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Knowing the True Value of Trees

Nautiz rugged handhelds allow foresters to eliminated paper-based data collection and mapping, a provide a more accurate and efficient data collection process, and more informed evaluations of forest parcels.

Rugged, portable computers give Finnish forest managers a much clearer picture of the value of their company’s holdings.

Challenge

Employ cutting-edge technology in harsh outdoor environments to improve data accuracy and streamline data collection and forest management planning. 

Solution

Nautiz X3 and X5 rugged portable computers from Handheld Group with the computing power, advanced communications capability, ruggedized construction and long battery life needed to do the job. 

Results

The elimination of paper-based data collection and mapping, a more accurate and efficient data collection process, and more informed evaluations of forest parcels.

 

There’s an old saying to describe someone who gets so bogged down in details that he can’t see the big picture: “He can’t see the forest for the trees.”

Well, maybe all that guy needs is a good handheld computer. Because that’s what Tornator OY, a major Finnish forest-management company, uses to get a good picture of both the trees and the forest. Using Nautiz X3 and X5 ruggedized portable computers from Handheld, Tornator has revolutionized its system of mapping and evaluating its vast forestlands.

Accurate information drives the bottom line

Tornator is the third-largest forest owner in Finland, with about 600,000 hectares (23,000 square miles) of forestland. Tornator’s core businesses are wood production and the sale of cutting rights. The company also provides forest management services, sells high-quality holiday-home plots and extractable soil resources, and leases access rights to its land. Tornator is headquartered in Imatra, near the border with Russia, and has 14 regional offices through Finland as well as subsidiaries in Estonia and Romania.

One of the most important aspects of managing forests for sale or harvest is having detailed, accurate information about those forests. Within what most people would simply call “a forest” are various sections that comprise multiple tree species, age ranges and sizes, and density. Because it’s highly impractical – more like impossible – to put a value on each tree, a piece of forestland is separated into what are called “stand compartments” – sections of forest with homogenous growth conditions and tree species. These compartments average 2 to 3 hectares in size.

The most efficient way to assess a forest is to have solid information on each individual compartment – information such as the dominant species type, the basal area, and the average diameter, length or age of the trees. And, of course, the compartment must be mapped as precisely as possible.

From paper and pencil to new technology

Traditionally, gathering and recording this information had been the job of forestry workers who “cruised” the timber with pencil stubs and small notebooks, employing their specialized knowledge as they scribbled numbers, made calculations in their heads or on the page, and then later filled out a report based on their field notes. Even with seasoned experts doing the work, data errors were common, and the process took a lot of time.

The advent of portable computing technology changed that. Forest managers first saw the benefits of using office computers to calculate and store data, and then realized that having a computer in the woods for the data collection would streamline the process even more.

But tromping about in the forest is not the most comfortable environment for a delicate computer, and soon enough the distinction between “PDA” and “rugged handheld” became a very important one. Most handhelds on the market failed to stand up to the field conditions – only when truly ruggedized handhelds were developed did performance match capability.

Finding a tool tough enough for the job

And so Tornator decided to move up from the outdated PDAs it had been using, and employ a tougher tool with current technological abilities. As they searched for the best solution, there were two main considerations: ruggedness and battery life. Because the work is performed outdoors throughout the year, the conditions range from sweltering heat in the summer to freezing cold in the winter, plus the constant moisture of the rainy seasons. And the worker is out in the woods all day with no chance to recharge a battery, so a long battery life is essential.

Tornator settled on a combination of Nautiz X3 and X5 rugged handhelds from Handheld Group. Both are compact, highly portable, feature-rich and built to withstand harsh environments. They come with high-speed 806 MHz Xscale processors, 256 MB of RAM (SDRAM on the X3) and 512 MB of Flash storage. They run the Windows Mobile operating system – 6.1 for the X5 and 6.5 Professional for the X3 – and include integrated GPS, BT and a 3-megapixel camera with autofocus and flash. They communicate via cellular or wireless LAN, and both have all-day Lithium-ion batteries. Their IP65 rating means they’re impervious to dust and highly resistant to water, and they’re also able to operate in extreme temperatures and withstand drops.

Once they took delivery of the Nautiz units, Tornator loaded them with its own customized TornaMaasto software, giving field workers all they need to do their jobs better.

Harnessing technology streamlines the process

Once a worker has reached an area needing assessment, the Nautiz GPRS connection is used to download current, delimited data from Tornator’s central system. When the worker has downloaded the data, he/she starts using the TornaMaasto application to collect proper data on location, species, size, density and other considerations, and enters it using a customized data entry form. TornaMaasto has a mobile map feature as well as, so both paper maps and paper data-entry forms are replaced by the handheld.

The Nautiz also provides precise location information. For mapping purposes the users need accurate GPS functionality to track where they have been; each data entry has its own location point. This GPS data is also used to manage the borders of the compartment within the central mapping system.

When the user has finished collecting data, the collected and updated data is uploaded back to the main system via GPRS connection.

Having this data on each compartment helps Tornator create a clear plan for future harvesting, as well as planting new stands and tending seedlings and young stands. And using the streamlined hardware-software system produces far more accurate data in far less time, eliminating errors and increasing efficiency.

“We need the information to run our business, which is wood production and the sale of cutting rights,” says Mika Rieppo, IT Manager at Tornator. “Without accurate forest resource data we wouldn't even know what our forest is worth, and which sections are best suited for selling the cutting rights.”