Friday Offcuts 22 November 2019
We have this week though added a story on a new technology outlined as part of the recent series. SKYLAB out of Germany has just developed a machine learning algorithm for high precision seedling inventories. According to the company, it could mean that manual surveys for seedling survival monitoring could become obsolete. Their Seedling Counter has already been tested and successfully applied in seedling inventories in Pine, Eucalyptus and Spruce plantations around the world (so far in Chile, Spain, UK and Australia), with reported accuracies usually between 90 and 99%. As an added bonus, weed hotspots can also be identified.
For your information, the Canadian version of this very popular ForestTECH series, ( ForestTECHX 2020) is also scheduled to run in Vancouver in March of next year. Like the previous Canadian event, it will be attracting foresters and senior industry leaders from across North America. Details including the programme for this early 2020 event can be found on the website.
Other technology related stories this week include; the development of a new diagnostic tool that has the potential to change and speed up the detection of airborne pests and diseases, the release of a new version of the Woodlot Analysis Tool by FGR enabling small NZ forest growers to estimate the net return from harvesting their woodlots or small forests, plans for a new bridge in northern California which is going to be using nanocellulose-infused concrete to demonstrate the performance enhancing properties of this new material and we cover further trials by Hyundai on platooning self-driving trucks.
Finally, as an extension of our recent coverage of the rapid development of robotics and automation technology in industrial and retail workplaces, we’ve included a short piece this week that’s been receiving a fair bit of Trans-Tasman media coverage. This time it’s the world’s first interactive robot retail store, the Niska Ice Cream Bar in Melbourne. It’s going to be manned by robots who are going to speak, process orders, make payments, scoop ice cream and add toppings. What’s more, the plans are that this new store is going to be opening this summer. And, that’s it for this week. Enjoy this week’s read.
This week we have for you:
N.Z. Future Forest Products outlines expansion plansN.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd (NZFFP) has this week made a series of announcements about its future expansion plans. The company, which is focused on making sustainable New Zealand finished wood products one of the core export pillars of the New Zealand economy, was established by 35-year-old New Zealander David Henry upon his return to the country after 15 years working in Australia and the United Kingdom in the natural-resources investment management sector.
David Henry’s family has been involved with the New Zealand forestry industry for more than 150 years, dating back to 1860. As trees planted during the timberlands boom of the 1990s are harvested, NZFFP’s mission is to maximise their value to New Zealand by investing in value-added processing and technology to upskill workforces, improve productivity, and manufacture higher-value sustainable consumer products for growing export markets.
This includes manufacturing modular residential apartment buildings that are then flat-packed and containerised for both the export and domestic markets, improving export earnings for New Zealand and accelerating construction of new, cost-effective houses in New Zealand respectively.
NZFFP’s strategy is based on the acquisition of existing New Zealand wood processing businesses to develop the critical mass necessary to realise its vision for the industry and New Zealand. Its flagship project will be its greenfield engineered timber processing plant, which will be the only plant of its type in the Southern Hemisphere once constructed.
To that end, it is pleased to announce, it has completed its strategic transaction with North Sawn Lumber Ltd, which has production plants at Ruakaka and Tauranga. North Sawn has a highly regarded operations management team, produces high-quality finished products for the construction industry, has high Health and Safety standards and its sites are in close proximity to the deepwater Northport operation at Marsden Point and Port of Tauranga respectively.
NZFFP remains in the process of purchasing Claymark Group Holdings Ltd, which employs 600 people across six manufacturing sites in the Upper North Island. A third acquisition is already in progress, for announcement in due course, and further acquisitions are still being contemplated by the company.
NZFFP plans to increase the production, productivity and workforces of the companies it is acquiring. NZFFP is entirely financed by private equity, with initial capital coming from David Henry’s Kinleith Continuation LP. Additional capital is currently being committed, to be drawn as its acquisitions are completed, and will be announced in due course. NZFFP will always be majority New Zealand-owned, with a policy of capping any non-New Zealand investment to no more than a total of 24.9% in compliance with the Overseas Investment Act.
