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Customer cases Land-clearing equipment producer Fecon innovates with Strenx steel

FECON land-clearing equipment clears a path to innovation and growth with Strenx® Performance Steel

U.S. land-clearing equipment company Fecon harvests healthy market share gains after filling a gap in the forestry industry for a nimble, lightweight tractor and mulching attachment combo. That leading innovation cleared the path for an expanded line of lighter equipment options. Now Fecon incorporates Strenx® performance steel into all of its new product designs for improved reliability, efficiency and return on investment for end users.

Clearing land isn’t as easy as it may sound. Many people might imagine large rolling saws simply ripping through the forest. But in most cases, the process demands a much more delicate approach. The weight of the land-clearing equipment is a decisive success factor.

According to Michael Essen, Fecon’s carrier engineering manager, removing trees, undergrowth and even invasive vegetation requires operators to work carefully, especially on protected lands that may hide spring-fed mud bogs and unstable ground.

“There are risks to the site and the operator if a tractor is too heavy,” Essen explains. “For example, in the case of a tree shear or grapple bucket, cut material is often lifted overhead, increasing the challenge to remain upright in muddy conditions. Or during the winter thaw, when the ground becomes softer, hidden natural springs can surface. A heavier piece of equipment causes excessive ground pressure, which can lead to potential sinking – so weight is a critical factor.” 

The Fecon FTX150 tractor mulching combo featuring Strenx performance steel.
The Fecon FTX150 tractor mulching combo featuring Strenx® performance steel.

Excessive equipment weight brings heavier costs, too

Cutting, maneuvering, transferring and loading debris using cumbersome equipment with limited ranges of motion and attachment capabilities means extra-long days of moving several different kinds of heavy equipment in and out of a site to manage the task. Choosing these heavy and cumbersome land-clearing equipment options can also be more expensive in terms of transportation costs associated with delivery to and from the job site.

As Essen explains, “It’s more costly to transport, not only because it’s heavier, but because that extra weight can exceed the commercial driver’s license rating, and then the operator has to be CDL certified to deliver it onsite. Having to move several pieces of equipment like a compact track loader (CTL), forestry mulcher and other mulcher attachments to and around a site really adds up.”

Strenx® in lighter steel grades reduces weight in land-clearing tractors and mulchers

To overcome these industry-wide challenges, and fill a gap for a lightweight, mid-sized land-clearing tractor, Fecon engineers designed one that maneuvered on tracks for stability, reduced weight for easier transport and accessorized with the appropriate attachments for cutting, moving and mulching felled material.

Fecon decided to use Strenx® 100 XF to maintain a strong frame with high performance standards but with an overall lighter, thinner profile.  They significantly reduced the overall weight of this tracked carrier by using Strenx® 100 XF in the track rails, on the loader arms and in the tub frame.

Strenx® 100 XF is a thermomechanically rolled steel made for cold forming with a minimum yield strength of 689 MPa (100 ksi). It’s called high-performance steel because it means that applications can be both stronger and lighter. Creative engineers can push design standards because it’s made to meet specific guarantees for thickness, flatness and impact properties.

After some initial skepticism about the thinner profile, customers soon realized the advantages.

“There was a bit of skepticism at first, because most people think thick and heavy equals strong and long lasting,” Essen says. “But we’ve convinced them that thinner is stronger and lighter, delivering a higher return on investment over the tractor’s lifetime.”

This innovation gave Fecon a competitive advantage in the market. Customers cut higher and handle loads once, moving as much as three times more material, to clear land more quickly and safely. The weight reductions alone mean users save on operational fuel expenses, delivery costs and environmental impact. Then, with the combination of job-specific attachments, they also improve efficiency and save even more money with a single piece of mobile equipment.

Inspired design engineer maximizes forestry mulcher improvements

For some smaller operations like agriculture, where a farmer needs to open a new field or harvest firewood, strapping a cutter onto a tractor was the only way to tackle the job. When considering improvements for Fecon’s array of forestry mulcher attachments, like those in the Bull Hog series for mulching, design engineer Ryan Bricker focused on maintaining the highest quality, while improving safety, durability and efficiency.

