June 10, 2015

Using Data and Technology to Advance Forestry

By Jean-Francois Gingras, Research Manager, Harvesting Systems, FPInnovations

Data and emerging technologies are becoming more and more essential to the forestry industry. Mills, for example, have traditionally benefited from process control technologies, such as sophisticated scanners, sensors, and real-time monitoring systems. Forest operations, on the other hand, have always been somewhat in the "dark ages" when it comes to using data and technology to improve efficiency and cost effectiveness.

That's changing. Forest operations are no longer the "poor cousin." Loggers are becoming less apprehensive about using data and more operations are adopting increasingly sophisticated technology to improve productivity and uptime.

As the research manager for FPInnovations, a not-for-profit company specializing in delivering scientific solutions to support the Canadian forest sector, I've been actively engaged in developing and promoting the use of new technologies. Canada is by no means alone in adopting new solutions, but there are several technologies I have observed first-hand that are beginning to be successfully applied by forest operations:

UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, a.k.a., "drones") can be equipped with GPS systems and high-resolution or infrared cameras for surveying applications, including stand inventories, regeneration, road building, fire management, and wood measurement.

LiDAR (light detection and ranging scanning technology), both aerial and ground based, can provide very accurate 3D images of the ground or forest canopy, which is very helpful for planning forest operations, enhancing the quality of forest inventories, constructing roads, and measuring piles.

GPS systems have become an essential tool in forestry machines for navigating within and between cut areas. Increasingly, GPS is being used to track machine travel and operational progress, and to locate machines in real time.

StanForD production files are provided by the computers in harvester and processor heads of modern cut-to-length machines. These files are a great way to monitor a forest operation's efficiency and performance, as well as plan the forest-to-mill supply chain. They can also provide Key Performance Indicators that contractors can use to improve their business.

These are exciting times for forestry operations in Canada and around the world. Certainly logging companies profit from better efficiency and productivity. But technology is a powerful way to attract young talent into an industry that badly needs it. By shining the light of technology on their operations, the future is looking bright for many logging companies.