Australian fires from spaceThis is what the unprecedented wildfires on Australia's east coast look like from space. Around 12,000 square kilometres have burned in New South Wales and Queensland since July, an area larger than Jamaica. The fires have caused four deaths, injured more than a hundred and destroyed more than 300 homes.
And this is just the beginning of the Australia region's usual fire season. These fires have revived the debate about the climate crisis in the country, which is one of the world's largest exporters of coal. A dozen Australian mayors have signed a manifesto asking the government to recognise the link between the climate crisis and the fires amid this year's extreme temperatures and drought.
"The catastrophic conditions of these fires were, at least in part, caused by climate change," says the manifesto, signed by mayors of several towns affected by fires, such as Bellingen in the state of New South Wales and Noosa Shire in Queensland.
The Liberal-National Executive, a strong advocate for the exploitation of coal, the fossil fuel that contributes most to the climate crisis, has tried to avoid the global warming debate. Australia's hottest summer was recorded last year, with temperatures of almost 50℃ in some parts of the territory.
The force of these fires has motivated a part of the public, politicians such as those from the Green Party and experts to ask Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government to put aside the country's ideological debates and listen to the warnings of scientists.
Morrison has refused to acknowledge the link between the climate crisis and forest fires, arguing that attention should be on victims and control of the flames. "There is a time and place to discuss controversial and important issues; it is now important to focus on the needs of Australians who need help," he told reporters last Tuesday.
A group of more than twenty ex-chiefs of Australian firefighters has tried to meet with Morrison since April because they knew a fire crisis was coming and thought that the climate crisis is making the summer seasons be longer and more deadly.
"Climate change has 'super-changed' the problem," former South Wales Fire and Rescue Service Chief Greg Mullins told reporters in Sydney, stressing that "an increase in a temperature degree implies that extremes be more extreme and put lives at risk".
Low cost high precision seedling inventoriesSKYLAB in Hamburg, Germany have just presented at this year’s ForestTECH 2019 series. Two practical workshops yesterday finished the series of conferences, exhibitions and workshops that have been run for local forestry companies over the last two weeks.
Local foresters have heard how SKYLAB has just developed a machine learning algorithm for high precision seedling inventories. Manual surveys for seedling survival monitoring could become obsolete for most common plantation types. The Seedling Counter (see photo of a Seedling Counter density map) has already been tested and successfully applied in seedling inventories in Pine, Eucalyptus and Spruce plantations around the world – so far in Chile, Spain, UK and Australia – with accuracies usually between 90 and 99%.
Surveys are traditionally carried out as representative spot samples at some stage after planting to ensure the right number of trees have been planted and survive to reach the target for each site. Sampling carries the risk of missing areas of low density or even complete failure. Aerial surveys can capture the complete stand and thus ensure that all such underperforming areas are identified.
According to SKYLAB, the RGB images from a standard DJI drone are of sufficient quality to be analysed by the Seedling Counter as long as the flight planning is optimized according to their instructions. In addition to seedlings, the system can also identify and quantify the density of weeds in any stand. This can help in more targeted weed management and to improve seedling survival.
All results are presented in geo-referenced density maps (pictured) highlighting the low-density seedling and high-density weed hotspots. This enables the forest manager to focus on inspecting those areas where targeted actions are required. Naturally the analysis can also be used as a basis for performance-based payment arrangements with planting contractors.
Working with growers across the world, but especially in Australia, the algorithm is continually trained and its performance increases with each new data set providing more reference data. This, combined with the very significant time savings and complete coverage could mean, that the need for time consuming and sometimes dangerous terrestrial seedling surveying may become a thing of the past. For those not attending the recent series, further information can be found at www.skylabmaps.com.
