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Perfect weather for SMHI launch of new forest operations planning tool

Elmia Wood day one was wet, very wet though not torrential. Initial traffic issues along with mud caused delays, even for someone taking liberties with a two-wheeled mode of transport. Not to worry, forest people are outdoorsy souls with the proper kit  - brollies and wellies are "standard issue" in the car or van, after all, your harvesting, forwarding, loading or other forms of work like planning pay no heed to the weather as such.

A wet start to Elmia Wood 2017 may have slowed turnstiles at 9.00 AM but did't dampen any spirits.

A wet start to Elmia Wood 2017 may have slowed turnstiles at 9.00 AM but didn’t dampen any spirits.

That’s why today was such an appropriate day for the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, SMHI, to launch a really useful professional service tool that is unusual in that it ought to appeal to forest owner, environmental non-governmental organisation (ENGO), forest contractor and forest industry alike.

Naturally, SMHI along with any reputable “Met Office” offers a wide range of weather-related services tailored for various industries and sectors, agriculture, tourism and energy comes to mind with temperature, wind speed, precipitation like today or snow depth along with various warnings to mention a few.

Enter SMHI Timbr

However, a challenge for the forest industry is the forest itself depending on the topography, ground conditions and weather. Ground pressure of the machinery with rutting, soil compaction and damage to residual roots in the case of thinnings is something that machinery manufacturers have tackled with boggies, bands, tracks, smaller and lighter machines also apparent here at Elmia Wood.

Launching SMHITimbr at Elmia Wood Alexandra Birger-Röör, Erik Ernerudh, Daniel Sandahl and Christian Rönnebring.

Launching SMHITimbr at Elmia Wood Alexandra Birger-Röör, Erik Ernerudh, Daniel Sandahl and Christian Rönnebring.

Forest owners and forest contractors, on the other hand, have waited for frozen conditions before logging soft ground. In other words, wait until the ground’s carrying capacity or buoyancy is sufficiently strong. But climate change makes it difficult for experienced forest planners and production managers because it makes ground buoyancy harder to predict. Shorter winters and more extreme weather can cause rapid changes in forest grounds conditions.

The forestry industry has long been working on finding solutions to the problem of ground buoyancy. Poor ground capacity means, among other things, that harvesting and extraction are slower and more costly as fuel consumption increases and the risk with ground damage issues increases with unhappy forest owners as a consequence, said Alexandra Birger-Röör, Manager New Ventures.

SMHI Timbr is a digital planning tool service developed by SMHI “New Ventures”, a professional services development arm within the organisation. It is designed for the forest operations and production manager, to help understand conditions so that the ground in each area will literally be able to carry forest operations without causing damage. The product aims to streamline forest operations with minimum damage to the ground.

With SMHI Timbr you can plan felling and thinning in a smarter way. You can avoid felling on areas with poor carrying capacity. The basic hydrological forecasts are continuously developed by SMHI’s hydrology researchers and for SMHI Timbr, we process these together with other data sets in order to respond better to how the ground conditions actually are or most likely will be in a given timeframe, said Birger-Röör.

Rolling monthly forecast

SMHI Timbr tells how the forest’s land is in the coming month, which facilitates planning work for forestry operations. With the unique processing of large amounts of data, SMHI creates high-resolution, month-long forecasts for a site’s load-bearing capacity – a buoyancy index. This is based on hydrological forecasts describing the water’s path through the ground.

Take this month and today for example, the local precipitation prognosis for this area was pretty accurate and we see that the carrying capacity dropped mid-morning which would have been a headache for a contractor who just got started, explained Erik Ernerudh, Product Manager New Ventures, by going live onto the website and just zooming in an area a few km from the booth under which a daily chart with timelines appears.

A forest operations planner would have seen this chart for the week ahead and have had three choices for a forest operation today based on the carrying capacity forecast; ensured the right machine type was allocated for the job, had brought boggie bands in the case of a wheeled machine or simply wait to start until mid-afternoon when the buoyancy levels have come back up, Ernerudh said.

International interest

SMHI Timbr has undergone manual testing in cooperation with an unnamed forest industry major and will continue. A trail product is available since last month and now launched at the show.

Some of the metrological and hydrological factors that affect ground carrying capacity (illustration courtesy SMHI).

Some of the metrological and hydrological factors that affect ground carrying capacity (illustration courtesy SMHI).

According to Christian Rönnebring, Development Manager New Ventures, the interest has been good not least from international visitors from afar afield as Canada, Russia and Japan.

Other development applications

A typical sight in Sweden and Finland are the piles of logging residue stacked b the roadside and usually covered with a paper-based cover. The stacks have a dual-functionality, bring down the moisture content of the biomass by air drying and off-site fuel storage for a heating plant. It should be pointed out that unlike many other markets the Nordic and increasingly Baltic heat plant markets buy according to energy content ie pay by the MWh not green or any other type of tonne.

Piles are generally left around six months but different sites have different drying conditions and the actual moisture content is only measured once it arrives at the plant and then is too late. What we are looking at is, again a better predictive modelling tool, that benefits both parties based on a number of different data sets. All the biomass planner would have to do is key in the location residue pile once it’s stacked and the heat plant knows what piles are where, the expected dry-rate and coordinate the chipping or grinding logistics accordingly, said Christian Rönnebring, Development Manager New Ventures.

With today’s weather, I dare say that I was not the only one who popped in to ask what the weather forecast is for the coming days and came out with a very appropriate “wet off the press” news story.

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