Forest industry is the top user of mobile technology in Finland

26.11.2008 / Article
Sunila mill.
Sunila mill.

Nearly 70 percent of forest industry companies use one or more solutions of wireless information technology, which is the top among Finnish industry branches.

A recent study commissioned by the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (TEKES) and its VAMOS programme, and carried out by the ICT research and advisory service company Market-Visio reveals that 46 percent of the 431 companies that responded to the survey use at least one mobile solution.

Mobile technology solutions were defined as any wireless solution or automation system based on wireless technology; only wireless e-mail and calendar systems were excluded. Examples of the wireless technologies are 3G, WLAN, SMS, GPS, voice over WLAN, Bluetooth, voice over Internet, RFID, WAP, UWB and NFC.

Of all those that responded, 28 percent were possibly or fairly definitely planning to adopt a mobile solution, if they had not done so already. One in four had no plans to do so.

The high figure of the forest industry is mainly due to the use of mobile technology in the harvesting and transporting of wood: 35 percent of the companies reported using mobile technology for transmitting transport, logistics and site-related information.

The study also enlightens those who have wondered at the Finnish system of wood sales where the buyer usually takes care of the harvesting. It is precisely this system that has enabled such a widespread and efficient use of mobile technology in wood harvesting and transporting.

All information moves wirelessly in forest

At the moment all information on harvesting to and from the forest is wireless. The chain starts from a GPS-aided definition of the logging area and of the nature protection sites that must be preserved, for example. The information travels via satellite to the digital maps of the forest company that has bought the wood.

Before harvesting this map is transmitted wirelessly to the harvester’s computer. The same goes for the instructions on the harvesting volumes and the lengths to which the logs of each timber species and grades should be cut. These instructions are based on the kinds of products – sawmilling grades, for example – that the customers of the forest company have ordered.

The information on the volumes of different timber grades cut is transmitted to the forest company wirelessly. Then the information about where to fetch the wood from and where to take it is sent to the computer of the truck, along with an optimised driving route.

The harvesting and transport of wood is usually carried out by small, specialized enterprises working as subcontractors for the forest company. Their information systems are connected to that of the forest company. This would be impossible if the forest company was not responsible for the harvesting.

In addition to wood harvesting and transport, the forest industry uses mobile technology in controlling the work of fork lift trucks, in logistics and in controlling the sawmilling. The use of mobile technology from forest to advanced processing industry is also very advantageous from the viewpoint of financial administration of the company.

Subcontractors often take the initiative

When asked who proposes the use of mobile technology, the companies very often answered that it was the subcontractor. Many ideas also came from the company personnel.

Despite having already reached a high level, the forest industry aims at increasing the use of mobile technology, though it has only created savings of four percent. In other branches of industry the savings are generally estimated to exceed ten percent.

While 68 percent of the forest companies report using mobile technology, a share of 18 percent still only plans to adopt it fairly definitely or possibly. Of those already using mobile technology, 83 percent are planning to continue developing the systems. The study does not, however, reveal directly how this will be done.

It is common knowledge that the use of ICT involves a number of problems. One of them is that the information systems of different forest companies are not compatible.

This creates problems for harvesting enterprises that would like to work for several forest companies. It is estimated that solving this problem could bring savings of several percent for the harvesting operators.

However, savings have not been the primary goal of the forest companies in using mobile technology. Instead, they have aimed at faster processes, time-savings and fewer errors. These targets have been reached very well, according to 61 percent of the respondents.

In reading the results it also is possible to conclude that if any savings at all are made, they are very difficult to estimate. One of the reasons is that the use of mobile technology in forest industry started a long time ago, so that it is ‘business as usual’ for the responding companies.

ICT industry a substantial challenge for ICT

The study also generated quite a lot of criticism against the mobile technology companies. Connectivity in general was considered a sizeable challenge. According to the respondents it is not on an adequate level.

One would think that this is a considerable problem for the forest industry, because timber is often harvested in remote areas, where the coverage of mobile phone networks is not so good. On the other hand, it is precisely because of the needs of forest companies that the ICT companies have constructed a mobile phone network that is very extensive for a country as sparsely populated as Finland, and the network is naturally accessible to everyone else as well.

The study was based on telephone interviews carried out in June–September this year. The researchers contacted 1,200 companies or public authorities.

Among them, an acceptable response was gained from 431. According to Market-Visio, this is sufficient for reliable conclusions.

Hannes Mäntyranta

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