Virtual forests are coming

Forest management takes a leap into the digital age

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Digitalisation will transform the forest industry

New technologies are rapidly taking forest management into the electronic world. Forest management in the future will not be constrained by time or place – and the virtual forest is coming.  As the forerunner in the field, Metsä Group has strongly developed its offering of electronic services for forest owners over the last few years and is showing the way to the whole forest industry. The growth curve of electronic services is upward: by the middle of 2017, some 28 per cent of all Metsä Group’s timber trade had been made through an electronic channel, and the percentage in the sale of forest management services was even higher.

Metsäverkko mobile

Metsäverkko puts the forest in your pocket

One thing is certain: in the future, forest management will be increasingly digital, unconstrained by time or place. And we are heading towards virtual forests. There will be a day when forest owners will be able to visit their forests from the comfort of their own living room – maybe not quite tomorrow; there are still a few development steps to be taken, but the virtual forests are coming.

At the moment, Metsä Group is working with Tieto Oyj and start-up company CTRL Reality to develop a virtual forest demo, which will be ready in autumn 2017. “Our goal is to create a method for creating a virtual replica of any forest, using data from a variety of sources,” says Juha Jumppanen, SVP, Member Services at Metsä Group.

Advanced new technologies have quickly become a part of the forest industry and have brought many opportunities with them: new kinds of services and convenience for forest owners, more accurate information about forest properties, and decreasing costs.  Contrary to what you might think, in many ways digital forest services bring forest owners closer than before to their forests and forest management.

“New methods will revolutionise forest planning. They will help lower the costs of drawing up forest plans, and the information concerning a forest property will be more accurate. In the future, when buying a forest property, there may be a drone video of it available, and it will be possible to also have 3D or virtual forest plans. The virtual forest plan will be possible soon – the pace of development of the technology and equipment in the field is astounding. In the future, we will be able to utilise virtual forest plans when we meet with forest owners and make a virtual visit to their forests, for instance,” says Jumppanen on the direction of development. 

As the forerunner in the field, Metsä Group has made active use of digitalisation for developing the company’s existing and new services for forest owners. An example of the new services at the disposal of forest owners is Metsä Group’s Metsäverkko mobile application, launched at the end of 2014. This is a mobile forest plan, a “pocket forest” so to speak, which makes it possible to conduct forest business anytime and anywhere.

“Forest owners can upload their own forest plan to their mobile device, making it possible to check and manage it using the device. When moving around in the forest, you can use the Metsäverkko mobile application to see on a map where you are walking, as well as what kinds of forest management and logging work needs to be carried out next in each plot as well and their income/expenditure forecasts,” says Jumppanen.

      

Values guide Metsä Group's operations

With the new mobile applications, you can manage your forest business anytime and anywhere.  

With the Metsäverkko mobile service, forest owners can keep track of measures that have been carried out, update their forest plan, and store notes and pictures connected to forest plots.  What makes the application unique is that it can be used offline whilst actually in the forest.  An internet connection is only needed when installing the programme and for uploading data about the property. 

“In Finland, the problem has always been that mobile applications have required an internet connection. When maps are transferred back and forth, a good internet connection is needed for a smooth user experience. When using this kind of offline version, the user experience will be good irrespective of internet coverage,” says Jumppanen.

Metsäverkko online

Digital services growing rapidly

Another significant digital leap was made in June 2015, when Metsä Group made its first electronic timber trade. The transaction was confirmed using bank identifiers in Metsä Group’s updated Metsäverkko service.

“In Metsäverkko, customers can check their own membership details, forest plans and forest assets in more detail than in the mobile application. In addition, customers can do forest bookkeeping and different simulation and optimisation checks, i.e. they can see how maximising logging income in the short term affects future cash flows,” Jumppanen goes on to say.

Values guide Metsä Group's operations

You can use the Metsäverkko.fi online service to check your own forest plans and forest assets.  

Electronic services and electronic timber transactions are now growing rapidly. Metsä Group makes around 35,000 timber transactions annually in Finland and buys over 20 million cubic metres of wood, the majority of which comes from Finnish forest owners. The entire forest industry of Finland every year pays private Finnish forest owners around EUR 1.6 billion in timber transaction revenue, and individual transactions are worth on average over EUR 10,000.  By the middle of 2017, some 27 per cent of all Metsä Group’s timber trade had been made through an electronic channel, and the percentage for the sale of forest management services was even higher.

 

“A transaction via the internet is quite normal in the world of retailing, but electronic timber trade could be compared to a completely digital real estate or car sale.” This takes the forest industry and the timber trade into a totally new era and offers all kinds of totally new opportunities. We are the market leader in these services. It is not possible to conduct timber trading or buy forest management services with any other operator in Finland,” says Jumppanen. 

 

The electronic world has also entered customer service in great leaps and bounds. Metsä Group’s multi-channel customer service is a concrete example of this: members are served through the Metsäverkko chat service and co-browsing, as well as the customer service channels opened in Twitter and Facebook. The new services have grown immensely in popularity. For example, the number of chat sessions is expected to increase several-fold in 2017 compared to the previous year.

Virtual forests

In the long term, a digital replica of Finnish forests will be created

Metsä Group is actively researching, testing, utilising and developing new technologies and services to offer to forest owners. According to Juha Jumppanen, the company’s long-term vision is to create a digital replica of Finnish forests.

