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IoT & M2M Iridium

July 27, 2023

How satellite connectivity facilitates Precision Forestry through real-time data capture

Although the Mining industry has been ahead in leveraging advanced analytics and AI for its operational technology, the Forestry sector has been slower in adopting digital data capture, automated operations, and optimized decision-making facilitated by advanced analytics. However, there is a shift happening.

According to a 2018 article by McKinsey, the growing technical expertise of Forestry’s primary customers, such as pulp, paper, transportation, sawmills, and timber traders, has prompted the adoption of precision farming technologies. Moreover, some pioneers in the industry have already embraced these technologies, using higher yields and cost reductions as a strategic edge. As a result, the Forestry sector is beginning to catch up with its counterparts in the mining field and is embracing the potential of modern technologies to enhance its operations.

Real-time data capture has proven its worth in the evolving mechanized harvesting cut-to-length (CTL) system, primarily found in Scandinavia. Traditionally, a chainsaw operator would fell trees and create logs on-site. These logs were then transported to the roadside using wheeled skidders or cable systems, involving risky tasks for operators dealing with potential runaway trunks and navigating debris. Decisions on log grades were made based on basic specifications and prices with minimal automation.

CTL technology now involves a fully mechanized system where a harvester fells trees and creates logs simultaneously. These logs are then transported to the roadside by a forwarder. This entire system relies on digital data, as cutting instructions are sent in real-time to the harvesters. Onboard computers equipped with sensors assess the trunk’s shape and quality, enabling optimization of log grades produced from each tree. Additionally, real-time data allows visualization of production data, machine productivity, fuel efficiency, and other performance indicators.

The benefits are twofold. First, it enhances operational safety and efficiency. Second, it empowers management with greater control, leading to an optimized supply chain, quicker value recovery, and improved planning for future crops. By collecting data on grade outturn from a specific site, informed decisions can be made regarding tree species to plant, suitable fertilization regimens, and the best harvesting time. In essence, it enables optimized decision-making through advanced analytics and insights.

CTL System

Why connectivity is holding Forestry back

The main hindrance to utilizing smart industrial equipment in forestry is the lack of connectivity, which prevents seamless data exchange between machines, personnel, and central data centers. Approximately 60% of forestry operations suffer from inadequate cellular coverage, which hampers the timely flow of information from the forest to data centers. This limitation also prevents the adoption of productivity tracking technologies used in other industries like agriculture.

“Approximately 60% of forestry operations suffer from inadequate cellular coverage”

The issue of poor cellular coverage is particularly acute in remote locations, such as woodlands, mine pits, or agricultural fields, where it is often either patchy or entirely unavailable, leading to disconnection of remote teams and machines. To address this challenge, recent developments in forestry have explored the use of geostationary (GEO) satellite technology.

In a trial project conducted in 2021, FPInnovations and its partners tested a mobile, private LTE (cellular) network in the forest. They set up an LTE base station at the edge of a cut block, using a 98′ (30-meter) portable cell tower, omnidirectional antenna, and tower-mounted amplifier to enhance signal strength for extended coverage. The LTE system was then connected to the internet through a satellite terminal.

The trial successfully covered a 6 mile (10 km) radius with one cell tower, allowing devices like cell phones, tablets, and telematics to communicate with it even while in motion. The crucial backhaul of data was provided by the GEO satellite service. However, this solution entails significant initial investment costs, and the use of geostationary satellites has its limitations. Maintaining a clear line of sight to geostationary satellites, positioned at an altitude of 35,786 km above Earth, can be challenging in mountainous and wooded areas.

As a step forward, the project’s evolution aims to leverage a satellite transceiver that communicates with satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which should offer improved performance and overcome some of the limitations posed by GEO satellites.

LEO satellites' value-add to Forestry operations

With satellites in geostationary orbit, your satellite transceiver ‘talks’ to the same satellite all the time, and must have clear line-of-sight to it. That presents challenges if your device is on the move, or if your operation is in heavily wooded or mountainous areas. This is obviously a consideration, then, for Forestry operations.

