Through its Forestry 4.0 program, FPInnovations is actively working to transform the supply chain of the Canadian forest sector with the objective of improving processes, reducing operating costs, and ensuring workers safety. At a time when labour shortages are becoming increasingly acute, various automation options must be considered to maintain the sector’s productivity.
One facet of this research concerns the transport operations, particularly through the deployment of autonomous vehicles in mill yards. The knowledge acquired from this work is a first step towards the operational integration of these technologies in the forest industry. Notably, FPInnovations aims at better understanding the environmental impact (climate, road conditions, loads carried, etc.) on these systems and at developing strategies that will further the optimization of operations in a context of labour shortages. The creation of exciting alliances in an area that is still unknown to our sector is another clear benefit.
First series of field tests
FPInnovations took a first step in adapting autonomous vehicle technologies to the forest industry, in the Spring of 2019, by conducting a field demonstration in a controlled environment of an SAE-4 level autonomous driving system. These levels are ranked from 0 to 5: at automation level 4, a human driver is no longer required to control the vehicle.
The test took place at the Tolko OSB mill in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, with the participation of carrier Cowan Bros Transport Ltd. The test vehicle, a Peterbilt truck, was equipped with an autonomous driving system developed by the American company Autonomous Solutions Inc. (ASI). It lasted for two days in a pre-determined and secured area of the mill yard between a loading point and the delivery dock. System assessment included trips with empty and partially-loaded trailers. For the duration of these tests, no device for obstacle detection (pedestrians, vehicles, stationary objects) was installed on the vehicle, which positioned itself with a GPS antenna in a previously mapped environment. An engineer was on board at all times to monitor the proper functioning of the systems.
“These trials are essential to establish a clear picture of what the technology can do for us in its current state. The results obtained will enable us to better define the adaptations required to bring these self-driving systems to performance levels that will allow them to be introduced into operations,” stated Édouard Proust, a researcher with FPInnovations‘ Roads and Infrastructures group. “We are satisfied with the results obtained, which we believe demonstrate that the concept is close to being available for controlled applications such as lumber yards.”
This series of tests in a mill yard is a first step in order to better understand and analyze the initial available technical data; this information is intended to improve knowledge and better plan the next phases of the project. The test environment used did not fully reflect a real configuration, the main objective being to assess the viability, technical maturity and capacity of the system.
The next development steps include continuing work for adapting the existing technology so as to increase the efficiency of the process and integrate its use into day-to-day operations. Trials are planned for the fall of 2020 to this effect. Risk analyses will also be completed to confirm the safe use of these vehicles.