June 03, 2016

What Can Technology Do For You?

There is no denying that technology is changing the way business is done. Every year, technology solutions are becoming more affordable and more powerful, which in turn is streamlining business, driving productivity and reducing costs – and the logging industry is no exception. At John Deere, we have seen farmers (precision farming) and construction contractors (using telematics and machine controls to optimize machines and jobsite operations) embrace technology. In order to not only survive, but thrive, loggers must be ready and willing to follow suit.

For some loggers, the current wave of technology such as telematics, machine control and cut block mapping may be overwhelming. There is a lot of resistance to the newness or a perceived complexity in applying it to their current business models. Others feel they have made their way just fine without technology, and it should be best left for the next generation to figure out.

In some ways, they are right – cutting a tree is a pretty straightforward thing. However, to cut a tree efficiently, to do it in high volume and at a lower cost than their competitors on a regular basis is a particular challenge, and that's where the value of technology comes in to play. Technology can help drive higher production at lower cost. "The way we've always done it" mentality has to go away. Technology is not going away. Technology alone is not going to separate the loggers that survive, those who embrace it will be more successful.

Loggers need to understand that the technology used on logging jobsites and forestry equipment, and the data that comes from it, is power – power to plan, make decisions and solve problems in a more efficient way. Just ask Lee Davis, Vice President, of IndusTREE Logging in Wetumpka, Alabama, one of the Southeast's premiere providers of sustainable forestry and timberland services.

IndusTREE's eight timber harvesting crews have the capability to efficiently perform all types of logging operations in any terrain, handling large or small timber, in wet or dry conditions, citing technology as a driver of success. "Technology gives us the tools and information to make better decisions," he said. "It gives us the ability to react quickly to changes in weather or market conditions, matching machines and operators to the right site for more efficiency and productivity. It also takes some of the guess work out of the equation for our guys in the field."

For IndusTREE, technology is ingrained in their business, and though they are large in scale, Davis is a firm believer that logging operations of any size can benefit from implementing technology into their business. "In logging, the small margins make a big difference," said Davis. "Anything and everything you can monitor to assist and increase productivity equals savings, and I don't know who wouldn't want that."

For loggers who are hesitant to embrace the technology resources available to them, start with the basics. Forget about the technology, and think about the business problems you'd like to solve. What do you think would make you a more profitable, successful logger?

Some common themes revolving around production, cost and people:

  • I need to produce more timber at a lower cost
  • I can’t find reliable people to work for me
  • My competitors are stealing my guys
  • I’m having trouble attracting and retaining young workers

These are all valid concerns, and here are some basic solutions to consider as a start:

Machine Operation
Did you know if you have telematics and sensors on your machines, it can help you monitor and control fuel costs, downtime and machine utilization? Telematics systems can be a powerful business tool for increasing productivity. From nearly any location, you can see when and where your machines are working, how many cycles they are completing, and how much time operators spend out of the cab. This up-to-the-minute data lets you manage your production more efficiently.

As important as it is to monitor machines while they are working, it can be just as important while they are not working. Telematics systems offer features like geo-fences and curfews to prevent machines from running during off-hours or even being stolen.

You can even use information provided by telematics to manage costs and revenues. Variables like distance into the woods, the number of machines required, fuel use and more are available to help you calculate costs and negotiate fair prices.

Operator Training
You can tell a lot about a machine by monitoring its activity, but sometimes you can learn something about its operator, too. One of the key benefits of a telematics system is that it provides you with a unique tool for managing and training operators.

By monitoring nearly all aspects of a machine's operation – fuel use, idle time, location and more – you can evaluate how your operators are using machines and compare them to one another. This can offer insights on how to train operators to be more productive and reduce costs.

You can also use this technology to cut down on how long operators idle their machines or make sure they are starting on time and working in the proper areas. When you can't be on site all the time, telematics systems can be a useful tool.

Machine Health
When a feller buncher or a skidder stops operating, that's lost productivity and lost revenue. Today's telematics systems help you avoid costly downtime and unscheduled repairs.

At the basic level, telematics systems can monitor all of the crucial systems and components of a machine, including fuel use, oil temperature, and hydraulics. This lets you see how all of your machines are running, so you can provide maintenance instructions to your operators and technicians.

Finally, telematics systems make it easy for you and your equipment dealer to keep accurate, complete maintenance records and documentation, which can extend the machine life and increase resale or trade-in value.

These are just some of the simple, tangible ways technology can help you change how you do business, change how you operate your equipment and change how you manage your people.