A solution to this challenge is to look at a satellite network operator like Iridium, which employs a mesh of LEO satellites that can communicate with each other. Data is passed from one satellite to another until it reaches its final destination. That means you can use an omni-directional antenna that doesn’t need to be pointed towards a specific satellite; the signal will get picked up by whatever satellite is passing overhead, and passed on.

This dynamic network is particularly well-suited for mobile IoT applications and is perfect for heavy machinery or operations that frequently change locations, such as transitory logger camps in remote areas. The Iridium Certus 100 service, utilizing LEO satellites, can provide consistent connectivity even in very remote forest regions where conventional cellular or GEO satellite coverage might be limited or unavailable.


How does this impact the implementation of precision forestry technologies?

The availability of reliable satellite connectivity, whether as the primary data connection or as a backup for cellular or LoRa networks, lays the groundwork for the development of smart precision forestry technologies, offering numerous digital operational capabilities.

A crucial aspect is the continuous flow of data between high-precision heavy machinery and controllers. This data may include sensory information, such as detecting sudden movements or hazardous objects in the logging zone, identifying workflow disruptions, or detecting significant mechanical malfunctions. Additionally, remote monitoring, diagnostics, and troubleshooting of heavy machinery can provide early warnings for maintenance needs, reducing downtime and costs, while enhancing operational efficiency.

Satellite delivers instant infrastructure

Taking steps towards digitization in forestry involves considering the scale of investment relative to the size of the logging operation. For those curious about implementing precision forestry technology and exploring the benefits of automation, satellite IoT devices offer a quick and cost-effective means of backhauling data from individual machines. The scalability of these devices allows logging operations to transition incrementally from analog to digital, depending on the volume of data that needs to be transferred and the criticality of the information being communicated between the field and the base or man and machinery.

The choice of satellite service depends on the specific use case and budget considerations. For example, automated machinery necessitates constant data connectivity for safety and autonomous decision-making, while maintenance alerts might only require periodic reporting on an exception basis. Our technical team can provide guidance on selecting the most suitable satellite service to support operational needs effectively.

The RockREMOTE Rugged presents an excellent opportunity to test the advantages of satellite connectivity in a forestry setting. Encased in durable aluminum, this device is designed to withstand even the harshest environments. When attached to remote assets like Foresters or Harvesters, it facilitates the transfer of satellite data for predictive and preventative maintenance analytics.

For customers with small to moderate Industrial IoT data needs, Iridium’s IMT message-based service offers a cost-effective option for data transfer. However, for more data-intensive applications and real-time monitoring, the device can connect via the Iridium Certus 100 Airtime service, which allows data transfer of up to 200 MB per month at speeds of 22 Kbps up and 88 Kbps down (Certus 200 and 700 plans allow for substantially more data, including voice, if required).

A key advantage of this device is its ability to maintain a reliable connection while on the move and transmit data from anywhere with an unobstructed view of the sky. Additionally, if your devices and assets are already connected to an LTE Cat 1 or Cat 4 cellular network, the RockREMOTE Rugged device offers automatic WAN to satellite failover, ensuring continuous connectivity even if the primary network experiences issues.

Overall, the RockREMOTE Rugged device offers a robust and efficient solution for leveraging satellite connectivity in forestry operations, enabling the transfer of valuable data for improved maintenance practices and operational efficiency.

The process of digitizing forestry opens up numerous opportunities for leveraging data insights and applications. These opportunities span across various areas, such as advanced forest mapping, sensor-controlled environments in forests and nurseries, as well as the use of drones or UAVs for fire monitoring and precision forestry inventory. In this context, satellite connectivity plays a vital role by providing the immediate and essential infrastructure required to test and scale these innovative projects. By leveraging satellite connectivity, forestry operations can effectively harness the power of real-time data to drive efficiency, sustainability, and informed decision-making in their practices.

Discover the full potential of your data

If you're interested in leveraging data to enhance your operations, feel free to reach out to us. Our technical team is here to support you, regardless of the project's size or the questions you may have. Let's collaborate to bring innovation and efficiency to your forestry endeavors. Contact us today!