Friday Offcuts 3 August 2018
In the tech space this week we’ve included a couple of stories designed to get you thinking. The first is linked to the increasingly difficult task of meeting skills shortages. As most of you will be aware, to remain competitive, the mining industry in Australia has for a number of years been undergoing a major technological shift, automating many of its processes and bringing more unmanned vehicles into their mines. Rio Tinto for example has just delivered iron ore using the world’s first ever long distance, heavy haul driverless trains. 28,000 tonnes of iron ore have been carted a distance of 280 kilometres. It wasn’t being controlled from an office nearby but rather, a centre in Perth, some 1500 kilometres away. With increased automation though comes the need for quite a different range of skills required by Rio’s employees – as is being evidenced in most industries – including our own – just now.
The other story is linked to drones. Sure, they’re now being used regularly by most forest companies for a raft of day-to-day operations. Pilots have been trained throughout the industry both in New Zealand and Australia. Drones are now just another technical tool being carted around in the back of the forester’s truck. Like the Australian ore trains though, drones can now be flown autonomously. Without human intervention, they’re now able to take off, do what they’re meant to, come back, recharge and then get sent back up into the air. You can check out a video interview this week on the company leading this particular technology and get their thoughts on the future of autonomous drones.
Finally, remember, the first leg of the Forest Industry Safety & Technology 2018, (www.forestsafety.events) event will run in Rotorua next week, on Wednesday 8 August. The second leg, will be running in Melbourne, the week after on Wednesday 15 August. It’s going to be another full house. Already numbers are well over the 300 mark for the series so if keen on saving a space, best get onto it today.
There’s also just one week remaining for local wood producers who want to access discounted early-bird registrations (finish on Friday 10 August) to this region’s major wood manufacturing event, WoodTECH 2018. It’s been eight years since an event of this size has been run for local mills in either Australia or New Zealand. Multiple registrations are being received from wood processors for this series. Full details on the event – or registrations – can be made on the event website, ( www.woodtech.events). That’s it for this week. Enjoy this week’s read.
This week we have for you:
Australian firm buys NZ forest landThe land beneath about 22,500ha of Otago forestry blocks in the lower South Island of New Zealand has been sold to a specialist Australian forestry investment fund, for an undisclosed price. As reported a couple of weeks ago, the fund has also bought a 38% stake in Otago's largest timber producer, Wenita Forest Products. The land ownership has moved from a United States-owned fund to an Australian fund.
The Overseas Investment Office this week granted consent for the sale of 22,553ha of land from overseas US fund, Fund 7 Foreign LLC, owned by Boston-based The Rohatyn Group, to Australian ANZFF2 NZ Ltd, a subsidiary of New Forests Australia Forest Fund 2, of Sydney. The cutting and management rights both remain with Wenita Forest Products, which has had them since 1990, and the land area remains under its control.
Wenita chief executive David Cormack said when contacted he expected few changes under the Australian governance, for either Wenita's 14 staff or more than 110 contractors it has involved in silviculture, harvesting, road building and transportation. ''It's business as usual for us. We're not expecting any major changes,'' he said. Industry sources understood the complex deal had been under negotiation for the past two years and the sale price was potentially ''well over $100million'', but that had not been confirmed.
The Australian fund invests in New Zealand, Australian, Asian and US forests, and has has more than $A3.5billion ($NZ3.81billion) of assets under management, the OIO's June decisions statement said. The Rohatyn Group partner Ian Jolly said in a statement on its website it had bought the Wenita shareholding in 2005, in a joint venture with Chinese logistics company Sinotrans, and 100% of the Otago Land Company's land in 2006.
Aside from the 22,553ha of sensitive land in Otago, ANZFF2 NZ Ltd will also take a 38% share in Wenita Forests Products and will also make an unspecified loan to Wenita. The OIO said in granting consent there would be an ''identifiable benefit'' to New Zealand. More trees would be pruned to improve wood quality and supply to local sawmillers would continue.
In a separate forestry offering, made public this week, the Rohatyn Group put up eight freehold forests for sale, called the Clutha Forest Estate, mainly southwest of Dunedin, and totalling almost 3000ha of mainly radiata pine with smaller areas of Douglas fir and macrocarpa.Source: Otago Daily Times
NZ log market getting 'nervy'New Zealand's booming export log market is starting to catch the jitters as concerns mount about the impact of US President Donald Trump’s trade war.
