Developing Technology for the Forest Industry – Part 2

image of smartphone forestry app

The forest products industry is positioned for technological change. We’ve certainly seen significant increases in the equipment our industry uses – in the woods, in the log yard, at the mill. However, there are lots of opportunities to harness information technology and make the forest products industry supply chain more efficient and transparent. In last month’s Woods to Mill blog, I asked what issues people are facing that might be solved with technology solutions, particularly apps, software programs or other. Here’s some of what I heard:

  • “One of the things on the top of my list is to have wood and chip drivers scale in at our mills using their smartphones, making the entry / exit more efficient… but the biggest motivator for me is to make it more safe. Most scale houses are inherently risky (high traffic, uneven walk surfaces, tight spaces, etc.). It drives me crazy every time I hear about a truck driver tripping or falling or having some sort of a safety incident / near miss.” – pulp and paper mill
  • “We have an internally developed app that provides us the ability to complete a form, email it to anyone in the company (including automatic distribution by form), stores the record in a searchable database. It will also record GPS location and allows us to share pictures. We must have about a dozen regularly used forms that are completed on it. Mostly for logging, some for safety.” – landowner
  • “Maybe a bit off target, but something that tracked current and pending industry policy at the state and federal levels (something more encompassing than simple compliance) might be useful to some.” – industry consultant
  • “At [company], we are currently working on a project to improve our scaling functions at all of our scale houses. One objective is to keep the driver sitting in the cab of his truck while he does his transaction at the scale house. We have had at least three driver injuries from slips/trips/falls at the scale house each year for the last five years.

The second objective is to bring more transparency and reportability to the full supply chain. We would like to be able to see loads that are headed our way (allows better workload planning, etc.). We would like to be able to reliably capture the GPS coordinates of the source of every load. Our suppliers would like to be able to see where their trucks are at all times, how many loads they have delivered, how long the wait is at each location, etc. Currently, there are a number of systems out there that address some of these concerns, but nothing touches on all of them.

The safety issue of keeping the driver in the truck is not adequately addressed with a kiosk box at the scales. Just visit any scale house and watch how different sized trucks driven by different sized drivers manage to reach that box. The driver stepping out of his cab to stand on his fuel tank and stretch to reach the kiosk is probably more unsafe than the driver climbing down out of the cab. Simple, inexpensive, cell phone or tablet-based systems to facilitate these transactions would be useful to everyone in the industry. Getting a critical mass of user acceptance will depend on providing many features at a reasonable cost.” – pulp and paper mill

These are all great ideas and may provide opportunities for developers to work with our industry. In addition to these specific ideas, I heard from a forester who said, “I believe that our industry is on the forefront of a technology shift, due to shortages in labor, an aging workforce and infrastructure, as well as antiquated technologies.” It’s clear that there are opportunities to utilize technology to improve the forest industry supply chain, and I look forward to seeing (and sharing) what solutions come next.