Friday Offcuts 25 September 2020
In the last six months, COVID-19 has also been another significant catalyst to making the promise of robotics a reality. AI technology, although already well entrenched into many businesses, has also come into its own during the COVID-19 pandemic. It appears that we’ve been working with intelligent machines over the last six months, more than ever. In a post- COVID world though, recent research points to employee adoption of AI as one of the biggest barriers to businesses scaling up this technology. Stories on both robotics and the challenges of integrating AI technologies into our own businesses are covered in this week’s issue.
And from our good news files this week, we’ve got Queensland who have been talking up the significant level of investment that's being made across the State by softwood forestry and wood products companies. It’s significant. Queensland has also just welcomed the arrival of their new AU$15 million long- term Large Air Tanker Bomber ahead of the upcoming bushfire season. Further South, Timberlink Australia says that they’re now one step closer to building their new CLT/GLT plant with the selection of a Danish company, Kallesoe, to supply the manufacturing equipment. And, on the back of improving market conditions for timber products in Australia, AKD announced this week that their Irrewarra sawmilling operation in Colac, Victoria will be restarting in early October.
To finish the week on, also out of Australia, Greening Australia and the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca have just announced a new planting programme, one of the country’s largest-ever privately funded restoration projects. Their plan is to plant 25 million trees (about 20,000ha) over the next five years on degraded landscapes including areas that had been hit hard by the summer bush fires. Much of the project is focused on creating and preserving habitat and habitat corridors for endangered species affected by the fires. Further details can be found in the story below. And, that’s it for this week. Enjoy this week’s read.
This week we have for you:
AKD restarts Irrewarra sawmilling operationAKD has announced that they will recommence operations at their Irrewarra sawmilling site to provide more Australian produced timber for their customers and employment opportunities in the Colac region.
In May because of CoVid-19 the business made the decision to idle its Irrewarra sawmill in a pre-emptive move to flex AKD production in anticipation of reduced market demand. “The decision in May was extremely difficult for the AKD team and we are very pleased to be able to restart the mill in October and be able to offer 25 new employment opportunities for the Colac community”, comments AKD Chief Executive Officer Shane Vicary.
Mr Vicary added that “the changes we made in May were to ensure our business production levels aligned with projected softening demand, however the Federal Government’s Home Building Stimulus Package ‘HomeBuilder’ announced in June was truly effective and created immediate and substantial demand. This has resulted in new house construction activity levels remaining resiliently strong combining with solid activity in “additions and alterations” and the consequence of better than expected demand for timber products. This has given AKD the opportunity to re-start the Irrewarra sawmill.”
“While the signs are positive now, we do not make this decision lightly and will continue to work with customers who value supply security, so that we can provide employment security for the AKD team, and continued confidence to our log suppliers. This follows the Caboolture sawmill restart in September and the exciting announcement to double the Caboolture sawmill production over the coming 18 months”, Mr Vicary commented further.
This year in particular has required all Australian manufacturing businesses with uncertain demand to be more agile in their operating postures. AKD has worked closely and openly with their employees to have the flexibility required in unprecedented times and they have demonstrated how local supply can be more flexible and responsive to the Australian market.
AKD are active sponsors and supporters of Australia’s Forest Products Association’s initiative ‘Buy Aussie Timber First’, promoting and encouraging businesses and individuals to support Australian growers and producers. “We encourage everyone, not just in the timber industry to buy locally and support Australian Made wherever possible. Now more than ever,” concluded Mr Vicary.
Australia’s new drone laws require registrationDrone owners in Australia will soon need to register their aircrafts under laws first introduced back in 2019. With drones increasing in popularity in recent years, Australia’s aviation regulator, Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), has introduced new measures designed to keep drone flyers, and any people they’re flying near, safe.
The news laws mean anyone using a drone for commercial use, research, training and community service will need to register their crafts and be accredited by CASA. The registration and accreditation portals will open from September 30 but a deadline of January 28, 2021 means you’ll be able to continue flying without them for a few more months.