“I believe that in the future every tree growing in Finland will be modelled, and we will know its location, length, diameter, species and other data. It will be possible to use a virtual reality headset to visit any forest and plan timber transactions and forest management work, as well as to show forest owners that we have been to this property and checked it, and in our opinion, these measures should be carried out, which means the income and expenditure estimate would be this.  In the virtual world, it is also possible to show what the forest will look like after the measures have been carried out,” he explains.

Values guide Metsä Group's operations

In the future it will also be possible to carry out forest management and timber trading virtually.
Pictured here is VRForest, from which new kinds of tools are being developed for forest owners.

Building a virtual forest will not happen overnight according to Jumppanen, but it is where development is heading. In the short term, it is likely we’ll see a renewal of the process for making forest plans and forest asset information. In connection with this, Metsä Group and its partners are testing three new ways to measure forest with the help of a drone or remote-controlled camera copter.

“We have been developing various drone-based methods, and the test results have been encouraging. Now we are testing ways of obtaining more accurate and varied information from forests. We believe we have found a way that will give us detailed information about each individual tree – right down to the species. It will also be possible for us to gather information on the health of the forest,” says Jumppanen.

Two methods will be tested in terms of the measurement of forest assets. In the method that is being developed in cooperation with MosaicMill, the drone flies over a forest property and the trees are measured with the help of digital image interpretation. In one flight, a 50–100 hectare property can be measured, but the batteries of the camera copter are constantly developing, so future flight times will be longer than they are today.

Values guide Metsä Group's operations

Drones will help us obtain significantly more accurate and varied information from forests than is possible now.  

The same thing is being tested with fixed-wing drones in cooperation with Finnsilva Oyj. Their flight time is longer, allowing for measuring a property of approximately 500 hectares in a single flight. This method measures the forest with a laser scanner.

“We are studying different technology options, and we will assess which of them will be the best for the future.” The goal is that drones will enable us to significantly decrease the costs of the present forest plan, when traditional fieldwork is no longer necessary. Another goal is a totally new product, the virtual forest plan,” says Jumppanen.


Forest hub

New technologies bring buyers and sellers together

Together with Tieto, Metsä Group is testing a method where the damage caused by the spruce bark beetle can be detected with equipment installed in a drone – before it becomes visible to the human eye. This is has a clear financial benefit for forest owners: in the future, damaged trees can be cut before the log part is contaminated. Identifying damaged trees is also significant because it helps to prevent the damage cause by the beetles from spreading into the wider environment.

“We are helping Metsä Group to utilise the most advanced image recognition technologies and, for example, satellite images, which can help identify infection-damaged trees. This is an extremely critical thing, particularly in central Europe, where summers are dry, but also in southern Finland,” says Christian Hofmann, VP Industry Solutions, Realtime Supply Chain at Tieto. 

Together with the main players in the Finnish forest industry, Tieto has also launched the first version of the Forest Hub ecosystem service, which digitalises the supply chain for wood and pulp, thus making easier the transmission of data from timber logistics information systems of and factory and mill reception processes. Forest Hub is a modern, two-way data transmission channel between wood supply and the client factory.

“The purpose of Forest Hub is to improve planning and monitoring, stock management and the quality of data about daily operations, as well as to decrease the amount of manual labour and errors. We are going to develop Forest Hub and to expand the coverage of the service in the pulp and wood supply ecosystem,” says Hofmann.

     
 

Having two-way, real-time and reliable communication is in the interests of all the different parties in wood supply, as it ensures that the whole wood supply chain, from the forest to industrial customers, can operate reliably and cost-effectively.

 

“We have noticed that many other industrial sectors are also interested in this kind of collaboration model. Finland’s forest industry is showing the way in this,” says Hofmann.

 

“With the help of electronic devices, we want to make the timber trade and forest management as efficient and as real-time as possible. This way, we can increase the efficiency of our operations and serve forest owners increasingly well. This also means cost savings, but foremost is, as always, improving the customer experience,” Jumppanen goes on to say.


Read and learn more about our intelligent forests.

Virtual forests are here, and digitalisation is paving the way for intelligent wood products. Read more about how professionals in the field see the future of the forest industry.

Juha Jumppanen
Juha Jumppanen is Senior Vice President, Member Services, at Finnish forest industry company Metsä Group. He has an M.Sc. in Forestry from Joensuu University. Juha has extensive experience of the forest industry and has in-depth knowledge of the whole wood supply chain, from the tree stump to the customer of the final product. Jumppanen’s hobbies also take him into the forest. There, he relaxes doing forest management, hunting or just spending time there.
 

Christian Hofmann
Christian is helping Industrial companies to succeed in their Digitalization strategies, heading the unit: Realtime Supply Chain, where Tieto is developing IndustrySolutions for Forest and Manufacturing companies to utilities new possibilities of connected things to optimize their supply chain, and transform their business models towards an outcome economy. Under the umbrella for “Digitial Forest Twin ®” Tieto has been launching eg the Forest Hub, connecting forest owners and professional buyers and supply chain companies in Finland, to gain transparency and real-time access to information.


SOURCES:
Juha Jumppanen, SVP, Member Services, Metsä Group and Christian Hofmann, VP Industry Solutions, Realtime Supply Chain, Tieto Oyj.