Tree Technology

Leave it to NPR to find a very compelling new tree service technology called an excavator mulcher. Watch it literally swallow a 30-foot lodge-pole pine.

Made by a Quebec company called Denis CIMAF, it does tree removal in 15 seconds, a job that would take us two to three hours.

Is this something that you’ll see in your yard?

Well, it sure throws a lot of debris around which would make the clean-up more involved. I also wondered if using an excavator grinder would speed up the removal and turn us into the best window-breaking tree company in Denver! It could be outfitted with guards to force debris in a more downward direction and while the demo video emphasizes speed, a more careful approach (like a minute instead of 15 seconds) would mitigate damage.

Neither one of these reasons is the main constraint though.

It’s the huge excavator that an excavator mulcher attaches to that presents the main obstacle in a postage-stamp-sized Denver yard.

An excavator mulcher is a hydraulic attachment that requires an excavator of between 7 and 35 metric tons. Unlike computer chips which benefit from a doubling of speed every two years or so, hydraulic power is constrained by the flow and pressure in the hoses and pipes.   In other words, it’s not a technology that is exponentially (or even geometrically) increasing in power.  Perhaps miniaturization or making the machine smaller while maintaining or increasing its power could come through,  power increases in the engine and power train and development of super-materials (kevlar anyone?) that make tubes, hoses, and fittings stronger. Barring that, a machine like this is just too large to be consistently usable in residential tree removal.  Still an amazing technology for a forestry setting.

Alternative Energy Work Trucks

The weekend of June 28th, Denver is hosting FutureDRIVE 2014, a conference focusing on clean energy fuels and transportation.

It got my mind going about the future of the arborist trade so I wanted to add a new post to our occasional series looking at the latest technologies that could or are impacting the tree service industry.

I’d like to be writing about some new breakthrough technology that will turn the industry inside out, but the truth is more modest. The tree service industry lacks a robust research and development culture, itself.  But luckily new innovations in other industries, such as utilities, trickle-down, and fuel advances in tree trimming bucket trucks and other equipment.


While hybrid and now electric passenger vehicles are rapidly gaining market share in the consumer world, similar utility and tree trimming work trucks are still in the research and testing phase for a simple fact. It’s harder to build a hybrid or electric engine with enough power to suit tree and forest operations at a cost of entry that the average tree service could afford.

Most new developments for large commercial trucks seem more focused on smaller vehicles and retrofitting diesel engines to run on natural gas.

Clean Air Power is in production for a U.S. version of its retro-fit dual-fuel product for large diesel. They demonstrated the efficacy of their Genesis EDGE dual-fuel technology, which allows the engine to run on natural gas in addition to diesel, by driving an 18-wheeler across the United States. The following is from the press release by Clean Air Power,

“The technology works by allowing heavy-duty diesel engines to run primarily on natural gas, with diesel acting like a liquid spark plug. Minimal changes are required to the standard diesel power plant itself. High efficiency comes as standard with Dual-Fuel™, with trucks running on up to 90 percent natural gas.”

Not a breakthrough but still a step forward that could allow large fleets to save 20% or more on yearly fuel consumption. The international version of Genesis is currently used on more than 2,500 vehicles in real-world, commercial applications. That is an exciting prospect but it is still a product that is an experiment for larger companies. They can afford to test out the latest products to plan for their fleet of the future.

The largest gathering on green truck issues is an annual conference called the Green Truck Summit, which is sponsored by the NTEA, an association for the work truck industry. The conference features guest speakers, and workshops and allows industry participants to share ideas about creating the future of clean commercial trucks.

A company based in Boulder, CO called Boulder Electric Vehicle was at the summit, showcasing its four models including a 265 horse-powered fully electric-powered flatbed.

It makes us hopeful for the developments coming down the pike. New technology tends to accelerate in power and speed as more companies work on it and more brain power is applied to a given application. Even as the technology rapidly advances, obstacles include,

  • where to power up an electric motor,
  • where to get repairs done,
  • how to finance the high initial cost

Computerized Control Interfaces

Altec is a supplier of cranes and other technologies vital to trimming operations. The new interfaces on their cranes show boom length, boom angle, load on hook, and percent of rated capacity and allow the operator to set audible alarms for boom angle, length, and rotational position.

“The ability to provide vital data to operators, continuously monitor crane operation, and send alerts of potential overloads, while maximizing crane work capacity, is invaluable.”

It’s not hard to see this type of interface migrate to a trimming boom truck as the cost decreases and the technology continues to miniaturize.

Tree care companies are a secondary market for Altec whose bread-and-butter customers are large electric utilities. Besides integrating more and more artificial intelligence into the control interfaces, Altec also is focused on energy efficiency and is partnering with electrical contractors, particularly in California to comply with targeted goals for plug-in electric motors and energy management.

While plug-in work trucks are still something of a “thought leadership” focus for Altec, their work with the large utilities will help create a market for next-generation trucks, one that tree services will also benefit from. Hybrid and electric trucks still remain on the bleeding edge and arborists remain nearly 100 percent reliant on diesel and gas-powered engines due to the high demands we put on our technology.

Mobile Saw Milling

While robots and darting spaceships dominate our “fantasy future,” existing technologies that are used in a new way, are a crucial part of the optimal arborist practice of the future. Here at ArborScape we finally made the rather obvious decision to start splitting logs and selling firewood. But the idea of a mobile sawmill extends this idea even further.  Mobile sawmills are an old idea fashioned for these new times.

They allow lumber companies and tree services to practice “guerilla distribution” and provide just-in-time supply to niche buyers who need wood planks in smaller quantities or custom sizes. A mobile sawmill allows a tree service to turn its scrap into a revenue stream and make flexible orders.

Wood planks typically have to dry for a year or more but many small buyers are glad to have the right log cut into the sizes they need and allow the green boards to sit and dry.  

Scroll to Top