If you’re just flying your drone for fun or on your own land, there’s good news. You’ll eventually also need to register but it’s a few years off — that registration portal opens March 2022 and is only a requirement by 30 May 2022. For everyone else, registration is free for now, thankfully, and lasts for 12 months. The only exemption CASA will provide once those deadlines pass are for drones weighing under 250 grams or those only operated within the house.
Bringing robots from the factory to the forefrontIt’s been exactly 100 years since the coining of the word ‘robot’. But it’s only been recently that advances in sensors, speech recognition and computer vision, combined with shrinking hardware costs, have made robots more widely accessible.
5G is adding further excitement, promising to enable companies across industries to extend their robotics capabilities beyond warehouses and production facilities and into the open world. In fact, 78% of Australian executives surveyed for the Accenture Technology Vision 2020 report say they believe that robotics will enable the next generation of services in the physical world.
COVID-19 has been a significant catalyst in making the promise of robotics a reality, primarily through its imposition of social-distancing. It has moved robotics further away from the ‘nice-to-have’ category and put it on the path towards becoming a necessity. This is true both in the controlled settings of factories and warehouses, where robotics already has a foothold, and out ‘in the wild’ in non-enclosed and public spaces.
Robots on the front-line
One of the areas in which robotics has made the most progress in recent months has been in the front-line response to the virus, where the technology has been playing a vital role in assisting health workers and scientists. Appreciating the need to move fast, many organisations have created robots that address a range of challenges stemming from the pandemic.
XAG, a Chinese agriculture company, is one such organisation. It quickly repurposed its XPlanet drones and R80 robots to spray disinfectant in areas affected by the virus. Meanwhile, in Thailand, students at Chulalongkorn University repurposed robots that were initially designed to monitor stroke patients so they could also measure patients’ fevers and help doctors communicate with them remotely.
And then there’s YouIbot, a startup based in Shenzhen, which built an antivirus robot in just two weeks. The robot can sanitise surfaces and scan people for fevers. These kinds of applications highlight the usefulness and adaptability of robots. The public is seeing how they can be used for societal good, while governments, regulators and workers are beginning to appreciate better the breadth and value of potential use cases for robotics.
For businesses, the pandemic has underscored the importance of automation for business resilience. As Australian companies grapple with the possibility of on-and-off lockdowns, automation can help to minimise the impact and to support more permanent adaptations as required.
With social distancing guidelines looking to remain in place for the long haul, managers will need to account for a reduced workforce and help ensure people can stay at a safe distance from each other while at work. Robots can help in this task by taking on jobs that would otherwise have been carried out by human workers.
Concerns if production forests are restrictedThe Forest Owners Association says New Zealand taxpayers are likely to have to pay billions of dollars for imported carbon credits, if planting production forests is to be restricted with the idea of protecting farming. The Environment Minister, David Parker has said Labour would use the Resource Management Act to limit forest planting on areas of more than 50 hectares which is classified as arable.
The Forest Owners Association President, Phil Taylor says a quarter of the forest estate is already on these land classes. If foresters were only allowed to plant the harder non-arable class 6 and 7 land, then the overall forest planting rate will fall. He says that would mean New Zealand would most likely to be well short of enough forests to meet the government’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 through carbon sequestration.
He says that would result in either importing expensive carbon credits, or New Zealand will not meet its 2050 carbon neutrality target. “Planting restrictions would also be a hit on iwi and farmers who want the choice to plant trees for harvest on the land they own, for sound economic as well as environmental reasons.”
“Banning forests stems from some idea that farming is automatically a better land use. That’s taking away landowner choice of how to produce from their own land. The recent PwC report into the employment and income of hill country farming, found that production forestry, per hectare, is ahead on both counts.”
Source: Forest Owners Association
OneFortyOne announces CEO appointmentOneFortyOne is pleased to announce the appointment of Andy Giles Knopp as Chief Executive Officer, effective 21 September 2020. Prior to this announcement Andy has been a key member of OneFortyOne’s executive team since 2016 and will step into the CEO role previously held by Linda Sewell, who resigned in August after nearly eight years of thoughtful and distinguished leadership.
