Drones deliver data for Pinnacle

As forest companies come to appreciate the versatility of drones as a management tool, more of them are opting for ownership of their own unmanned aerial vehicles. Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc., an operator of wood pellet manufacturing plants in the interior of British Columbia, has recently invested in its own drone. The machine’s principal objective is for use as a volumetric assessment tool.

Traditionally, the measurement of large stockpiles of woody materials required for the pellet manufacturing process has been a land-based system. It is a time consuming exercise of varying accuracy with worker safety implications.

Pinnacle Renewable Energy wanted to find a more efficient method of attaining the data it required.

“We started hiring drones from third parties,” recalled Erik Marchand, operations controller for Pinnacle, which is based in Prince George, B.C. The results produced by the drone were impressive but expensive, he added.

After some number crunching and payback assessment, Pinnacle decided to invest in and operate its own drone. Pinnacle turned to InDro Robotics Inc., in Calgary for help. InDro Robotics is a Canadian company fully accredited by the federal regulator to offer a range of remote sensing functions including an operation and training package for drone use, explained Matt Stambaugh, vice-president for UAV operations with the company. In fact, InDro Robotics was recently awarded the very first full compliant SFOC (Special Flight Operations Certificate) in Canada, which allows the company to carry out complex operations nationwide in logging and other industries. 

“The function for Pinnacle was primarily as an inventory measurement tool,” said Stambaugh. “Drones can provide a really efficient visual management platform. At the end of a five day engagement, (the trainee operators) had a lot of confidence in their drone flying skills. Maintaining the height of the drone’s flight is really important,” he cautioned.

InDro Robotics trained five of Pinnacle’s people in drone operation and management. “It’s very easy technology to actually use,” reported Marchand. “The regulatory environment and navigating that on your own is a lot more demanding. But InDro Robotics is a great company to work with.”

The drone and its associated computer software makes easy work of Pinnacle’s volumetric assessment challenges. Programming the drone, collecting the data, uploading it into the computer to produce an accurate 3D volumetric image takes about two hours total, said Marchand. “It’s unbelievable. The process is also safe and eliminates human error.”

Marchand reckons Pinnacle’s drone will prove useful in other applications. The residual wood piles of bark, sawdust and shavings used to manufacture energy-efficient wood pellets, can generate internal heat. A drone fitted with a thermal imaging camera can accurately detect hot spots for remedial action. “Within our operations, we have several larger structures which periodically require inspecting,” he continued. The drone coupled with a high definition video camera can quickly and easily provide the detailed information required without potentially dangerous human access.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
May 2017

On the Cover:
Simple, clean and efficient were the guiding principles for B.C. logger Gregory Jacob when he began his examination of available steep slope log harvesting methods. He was able to get exactly that, and the key new machine in Gregory’s steep slope arsenal is a wheeled John Deere 1910E cut to length forwarder with a Haas winch. Read all about it on page 10 (Cover photo by Jim Stirling).

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A new Forestry Machine Operator Training program being offered by the Canadian Woodlands Forum and several other organizations could be part of the answer to the challenge of finding, and training, equipment operators—and be a model for elsewhere in Canada.

Lo-Bar tackles high ground
B.C.’s Lo-Bar Transport has a new steep slope system involving a wheeled John Deere 1910E cut to length forwarder with a Haas winch which provides easier access to timber across a broader cross section of steep and challenging terrains.

Up in smoke—not
A new sawmill came on stream this spring in the B.C. Interior—thanks to the co-operation of three forest industry parties—and the end result is that wood fibre that would have been piled and literally gone up in polluting smoke will now be converted to viable wood products.

Combining the efforts—and tenures—of First Nations
The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in the B.C. Interior is looking at ways that scattered First Nations communities with small tenures can work together, and scale up the opportunities and benefits from the forest resource.

Going Dutch on sawmill
Two companies have joined forces on a new specialty sawmill that is taking Sitka Spruce in northwestern B.C.—known for growing tall and straight, with long fibres and tight ring counts—to produce high end product for a reman plant in Holland.

Canada North Resources Expo Official Show Guide
Extensive show coverage including CNRE stories, exhibitor list, floor plan … and more!

Forest fire fighting—with drones!
Drones are proving to be very useful tools in business, and a B.C. firm is now exploring their practical applications in the working forest, notably in wildfire control and prevention, an increasing area of concern considering extreme weather patterns.

Drones Deliver Data for Pinnacle

Planer ups production
The planer mill at Tolko’s Armstrong, B.C., sawmill is seeing positive bottom-line results from an upgrade that has allowed the planer operation to greatly increase its production—with the kicker that more of that production is higher grade lumber.

The Edge
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

The Last Word
Super logging equipment consumers are super valuable to logging equipment manufacturers—and dealers, says Jim Stirling.

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