Novel App for chainsaw efficiency
Motor manual and semi-mechanised harvesting accounts for 45 per cent of the value chain across the EU. The new T4E Bucking App can help make chainsaw harvesting more profitable which is crucial in an environment where the timber margin for the farmer is low.
TECH4EFFECT collaborative partners have launched a novel mobile device-based software, or Bucking App, used in motor-manual timber harvesting to support cutting trees into the most valuable combination of logs, which can be matched to the contract.
The University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, BOKU, Vienna, designed the prototype, Upper Austrian forest logistics solutions company, Latschbacher, carried out the programming, and the Austrian Federal Forests, ÖBf, provided the sites for testing and development. The Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking, under EU Horizon 2020 funding, financed the project.
Free download for training
The free download Bucking App is aimed at infrequent fellers, such as farmers, and education institutions, like forest training centres and forestry schools. The App aims to enhance decision-making as to the combination of logs, or assortments, in which to cut a tree.
In industry jargon, cutting is called bucking and the combination of logs is a bucking scheme. The App helps maximise yield value and minimise waste, while enabling record keeping of what has been cut. It can also act as a calibration tool for the professional chainsaw operator in changing work environments.
App targets profitability, efficiency
The EU funded initiative was to support the efficient use of timber resources within the forestry sector to feed Europe’s biomass needs, which are growing.
Biomass, such as timber, increasingly is being used to replace petrochemical-based by-products in plastics, cosmetics, and even man-made fibres for clothing. Smart, digital aids to support a more efficient use of a given resource are crucial in the timber harvesting environment characterized by small margins in primary production.
BOKU Forest Engineer, Department of Forests and Soil Sciences, Dipl.-Eng. Dr. Gernot Erber, who was the developer of the App prototype, said that digital tools offered ways to make motor-manual harvesting more profitable by ensuring efficient use of the resource.
Digital tools aid small producers
Speaking from Vienna, he said digitalisation of the sector was of special importance in the case of Alpine countries, such as Austria and Italy, where most of the timber harvesting was done by motor-manual operations and forest ownership, in terms of hectares owned, is small-scale. In Europe, private forest ownership accounts for 51 per cent of the forested area.
“To be able to fulfill the demand for biomass it is important that wood resources are accessed in the first place and, secondly, that the wood is harvested efficiently. The App certainly would make it easier for farmers who infrequently fell to aid them in their cutting decisions, to get the most value out of the wood. This is crucial in an environment where the timber margin for the farmer is low.
“Digital solutions, like the Bucking App, and others which currently are being developed, will only make it easier for the farmer to engage in what is called precision forestry. It’s all about having better knowledge and control of operations in production logistics. The quicker the farmer engages with these smart solutions, the easier it will be to operate in the future,” Erber explained.
Match assortment contracts
The Bucking App’s algorithm matches a given tree’s dimension and quality characteristic with the potential assortments defined by the user’s contract with the buyer, and presents a maximum value bucking scheme. Such functionality has been available for large harvesting machinery, like harvesters, before, but is a novelty in the combination of motor-manual operations and a smartphone.
The App is set up in accordance with the Austrian timber trade guidelines and is currently able to handle the five tree species prevalent in Central Europe and Northern Italy: spruce, fir, larch, Scots pine and beech. Dimensional, quality and price definitions of potential assortments easily can be imported into the App via a convenient Microsoft Excel spreadsheet solution.
Bucking schemes can be altered by the user during the operation. This might be required to account for quality characteristics not visible from the outside. At the same time, this feature can be used for self-improvement by comparing one own ideas on the bucking scheme, as to what the App’s value-maximized solution is.
Track stats and records
The App keeps tree-by-tree records and cumulative statistics of what has been cut, a feature that is well-known from mechanised harvesters, but not from motor-manual harvesting operations.
Users can keep track of their production, and arrange logistics accordingly. What’s more, the information on a tree’s dimensions and quality can be back-fed into forest inventory systems to allow for better predictions on quantity and quality shares in future harvesting operations.
Export of the data is realized via .pdf or Microsoft Excel .csv-files that can be shared conveniently via the smartphones’ e-mail or instant-messaging services. In the future, data could also be fed into tools for logistics planning, productivity, monitoring and benchmarking, such as TECH4EFFECT’s SILVISMART portal www.silvismart.eu.
In using the App, the tree feller needs to take several manual measurements of the tree, when it is both standing and felled, and enter these into the App to guide the user into a value-maximized and waste-minimized bucking suggestion, or decision.
Reduce poor cutting decisions
Before a bucking decision can be suggested by the App, the feller would need to make the most important step in the process, which is a visual value inspection of the tree trunk, to determine the quality distribution along the trunk, which is then entered into the mobile App.
“So, the person inspects the trunk and identifies sections of different quality, as they would do in a usual operation, but enters the length of the sections into the App, say, the first 15.1 metres of the tree are saw log quality, and the rest is industrial wood. Then the App matches the diameter profile and quality distribution with the assortments that are defined in the contract, and gives the exact instructions on where to cut the tree.” Erber explained.
By using the bucking suggestions on the App, the chances of poor decisions are considerably reduced, and this is where the technical side comes in.
“Sawmills specify the assortments they need and forestry aims at matching this demand. If smart technology can help to better match a given tree to the demand, less trees are needed to satisfy it and less wood is wasted by poor bucking decisions. Finally, this ensures a more efficient use of resources, while helping the user to yield the most from the tree.” Erber concluded.
Digitalisation offers new opportunities for tools like the Bucking App. In the future the user might need to enter a lesser number of parameters, and tree shape might be provided by a “digital twin” of the forest in form of 3D-models. Augmented reality and voice control technology present further opportunities to enhance the use of smart technology in motor-manual timber harvesting.
The Bucking App is available for Android OS mobile devices free from GooglePlay Store! Detailed instructions on how to use the App are available on this Website under Public Deliverables, T4E Bucking App 3.1.
This project has received funding from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 720757.
Dr Gernot Erber is a scientist at the Institute of Forest Engineering, Department of Forest and Soil Sciences, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU). Erber has been working on various European and national projects specialising in fuel wood supply and timber harvesting.
His topics are related to increasing resource-efficiency in timber harvesting, with a focus on reducing value losses in motor-manual bucking with smart devices, and decreasing fuel consumption in steep terrain harvesting operations. His current project portfolio includes the WP3 lead (increasing productivity and efficiency in timber harvesting and extraction) of the Tech4Effect project www.tech4effect.eu. He also participates in Digi4+, an Austrian project which works on digitalisation of forest engineering, as well as several other smaller projects.
Dr Gernot Erber