“Green” Takes on New Meaning for Tree Care Company

Michigan firm saves money, improves wear and reduces CO2 output with hybrid truck and low-emission chipper.

Customer service can take on many forms: going “over and above” to finalize a delivery, working a weekend to meet a deadline, getting creative to make a price fit a budget, and so on. For Warren Kappen, it’s meant taking a bold step to reduce fuel costs for his customer and, at the same time, reduce his impact on the environment. The co-owner and founder of Kappen Tree Service, working with suppliers for his trucks, grinders and grinder engines, has teamed up one of the industry’s most advanced hybrid-technology trimming trucks with a low-emission Morbark Beaver chipper. In doing so, he has already seen improvements he planned on—and some he didn’t. Just as importantly, however, he has also seen customer service in action—witnessing some impressive efforts on the part of those suppliers to help bring his idea to life.

Motown Calling

Started nearly 20 years ago, Kappen Tree Service is a Cass City, Mich.,-based specialist in commercial and residential tree care. The business is a result of Warren Kappen’s decision to temporarily stray from the homestead.

“My dad owned a sawmill and a farm, and I spent a good deal of my youth helping him out,” he says. “That, of course, often involved clearing and maintaining different areas of that farm, so it gave me my first taste of working with trees. One winter, when I was a bit older, things were slow around the farm, and I decided to head to Detroit to take a job with a guy trimming trees. I really liked the work and felt that I had found my calling.”

TheKappenBoysKappen returned to Cass City and, along with his wife, Crystal, and brother Jason, formed what is today Kappen Tree Service, LLC. Modest in its beginnings, the company grew quickly, currently employing about 150 people and operating a huge fleet of tree trimming and clearing equipment, including bucket trucks, grinders, shredders and no fewer than 70 Morbark chippers.

“We started out doing a fair amount of residential work,” he says. “But in the early 2000s we picked up two huge contracts clearing right-of-way for suppliers of electrical energy here in Michigan. As a result, about 90% of our business today is commercial, so we’ve really done a ‘180’ in that regard. Those contracts are also what drove our growth and allowed us to expand our fleet the way we did.”

Got the FEVA

One of the contracts to which Kappen refers was set up with all project-related fuel costs being covered by the customer. With an eye on bringing those costs down, he began to look into what was available in alternative technology and, at the same time, focus efforts on reducing emissions from both their truck and their chipper.

“I spoke with the folks at FEVA (Forestry Equipment of Virginia), the supplier for all of our aerial units and they worked hard with us to put together a nice package that met our needs. The new vehicle features a 2010 Navistar chassis with a 6-speed Eaton automatic transmission, a 275-HP Navistar DT-466 engine, and a huge lithium ion battery that is used to power the boom.”

Like most hybrid vehicles, Kappen’s truck employs “regenerative braking,” which captures kinetic energy from the braking process, converts it into electric energy and uses it to charge the battery. The automatic transmission is powered by an electric motor, which allows them to move the vehicle at speeds up to 10 mph off the battery alone. Upon arrival at the jobsite, Kappen’s crew shuts down the engine, sets the outriggers and runs the boom solely off the battery pack. When the battery drains after 15 minutes of continuous use, it will automatically start the engine, recharge the battery in five minutes, shut the engine down, power the boom for another 15 minutes, and so on.

“Up until now, we’ve needed to have the truck run continuously while our crews were working. Now, because we run the boom off the battery, the operation is extremely quiet, making it ideal for use in low-noise settings. In addition, safety is enhanced because the man in the bucket doesn’t have to shout over a diesel engine; he can communicate easily with the crew on the ground.”

Cleanest Beever Around

Kappen_Chipper(4296)With the order for the hybrid bucket truck placed (helped by some federal and state tax credits), Kappen began looking into the possibility of pairing it up with a hybrid chipper. Not surprisingly, he made a call to Morbark.

“We’ve been with Morbark almost exclusively since we started this business,” says Kappen. “We did so because they are local, and we knew we would get great service from them. Over the years, however, we’ve learned just how good service can be and never looked elsewhere again. So I called Morbark, told them what we had going on, and asked if they could manufacture a diesel-hybrid chipper.”

Morbark contacted their engine suppliers and quickly learned that hybrid technology doesn’t yet extend to the off-road equipment area. However, a call to the Saginaw branch of Cummins Bridgeway, yielded an interesting idea, according to Jason Showers, sales manager for Morbark tree care equipment.

“Dave Scott of Cummins Bridgeway stepped up to the plate with a solution that we thought was an outstanding alternative for Kappen: offer a chipper with a Tier 4 engine outfitted with a diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC). The combination of the DOC and Tier 4 emission certification far exceeds current federal emission standards and, therefore, could be easily categorized as a “green” engine. We all got together at the Michigan Green Industry Expo in Grand Rapids to go over the details. By show’s end, Kappen had signed an order for the new chipper, a customized Beever M14R with a Cummins B3.3, 74-HP power plant, the DOC, special color Morthane paint, and aluminum rims. It’s one of the slickest-looking units we’ve sent out of here, and Warren went a step further by hiring a local artist to create vinyl graphics for it to match his hybrid truck. It’s really quite the package.”

More Than Skin Deep

The real beauty of Kappen’s new chipper, however, is not so much in how it looks as how it performs. The Tier 4 Cummins engine is designed to make the unit run cleaner than any other chipper at work today. In fact, Cummins’ Scott says that it would take 65 Tier 4 Cummins engines to equal the emissions put out by a single Cummins engine built just 30 years ago. Such improvements really appeal to Kappen.

“There are so many things that are great about the truck and chipper combination,” he says. “For one, it’s nice to know that we have made a positive step toward reducing our impact on the environment. And from a purely economic standpoint, we are seeing fuel savings of about $5,000 a year, which is good for our customer.”

Because the truck’s battery carries the bulk of the workload throughout the day, Kappen says they also benefit from a nice savings in oil changes and reduced engine hours. The fact that the chipper is running cleaner than anything else out there, he says, is just icing on the cake.

“We knew from the outset that this was going to be something of a challenge but wanted to pursue it, both because it seemed the right thing to do and because it puts us ahead of the curve in meeting future emissions standards. In the process, however, we learned just how accommodating our suppliers can be. It would have been very easy for FEVA or Morbark or Cummins to simply say: ‘that’s something we don’t do.’ But they didn’t. They all listened to our ideas, came up with viable solutions and, as a result we have taken our operation to the next level.”