sweden, and have seen increasing adoption in the Great Lakes region, particularly the western portion. To better serve customers in the area, Log Max has added Josh Fallon, product support sales representative to its team.

 Josh is based in Minnesota and travels widely in Wisconsin and Michigan to consult with Log Max customers. He brings with him a firsthand knowledge of logging in the area.

“I worked for a small company, operating a cut-to-length harvester for nine years,” said Josh. He was working at the time in 90 percent mixed hardwoods. “I was operating different types of harvesting equipment.”

Each type of equipment had its own plusses, but the first Log Max harvesting head Josh operated got his attention. “It had speed and power,” he said. “I liked that.” When Josh had the opportunity to join the Log Max team, he knew his experience would serve him well. “I can say with confidence that it’s a very well built and very reliable head.”

Josh joined Log Max in October 2015. He said he had the opportunity to go to a Smola Brothers job site and help the operator get the new Log Max 7000XT working exactly “the way he wanted it to” perform.

Being a factory representative for Log Max is a good fit, said Josh. “Working with customers is very rewarding.” And it all meshes with his affinity for logging and the forest.

“I cut firewood since I was really young,” said Josh. “I like working in the woods. I enjoy the challenge that comes with the forest.”

Brian himself actually worked in equipment sales for two years after graduating from DeVry Technical Institute in Arizona where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business. Then, in 1983, he joined Smola Brothers, which his father (George Smola II) and his uncle (Jim Smola) had established in 1982.

Home to Smola Brothers is Athens, Wis., a village of 1,100 in the north-central part of the Badger State. Athens is part of Marathon County. Dairy farming has long been an enterprise there.

“Every day is different,” said Brian. And he likes that about his profession.

Determining how to approach a job site to ensure the best outcome is a challenge – always met. “We try to do the best we can every day,” said Brian. “We try to be professional about our job. We try to do a quality job. We try to treat the woods as if it were our own.”

Finding the optimal combination of machines is part of the strategy required, too. Brian plans to sell his Log Max 7000C and TimberPro pairing, for instance, since he can confidently depend on the reliability of just two operating Log Max harvesting heads.

The Log Max 7000B on the Eco Log carrier and the Log Max 7000XT on the Barko 260 carrier have so little downtime that the Smola Brothers team can be sure production will be high using just two machines. Given 17-ft. lengths likely will be forwarded to the landing and then cut in two there, more efficiency will be gained.

Smola Brothers belongs to the Great Lakes Timber Producers Association. The association serves as an advocate for the industry. The methodical approach to equipment purchases and the quest for efficiency belong to the structural side of the story of success at Smola Brothers.  There’s another side.

“We wouldn’t be in the position we are unless we had the support we do from our families,” said Brian. “And employees…” Employees of the company are exceptional in terms of being “self-sufficient” in taking assignments and running with them.

Golfing and hunting are two activities Brian enjoys when he has some free time, a precious commodity. Difficult as it can be to get away from work, Brian recommends it. “It takes away the stress from the job.”