One of the most significant improvements came on the company’s rotor design. Here, Bricker concentrated on efficiency and Fecon’s long-standing reputation for reliability and quality.

“When it came to a critical component like the rotors, I knew we could improve the overall design. We now specify Strenx® 100 XF for high strength and lighter weight, and now it performs as an even more efficient and durable rotor,” Bricker says. “For our customers, this means more proficient results, turning out a finer finished product. This saves time and fuel, and the vegetation rejuvenation can occur much more quickly.”

Rotors designed with Strenx® 100 XF for efficient forestry operations.
Fecon’s rotors now designed with Strenx® 100 XF ensure precise cutting for efficient forestry operations.

Cultivating success in the workshop with Strenx® guarantees

According to Bricker, Fecon’s teams spent a lot of time laser cutting, forming, welding, storing and testing until they found what worked best with the new high-strength material. Strenx® guarantees include tight thickness tolerances, tight flatness tolerances and bending guarantees. With lean chemistries and industry-leading cleanliness, Strenx® steel has extremely consistent properties, ensuring precision and efficiency in the workshop.

Understanding these tolerances allows for greater control. For example, precise thickness within a plate and between plates makes for safe and predictable performance. Laser cutting and automated welding benefit from the narrow tolerances for optimized cutting speed. When bending, operators can use the same force and get the same spring-back from plate to plate.

Design engineers inspire new workshop processes through improvement projects.
Fecon’s Ryan Bricker, design engineer, and Michael Essen, carrier engineering manager, inspire new workshop processes through improvement projects.

“Strenx® is considered in all of our on-going and future projects,” Bricker says. “After some testing and tweaking on our end, it cuts like butter. Although it is a very strong material, it still has the flexibility to be machined. And with proper procedures, fixtures and materials, all of our welders can weld Strenx®.”

By incorporating high-performance steel into their designs, Bricker and Essen helped inspire the company’s skilled workshop personnel to master new bending, forming and welding methods.

“On both sides of the manufacturing for mobile equipment and attachments, we employ about 150 people who take great pride in being able to produce these designs,” Bricker explains. “They have increased their skill level to include high-strength steel, adapting to the different processes and developing the expertise to consistently deliver the high quality our customers expect.”

Harvesting results through My Inner Strenx®

As members of the My Inner Strenx® program, Fecon assures customers that their qualified forestry mulcher products have been certified to meet the strictest quality control standards and highest published guarantees for high-performance steel. When end users see the My Inner Strenx® sign of quality sticker on a Fecon product, they know it’s made with superior steel and quality-controlled production techniques for their demanding applications.

“Since we moved to Strenx®, we’ve sold thousands of mulchers and hundreds of tractors all over the world,” Bricker says. “Being part of the My Inner Strenx® program has been extremely helpful, especially when engineering or marketing questions arise. We always receive thoughtful and tailored answers for our industry. For example, an SSAB engineer came to our facility during our My Inner Strenx® application. He was very knowledgeable and helpful with suggestions for improvement and pointing out what we were doing well. Overall, it’s been a great experience.”

According to Bricker, business is going well. In the past three years, the company reports double-digit growth, market share gains and increasing sales year over year.

A piece of land-clearing equipment made in Strenx performance steel.
A My Inner Strenx program member, Fecon delivers forestry products that are certified to meet the strictest quality control standards.
For Fecon, moving to Strenx® demonstrated clear benefits on product performance, workshop efficiency and end user adoption. On the mulching side, the mulcher attachment bodies weigh about 5% less and are 1.5 times stronger. The cutting chamber lasts two times longer than mild steel. The pushbars are three times stronger with an increased visibility of about 3%. On the mobile equipment side, ground pressure for an FTX 128 is at 0.03 MPa (3.8 psi), and the tractor weight is now low enough to trailer without a CDL-certified driver.