SCA contributes to study into digital forestry management

In recent months, SCA’s forest land by the Laxsjön lake in north-western Medelpad has been a hive of activity. SCA has made 50,000 hectares of forest available here for the Forest Facts study.

“Digital development is very important to SCA and to forest management in general and we believe it is important to be at the forefront of developments. It was therefore natural that we would provide land for this study. You can compare it with a digital test site,” says Ola Kårén, SCA’s head of forest management.

Forest Facts is focusing on establishing new methods for measuring the forest. The main idea is to develop methods that use laser scanning, satellite images and data registered by harvesters.

“If we can obtain better data about Sweden’s forests, it will help to make forest operations more efficient and environmentally sound. This concerns the efficient use of raw materials, machinery and products from the forest, and provides us with greater precision and predictability in planning and raw material flows,” says Magnus Bergman, Forest Mechanics Director at SCA.

“Sweden’s forests have been scanned before and another national scan has now begun. The second scan is producing data with a higher resolution than the first scan. However, it will not provide the type of high-resolution data wanted by the forest industry and that we believe can be achieved. SCA and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) have therefore carried out scans with a higher resolution,” says Johan Holmgren, one of the researchers at SLU who is working with Forest Facts.

Last summer, SCA carried out its own laser scan from an aircraft of the entire 50,000 hectares earmarked for the study. The laser scan used two different wavelengths compared with the national scan that only used one wavelength.

“This type of multispectral laser scan produces 20 measurement points per square meter, which is ten times more than the national scan. This means you can, for example, see and measure individual trees and also see the different tree species,” says Johan.

SLU also conducted trials with a helicopter flying at 70 meters and scanning the test area. This produced about 500 measurement points per square meter. In addition, SLU has tested terrestrial laser scanning. “We have tried different methods. We have tested walking with the scanning equipment and using a static scanner to measure the surrounding forest. It produces a lot of measurement data,” says Johan.

Evaluating the methods
All data produced by the different scans is being used by the researchers now as part of Forest Facts to develop and assess methods to extract information from the data that can offer the greatest benefits to forest operations.

“When all the data has been collected, it will be analyzed. It will take some time but when this is completed we can say more about the methods that produce the most useful information,” says Johan.

The results of the methodology study will then be linked to a future study of data from harvesters. Several of the forest holdings included in the various methodology trials on SCA’s land are to be harvested in the future.

“We have already equipped harvesters with a special GPS that will show us exactly where they are operating. We can then merge the data from the machines with data from the scan tests,” says Magnus. “The next stage will be to add the information we receive when the logs pass through the sawmill’s x-ray equipment, where the timber’s attributes are measured and a decision is taken as to which products the logs are best suited. Eventually, we could select specific trees for different products – already in the forest”

More data – greater opportunities
“The more data we can obtain, the greater the opportunities to develop digital forest management. For example, if we know the position of trees, we could automate certain actions, such as soil scarification and harvesting,” explains Magnus.

“And more data about the forest would also make it possible to further customize the management of forests so the right action is taken at the right time, which would raise the value of the forest, and improve environmental considerations.”

“In the longer term, we may even be able to automate almost all planning work and need fewer on-site measurements compared with today, and instead manage most of this work from the office,” says Ola and concludes:

“We do not currently understand all of the potential applications. However, the development of digital opportunities and the mapping of the forest will provide us with even more data that we can then use to link together the forest with the industries. This will increase the value of the forest and the products. And much of the data can probably be of use to others outside of forestry.”

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