By Tony Kryzanowski
The federal government’s Growing Canada’s Forests Program aims to plant an additional two billion trees over 10 years as part of a broader approach to nature-based climate solutions. Forest companies can participate in this program when they go beyond their statutory management and reforestation responsibilities.
For example, if a forest company that harvests aspen or poplar chooses to enhance that site after harvest by planting white spruce with the aspen/poplar, this is going beyond what they are required to do. Adding softwood to the site increases its carbon sink potential while enhancing biodiversity, ecosystem sustainability and establishing an additional commercial value/crop.
Derek Sidders, Program Manager, Technology Development and Transfer at the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC), says that the Growing Canada’s Forests Program is a perfect opportunity to apply some of the enhanced mixedwood reforestation practices demonstrated over the past 35 years through stakeholder-supported applied research and development.
Today, demonstration legacy sites established under the CWFC and Canadian Forest Service (CFS) umbrella are available to industry for reference to develop a successful enhanced mixedwood deployment strategy.
When originally launched, the goal of this research was to study and validate ways to build sustainable, resilient and biodiverse mixedwood forests while enhancing fibre yield and recovery of aspen, balsam poplar and white spruce. Long term research has repeatedly shown that these species are naturally very complementary to one another, and that there are many demonstrated opportunities for growth and yield enhancement.
The Alberta Hotchkiss River Mixedwood Demonstration Area and the Ecosystem Management Emulating Natural Disturbance (EMEND) study feature partial harvest removal using various designs to enhance mixedwood health, understorey protection of white spruce and selective planting.
With EMEND, one of the largest ongoing forest research sites in the world, large-scale test plots monitor and report stand health with ecosystem production outcomes over time in stands with various percentages of hardwoods and softwoods. During its establishment, CFS/CWFC, the University of Alberta, and their partners designed and demonstrated mixedwood variable retention partial harvest methods. This was followed up by selective site preparation and planting of white spruce, which today provide industry with a successful example of enhanced biodiversity and sustainable management of mixedwood stands by mimicking natural disturbance through harvest, recovery and planting.
In addition to the partial harvest mixedwood project sites, CFS/CWFC and its stakeholder partners initiated technology development trials focused on planting white spruce in the understorey of mid-rotation and mature aspen and poplar stands on various sites throughout the Boreal Plains. One result was the development of innovative selective site preparation practices using skid steer loader-mounted soil mixing tools to allow the white spruce planted in the understorey to become established within a relatively quick timeframe on moderate to well-drained sites. The hardwood overstorey could be harvested 15 to 20 years later, resulting in an established, well-distributed and productive white spruce forest.
This led to the establishment of two distinct Mixedwood-By-Design trial sites with hardwood producers in Alberta, to tweak stand regeneration by maintaining the hardwood suckering component while enhancing the stands with planted white spruce. One project involved systematic and selective mixing of the subsurface soil of two-year-old clearcuts to slow down regenerating hardwood growth while planting white spruce within the mixed soil in a pattern to maximize growth and operational efficiency.
A second trial with another forest company partner involved planting hybrid aspen and poplar with white spruce on a harvested hardwood site. The result was a high quality hardwood crop that is merchantable within 20 years and a softwood crop within 40 to 60 years.
FPInnovations recently created a Digitalization team to better understand the problems and operational efficiencies faced by manufacturers in their mill environment and to properly equip them in order to effectively address these often common and recurring issues.
To learn more about this topic, we met with Francis Charette, Manager of FPInnovations’ new Digitalization team, who kindly answered five quick questions to help us better understand the purpose of this demonstration project.
Why set up a Digitalization demonstration project?
Based on the findings of a survey conducted among our members and the industry, we were able to identify recurring problems at many mills that could be solved with digital solutions. We also listed the tools that are currently being used to manage these situations.
While a number of mills already have data collection tools, they are primarily used to measure process efficiency and generate reports, but don’t provide any solutions or improvements. The challenge is to provide automated tools that can detect anomalies in real time, initiate action to determine the causes, and offer solutions to resolve them.
Why is this project important to the industry?
One of the objectives of the Digitalization demonstration project is to share the lessons learned from the various mills in their operations. By digitally identifying recurring problems and their causes using powerful analysis tools, we hope to be able to propose concrete solutions, thereby reducing downtime as well as minimizing product and revenue losses.
