Wood Business

Shaping forestry’s future in the digital transformation era

December 29, 2021  By Marie-Claude Thibault

Photo credit: © NicoElNino / iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Imagine this: a mill connected to an intelligent data tool so powerful that it can predict problems before they are detectable and plan a corrective action. Or a virtual coach that provides real-time feedback to a harvesting machine operator to increase productivity. Seems futuristic? It is nevertheless FPInnovations’ vision. 

We have recently experienced, through the pandemic, how technology can evolve rapidly when there is a need and the will to do things differently. We at FPInnovations think that the forest industry has enough data available to move faster into the digital transformation era, as seen in other manufacturing sectors. Here’s why… 

A Layer of intelligence over traditional dashboard
While many companies in the forest industry are already equipped with monitoring and surveillance tools for their operations, none of the products currently available on the market offer the level of complex analysis and problem solving that is expected for the future of the industry. Most of the monitoring tools that are currently used can tell that something is wrong, but cannot get to the root cause of what and why. The product we envision will go far beyond what is already being offered to propel the industry ahead of its time. Now is the time to go from a monitoring dashboard to automated decision-making solutions. 

Offering a 24/7, Real-time problem solving service
Our ultimate objective is to give access to process engineering solutions on a 24/7 basis, at any place, any time. To put this in straightforward terms, the analytics tool must be able to detect anomalies on the manufacturing process and submit corrective measures to the mill without requiring long investigation from experts. There will be no need to go on-site to capture data and information. 


We are talking about a system that is highly automated and that uses common knowledge to grow the number of problems that can be recognized and solved automatically by complex algorithms; consequently, the tool will meet the needs and expectations of each sector by gathering a broad range of data related to their activities. When facing unusual issues that cannot be processed automatically, experts will receive alerts and will be able to provide the required assistance within a short period of time.

A multidisciplinary team
A way to achieve this goal is to gather groups of experts and external partners who will share their knowledge in such a way to develop technological tools that may fill existing gaps and create new opportunities in each sector. 

In order to be successful in this endeavor, we have engaged many niche skills like data scientists, process experts, software and system developers, as well as the collaboration of data providers and OEMs to develop a solution that is generic and applicable in most of the sector segments. Such niche expertise is hard to gather in a single company – that’s why we are building bridges between all the actors of the sector to be successful.

Addressing labour shortage
Everyone is aware that labour shortage is and will continue to be a common challenge for many sectors, including the forest sector. We need to have tools that will ease the entry of a new generation of workers. By introducing solutions that will help them reduce the learning curve, we will maintain – and hopefully increase – productivity and retain a higher percentage of these new workers by having them contribute to the success of the organization right from the beginning. 

This new generation of data-driven tools is, in some ways, an instrument to encrypt knowledge acquired overs years of experience by many industry workers. Just like you don’t need to fully understand the autonomous package on a Tesla car to use it and drive autonomously from point A to point B, technological tools can support new forest industry workers by providing guidance on important features, making the process more fluid and consistent even for inexperienced workers. 

A long-term vision
What will the industry’s needs be five-plus years from now? We need to think about it now. The objective with the development of this technology is to implement approaches and tools that go beyond what is currently available and that will help the industry position itself for years to come. Unlike other tools on the market offering problem solving based on mills’ data, this program needs to develop solutions that are integrated and global, based on acquired knowledge, yet still evolving from new data collected.

The forest industry of the future must be connected, offer the possibility to interact in real time, and possess automated tools to respond to market needs and changes. Sectors must also be prepared to share and connect their data with other stakeholders along the supply chain to create the most efficient, integrated industry. Finally, this industry needs to improve its efficiency, despite the labour shortage, in order to contribute to climate change mitigation, where the industry can be one of the sectors that makes a real difference with its green, renewable, and low-carbon product.

Imagine a powerful tool that can remotely identify the right tree for the right need, identify the best market and customer, send the cutting order to the forestry machinery and route the wood to the right processing plant. Futuristic? Maybe not.

For more information, contact Francis Charette (francis.charette@fpinnovations.ca), manager of FPInnovations’ Digitalization group.  

Marie-Claude Thibault is a communications specialist with FPInnovations. 

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