BY TONY KRYZANOWSKI
The Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) offers novel tools and systems to help industry, forest land-use managers, investors, private landowners and a variety of stakeholders to implement diverse stand management designs in natural mixedwood forests and afforested plantations that can deliver multiple benefits.
These include more product value while creating more resilience to pests and wildfire, contributing to natural climate solutions through GHG emissions reductions, enhanced wildlife habitat, and improved recreational and traditional uses.
These tools and systems were developed and refined over decades working with industry and partners across Canada to maximize values and benefits associated with the natural mixedwood forest, with a focus on aspen, balsam poplar and white spruce. This evolved to include the development of mixedwood afforestation systems featuring fast-growing hybrid poplar and selected clonal aspen with white spruce or white pine in the understorey.
Derek Sidders, Program Manager, Technology Development and Transfer at CWFC, says that enhanced natural mixedwood management systems can start with a pure hardwood stand. Value is added by deploying selective site preparation and planting white spruce in the understorey. Other options include a selective/systematic partial or variable retention harvest removing 25 per cent to 50 per cent of the stems to recover value, followed by site preparing and planting white spruce. This management practice enhances growth response and maximizes value, while creating a more resilient, uneven age mixedwood stand.
Another scenario in enhanced natural mixedwood management involves clearcutting of an even-aged, mixedwood site followed by allowing hardwoods to naturally sucker and creating a mixedwood-stand-by-design through systematic or selective site preparation, controlling localized hardwood regeneration, and planting white spruce in strips or evenly distributed, depending on the hardwood consistency and vigour and the long-term management objective.
These natural mixedwood strategies have been successfully mimicked and applied by CWFC in afforestation plantings where the strategy is to plant a fast-growing hardwood species in a systematic pattern of 1100 to 1600 stems per hectare, and after a year or two of intensive vegetative management, planting either white spruce or white pine (Central/Eastern Canada) in the understorey within or between rows. This creates natural carbon sinks as well as enhanced and diverse habitat and fibre value. The hardwood can be removed once trees achieve 20 cm to 25 cm in diameter and 20 m to 24 m in height for bioenergy or forest products. They can also be left intact or partially harvested for more long-term mix values such as habitat diversity, albedo benefits and fertility. The softwoods experience accelerated growth and health in either scenario.
Adoption of these practices, either in the natural mixedwood forest or in particular afforestation, creates a doorway to potential participation in the Government of Canada’s Two Billion Tree Program operating from 2021 to 2030.
WHY TELEOPERATION OF HARVESTING MACHINES?
A further stage in the evolution of harvesting is teleoperation, which would enable harvest machines to be operated remotely and out of the operator’s sight. This provides an opportunity to combine human attributes such as awareness, perception, and decision making, with the advantages of autonomous machine functions such as precision, accuracy, and task repetition.
BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES
Teleoperation may improve machine productivity and consequently reduce harvesting costs. This could be realized by having one operator operating two machines simultaneously, safely, and offsite. Increased machine utilization and reduced operator fatigue would result in this scenario and lead to productivity gains. This could enable more access to timber at a lower cost.
Reducing working fatigue and enabling operators to work offsite in a safe and comfortable environment would also make operator positions more attractive to new workers and could extend the career of existing operators.
It also increases the safety. For instance, operating harvesting machines on steep slopes is hazardous since the steep pitches cause machine instability. This increases the risk of the operator losing control of the machine and potentially causing serious injuries and costly machine damage. By removing the operator from the machine, these risks are mitigated.
Teleoperation requires human-machine interaction using advanced autonomous navigation, machine sensors, and sophisticated communication protocols. Some of the challenges to implementing this technology include developing a robust communication system, improving productivity, reducing ownership and operating costs, integrating teleoperation with winch assist technology, as well as finding early adopters.
DEVELOPMENT OF TELEOPERATION TECHNOLOGY IN FOREST OPERATIONS
Applied Teleoperation Limited (ATL) (New Zealand) and Applied Research Associates (ARA) (U.S.) have developed teleoperation systems for forest operations. These systems allow an operator to remotely control harvest machines from an onsite trailer. There are also several other teleoperation technology providers that are currently developing virtual reality-based technologies that may be applicable to harvesting machines. However, the technology still needs further refinement to meet the requirements of the Canadian forest sector.
LEAD THE INITIATIVE AND PILOT TELEOPERATION IN THE CANADIAN FOREST INDUSTRY!
FPInnovations has identified winch-assisted skidders as the most feasible entry-point for the implementation of teleoperation technologies in Canadian forests due to the relative simplicity of operations compared to other harvesting phases (i.e., feller buncher, harvester, etc.). If this is proven successful, then teleoperation could be adopted by other machines, such as feller bunchers or loaders, and possibly in equipment used at mills.
Early adopters of these technologies stand to gain from reduced operating expenses through better machine availability and being at the forefront of machine design improvements and modifications.
A pilot study of teleoperated skidders operating on steep slopes in Canada is proposed to determine the feasibility of teleoperation technology. An incentive program could be developed to offset some of the financial and operational risks for the participating contractor. Key technology providers have been identified, and life cycle requirements such as training, parts availability, and technical support could all be examined within this pilot program.
Logging contractors and forest companies in Canada interested in piloting the teleoperation in their operations are invited to contact Mithun Shetty, Senior Researcher, at [email protected].
On the Cover:
Logging company Tri Valley Construction Ltd., of Princeton, B.C., did not hesitate when they were approached by Cat and B.C. Cat dealer, Finning, about participating in a trial of the new Cat 538 machine—and the new machine has proven itself in B.C.’s Southern Interior. Tri Valley is also getting involved in more steep slope logging, with the purchase of Tractionline and Harvestline equipment from The Inland Group. (Cover photo courtesy of Tri Valley Construction).
Major industry expansions in Saskatchewan
Big things are happening in the forest industry in Saskatchewan, with a new timber allocation from the Saskatchewan government supporting growth of the industry, including a $100 million expansion of Dunkley Lumber’s Carrot River sawmill.
Moving into steep slope equipment
Tri Valley Construction has been working with some new logging equipment, having solid success with Cat’s new 538 machine, and the company is now springboarding into getting involved with steep slope logging equipment in B.C.’s Southern Interior.
Franklin Forest dives into different markets
Franklin Forest Products turns out a variety of wood products—everything from wood for logging road bridges to diving boards—from its spectacular location on Vancouver Island’s Alberni Inlet, using an interesting combination of mill equipment.
Livestock still makes up a good portion of the business for B.C.’s Ootsa Lake Cattle Company, but it has also been doing more logging the last few years, including an interesting project for a community forest.
Turning out more lumber on The Rock
Newfoundland’s largest sawmill, Sexton Lumber, has seen some big increases in demand for lumber, and has incorporated a number of equipment changes to improve efficiencies.
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.
From power upgrades to safety improvements, read all about what’s new in mulcher systems in this issue’s
The Last Word
The partnership of Alberta sawmill Vanderwell Contractors—which will be supplying the raw material for a $35 million biofuel and hydrogen commercial demonstration project partnership—with a biofuel producer deserves praise, says Tony Kryzanowski.