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Machinery and technology for precision forestry

Technological progress in forestry mechanization over the past decade had led to a significant increase in the competitiveness of timber brought down from mountain woodlands, typical in Italy, compared to users in the flatlands and hilly areas of North Europe. The development of innovative worksites with techniques and highly efficient machinery now ensure interesting margins for lower the cost of timber, optimizing the safety of workers and limiting the impact on woodlands to a minimum. This is the challenge of the SLOPE Project financed by the European Union with an authentic technical-scientific contribution provided by Italian partners

by Matteo Monni
April 2016 | Back

Unlike the widespread perceptions of those who live in cities, Italy had a wealth of woodlands but they are handicapped by a number of technical and infrastructure shortcomings complicating their management and exploitation. One of the main reasons for this is that more than one-third of national territory is mountainous. In these areas, which are mostly wooded, forestry work plays a fundamental role in the local economies and could be given significant drive though the development of modern technologies brought in for the forestry-timber supply chain. In general, the wood produced in mountainous areas is of remarkably high technological quality thanks to its conditions of growth and long felling intervals. This value, however, is sometimes not realized because of the high cost of bringing this timber in compared to work in the plantations of Central and North Europe. In fact, high altitude slopes and reduced accessibility in the mountains mean forestry costs, whether for production or protection, are higher. In general, where the mountain slopes are steep, felling is done with chainsaws and clear cutting with various technologies, mainly by a crane cable or forestry cableway. As much as these systems may be efficient and carry a low impact on the environment, they are not capable of competing with worksites with full mechanization typical of woodlands with greater accessibility where harvester-forwarders are put to use. Over the past ten years, part of this gap has been closed with the introduction of processors which, when combined with cableways, make it possible to fell trees entirely and locate the timber on the landing site. CNR/Imamoter (National Research Council Trees and Timber Institute) researchers, Gianni Picchi and Jakub Sandak, have affirmed, “This efficient combination is still not enough and the efficiency of working in mountainous woodlands has to be further improved with machinery and systems for this specific work.” This thinking was the springboard for the idea of creating the SLOPE Project, Integrated proceSsing and control systems for sustainable forest Production in mountain areas, funded by the European Union and coordinated in Italy as part of in the EU 7th Framework Program now reaching its conclusion ( The project was formed on an initiative by CNR/Ivalsa and the Graphitach Foundation, a specialist in geomorphological data processing, and draws on the expertise of an excellent consortium of three Italian enterprises: Greifenberg Teleferiche (which exhibits at EIMA International 2016 with its own stand), Compolab Srl and FlyBy Srl. The other Europeans involved are: the University Vienna (Austria), ITENE (Spain), MHG Systems OY (Finland), Treemetrics and Coastway (Ireland). Gianni Picchi, made a bid to summarize the complicated SLOPE Project. He explained, “It’s possible to present a chart of the logic-operative process of work conducted in three interdependent phases.”


The virtual forest

With massive recourse to technical and It support, the territory shows features on an increasing scale of details, moving from satellite images (the FlyBy partner is specialized in topographic surveys and the elaboration of aerial data) to low altitude drone flight surveys (Costaway) and the use of laser scanning above and under the tree crowns is integrated to create a 3D model of the forest and the topographic features of the terrain. Picchi said with this “inventory” it is possible to quantify or determine the volume of all the trees in a forest plot to the point of visualizing assortments which can be removed from each tree scanned. Thanks to this special visualization online of all the information on timber mass, topography, cableway location for anchorage and intermediary cableway support all this information is easily accessed. For workers, all this facilitates identifying the most convenient locations to substantially reduce the time needed for arranging the line.



During the phase in the field for the selection of trees to fell the selviculturalist can visualize on a tablet all the data on the 3D model of the forest and integrate them with what the person in the woods detects. Other than the traditional marking of trees, the operator uses an electronic tag (UHF RFID) pinned to the bark of the standing tree which corresponds to the avatar in the model database. Once the tree has been felled, the log is cleared by the cableway which, as stipulated in the project, will be a prototype developed on the basis of a cable crane mobile yarder in the Tecno cableway family. The yarder can operate fully automatically for skidding thanks to new radio controlled chocker chains with IR safety sensors. Moreover, operational information is provided during the work cycle, the weight of the load transported and the identity documents on the tag attached to the tree felled.  Loading can be performed fully automatically with innovative chokers with a dual safety system. Once loaded, the log is prepared by an intelligent processor, developed through the collaboration of Compolab and CNR/Ivalsa, for a reading of the electronic tag and measuring the volume (diameter and length of the cut cut) as well as dividing the trunk according to its class of quality (according to the UNI EN 1927-1 2008 Standard, for example). Each trunk, identified and traceable due to the electronic tag to simplify the operations of measuring volume and sorting, is placed on a stack of logs of the same quality. With this procedure, information on the work performed can be transmitted in real time to a central served via the mobile data network.  


Management of information

All the information pertaining to the 3D model and the users is transmitted in real time to the remote server database and made available online to every authorized user. This procedure is based on an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) platform developed by the MHG Systems partner for the logistics of round timber or chipping. Other than planning transport of timber to reduce waiting time and overcrowding at the sites, the platform can be used for sales of timber. In fact, because buyers have available in real time all the information on quality and quantity of the various assortments as well as the trend of work at the worksite equipped with the SLOPE system, end users can buy supplies of timber of the quality wanted directly in the forest and while the wood is bring produced. This system allows the industry initially transforming to reduce timber in the area to a minimum (on the understanding of the need to accumulate supplies for the winter when logging is suspended) and purchase only and exactly of the materials needed for avoiding costly operations of transport and sorting of the timber lots which have not been divided. Also, thanks to electronic tagging, each trunk can be efficiently traced down to the finest details of the product to increase the efficiency of forestry certification. In conclusion, the entire SLOPE system is based on avant-garde technologies, some of which are costly. If properly used to advantage, the information produced can lead to many benefits for finances as well as for the environment and management in general. Considering that the positive fallout of this project can lead to a plan for the development of innovative forestry mechanization, it is expected that the EIMA Energy event coming up in November could by an excellent setting for hosting the conclusive SLOPE conference. All the partners involved in the project have responded to invitations sent by Itabia, the Italian Biomass Association, and FederUnacoma, the Agricultural Machinery Manufacturers Federation, with a show of great interest in the prestigious location where the outcome of research can be transferred directly to the companies in the sector producing technologies and business people themselves.


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