Announcing Andy’s appointment, OneFortyOne Chairman John Gilleland said: “Andy is a proven leader. His ability to balance commercial and people focussed strategy will further strengthen the business.” Andy is currently Acting CEO and CFO of OneFortyOne. Prior to bringing his financial expertise to the forest and timber industries Andy has held a number of senior roles in the telecommunications sector.
“This appointment marks an exciting new chapter for OneFortyOne and the Board is looking forward to working with Andy to ensure OneFortyOne continues to deliver its promise of growing exceptional wood fibre, producing quality products, delivering responsible environmental management and making regional economic contributions. Andy was chosen in a competitive selection process. He is known for his collaborative leadership style, business insights and dedication to high safety standards.”
Reflecting on his appointment Andy said, “I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to lead OneFortyOne. 2020 has been an unusual year to say the least but through the change and uncertainty we have realised that OneFortyOne’s capacity to come together and find opportunity in adversity is remarkable. It will be my focus to not only strengthen our core business and deliver strong results but to support our people, take responsibility to ensure we go home safe and well every day and continue to deliver high quality wood fibre products to our customers.”
Queensland’s plantation softwood industry gearing upWith long-term demand for renewable timber products predicted to rise, Queensland’s softwood plantation timber growers and manufacturers are ramping up planting and production capability for the future. Timber Queensland’s CEO Mick Stephens said investment in greater operational capability in forestry and timber processing and manufacturing was taking place to position the industry more strongly to meet this demand.
“Despite the current challenges of COVID-19, and the impacts of the recent bushfires in New South Wales, we are pleased that major industry players are looking to the future with new and planned investment in Queensland which will grow local business and jobs in the future.”
The largest single grower, HQPlantations is undertaking a significant planting program of 6,400 hectares, across both their Southern Pine and Araucaria plantations to maximise timber production. HQPlantation’s CEO Jeremy Callachor said the company is also investing to protect forest habitats and timber production from wildfire.
“This year we plan to undertake around 17,000 hectares of hazard reduction burning and will invest AU$2.8 million in six new fire tankers and commence a three-year radio network upgrade at a cost of AU$5 million,” said Mr Callachor. “We’re also continuing investment in research, development and extension programs in silviculture and tree breeding to enhance forest productivity and improve fibre quality for the market,” he said.
In addition, AKD Softwoods has growth and investment plans for their Caboolture sawmill that will double log intake after recently recommencing operations after a brief closure period due to a storage shed fire. “AKD are incredibly proud of the team that have worked hard together to get us to this point, and they will now lead us through this period of growth”, commented AKD CEO Shane Vicary.
“Key investment in additional processing capacity and working collaboratively with HQPlantations secures current jobs as well as provide additional permanent roles,” said Mr Vicary. “We plan to double the volume of timber, providing security of supply and by investing in a new Continuous Drying Kiln to lift drying capacity we’re producing a stable and consistent product for the market,” he said.
Responding to growing demand for engineered wood products was the driver behind Hyne Timber’s new AU$23 million glue laminated timber plant located in Maryborough. This facility will sustain 40 jobs once fully operational and generated 80 jobs during construction, including the engagement of 40 local contractors, worth over AU$5 million to the local economy.
Hyne Timber CEO, Jon Kleinschmidt said the support of the Queensland Government’s Jobs and Regional Growth Fund not only enabled the establishment of the new plant, but has secured regional jobs for years to come. “This new plant delivers a 400% expansion on existing capability with all the feedstock coming from our own secure supply being our own Mill in the Tuan Forest near Maryborough which employs a further 200 people,” said Mr Kleinschmidt.
Mick Stephens said HQPlantations, AKD Softwood and Hyne Timber’s high-profile innovations are just part of the many Queensland forest and timber industry businesses that deliver over AU$3 billion to the state economy and support almost 25,000 jobs. “We are excited by these opportunities and Timber Queensland will shortly be releasing its policy platform as part of the upcoming state election, which will outline key Government settings that can grow this important regional industry further”, he said.
