Strengthening the Canadian forest sector with Forestry 4.0
By FP Innovations
Feb. 20, 2018 - Supply chains have evolved significantly in recent decades, and yet are now on the edge of even more transformative changes driven by the digital revolution. The fourth industrial revolution, as it is called, is characterized by an interconnection of machines and systems within the production sites as well as between them and the outside world.
By FP Innovations
Information collection and transmission have progressed to the point where it is now common to exchange data in real-time from anywhere in the world. This has made it possible to generate enormous digital information flows, and the emergence of connected devices will amplify this phenomenon.
“This revolution will allow much greater agility to react to the market and to produce custom-made products at an industrial scale,” explains Francis Charette, associate research leader in FPInnovations’ Modeling and Decision Support group. “For the forest-to-market value chain, this would mean that all the links are interconnected in real-time, allowing for greater agility and responsiveness.”
Currently, Canada’s resource sector is challenged to be part of the global supply chain revolution. To close the gap caused by inadequate communication networks and insufficient in-depth data collection along the fibre supply chain, it is necessary to continue the development of technologies that will enable the generation of and access to real-time process input/output data relevant to supply chain management and adapted to Canadian conditions.
To help the Canadian industry position itself as a leader of this new technological revolution, FPInnovations is launching Forestry 4.0, an initiative aimed at enabling the upstream part of the forest value chain to fully leverage the agility and power of the fourth industrial revolution. The initiative is based on four major themes.
The real environment theme aims at developing foundational data to permit monitoring, analysis and decision-making along the supply chain.
Real environment is dedicated to the development of technologies and the science necessary to feed the value chain. The building block of the fourth industrial revolution is the generation of ubiquitous reliable data describing the constantly changing “real environment” of production. This information is needed to dynamically adjust the supply chain for processes based on market demand.
Currently, remote-sensing technologies provide a rich source of data to characterize forest resources. While this technology is not fully leveraged yet in the forest industry, the use of imagery and LiDAR 3D point clouds for example is widespread across Canada. The use of drones in forestry application has also increased exponentially and opened the door to less manually-intensive approaches to monitor forest operations.
Internet of forest
The Internet of forest theme is based on real-time communication, big data exchange and technology assembly. It aims to develop and implement communication systems in resource operations that will enable the implementation of the Industry 4.0 standard. These systems will cover a wide range of communication needs: vehicle-to-vehicle and machine-to-machine, vehicle and machine-to-infrastructure, operations-to-cellular and Internet networks, real-time communications in remote operations, etc.
Internet of forest focuses on the critical missing communication link in many remote and large areas of Canadian forests. In fact, only 46 per cent of Canadian forests have cellular coverage. Indeed, unlike most developed countries, Canada’s cellular telephone network does not cover a wide area, being concentrated along the southern border where the majority of the population lives. However, forest operations typically take place in more northerly locations or at significant distances from urban centres and thus have no connectivity to these networks. For this reason, many of the commercially-available connectivity solutions are not applicable in these conditions.
The activities carried out under this theme will represent the key enablers in our ability to exchange real-time data between forest operations and decision centers.
Advanced procurement systems
The advanced procurement systems theme focuses on the development and implementation of next-generation equipment, hardware, software and models that will allow forest operations to run to an Industry 4.0 standard by being automated, connected and accessed in real-time. This is the theme under which efforts will be made to develop, test and implement new production systems based on some of the latest technological developments. This theme is seen as the accelerator of the value chain, leveraging data of the real environment to adapt actions based on specific user demands.
“In addition to the Industry 4.0 standard, the forest sector is interested in automation and robotics because of the growing difficulty to find and attract workers and machine operators; safety concerns when operating in hazardous conditions; and the need for increasing productivity and competitiveness,” Charette says.
Unlike agricultural fields or mines, forests present some significant challenges for automation and robotics because of highly variable terrain condition and the ever-changing forest stand structures, even in managed natural forests (with the exception of plantations).
The data analytics theme will focus on developing knowledge and methods to transform raw or semi-transformed data into intelligence capable of feeding management systems and supply chain processes based on powerful optimization and simulation models. In other words, this theme serves as an integrator of the complete upstream process in order to implement “smart harvesting” and artificial intelligence to the management of the Canadian forest sector value chain.
Currently, whereas many commercial or in-house decision-support systems (DSS) exist, few actually manage and optimize the forest value chain because of the complexity and burden of providing all of the necessary base data in order to generate the optimal decisions. Most forest companies do not monitor or track the data needed to feed the value chain DSS, or the data are not in a compatible format. For these reasons, many companies do not use these decision-support tools for operational purposes, but use them only at a tactical or strategic level because it takes so long to gather the data and run the models.
Finally, a new concept is rising to be the platform for the digitalization of the physical process: it’s called “digital twin”. The digital twin consists of a realistic 3D representation of the physical process where you can simulate scenarios and ultimately monitor them. With the new generation of sensors and the application of the industrial Internet of things, the digital twin will be able to fuse the real process with the virtual process. This will allow users to not only collect data, but also react and communicate with actors and connected data and services.
By launching the Forestry 4.0 initiative, FPInnovations hopes to move the forest supply chain to Industry 4.0 standards of reactivity to market needs, agility and connectivity. The application of these standards will also make it easier and quicker to react to the supply fluctuations from climate change and increasing pressure from other users. The project will favour the introduction of new technology, making the sector more appealing to the next generation of workers and helping address the current shortage of skilled labour in the sector.
The scope of this initiative is quite large and FPInnovations doesn’t claim to address these challenges by itself; rather, it wants to be the hub of the implementation of 4.0 technology in the Canadian forest sector and look for partners to help them bring the sector into the 4.0 era.
Learn more about the Forestry 4.0 initiative by contacting Francis Charette (firstname.lastname@example.org).