Linking the machine and the mill
A close computer link between harvesting operations and the mill is resulting in improved efficiency for a Swedish logging contractor.
By Tony Kryzanowski
If a global positioning system (GPS) can be installed in your harvester or scarifier for better on-site data collection, then why not include a geographical information system (GIS) that links your equipment over the Internet and by e-mail directly to your forestry client’s GIS system? This is the next logical step in linking real-time cutblock activity with data collection at a forest company’s home base, and the Swedes are already at it. A Swedish forest management company called ForeCare AB has been working to develop this communication software over the past four years, in cooperation with an experienced logging and site preparation contractor and a software developer.
The system is also progressing to become equipment manufacturer Valmet’s own Maxi GIS system. ForeCare has successfully created a standard system of communication between equipment in the field and GIS systems in the office, and it is now commercially available. While the company’s immediate market is Scandinavia, it sees considerable market potential for the product in Canada as well, particularly since Valmet has shown interest in offering the software as standard equipment on its harvesters, and given the company’s well-established distribution network in North America.
With the ForeCare system, everyone is on the same page on where harvesting and site prep work is taking place, how much volume is being achieved, how many hectares have been scarified and how work is progressing. Personnel in the office know exactly when a job will be completed, and can begin planning the contractor’s next assignment, and how many trees to order for each site. The system can be installed in any harvester, feller buncher, or scarifier, as long as its internal computer is powerful enough. It works on a Windows 98 platform, with a minimum 266 MHz and 64 RAM. When the operator sits in the cab, he sees a computer screen in front and below him that shows an outline of the cutblock he is working in.
GPS data points on the computer screen show the operator exactly where he is positioned in the cutblock, what work has been completed to date, and where to continue working. “You are always in the right place,” says contractor Jonas Skyttmo. “Also, one operator doesn’t have to explain to the operator relieving him where he was producing. Finally, the system gives us much faster and easier contact with the company.” Skyttmo has been in business since 1981, and has been working with ForeCare to test and develop the company’s GIS communication software.
His company harvests about 120,000 cubic metres per year of white spruce and Scotch pine for a private company called Perssoninvest, the largest private landowner in central Sweden. Perssoninvest owns between 80,000 and 90,000 hectares of forestland. Softwood harvested from the company’s vast landholdings is transported to one of their sawmills in the nearby community of Gallo. Most harvesting is done as a clearcut. Skyttmo also harvests birch on the Perssoninvest land, which is sold to a pulp mill on Sweden’s east coast, owned by large forestry multinational, SCA. About half of Skyttmo’s business is related to harvesting and half to site preparation.
On the harvesting end, all the logs are cut-to-length with a harvester/processor. Skyttmo uses two harvesters, a Valmet 921 and 911, each operated for two, eight-hour shifts per day. Scarification activities take place between May and November. Skyttmo attaches a Bracke mounder manufactured by Robur Maskin to a Valmet 890.1 forwarder. A five-member crew operates the scarifier around the clock during peak season. Given his significant investment in a fairly complete line of modern equipment, Skyttmo was eager to participate in research that had the potential to allow him to operate more efficiently and profitably. “The payback with the ForeCare GIS system is that the machines are more productive,” says Skyttmo. “When you are doing scarification, you are going straight at it, producing, and making money.”
The ForeCare GIS communication system allows the forest company to download a precise cutblock design right into the harvester or scarifier computer. Another important feature of the GIS linkage system is that operators are fully aware of any sensitive sites within the cutblock. In Sweden, that could be sensitive moose habitat, environmental sites, or even Viking graves. Once the contractor completes an objective, notification is automatically sent to the forest company by e-mail. The contractor has the ability to bill the client immediately, using the precise information generated by the GIS system as proof of work completed. ForeCare representative Ola Wilhelmsson says computers in many harvesters already have a GPS card installed.
It is just a matter of loading the ForeCare GIS communication linkage software onto the computer. The biggest benefit to contractors using this system, he says, is that they can work more efficiently with the more precise and up-to-the-minute information available to them. Skyttmo speaks from experience. At a cost of about $8500 (Cdn.), he says the system paid for itself in about 18 months with the productivity improvements. He has been using it in scarification for SCA since 1999, and they are very pleased with the results. Over the years, he has built a close relationship with ForeCare, a company that emerged out of the evolution of scarification equipment and the growing body of university-based research concerning reforestation techniques.
ForeCare is a branch of the same company that owns Robur Maskin, the world’s largest manufacturer of scarification equipment. The parent company’s name is Contrafact AB. Wilhelmsson says that in the past when customers purchased scarification equipment, they depended on the equipment supplier to provide them with free information on the science of forest regeneration. Contrafact soon realized that there was a need and a business opportunity to link university-based research related to reforestation with practical application in the forest. Since launching the business, ForeCare has provided its services on many levels. With forest companies, they share research on how proper site preparation and planting can lead to substantially higher survival rates and growth.
The key, says Wilhelmsson, is to work with equipment suppliers, contractors, and operators so that they understand the importance of proper scarification and planting. “Educating the operator is key to getting good results when operating silivicultural equipment,” he says. Also, ForeCare’s input has led to changes and improvements in site prep equipment. Skyttmo is a good example of a contractor taking the time to become properly educated in site preparation, which includes building strong communication links between his customers and equipment suppliers.
For example, after years of testing various methods, he is absolutely convinced that a properly operated mounder creates a better micro-site for tree seedlings than a disk trencher. However, the operator needs to be much more alert to ensure that the mounder is properly programmed to produce the number of required micro-sites per hectare, and that they know how to make the necessary adjustments in challenging terrain. Like many successful Canadian logging contractors, Skyttmo has realized the value of keeping an open mind in terms of technological and scientific advances that can help him work more productively and profitably. The key is to maintain strong lines of communication to the various organizations involved in research and development, and be willing to assist researchers with their objectives. “Everybody’s goal is to be profitable,” says Wilhelmsson, “and we have to work together.”
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