Source & Photo: Timber Queensland
Timberlink selects new CLT and GLT equipmentTimberlink Australia is pleased to announce that following an extensive international review, Danish based Kallesoe Machinery A/S has been selected as the manufacturing equipment supplier for Timberlink’s planned Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and Glue Laminated Timber (GLT) plant.
Working alongside Timberlink, Kallesoe will supply and commission a turnkey solution providing plant design, manufacturing equipment and installation, supported by a fully integrated manufacturing software platform.
Timberlink Australia Chief Executive Officer Ian Tyson said, “this world leading technology provides the latest capabilities in CLT/GLT production and will place Timberlink at the forefront of supply capability in the Australian and Oceania region.”
Mr Tyson added “we are very pleased to be partnering with Kallesoe in implementing a globally competitive, innovative technology, scale plant, that can meet the needs of a growing and dynamic mass timber construction market. This investment supports the significant recent investments that Timberlink has made in our sawmills, to increase output and to ensure we are a sustainable and growing business”.
The location of the plant is expected to be finalised in the next few weeks.
A unique opportunity for young forestersVery rarely do you get anything for free. Here is one offer though. This new opportunity comes with a free conference registration for two days, refreshments and for those outside of the central North Island of New Zealand, travel and accommodation costs that will be met as well. The Forest Industry Engineering Association (FIEA) has teamed up with the WIDE Trust, a charitable Trust formed in 2018 that supports the development and education in New Zealand’s forestry and wood industry sectors.
FIEA conferences and exhibitions have set a benchmark for years. They are the leading series of technology related events, run in both New Zealand and Australia, where new and emerging technologies, operating practices and research are able to be regularly showcased to local companies. They’re always well supported. After 20 years, they’ve been able to build up strong communities of like-minded individuals that meet up once a year – or every second year. Newsletters, have been set up to complement the tech events with three industry-focused monthly newsletters going out each month now to around 6,000 readers for each newsletter.
So, what’s being offered? To help out younger employees, recent graduates and new entrants into the industry, this new arrangement is going to enable three young employees or students to attend upcoming major technology events with all major expenses being paid. So, free beer and food as well as the opportunity of learning about new technology, staying abreast with the very latest in research and operating practices, learning about emerging technologies (within and outside our own industry) and networking (with senior management, tech providers and your counterparts from across the country). Now that’s an offer just too good not to look at further.
As we come out of an enforced lock-down because of the virus, we’ll start this offer to attendance at this region’s major forestry technology event, ForestTECH 2020, planned for Rotorua, New Zealand on 18-19 November 2020. Details can be found on the event website, www.foresttech.events.
Conditions: Applicants for the three places being made available to attend (and travel from within New Zealand) have to be actively employed within the forestry or wood products industries or in a recognised training scheme, apprenticeship or course. To ensure the package is targeting the right person, the applicants should also be 35 years or younger.
What do I do if interested? Places will be filled on a first in-first served basis, provided the eligibility criteria have been met. So, if keen on picking up one of the three available spaces for the upcoming ForestTECH 2020 event, please make contact with firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: This same offer will be made available to younger industry employees or students for all FIEA run and managed events planned for 2021. Events being planned for next year can be found here. Details will follow.
Australia to get 25 million treesGreening Australia and the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca will begin a project to plant 25 million trees on degraded landscapes in what will be one of the nation's largest-ever privately funded restoration projects.
The project will result in around 20,000 hectares planted and 4.25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide sequestered over the next 25 years, equivalent to taking nearly a million cars off the road for a year.
The project is part of AstraZeneca’s efforts to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2025 and be carbon negative by 2030. As part of that project AstraZeneca has committed to planting 50 million trees around the world in a program called AZ Forest. Due to the Black Summer fires, the company decided to plant half those trees in Australia.
“Australia has a very tangible need for reforestation after last year’s devastating bushfires, so it makes sense to put our efforts where they are most needed,” said Liz Chatwin, AstraZeneca Australia and New Zealand president.
