Demand for wood is higher than ever. According to a 2020 report by the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, record volumes of wood-based products were produced and traded globally in 2018. This represented an 11% increase in international trade value.
The forestry industry is adapting to meet this growing demand. A range of solutions are helping forestry operators and other industry stakeholders be more productive, run safer timber harvesting operations, and be better stewards of natural resources/business assets. This trend, known as precision forestry, is prompting a revolution in the way trees are harvested — including types of mobile equipment used to harvest timber and move it from forests.
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Precision forestry involves a shift away from the traditional, highly manual, broad-brush harvesting approach. It leverages digital technology, high degrees of mechanization, and granular decision-making. Harvesting decisions can be made based on data gathered by drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), outfitted with remote sensing technologies, flying above a forest. Today, two or three skilled workers operating highly automated machines can accomplish as much as the large logging crews that worked in forests a century ago.
Key to this transformation is the precision forestry technologies that allow for mechanized harvesting. A recent report by McKinsey outlines an example of this new type of harvesting, a process known as the cut to length (CTL) logging system.
CTL is fully mechanized. Gone are dangerous, difficult, manual logging processes (think hand-held chainsaws). Instead, a track-mounted, 20-ton mechanized harvester — run by a single, skilled operator — fells a tree, delimbs it, and bucks it (cuts it to size). The machine does this in seconds using a boom-mounted, computer-controlled processing head, all powered by hydraulics. The operator touches neither the timber nor the dangerous instruments used in turning standing trees into stacked logs. Onboard computers receive real-time cutting instructions from sensors mounted on the harvester; it uses this data to optimize cuts.
Another wheeled or tracked piece of equipment, known as a forwarder, then moves in. It picks up the logs using a boom, loads them into a cargo bay, and moves them from the felling site to a roadside holding area. Here, they can be loaded into trucks for over-the-road transport.
Such a system offers a variety of advantages. First and foremost is greater safety — rather than working outside among the logs, operators are tucked into their protected cabs. Labor productivity also improves. And the access to data and advanced analytics gives managers greater control and the ability to make more informed decisions based on the needs of their supply chains.
The organization Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities lauds this system for its ability to allow forest managers to harvest more selectively, which helps landowners manage for a wider range of objectives. According to the organization,
“Cut-to-length logging helps reduce the need for log landings and access roads and can reduce soil compaction and disturbance. Its efficiency in dense stands makes it especially useful for forest health and fuels treatments.”
-Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities
Parker offers a variety of hydraulic solutions that are well-suited to precision forestry applications. These are engineered to help solve known issues such as adapting the machine to differing load conditions, achieving full performance at variable load cycles, machine stability and system function predictability, and flexibility on how valve functions are performing.
The bottom line is better performance with less fuel consumption. It’s an ideal solution for heavy equipment in forestry, mining, construction, and similar applications.
Traditional forestry is dangerous, difficult, and highly manual work. Meanwhile, traditional practices such as clear-cutting apply far-from-optimal, broad-brush approaches to forest management. Today, technology-driven solutions are changing this paradigm. Modern, precision forestry has the potential to be far safer, less physically demanding, more automated, and more productive. It offers better outcomes for forests and landowners.
To learn more about trends in the Forestry industry, read our white paper- Off-Road Trends: Driving Cleaner, More Efficient and Connected Machinery.
This article was contributed by the Hydraulics Team.
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