The story behind the decade-long relationship between Novelquip and Babcock

Established in 2009, Novelquip Forestry, a South African designer, manufacturer and exporter of forestry soil preparation and planting equipment, celebrates its 13th anniversary this year. Over the years, the company has trusted Volvo excavators, particularly the EC55D (and previous models), as the base machine of choice for its flagship MPAT pitting equipment, forging a 10-year relationship with Babcock in the process. 

Novelquip MPAT
Three Novelquip MPAT pitters attached to brand new Volvo EC55D excavators, destined for West Africa.

With a workforce of nine people, Novelquip’s workshop is based in the coastal town of George, Western Cape. While the company offers a wide range of solutions – including harvesters and forwarders, firefighting equipment and OEM forestry attachments, amongst others – its flagship offering is the MPAT spot cultivator – commonly known as pitting equipment in the local forestry circles. 

Gold standard

According to CEO Stephanus (Fanie) Viljoen, the MPAT has become the ‘gold standard’ for spot cultivation in the local forestry industry. It is used for soil preparation at most major South African forestry companies.

“The MPAT is a spot cultivator which prepares the exact location where a seedling needs to be planted,” explains Fanie. “Spot cultivation, where only the specific planting spot is cultivated, offers several benefits over traditional line (or continuous) cultivation; it consumes less energy, creates minimal soil disturbance and therefore reduces erosion. Through site specific treatment, it reduces the amount of chemicals used in herbicides and fertilisers, optimises water usage, reduces tillage and thereby enhances soil health.”

The MPAT, adds Helgaard Steenkamp, technical director at Novelquip, creates hole sizes between 350 and 600 mm in diameter and 350 mm in depth, with excellent soil tilth and minimal glazing of side walls. This, he says, creates ideal conditions for root development and tree growth, even in hard and rocky soils. 

Novelquip MPAT
The Novelquip MPAT pitting head features the Machine Management and GPS System, which eliminates manual marking of planned planting locations.

Base machine

The Volvo EC55D is used as the base machine of choice for the MPAT pitting equipment range. “We have been working closely with Babcock for a decade – since about 2012. Our carrier of choice for the MPAT pitting equipment is the Volvo EC55D excavator (and its previous models) and more than 50 of these machines have been purchased by our customers over the years,” says Fanie. 

Integration of the MPAT onto the Volvo EC55D entails installation of the pitting head, hydraulics, an electronic control system for monitoring productivity of operations as well as Novelquip’s customised GPS technology for guiding the operator during operations to reduce costs and increase efficiency. 

“To increase the safety of the operator and prolong the life of the excavator, Novelquip adds a custom-designed forestry kit to the MPAT, including strengthening the drive motor and underbody protection plates, a 20 mm polycarbonate window to protect the cabin and operator, tinting of the cabin’s windows, as well as additional working lights for night shifts and re-routing of hydraulic pipes on the dozer blade,” explains Jacques van der Watt, customer support manager at Novelquip.

Why Volvo EC55D?

When choosing a base machine, explains Jacques, the two most important aspects are reliability and after sales support. “Volvo has a reputation for excellent quality, and coupled with Babcock’s network across South Africa, it is a winning formula. The EC55D is an excellent machine which punches way above its weight. It has proven that it can withstand the harsh forestry environment, is cost-effective to run (uses less than 3 litres of diesel per hour in pitting operations), comes at a low capital cost, all while not compromising on operator comfort and safety,” he says. 

The carrier to attachment weight ratio, adds Fanie, contributes to a stable machine configuration.  The tracked EC55D machine has low ground pressure and minimal soil disturbance, while offering sufficient ground clearance to overcome stumps, harvesting residue and rocks which are commonplace in forestry conditions. “It really is the perfect match for our equipment,” declares Fanie. 

“The EC55D is a versatile machine capable of being used by our customers for multiple operations outside of the planting season. To this end, we offer a range of excavator attachments from Italian manufacturer, OMEF, including brush cutters and tree shears. This allows customers to further deploy their machines for land clearing, fire break management and roadside maintenance.”.

After sales support

After sales support is key to procurement decisions in this industry. Forestry conditions, says Helgaard, are notoriously tough. Even the best machines take a beating and when they break, it is of utmost importance that they are repaired quickly and cost-effectively. 

“Most of our customers are contractors executing soil preparation contracts for large forestry companies such and Mondi and Sappi, and these contractors are paid per hectare of operations. If they cannot operate due to breakdowns, they lose income. Machine uptime is therefore absolutely critical for Novelquip’s and our customers’ mutual success,” he says. 

“Therefore, we have to know that if there are problems, a service technician will be available nearby and that adequate parts are available to resolve the matter quickly and effectively. In addition, we have machines running across the country in all forestry areas, so a good support network is essential. With Babcock, we know from our own experience and our customers’ feedback, that they can not only meet these requirements, but exceed them. This gives us the confidence to recommend this product to our customers,” adds Fanie. 

Henk Niemand, sales consultant at Babcock’s Equipment business, is glad to work closely with a client of Novelquip’s magnitude. He believes that the two organisations share common values, anchored largely by the unparalleled focus on customer service. This, he says, has been central to the two companies’ relationship for the past 10 years, and counting!

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