Connected Technologies Help Advance Forest Management
From seed to harvest, a range of digitalized heavy equipment and small electronic technologies are changing the way forests are managed.
Around 15 billion trees are cut down each year to meet humanity’s need for lumber, fuel, and paper products, as well as to clear forests for new construction and agriculture. Meanwhile, 1.8 billion new trees are planted each year, and to boost the chances that these trees reach harvest size, they must be irrigated and managed for optimal growth. Threats to this lifecycle include drought and rising global temperatures, which impair growth and lead to more frequent catastrophic forest fires. A host of connected technologies are becoming critical tools for forest management and wildfire containment strategies.
Heavy equipment for forestry and firefighting
“Large-scale forestry vehicle equipment is a sub-sector of heavy equipment, and manufacturers include Caterpillar and John Deere — familiar companies from the agricultural and construction worlds,” said JD Nelson, account manager at Northwire. “For forest and wildfire management, you’ll see front loaders, earth movers, and tractors, although they include some unique features and attachments specific to tree harvesting and forest terrain.”
Forestry in rugged and mountainous forests requires heavy-duty skidders, harvesters, and loaders with cutting, grabbing, and lifting attachments. Technologies in these large machines include automated intelligent boom control (IBC) systems that make it possible to maneuver large logs with precision and operator assist features that improve productivity and fuel efficiency. Controlled by CAN bus technology, these systems rely on rugged and heavy duty connectors and cables that can withstand shock, vibration, moisture, and debris.
“We work with heavy equipment OEMs that need chemical resistance for firefighting work — these machines see exposure to firefighting chemicals, gas, oil, diesel, and antifreeze, so we provide UL-certified, SAE J1939 cables with waterproof, cut-resistant, oil-resistant TPFR jackets and shielding for performance in ordinary and extreme conditions,” said Nelson. “We protect conductors with insulation and design to the highest possible crush-proof rating.”
M8 and M12 industrial circular connectors are a mainstay of heavy equipment across industries, including forestry. These robust connectors have very high mechanical and electrical strength and, when plugged in, are dirt and moisture resistant (IP67). This ensures safe and reliable contacting and error-free data transmission.
Drones Speed Up Reforestation
An individual just needs a shovel to plant a new tree. But a timber company or reforestation effort facing thousands of acres of clear-cut land needs more sophisticated equipment to replant that area. Drone technology is being used to seed large areas quickly using pneumatic firing mechanisms that can shoot germinated seed capsules into soil at a pace and volume individual laborers cannot achieve. After the seeds have settled into their places, drones continue to play a role.
Tree planting organizations like Flash Forest, DroneSeed, and Land Life Company use drones and small unmanned aerial vehicles to map and assess terrain pre-planting to optimize plot design. The drones then plant new tree seeds, and continue to monitor moisture levels and other conditions. This real-time data can be used to predict harvest timing and other actionable information.
Forest management increasingly includes wildfire management. Heavy equipment plays a critical role in digging trenches, clearing deadwood and undergrowth, and delivering firefighting chemicals via small aircraft and UAVs. Small, handheld technologies, including cameras and devices that attach to smartphones, come into play for smokejumpers who work on the ground and need to communicate with remote teams to monitor conditions and make decisions to protect the crew’s safety. “We worked with application developers to create 28 AWG coil cords with a very durable bend radius for single-pair Ethernet, LAN, and 100 BASE T1 used in radios, telecom cables, GPS systems, and FLIR infrared devices,” said Nelson.
FLIR Systems, a Teledyne Technologies company, designs night vision, thermal, and infrared cameras and handheld devices that can measure heat levels, provide visibility or camera images in smoke or flames, and convey critical information between teams on the ground and command centers. Thermal cameras inside special augmented reality helmets, such as those in development from Qwake, are another emerging technology that is helping firefighters stay safe and informed.
These devices may use micro USBs, RJ45s, and other small, lightweight but extremely rugged and reliable I/O connectors. Whether designed into handheld or heavy equipment, the connectors and cables used in forestry technologies are designed to provide dependable operation, even under the worst conditions.