How Op Tracker drives value for a Canadian forestry company
W&R Gillespie acquired a unit of Op Tracker from Lim Geomatics in the spring of 2018 to address a set of specific business problems. The forestry company, which has eight employees and a land-base of 60,000 acres in New Brunswick, installed Op Tracker in the cab of their feller buncher to increase operational efficiency by providing both the operator and forest manager with accurate data on the location and productivity of the machine during a harvest.
Another goal of implementing the smart tracking device was to generate higher quality data sets on harvest blocks and thereby improve the overall viability of the company’s ArcMap database—the key source of information for drafting harvest schedules and forest management plans.
Overview of a harvest with Op Tracker
Brodie Coburn, forest technician with W&R Gillespie, oversaw a harvest near the village of Tracy in southern New Brunswick from June 14 to July 20, 2019.
The original plan was to harvest 300 acres, but heavy rains made the road difficult to navigate for the trucks hauling wood out of the block. “It just tore the road up real bad and was hard on the trucks so we figured it would be better to do that in winter when the road is frozen,” Coburn said. He adjusted the harvesting schedule to allow the team to return and harvest the remaining 200 acres during the winter of 2020.
The company used three machines—feller buncher, processor, and forwarder—to harvest the first 100 acres. Op Tracker was installed in the cab of the buncher and Coburn printed off copies of the buncher tracks for the processor and forwarder operators.
ANALYSIS AND RESULTS
Coburn has observed that Op Tracker significantly improves the efficiency of the buncher operator during harvests. The forest technician hangs ribbons to warn the operator of wet areas and property lines, but these physical markingsare difficult to see in dense forest environments. Also, buncher operators work 12-hour shifts and often navigate the block in the dark. “ With Op Tracker, the operator can see that he is getting close to the boundary and then when he does get close, it will beep at him and tell him that he’s at the line,” Coburn said. “It helps a lot with trespassing and going into wet areas .” Without Op Tracker, buncher operators would often stop the machine, get out and walk around in the forest to get a better sense of where the boundary ribbons are and how to avoid certain areas. Op Tracker provides a bird’s eye view of the block, and the machine’s position on the block, so operators can work faster and with more confidence.
Processor and forwarder:
The processor follows the trail set by the buncher and cuts the raw logs to the specific dimensions required by the mill. The forwarder follows the processor to collect the wood in piles so it can be hauled away by trucks. “They’re not always going to be straight parallel trails,” Coburn said, describing the path the buncher takes through the block. “There might be some wet areas and other obstacles the buncher had to go around. It gets a little confusing and the processor or forwarder could miss a trail or two.”
Coburn printed off the buncher tracks generated by Op Tracker so the other operators have a clear path to follow and a system for keeping track of which trails they have already been down. He said it makes the processor and forwarder more efficient, but also cuts down on the amount of time he takes to walk the block and ensure all the wood has been cut, processed, and collected.
Coburn described how Op Tracker saves him time in several important ways and also removes any guesswork when it comes to collecting data on what has been harvested in the block and from where. This was especially valuable during the harvest near Tracy when they had to stop partway through because of wet weather and damaged roads. “I have all the tracks. These are where the trails are. This is what we cut and we can see the leftover are as that we never touched,” Coburn said. “I can throw the tracks right on ArcMap and draw it out. It makes it really simple.”
Without those precise tracks from Op Tracker, Coburn would have had to walk the partially harvested block with a handheld GPS to get an accurate record. “It makes it quite easy for me to keep an accurate database on ArcMap. If I didn’t have Op Tracker, I would be guessing or running around in the woods a lot more.” He estimated that Op Tracker saves him two to three hours a week, depending on the size of the harvest they’re working on.
With the time freed up by Op Tracker, Coburn can focus on other tasks such as visiting properties that were cut several years ago and need to be updated in the database. “Some of them we cut 15 years ago and we don’t have any information about what’s there now,” Coburn said. Updating the records for these properties is vital for drafting the most profitable harvest plan possible for the following year.
Coburn estimated that a block harvested with Op Tracker can expect a 15 percent gain in overall efficiency. That means that his team works through a block 15 percent faster with Op Tracker than without. The time Coburn saves thanks to Op Tracker is devoted to improving the long-term planning and management of the company’s forest assets.
W&R Gillespie forest technician estimates of Op Tracker efficiency gains by machine:
– Feller buncher: 15% more efficient/harvest
– Processor: 20% to 25% more efficient/harvest
– Forwarder: 20% to 25% more efficient/harvest