FPInnovations has been interested in the potential of robotics technology within the forestry sector for the past many years. In fact, automation offers great potential for improving the productivity of machines and for cutting costs.
Fully automated machines represent a challenge in the forest, due to the complexity of the extremely variable environment. This explains why the road to a fully automated process probably requires progressive steps and a good knowledge of both the context and the challenges.
Context and challenges
It is very difficult nowadays to attract and retain qualified workers in forestry operations. In fact, the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), in its Vision2020 paper, predicts a shortage of 60,000 workers in the forestry industry within the next five years. Moreover, due to worldwide competition, the industry must also achieve substantial productivity gains in order to lower the costs of fibre delivered and protect declining profit margins.
In addition, the industry must improve its safety performance as operations are carried out on more difficult terrain—for example, steep slopes where operators are more exposed to accident risks. Another factor that must be taken into account is the long learning curve of forestry machinery operations.
It seems obvious that all automation of forestry work would help reduce the learning period and would have a significant impact on overall productivity. Automation will enable operators to concentrate on planning and other strategic decisions, rather than on activities of lesser added value.
Moreover, in April 2015, FPInnovations organized a workshop in Montreal, on the theme of forestry robotics, which made it possible to demonstrate the great potential of robotics and automation within forestry operations. FPInnovations is therefore enthusiastic over the idea of pursuing its collaborative efforts with the industry, manufacturers, technology suppliers, the university sector and international partners, in projects and initiatives aimed at increasing the extent of automation of forestry machines in the future.
For further details on our forestry robotics research projects, don’t hesitate to contact Jean-François Gingras, Research Manager, Fibre Supply, at FPInnovations.