Fast accurate detection of pestsIn a unique collaboration, Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA) has joined forces with other Australian agriculture and horticulture industries to develop exciting new diagnostic technology for crop protection. The move has the potential to change and speed up the detection of airborne pests and diseases, ultimately boosting productivity and profitability for the forestry industry.
In the latest episode of FWPA’s WoodChat podcast series, listeners can hear about the revolutionary iMapPESTS: Sentinel Surveillance program. The knowledge generated will allow industry decision makers to take the necessary action to mitigate the negative impacts of these threats on forestry and other sectors.
The five-year research program is being led by Horticulture Innovation Australia, with funding from the Australian government and 16 partner organisations, including FWPA. A key feature of the initiative is the ‘sentinel’, a mobile surveillance unit offering optimal sampling of fungal spores and insects, using various high-tech sampling equipment. A prototype sentinel was recently launched in South Australia, with seven similar devices to follow.
Samples collected by the sentinels will be sent to various partner laboratories for the identification of target pests and diseases. Presence and abundance of organisms detected will be overlaid with weather data captured by the sentinel at the time of sampling, to provide a detailed picture of the conditions and potential threat.
Jodie Mason, Forest Research Manager at FWPA said iMapPESTS brings together research scientists, government representatives and all plant-based Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs). “The overall long-term goal is to aid improved decision making amongst forest managers, through the provision of accurate and rapid pest and disease dynamic information,” Ms. Mason said.
“It’s the first time all plant-based RDCs have come together in this formal way, to develop smarter air-sampling techniques and diagnostics that will benefit many agricultural industries, including forestry. Once collected and analysed, the data can be used by industry to guide more targeted surveillance efforts and pest control activities. It could also facilitate a coordinated cross-sectoral response to biosecurity efforts during future exotic pest and disease incursions,” Ms. Mason said.
WoodChat hosts also speak to Jessica Holliday, R&D Manager at Horticulture Innovation Australia, Rohan Kimber, Research Scientist at the South Australian Research and Development Institute, and Conrad Trollip, Agriculture Victoria PhD candidate. The project was made possible thanks to a grant under the Australian Government’s Rural R&D for Profit program, which enables nationally coordinated, strategic research that delivers real outcomes for Australian producers.
You can listen to WoodChat on SoundCloud and iTunes.
Industry united on opposition to harvesting decision
As reported, on Thursday 7 November 2019 Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the Victorian Government will end native forestry harvesting in the state-owned forest by 2030. The forestry and wood products industries across Australia are still reeling following the decision.
Industry Associations are now circling the wagons. For an update, please read this briefing note released by AFPA on Wednesday 13th November. Activities since the decision include:
Victorian Parliament House - Friday 15th November
Last Friday morning there was event in Melbourne, held on the steps of Victorian Parliament House and attended by Stacey Gardiner AFCA GM, Ross Hampton CEO of AFPA, VAFI representatives and other industry stakeholders. A doorstop interview was held and bumper stickers were handed out to increase awareness.
Sign the Petition
AFPA has started an online petition to support the native timber industry. You can help by signing the petition here. Please share with your networks.
Tuesday, November 26:
Native forestry industry rally at Government House, Melbourne. A show of support by the industry. The aim is to show the Andrews government that the industry is united in its fight against this decision, has widespread support and will continue to campaign to get the decision overturned.
Tuesday, December 10:
Victoria native forests strategy meeting. This will bring together different organisations representing the industry to discuss and formulate a long-term plan of action and campaign to continue to place pressure on Andrews government to overturn this decision. To be involved in these events please contact email@example.com for further information.
Joint methyl bromide monitoring programmePlans are being put in place in New Zealand to increase methyl bromide monitoring following a theoretical modelling report about how the log fumigant disperses into the environment after use. This is additional monitoring, over and above the routine monitoring that industry is required to carry out every time methyl bromide fumigation occurs.
The mathematical modelling of operations at the Port of Tauranga was commissioned by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) as part of a modified reassessment currently underway to review the rules around methyl bromide use.
