The Paperless Forest
The forestry industry has been the top user of mobile technology in Finland for many years. That is a big deal when you consider that Finland is a global leader in mobile technology (thanks to Nokia and others), and a global leader in forestry (Stora Enso and others). So, what can we learn and adapt from Finland to forestry operations in other countries?
How is Finland Using Mobile Technology?
Firstly, it is revealing to know that all information moves wirelessly in Finnish forests.
The chain starts from a GPS-aided definition of the logging area and of any nature protection sites that must be preserved. The information travels via satellite to the digital maps of the forest company that has bought the wood since the buyer is responsible for harvesting and haulage to the sawmill in Finland.
Before harvesting, this map is transmitted wirelessly to the harvester’s computer. The same goes for the instructions on the harvesting volumes and the lengths to which the logs of each timber species and grades should be cut. These instructions are based on the orders from the sawmills.
The information on the volumes of different timber grades harvested is transmitted to the forest company wirelessly. Then the information about where to collect the wood from and where to deliver it is sent to the computer of the truck, along with an optimised driving route.
The harvesting and transport of wood is usually carried out by small, specialized enterprises working as subcontractors for the forest company. Their information systems are connected to that of the forest company, which closes the loop from sawmill to harvester to haulage contractor.
Now we need to keep in mind that cellular networks cover 100% of the population and a very high percentage of its landmass in Finland. This is partly due to their early start with mobile networks in the 1980s but more importantly to the 450 MHz frequency, which is better at penetrating forests and buildings that the 900 MHz or 1800MHz used elsewhere.
It takes 23 years for a pine tree to grow from seedling to a mature tree. In the context of mobile technology, that is about 10 product lifecycles. During that time, you will probably receive 10,000 updates to all the software and apps on your mobile devices.
However, some things might not change such as the lack of mobile coverage in a forest. if we accept that as a constraint we have to live with, how will the next round of innovations in mobile technology benefit the forestry industry?
Here are 5 areas where we believe forestry operations will benefit from mobile technology in the foreseeable future.
1. Capture Everything
RFID tags are becoming more cost effective and so powerful that we can visualise a scenario where every log is stamped with an active RFID by the head of the harvesting machine. Each log could be individually recorded as it is loaded on the truck and delivered to the mill by having an RFID reader on the lifting arm of the truck. Forest inventory could be assessed by scanning a wood pile with an RFID reader to get the exact log count. Weighbridges could also be equipped with RFID readers to record the weight, log count and serial numbers of the load which is then sent to the mill even before the truck arrives. Everyone benefits from more automation, more transparency and more accuracy through the entire supply chain.
2. Image Recognition
If you use Google Photos you will appreciate the power of artificial intelligence in image recognition. Ask Google Photos to search for “trees” and you will be amazed at how quickly you will see every photo you have ever taken of a tree. But it’s not just about image recognition, several apps can perform image analysis and distinguish Pinus Radiata from Douglas Fir with incredible accuracy. When we harness the power of mobile technology into forestry, we should be able to use apps with image recognition, augmented reality and machine learning to perform tasks like identifying species, log grades and weight.
3. Personal Safety
Wearable technology is improving in functionality and dropping in price so fast that we expect industrial work clothes to have embedded sensors by default. For example, every time a machinery operator jumps out of the cab or climbs up into the cab, their movement could be captured and geotagged. Every time someone falls, runs or becomes motionless, an event could be created, and an action triggered. For example, if you walk towards a harvesting machine, the pace and direction of your approach may trigger an instruction to automatically stop the machine.
4. Invisible Interface
Our mobile user interface could become invisible as the interface intelligently adapts to our environment. Rather than entering a PIN code throughout the day, the device would simply know it is you and not bother you with a PIN code. By listening to your voice, detecting your ECG, scanning your face or recognising your gait, your mobile device could remain unlocked for your eyes only but request a PIN code as soon as someone else picks it up.
5. Intelligent Navigation
Likewise, navigation could become highly intuitive with hazard notifications dynamically redirecting traffic to avoid areas with flooding or fire risk without ever bothering the driver. Driver safety could also be improved by detecting distractions and signs of driver fatigue as well as notifying drivers of oncoming traffic. Status messages and information updates could be handled with natural language requiring the driver to physically touch the device less often.
The future is exciting and the opportunities for the forestry industry are huge. We look forward to a day when safety is no longer an embarrassing problem, when individual logs can be traced like product shipments from Amazon and ironically, when the business of shipping paper goes paperless.
Find out more about our work in the Forestry Industry