Mulcher Sheds Light on Outage Repairs for Dayton Power & Light

Time to veg!
On a windy December night in 2005 Dayton Power and Light (DP&L) needed to repair the power lines to a customer in Yellow Springs, Ohio. A wind storm had torn down the last primary conductors. When crews arrived to restore power they were confronted with a dense understory of thorny plants including multi-flora rose, briers, and black locust. “It was so thick we couldn’t walk through it. We had to walk around the edges of the big wooded area to get access,” recalls Roco Miller, reliability service operation field supervisor for DP&L.

DP&L brought in a generator for the powerless homeowner while the on-site crews determined how to best access the worksite. Based on his field experience Miller called in Fecon Bull Hog—a mulcher attachment mounted to a skid-steer loader.

Within an hour after calling for the equipment, the Bull Hog was on site and starting to clear the area. It was just what they needed to access the poles and get power restored.

“We brought the Fecon Bull Hog in to clear an area about 30 feet by 700 feet wide,” said Miller. “Within an hour it was on site, and within four hours we were able to drive in and put the wire back up to statute,” continued Miller. “Historically that would have been a two- or three-day job just to gain access and be able to put our pole and wires back up.”

The front end mounted mulching head allows the operator to go into thick brush—clearing a path ahead of them. This is a major benefit in dense areas where operators would be assaulted by undergrowth as they dragged the traditional rotary style cutter behind them. Since the new carrier is equipped with headlights and an enclosed cab with heating and air conditioning, operators can work in inclement weather.

“The mulcher head allows us to get into tight places and close to roads,” Miller commented. The downward direction of the rotor deposits the mulched brush and tree debris safely onto the ground. This allows greater versatility and the use of it near housing areas where rotary mowers cannot be used.

“The Fecon has been a huge technology breakthrough. It is very successful and is low maintenance” said Miller.

Operating Mulch Safer
With the Fecon mulching head, safety is increased by mulching brush and trees into the ground. A rotary style mower shears off saplings, creating sharp stakes which make it dangerous for people to walk or drive through the R.O.W. “It’s just like a sword,” said Miller. “If a lineman wants to work on the line he has to chainsaw cut. If he drives a truck over and spikes a tire—we’ll have customers out of power longer now, because the truck is in trouble.”

“The best feature of the Fecon Bull Hog is the finished product,” said Miller. Crews can use rubber tired trucks on the R.O.W. without having to worry about puncturing a tire.

Clear Acres
Cunningham Williams Group (CWG), a DP&L contractor located in Springboro, Ohio, has a Bull Hog mulching head mounted on a steel tracked FTX 90FM. This combination is used for right-of-way clearing for the transmission lines.

“We haven’t gone through a head yet and they’ve been on property now for two years,” said Miller. DP&L crews use the machine eight hours in a 10-hour day. In the past year they have cleared 156 acres of distribution lines and 220 acres of transmission lines.

Distribution lines typically cross roads, which means the clearing equipment and crews have to pack everything up, move, and set the equipment up at the new location. With the Fecon the equipment can be quickly loaded onto a carrier, secured, and ferried by way of a one-and-a-half ton pick-up truck. This represents a huge savings as compared to the time and expense for larger clearing equipment which has to be moved on a low-boy trailer.

A crew can clear more transmission line acreage because these run from the generation plant to the substation in a 55-150 foot swath with little or no interruption, often going for miles without a road crossing.

Daily maintenance for the Fecon Bull Hog includes checking the hydraulic fluids and greasing the head. In the hot, humid days of summer when the mulching head was eating through leafed out vegetation, DP&L crews used a gas powered leaf blower to blow off the debris from the machine’s pumps and radiator. This was accomplished twice a day, when the crews broke for lunch and again before they packed up for the day.

No More Going Around in Circles
When DP&L used the standard rotary, pull-behind style cutter they cleared a lot of acreage but they encountered problems inherent in the design. In addition to shearing of saplings, these inherent problems included limited access, and loss of cutting surface on hills and in valleys.

To address these, DP&L would send crews to hand cut the vegetation left in the valleys. On the crests there was also the danger of the cutting blades hitting a rock, causing it to break and fly off.

Additionally, the rotary style cutters are limited to how close they can cut to the ground. Trees that are sheared off at 10 inches tall will often resprout making the area harder to clear the next cycle.

These former problems are resolved with the Fecon design, which mulches the trees and brush right down into the ground. “Often, the Fecon is so powerful it will pull the stump right out of the ground,” said Miller.

“Production has increased. There is less hand cutting because the Fecon can go right down to the ground on either side of a hill and in the valleys. The cost savings is huge,” said Miller, who estimates that hand cutting crews are usually four to six times more expensive per acre than using the Fecon Bull Hog head.

Hitting It
DP&L crews do encounter the occasional hidden fence post which may break a few of the Fecon’s teeth. “They were all easy to exchange and replace. We are over two years strong with it and it has been a very successful piece of equipment,” said Miller.

“If you hit something that is going to stop the head, it stops immediately and you aren’t going to break anything,” advised Miller. “The Fecon hydraulic pump spins at a fast rate, so you just lift the head to build pressure back up and then start mowing again. If you hit something with a bush hog there is going to be a broken blade or drive shaft. Then you will have major time delays in getting the equipment fixed and back out in the field.”

Long Term Line Clearance
The Fecon Bull Hog does a good job of breaking up the topsoil which aids in cut-stubble herbicide treatments. “We get better results on the chemical treatment,” said Miller. “We really like the cut-stubble spray because it weeds out the woody type plants and broadleaves but allows the grasses to thrive.”

The meadows that are created are proving to be a haven for wildlife as well as farmers using it as farming ground. “This is a huge benefit for us and for them,” said Miller.

“I am really excited about it and DP&L is really excited about it,” said Miller who covets the ability to shut down, load up and head to another site with ease. The FTX-90 FM is easy to transport on a trailer pulled with a one-and-a-half ton dump truck.

“It really works out good for us for replacing poles where you traditionally would have to hand cut. The Fecon just goes in and opens it up and you are set to go,” said Miller. “In addition to the great job our Fecon Bull Hog does on R.O.W. maintenance, it made short work out of accessing the outage site and made restoration of power real easy. We were impressed and so was our power customer.” Which is as important on bright and sunny days, as it is on dark and stormy nights.

About the Author:
As the Marketing Coordinator for Fecon, Inc., Traci Wiseman has worked with customers, reps, distributors and direct sales reps across the country. She has attended many trade shows and has written numerous articles profiling customer successes in various industries.

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