The project will rely on stock from seed banks that Greening Australia began expanding in February, with an AU$5 million top-up grant from the Morrison government's wildlife recovery funding.
The project will begin on Tuesday with the planting of 20,000 trees at Arthursleigh in the NSW Southern Highlands on land owned by the University of Sydney, and five million trees will be planted per year across Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania to reach a total of 25 million trees by 2025.
For further coverage on the planting programme, click here
Embracing AI key to economic futureResearch from leading professional services company Accenture finds that the critical success factor for businesses in a post-COVID world will be in their abilities to adopt AI technology. However, employee adoption of AI remains one of the biggest barriers to businesses scaling the technology.
Accenture New Zealand technology lead, Paul Hearnden, said the COVID-19 pandemic had brought about new ways for humans to work with intelligent machines.
“Over the past months, organisations in every sector have scrambled to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, the value of human-machine collaboration has never been clearer.
“AI-powered chatbots are assisting health workers as they screen and triage patients, algorithms are helping healthcare suppliers reconfigure their supply chains, and AI is even helping in the race to find a vaccine.
Acceptance accelerating adoption
Hearnden said AI is also helping business leaders solve the challenges of a reduced workforce, compliance with social distancing rules and enabling them to become much more flexible in the process.
“In India, Accenture moved 150,000 people to work from home – in three days. In that time, every single person was contacted, and hardware was sourced and delivered to their homes. In the weeks that followed 150,000 people were checked on personally every day and given troubleshooting advice to improve network performance.
“Without AI, that would have been impossible. Allocating the communication and coordination tasks to bots meant the team was able to deliver the best support and advice to a huge workforce.
However, employee adoption of AI is one of the main barriers to scaling the technology in enterprises, as outlined in our global study in 2019.
“In the 80s and 90s New Zealand employers were upskilling their workforce on how to use computer systems. In the 2020s we can expect to see the same with AI. Employers will need to build up employee familiarity and competency with the technology if they want to be successful in the coming years.”
Bringing the future forward
The Technology Vision global pre-pandemic survey of business leaders found that 79% of respondents believed that collaboration between humans and machines will be critical to innovation in the future. However, only 37% reported having inclusive design or human-centric design principles in place - a number which has likely risen exponentially in the past few months.
“Workers, governments and the public are seeing AI in the best possible light – and businesses have never had a better opportunity to deploy AI tools. But as they do so, they must make sure to design their tools in a human centric way so that workers remain on board.
“Thankfully, many new AI tools are very intuitive for humans to use because of technologies such as natural language processing and computer vision. Explainable AI, where the decision-making process of machines is laid bare for all to see, will be another important element in ensuring that the good will towards machines won during the pandemic is not lost.
“If organisations can get this next stage of the AI journey right and deploy the tools at scale in a way that enables true human-machine collaboration, then the sky is the limit. Businesses will be able to sweep away the constraints that have traditionally held AI back and open whole new possibilities for their company and workers,” says Hearnden.
Government backing Māori landownersThe New Zealand Government will provide up to NZ$1.69 million through the One Billion Trees programme to Māori landowners to make their whenua more productive through the planting of forests, both native and exotic, and improve economic and environmental outcomes, Forestry Minister Shane Jones has announced.
“Around 1.5 million ha of land in New Zealand is in Māori ownership but large tracts are returning little direct commercial value to Māori landowners, nor much in the way of positive climate, soil, water or biodiversity outcomes,” Shane Jones said.
“About 500,000ha of Māori-owned land are already in some form of forest cover and a further 200,000ha is potentially suitable for afforestation, but it does present unique challenges for owners who might be considering forestry ventures and for potential investors.
“This funding through One Billion Trees (1BT), will help provide support and advice to help Māori landowners build confidence, skills and knowledge about forestry, as well as increase investor confidence to partner with Māori,” Shane Jones said.
A material aim of the work will be the conversion of 20,000ha of Māori-owned land to forestry ventures (commercial exotic, carbon or native). “It is estimated that this will deliver between NZ$25m and NZ$40m in increased earnings, 120 direct and 200 indirect jobs, 7.6m tonnes of carbon sequestered and improvement in soil erosion rates and water quality,” Shane Jones said.