Demand for New Zealand logs has been strong over recent years as local sawmills compete with the export market to source logs for local construction, at a time when demand in China has stepped up after Asia's largest economy clamped down on the harvesting of its own forests and reduced tariffs on imported logs to meet demand in its local market. However, trade tensions between the US and China are creating nervousness in the market, as traders fear tariffs will hurt economic growth and dampen demand.
"Positivity has permeated the industry, at least for those selling logs, for upwards of two-years," AgriHQ analyst Reece Brick said in his latest monthly report on the forestry market. "However, it’s getting a bit nervy all of the sudden. That’s not to say everyone’s panicking, but there are certainly more reasons to frown than we’ve seen for a long-while.
"The export scene, along with the rest of the world, is trying to figure out what the outcomes will be of the tiff between the US and China. Economic growth data, stock exchange indices and foreign exchange rates have all made unfavourable movements in the past month, and there’s little sign that the relations between the two countries is on the mend."
Brick's comments about nervousness in the log market echo similar concerns noted by industry watchers in the dairy and wool industries recently, where demand is said to have weakened as buyers are concerned that tariffs on end products will flow back to dent demand for New Zealand commodities.
"If there’s a common enemy for NZ log traders it’s President Trump," said AgriHQ's Brick. "Another month of the US and China passing tit-for-tat trade tariffs is creating global economic uncertainty, understandably causing some nerves given log values are highly reliant on macro-economic strength."
The US and China this month imposed tariffs of 25 percent on US$34 billion of each other's exports and US tariffs on an additional US$16 billion of Chinese goods are coming soon. The US government also said last week it was readying new tariffs on Chinese goods worth an additional US$200 billion.
Brick noted the latest set of economic data out of China indicates the trade war is already impacting China’s economy, with second-quarter growth slowing to 6.7 percent, its slowest rate of growth in almost two years, and expectations for a further decline in the third quarter.
"The consensus in the market place is that the trade tension between China and the United States could cause an economic downturn," Brick said. "The International Monetary Fund condemned President Trump’s trade policy and advised governments to bulk up savings. The escalating trade tension may hinder global growth and delay foreign investments worldwide.
"The main issue is the nervousness that is reverberating throughout the globe, slowly rippling into NZ. Sentiment within the NZ market is mixed – the more risk averse are preparing for a drop beyond the short-term, while quite a few others are thinking this is a temporary, storm-in-a-teacup situation. Either way, no-one can be certain."
AgriHQ's monthly survey of exporters, forest owners and saw millers showed the average price for structural S1 logs in the New Zealand market edged up to $136 a tonne this month, from $135 a tonne last month, and marking the highest level since 1993. The average price for New Zealand A-grade export logs held steady at a four-year high of US$145/JAS.
Robotic Exoskeletons from SuitXThe front of SuitX’s East Bay headquarters is an empty room. No reception desk, no furniture — it’s about as unassuming as robotics office spaces get. For now, it’s a trial space, where perspective clients can try out the startup’s soft robotics exoskeletons in person, to see if they’ll fulfill their specific industrial or medical needs.
Through one door is the clinical room. It’s an all-white space that looks like some budget movie attempt at a doctor’s office. It’s here that we see a partially paralyzed man walk slowly, but determinedly, across the room, with the help of the Phoenix modular exoskeleton and a walker, as his wife looks on, beaming.
Through the other door is much closer to what you’d expect from such a company: a huge warehouse area that doubles as an office and testing space. Walk farther, and you’ll see the manufacturing area, where employees build devices on huge industrial machinery and package them up to send out.
The space is a bit smaller, but similar in look and feel to that of nearby Ekso Bionic. The fact that the startup’s chief competitor in the world of soft robotic exoskeletons is a mere 20-minute drive away is no coincidence, of course. The companies share roots in UC Berkeley’s Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory — and a common co-founder, Homayoon Kazerooni, whose leadership has earned the department the affectionate nickname, the “Kaz-Lab.”
Like many startups in the robotics world, the lab’s exoskeleton work was developed for the benefit of the military. The creation of a lightweight, wearable robotic device could help soldiers relieve some of the strain of lugging giant packs long distances over rough terrain.