This modified reassessment is a statutory process where an independent decision-making committee considers evidence in relation to the way methyl bromide is used. The additional monitoring, to be carried out by WorkSafe, will feed into that process.
The Ministry of Health is maintaining a watching brief on the monitoring programme and stresses there is no immediate public health concern. Gayle Holmes, Acting GM of the EPA’s Hazardous Substances Group, says: “We know New Zealanders are concerned about methyl bromide use so it’s important that we get accurate data on which to base our decisions”.
“Our mathematical modelling report conflicts with that put forward by industry as part of the current reassessment process, and others undertaken when methyl bromide was last reassessed in 2010. It is also at odds with routine monitoring data which industry is required to undertake whenever methyl bromide is used at ports around New Zealand.
“Computer-based modelling is a tool that uses an array of mathematical assumptions which can differ from the actual measurements of air quality. Because the reports all reflect different outcomes, the EPA commissioned an independent peer review to further test the hypothesis of its own report. It confirms that more detailed data is necessary.”
To gain more data, WorkSafe will begin monitoring air dispersal patterns following timber fumigations at the Port of Tauranga this week. Catherine Epps, Head of Health and Technical Services at WorkSafe says: “The tests are highly sensitive and require laboratory analysis. It will take some weeks to build an accurate picture on which to better understand the accuracy of computer modelling.”
Data from the tests will fill the gap between what the modelling reflects and what can be detected in the air; it will track the chemical’s dispersal patterns and concentration levels. This additional data will then be considered by the EPA Decision-making Committee which is responsible for deciding if changes are needed to the rules around methyl bromide use.
The mathematical modelling report, subsequent peer review and all other related information being put forward as evidence to inform the modified reassessment of methyl bromide is publicly available on the EPA’s website. This week the EPA’s Decision-making Committee considering the modified reassessment of methyl bromide announced the public hearings planned for December will be deferred to the new year so that this additional monitoring data can be taken into account.
Read the Decision-making Committee’s Direction and Minute (pdf 1.4MB)
Read the mathematical modelling report commissioned by the EPA (pdf, 7.6MB)
Read the peer review report of the latest modelling (pdf, 300KB)
Read the latest information about the reassessment process.
New version of the Woodlot Analysis Tool availableThe Woodlot Analysis Tool is now available on the Forest Growers Research website. The Woodlot Analysis Tool has a focus on small forest growers in New Zealand, to provide an easy to use tool to estimate the net return from the harvesting of their woodlot or small forest.
On opening, the tool shows Google Maps with a location pin on it. The user locates their woodlot on the map, then moves to the Details Screen to add additional information, such as area, volume, and terrain mix. The tool references other databases to calculate cartage distances to customers, and harvesting costs based on this information.
The user can enter log prices by grade (in $/tonne excl. GST) or access publicly available log price information. Regarding costs the user can over-ride any cost if they have better information just by typing in a new number.
The outputs of the tool give Net Return (exclusive of GST) and net returns per hectare and per tonne. A printout of the Details, Logs, Costs, and Summary pages can be obtained at the click of a button.”
FGR would like to encourage the huge number of small forest owners to use the Woodlot Analysis Tool and give them their feedback for future improvements to the tool.
Source: Forest Growers Research
Truck by droneAnd in keeping with the UAV, new technology and truck platooning updates this week, check out a new video from Scania sent through by a reader – a new model of truck being brought in by a swam of drones.
Hyundai puts platooning self-driving trucks to the testAutonomous driving technologies could significantly shape the future of trucking over the coming decade, and as we're continuing to see through various trials around the world, platooning may play a big part in this transformation. By sending a pair of self-driving trucks down a test highway in South Korea, Hyundai has now carried out a platooning trial of its own, in which it says the vehicles successfully demonstrated some key platooning maneuvers.