Lack of manpower is also a challenge facing the industry. For some time now, young workers have been difficult to recruit, while the experienced workforce is getting older and is unable to pass on its knowledge. Digital tools could partially remedy this problem by encoding the knowledge of experienced workers. This approach would help offset the lack of experience and decrease the learning curve.
What approach is the Digitalization demonstration project taking?
Our first step is a proof of concept that will be achieved in one mill at a time, with very close collaboration of mill personnel and data providers. This will allow us to experiment with an initial solution approach. Later on, the addition of more and more data will make it possible to develop algorithms that can be used in different mills.
An initial pilot project is under way and will continue through 2021 to test the system in a real production environment.
What can the mills expect?
The manufacturers will have access to a generic tool that will be able to identify problems immediately when they occur and propose solutions. However, for more complex problems, the system could enable them to consult an FPInnovations expert and solve certain problems remotely.
Thanks to a better perception of the problems, it will eventually be possible to avoid unnecessary travel, which will make it possible for FPInnovations to deploy its specialized resources where the problems are more complex, saving time and money for all concerned.
Who is the Digitalization demonstration project for?
The first phase targets the wood products industry (two typical cases are targeted: drying and sawmill production line) which already uses data compilation tools and for which our knowledge of the production process allows us to go beyond existing solutions. A second phase will target other sectors of activity according to their specific problems.
In order to speed up the roll-out of the demonstration project, several technical partners have been identified:
The SPN Consultants firm has a proven continuous data analysis and anomaly detection technology that is adapted to the specific needs of each mill. This technology, which uses the data collected and the history of identified problems, should enable wood processing plants in the sawmilling, drying and planing industries to optimize their operations by reducing the number and duration of unplanned downtime, while improving their productivity and ensuring the quality of their product.
Effecto, an affiliated partner of FPInnovations, is a specialized firm that has developed and implemented a manufacturing management system and traceability tools in several wood processing plants. Effecto’s systems are used, for example, to collect, structure, and transmit data for sawing, drying, and planing operations at Clermond Hamel.
MEC Dry Kiln, an affiliated partner, works closely with FPInnovations to access their controller database.
Clermond Hamel Ltée, a member company, is actively participating as a manufacturer that can benefit from the project by digitizing its operations between sawing, drying and planing, by giving access to the data of its production systems and evaluate the performance of the system.
For more information on this project, please contact Francis Charette, Manager of FPInnovations’ Digitalization Group at 514-782-4608 or at [email protected].
On the Cover:
The Spruce Products sawmill in Swan River, Manitoba is proving that it pays to invest in targeted efficiency and optimization. Most recently, the sawmill has increased its log throughput at the front end of its main breakdown line by 20 per cent with a $3 million investment. They can now process about 4,000 logs per 10-hour shift, as compared to about 3,300 logs per shift previously, with a new log sorting system supplied by mill equipment manufacturer, Carbotech. Read all about the improvements beginning on page 8. (Cover photo courtesy of Spruce Products)
Biomass from forest fires now firing power plant
Two First Nations groups in the B.C. Interior recently began a collaboration to utilize woody biomass left in areas impacted by forest fires, which is being used to fire a power plant—and produce wood pellets.
Targeted mill upgrades
Manitoba’s Spruce Products sawmill has been able to increase its log throughput by an impressive 20 per cent, thanks to targeted upgrades.
Mill upgrade delivers recovery gains—and flexibility
B.C.’s Porcupine Wood Products recently wrapped up a mill upgrade project that is all about achieving gains in recovery, and flexibility in production—and the future of the mill.
Duz Cho takes on Site C dam logging
Duz Cho Logging is taking on some challenging harvesting that’s part of the construction effort for B.C.’s massive Site C dam power project—a job that includes walking across the Peace River with their equipment.
Canada’s Top Lumber Producers
Logging and Sawmilling Journal’s authoritative listing of Canada’s Top Lumber Producers, produced in association with leading forest industry consultants Forest Economic Advisors (FEA).
Short logging season = maxing out production
Alberta logger SK Trucking looks for every edge to maximize production in all ground conditions—and to work within a very short winter logging season.
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 (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
European lumber producers are capturing more U.S. lumber market share while Canada is stuck in the penalty box, says Tony Kryzanowski.