'Smart' forestry lets Komatsu chop wood 10 times faster

TOMOYA USHIYAMA, Nikkei staff writer
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Drones, IT and 3-D images help manage forests more efficiently

TOKYO -- Building machinery maker Komatsu will bring its "smart" construction knowhow into forestry operations, harnessing both drones and information and communication technology-equipped logging machines to improve efficiency by about 10 times.

Verification test on the so-called "smart forestry" concept has recently started in central Japanese prefecture of Ishikawa.

Images of a forest taken in 3-D by a drone will help analyze the concentration of trees, as well as their height and locations. While managing the terrain and machinery data via the cloud, Komatsu's harvester -- a hydraulic excavator with logging and delimbing functions -- will be deployed to fell trees.

The mechanization of surveying and logging operations that have hitherto been done manually will contribute to labor saving.

In the past, it took a day to survey a hectare of land, a task that involved four to five workers. A drone could finish the same process in half a day, and only one worker -- who will control the vehicle -- would be needed.

The logging process, which now requires more than 10 workers, would only need one worker under the smart forestry concept, meaning the new system would boost the efficiency of each task by around 10 times.

Komatsu is working to put the system into practical application as early as possible because: "Even though many manmade forests reach the perfect time for timber harvest, logging often does not proceed due to the labor shortage in Japan," said Kiyoshi Mizuhara, a Komatsu senior executive officer.

Komatsu manufactures harvesters as well as forwarders that are used to transport logs.

In Europe, which pioneered the mechanization of forestry operations, Komatsu will bolster the ICT functions for forestry machinery.

The company plans to expand the productivity improvement services and maintenance contracts for forestry companies using the MaxiFleet service which manages data on machine's operational status. Subsidiary Komatsu Forest AB in Umea, Sweden, handles MaxiFleet.

Komatsu produces forestry machinery for Japanese and Southeast Asian markets while its units in Europe and the U.S. sells the machines and provides services that match the local logging methods.

Because the mechanization in the forestry sector is also advancing in Southeast Asia, the company expects the machinery demand to increase stably.

The company thus places forestry machinery "as one of our core businesses after construction machinery and mining machinery," said Mizuhara.

It is aiming to ramp up sales of its forestry machinery business by 25% from fiscal 2016 to 100 billion yen ($885 million) in fiscal 2018.

'Smart' forestry lets Komatsu chop wood 10 times faster