By enabling trucks to autonomously follow each other in a neat formation, truck platooning could bring a whole host of benefits to the freight industry. These include a reduction in the number of accidents and congestion along highways, as well has potentially huge savings in fuel and therefore CO2 emissions.
Daimler, who has tested its own platooning technology on US highways, expects that it could improve the economy figures of its trucks by as much as 10 percent, owing to the ability to tightly follow in the slipstream created by a leading vehicle.
Like others in the field, Hyundai's platooning technology centers on vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, enabling trucks in the fleet to be aware of things like each other's speed and precise position on the road. This was put to the test along a 7.7-km stretch of highway in central South Korea, which the government has set aside as a testbed to develop autonomous driving technology.
The test saw two connected Hyundai Xcient trucks take to the highway, along with other autonomous testing vehicles that Hyundai says helped to simulate real-world driving conditions. With platooning mode engaged, the following truck trailed the leading truck by 16.7 m, automatically adjusting its braking and acceleration to keep that distance constant.
Other skills on show included simultaneous emergency braking, a shared video feed from the leading truck and an ability to adapt to other vehicles cutting in between the two connected trucks. When this occurred, the trailing truck automatically increased its trailing distance to 25 m.
“We are confident that our industry leading autonomous driving technology in commercial vehicles showcased in this platooning truck demonstration will lead into a revolutionary paradigm shift in the freight and logistics industry,” says Jihan Ryu, head of Hyundai Motor’s Commercial Vehicle Electronics Control Engineering Group. “We will strive to create constructive synergy by sharing our knowhow and experiences of developing autonomous driving technology between commercial vehicle and passenger vehicle sectors to expedite level-5 autonomous driving technology.”
What next? Fence posts without woodBusiness is booming for a Kiwi startup which turns plastic waste into fence posts. The new company, Future Post, has invented an environmentally friendly fence post made from 100 percent recycled plastics.
As well as helping minimise plastic waste, the posts are stronger and more durabkle than traditional fence post designs. General manager of Future Post, Jerome Wenzlick said the idea was born one day on his Waiuku farm.
"We were putting a fence up around an old rubbish dump, and wooden posts were breaking into the ground," he said. "Now we are part of that circular economy, giving an end-use for something which was destined for the landfill, that's the cool part about it."
The company now employs 10 people and produces around 400 posts a day.
Concrete to provide opportunities for forest materials?Northern California is soon to be home to a bridge constructed using nanocellulose-infused concrete. The Moffett Creek Bridge, located in Siskiyou County, will serve as the latest site to demonstrate how adding cellulose nanomaterials to concrete enhances its performance. Researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory, in partnership with Purdue University and Oregon State University, have found that adding these miniscule wood particles increases the strength of the finished product.
Nanocellulose-infused concrete looks and acts like traditional concrete, but has improved properties. “Adding cellulose nanocrystals at levels of just 0.05 percent by weight or less increases the strength of concrete by 20 percent or more,” said the lab’s assistant director, Alan Rudie. “Producers can either make higher strength concrete or maintain the usual strength but at a lower cost by reducing the cement needed in the mixture.”
Adding these materials could have significant impacts on the environment as well. Manufacturing cement is an energy intensive process that constitutes about four percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. The cement and concrete industries are actively working to reduce the carbon footprint of their products. Cellulose nanomaterials are among the most promising options.
Amazingly, there are even more benefits from a forestry perspective. Forest managers are working to restore forests and reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfire and other threats. These management activities largely target low value wood with few markets.
“Removing low value wood is expensive, so finding markets is critical to making better progress on the 70 million acres of National Forest land at the highest risk for catastrophic fires,” Rudie said. “Products made with CN could provide one of the most important answers to keeping our forests as forests and ensuring their health and sustainability.”
Precast concrete beams are currently being manufactured by Knife River Corporation in Oregon using nanocellulose produced at Forest Products Laboratory. These beams will be installed in the Moffett Creek Bridge in November. Other test sites for nanocellulose concrete include a sidewalk at the lab and a parking lot at the headquarters for the U.S. Endowment for Forests and Communities.