The work will be led by Te Kapunga Dewes, a recognised Māori leader in the forestry sector and recent chief executive of PF Olsen. “Mr Dewes brings the necessary mana and industry expertise needed for this venture to be successful. It will be set up to empower Māori landowners to make better decisions about their land, with a focus on building a strong understanding of the opportunities that forestry provides, and to build investor confidence in partnerships.”
The project is designed to promote key Government objectives for 1BT to increase Māori participation in forestry and to support Māori landowners in reaching their aspirations for their land.
PF Olsen announces new CEOPF Olsen has announced the appointment of Ross Larcombe as their new CEO. The PF Olsen Group Board conducted an extensive executive search and interview processes that involved several outstanding candidates before endorsing and appointing Ross, who has been Acting CEO since May 2020.
In his prior role Ross managed the Central North Island forestry team and has worked with staff throughout the business. Ross has been a company director since 2011. Ross is excited at the opportunities ahead for PF Olsen and their clients and business partners. They are implementing new technologies and research to reduce risks, increase precision in mapping and inventory and improve productivity from our diverse range of client forests across NZ and Australia.
Ross says, “I am pleased to be in the new role with the support of the PF Olsen team. Next year will mark 50 years of PF Olsen in business and we will recognise and celebrate our history and the achievements of the company. The future is looking positive and I am looking forward to building on our services and further enhancing our client relationships”.
Source: PF Olsen
Queensland bushfire capabilities bolsteredA water bombing aircraft has landed in Queensland ahead of the upcoming bushfire season. The AU$15 million long-term Large Air Tanker Bomber 141 will be based in Bundaberg to be available to rapidly deploy to wildfires across the state.
Its arrival followed last year's unprecedented bushfire season, where 7.7 million hectares was scorched across the state, destroying homes, farms, businesses and livelihoods. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the aircraft would bolster the state's aerial firefighting capabilities over the next five years and leave Queensland better prepared ahead of this year's fire season. "This 10,000 litre aircraft will ensure our communities are protected - from this bushfire season and well into the future" Ms Palaszczuk said.
QFES Commissioner Greg Leach said the LAT would support crews on the ground by providing fast and effective firefighting options throughout bushfire season. "The LAT enhances Queensland's already effective response and firefighting efforts," Mr Leach said. "The LAT travels at about 670km/hr and can reach many parts of Queensland in quick time as well as operating at many regional airports throughout the state”.
Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford said the state had previously relied on the option to source call-when-needed LATs from interstate. "It's wonderful to now welcome our very own bomber - to be deployed to fight fires and look after Queenslanders," Mr Crawford said. "The 2019 bushfire crisis was something none of us will easily forget."
Photo: The $15 million long-term Large Air Tanker Bomber 141 will be based in Bundaberg
Invercargill City Council finds buyer for forestryThe Invercargill City Council has a buyer for its forestry estate and the sale now sits with the Overseas Investment Office. Invercargill City Forests Limited – a subsidiary of the council’s holding company, Invercargill City Holdings Limited – owns 14 forests in the South Island of New Zealand.
The forests located in Southland, Otago, and Nelson/Marlborough have a combined area of 3599ha and a total productive area of 3058ha, predominantly stocked with radiata pine. Those forestry assets were put on the market in February and New Forests has emerged as a buyer.
Australian-based forestry investor New Forests confirmed investment funds managed by the firm have agreed to purchase the softwood plantation assets of Invercargill City Forests Limited from the council.
Buy and Sell
... and one to end the week on ... I'm just fine
A farmer named Paddy had a car accident. He was hit by a truck owned by the Eversweet Company. In court, the Eversweet Company's hot-shot solicitor was questioning Paddy.
And on that note, enjoy your weekend. Cheers.
We welcome comments and contributions on Friday Offcuts. For details on advertising for positions within the forest products industry or for products and services, either within the weekly newsletter or on this web page, please contact us.
Copyright 2004-2020 © Innovatek Ltd. All rights reserved