Harnessing AI for Sustainable Forestry

During a global revolution in which artificial intelligence (AI) is redefining the way we work, communicate, and experience the world, its seemingly limitless potential has sparked controversy and uncertainty for the future. Although many argue that AI poses a threat to people’s privacy and intellectual property, there’s no denying that it also offers incredible advantages, one of which is its potential to help build in the fight against climate change. According to a 2023 report from Johns Hopkins University, AI has shown promise in several key areas, including monitoring and managing natural resources, optimizing renewable energy systems, and even predicting climate change impacts.

“Using AI to factor in elements of climate change that are constantly evolving helps us make more informed predictions about changes in the environment, so that we can deploy mitigation efforts earlier”, says Jim Bellingham, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy.

Garnica, a leading manufacturer of premium sustainable plywood has been at the forefront of adopting AI into its operations to advance its efforts in environmental protection. Through a strategic partnership with the School of Agricultural and Forestry Engineering at the University of León, Garnica is actively developing state-of-the-art technologies for forest management.

 

Redefining Industry Standards

Handheld laser scanners being used to inventory poplar trees. Photo Credit: Garnica

The collaboration between Garnica and the University of León holds great promise in reshaping industry standards. Their combined efforts are focused on enhancing resource efficiency and ecological benefits, ultimately setting a new benchmark for responsible forestry practices. By harnessing the power of AI, their partnership aims to maximize the potential of forested lands while minimizing their environmental footprint.

“Our primary objective is to generate models that support decision-making, focused on forestry and natural resource management. We believe that digitizing processes to improve efficiency and traceability is essential, which is why we have implemented these progressive solutions from the start”, explained David Smith, President of Garnica’s North American division.

Through AI, Garnica is spearheading a paradigm shift in the forestry and wood manufacturing sector. They are currently developing two technologies, AppPopuli+ and Populus 3D, which precisely monitor the health status of poplar trees and provide an accurate estimation of standing volume.

 

AppPopuli+

The AppPopuli+ tool helps to identify damage to trees and the causes using AI. Forest technicians, tree farmers, forest rangers or anyone with a mobile device can simply take a picture of the poplar tree (or group of trees) and receive a detailed report through the app. With the support of this technology, Garnica can now make quick and informed decisions with regards to timber harvesting. They are able to prioritize areas affected by damage, so that the wood can be utilized before it decomposes in the forest. Poplar trees have one of the highest CO2 absorption rates of all tree species on the planet, absorbing an average of 22 tonnes/hectares/year. When they die and decompose, the CO2 is released back into the atmosphere. By harvesting and manufacturing the timber of damaged trees before they die, the carbon is stored in the plywood panels instead of released back into the atmosphere. Leveraging AI to monitor the health status of trees represents a significant advancement in the wood value and climate change mitigation.

 

Populus3D

Garnica’s Populus3D initiative utilizes mobile laser scanners for 3D data collection in the field. The data is then processed and transformed using AI into information that helps the team accurately estimate standing wood stock and assess how the wood is distributed along the trees. By understanding the wood distribution, Garnica can accurately evaluate how each tree should be cut to maximize the amount of product they can harvest. Populus3D also helps with disease detection and measuring the pruning height and branch quantity of each tree, ensuring optimal utilization of raw materials in the first step of the production chain.

The combination of AppPopuli+ and Populus3D technology provide a level of precision that empowers Garnica to make informed decisions that benefit both the environment and their business.

 

A Sustainable Future for the Entire Wood Industry

Digital twins of poplar trees, with the path followed by the handheld scanner

The types of technologies that Garnica is developing alongside the University of León are just the beginning. As AI continues to advance and evolve, it holds the potential to redefine practices both within the primary forestry sector and secondary manufacturing processes. Currently, Garnica is focused on monitoring the health of its poplar trees and assessing standing volume and wood distribution, but AI-powered computer vision systems could also potentially be used to manage inventory (not unlike a Kanban system) or to identify defects in materials across the production and industry spectrum.

 

AI also has the potential to optimize supply chains between primary forestry and secondary manufacturers enhancing sustainability, efficiency, and overall productivity:

  • Demand Forecasting and Inventory Management: AI algorithms can analyze historical data, market trends, and external factors (like weather patterns) to make accurate demand forecasts. Anticipating demand helps to optimize inventory levels, reduce excess stock, and minimize shortages. For forestry, this means a more efficient use of resources and a reduction in waste.
  • Route Optimization: AI algorithms can analyze various factors such as road conditions, traffic patterns, and weather forecasts to determine the most efficient routes for transporting logs to the manufacturing facilities and then to distribution centers, saving time, fuel and reducing emissions.

 

AI can play a crucial role in enhancing transparency and traceability in the supply chain, particularly in industries like forestry where sustainability and authenticity are crucial:

  • Digital Documentation and Records: AI-powered systems can create and maintain digital records of each stage of the supply chain including details about the origin of the materials, the location of the forest, and information about the logging operations.
  • Geo-tagging and GPS Tracking: GPS data can be used by AI to track the physical movement of materials. This information is tagged with geographic coordinates, allowing for real-time monitoring of shipments from the forest to the manufacturing facility and finally to distributors. The data helps to ensure that materials are sourced from designated sustainable areas.

 

Effective and efficient communication between primary and secondary industries is paramount and AI can play an integral role in streamlining those systems:

  • Notifications and Alerts: AI can facilitate seamless communication between primary and secondary industries through automated notifications and alerts. For instance, if there are delays in fulfilling an order, the system can automatically notify the secondary manufacturer or distributor and provide updated delivery timelines.
  • Supplier Collaboration Platforms: AI-powered collaboration platforms can facilitate communication and coordination between primary and secondary industries. These platforms can provide a centralized space for order management, updates, and feedback.

 

Unleashing the Full Potential of AI in Forestry

AI has the potential to enhance sustainable forest management by improving forest health monitoring, predicting and mitigating threats, optimizing logging practices, conserving biodiversity, and assisting with strategic decision-making. These applications can contribute to the responsible stewardship of forest resources and the preservation of vital ecosystems. As the world grapples with the challenges of climate change, it’s clear that AI has a pivotal role to play in the journey towards sustainability, and its use in forest management exemplifies how innovative technologies can redefine entire industries. In leveraging its potential, companies can not only secure a sustainable and profitable future for themselves but also set a powerful example for the broader manufacturing sector. However, we may feel about the growing power and presence of AI, there’s no denying that its influence will be felt in both the primary and secondary wood industry in years to come.

 

Jaime Alvarez is the Head of Marketing at Garnica and has been with the company for almost 10 years. Fluent in Spanish and English, Jaime lives and works in La Rioja, Spain overseeing marketing initiatives for both the European and North American divisions. He studied Economics at the University of Zaragoza and also obtained a master’s degree in marketing Management from the ESIC Business & Marketing school.

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