Photo: Michael Goergen, vice president at U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities
Moving factories from China slowDespite the mounting trade-war pressure on factories to seek cheaper countries to operate in, most southeast Asian countries can't compete with China's technology levels and developed supply chains.
Southeast Asian countries looking to capitalize on factories moving out of China due to the trade war could be disappointed: Any relocation is happening very slowly, and likely won’t accelerate rapidly in the near future.
That’s the takeaway from a study by Gene Ma, chief China economist at the Institute of International Finance. Southeast Asian countries are either too small to absorb the huge size of China’s processing and assembly trade, or they lack the technology and supply chains to handle more complicated production.
Either way, the process of manufacturing moving from China to lower-cost nations is happening “very slowly,” Ma said. “People would assume China’s foreign direct investment to fall over the past year because of the tariffs and the trade war, but actually it has held up,” Ma said, referring to investment into China.
“Vietnam, for example, is morphing into a new assembling place after China, but its export sector is too small to make it the real ‘next China.’”
Robot-Staffed Ice Cream Bar Opens in MelbourneIn recent issues we have covered the developments of robots in both industrial and retail environments. Here’s a new one. Phosphor, an Auckland based software development and design company, has just put a technological twist on ice cream this summer.
They’ve developed software for the world’s first interactive robot retail store – Niska Ice Cream Bar in Melbourne. Manned by robots who speak, process orders, make payments, scoop ice cream and add toppings, Niska Ice Cream Bar is serving up innovation and world-firsts alongside its sweet treats.
The two-year project has seen Phosphor play a crucial role in Niska’s cutting-edge technology – moving ideas beyond the experimental stage and pushing the boundaries as to what seems possible. Phosphor, along with robotics companies from across the globe, have worked together to bring the software, technology and training needed to make the interaction between the robots and humans possible.
The software developed by Phosphor communicates between the customer and the robots, manages the ice cream products available, displays the choices on the kiosk, and oversees the user experience.
As you enter Niska Ice Cream Bar, you’ll be greeted by a human, but after that it’s all in the hands of Niska’s trusty, automated employees – Tony, Eka and Pepper. Choose from a wide range of delicious, locally made artisan ice cream (featuring flavours like salted caramel, passionfruit, mango, and the highly sought-after pistachio) and it will be scooped, sauced and topped for you without being touched by human hands!
Niska is the first food establishment to use three distinctive robots, making the experience of visiting fully robotised from beginning to end. Niska CEO and co-founder Kate Orlova said the company wants to revolutionise the retail space. “For us, ice-cream is just the beginning,” she said in a statement. “We’re looking to expand the robotics into other areas of retail. The future is here, and it is exciting.”
Despite half of Australian workers surveyed recently reporting that their jobs have changed as a result of automation, Ms Orlova said the robots at Niska Ice Cream bar were not created to replace traditional roles. Rather, they were designed to enhance the overall customer experience. “Robots can’t replace human beings. But what robots are good at doing is repetitive tasks, such as scooping ice cream. This frees up staff to focus on customer service while the ice cream is being served.”
Buy and Sell
... and one to end the week on ... bus tours
Groups of Kiwis were traveling by tour bus through Holland. As they stopped at a cheese farm, a young guide led them through the process of cheese making, explaining that goat's milk was used. She showed the group a lovely hillside where many goats were grazing.
And on that note, enjoy your weekend. For our Australian readers, take it easy out there. All six States are simultaneously on high fire alert as extreme weather continues to fuel dangerous conditions scross the country. Victoria issued yesterday the State's highest bushfire warning - code red - for the first time in almost a decade, 55 fires are still burning across NSW with 31 of them uncontained, 67 fires are burning out of control in Quuensland and in SA, the State is facing catastrophic bush fire conditions for a second day in a row.
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