But Kazerooni’s work has ultimately proven useful for other facets of life. “The company started with four graduate students,” co-founder and VP of Engineering Wayne Tung told TechCrunch. “With Professor Kazerooni, that’s five co-founders. We worked on primarily the medical exoskeleton, and he convinced us to stay around to start this company together. It gradually evolved into industrial.”
“We really focused on simplicity, right from the beginning,” says Tung. “Driving the cost down, so more people can have access to these devices. If you have a really good device that costs $100,000, not a lot of people can have access to them. On the industrial side, we’re focusing primarily on back injuries, leg injuries and shoulder injuries with the BackX. It’s designed to support the weight of the user’s upper body and whatever weight he’s holding, transferring that weight to the legs, bypassing injury-prone back muscles”.
It's these exoskeletons that are being explored for industrial and manufacturing applications. Consider a mill situation where workers are lugging around larger sections of timber. The opportunities start then to stack up.
Homayoon Kazerooni will be presenting at this year’s WoodTECH 2018 series that is running in Melbourne, Australia on the 11-12 September and then again in Rotorua, New Zealand on 18-19 September 2018. Full details on the programmes for each country and registrations can be made on the event website, www.woodtech.events
AU$4m funding call for forest research projectsAn AU$4 million joint funding program aimed at growing South Australia's forest and forest products industry is officially open for applications. Federal Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Senator Anne Ruston and South Australian Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone have released guidelines for the Mount Gambier National Institute for Forest Products Innovation fund.
Researchers with projects to grow Australia's forest and forest products industry are encouraged to apply for funding between AU$50,000 and AU$500,000. Minister Ruston is encouraging innovative applications to continue growing the plantation forest and forest products industry.
"The National Institute for Forest Products Innovation fund is aimed to seize upon opportunities to harness the potential of our forestry assets, and maximise the contribution of the industry to our regional and national economies," said Minister Ruston. "The fact that one of the National Institute for Forest Products Innovation hubs is located in Mount Gambier demonstrates the importance of South Australia and the Green Triangle to Australia's forest and forest products industry."
Minister Whetstone said the fund will provide important opportunities to boost research and development in the forest and forest products industry. "The forest and forest products industry is a significant contributor to the state's economy and an important employer in our regions. The industry in South Australia generates over AU$2 billion in revenue annually," said Minister Whetstone.
"This research funding will play an important role in exploring and facilitating innovation in areas such as forest management, timber processing, wood fibre recovery and value adding, advanced manufacturing and the bio-economy. "Priority areas for funding in the plantation forest and forest products industry include the development of new products, innovative, safe and efficient workplaces, and precision management; as well as tree growing, and robotics, automation and artificial intelligence."
Applications for the National Institute for Forest Products Innovation fund close on 7 September 2018 . For more information and funding guidelines visit www.nifpi.org.au.
ForestTECH 2018 event details now on lineEvery year it’s the one event that draws in forest resource managers, remote sensing, GIS and mapping specialists and inventory foresters together. It’s the annual technology programme run at the end of each year, ForestTECH.
Many of you have been involved with us and have input into designing this year’s series. Thanks. This years’ series runs in Rotorua, New Zealand on 14-15 November 2018 and then again in Melbourne, Australia on 20-21 November 2018.
Some of the key features of the annual technology series this year are the number of international tech providers who this year will be involved, the focus on integrating research findings into local forestry operations and the huge strides that have been made just over the last 12 months with VR, AR and mixed reality and the opportunities for use in forest management and operations.
Presenters outside of Australia and New Zealand for this series include; Kevin Lim, Lim Geomatics, Canada, ESRI, USA, Kaapo Sappala, CTRL Reality, Finland, Guoliang Liu, aiTree, Canada, Michael Breetzke, Swift Geospatial, South Africa, Taqtile Inc, USA and Microsoft.
Both ForestTECH 2018 programmes have just been posted onto the event website this week.
Mark the dates into your diaries. Further details will follow. Note: Further information relating to a series of pre-conference workshops that have been set up in both countries will follow next week. Numbers though are going to be limited and will be filled on a "First in - first served basis".
Giant robot train comes with a stark warningRio Tinto's chief executive says the miner is on a collision course with Apple and Google as they compete for a shrinking pool of technology workers, and if Australia doesn't ramp up its science skills Rio will have to look overseas for recruits.
The warning came as Rio delivered iron ore using the world’s first ever long distance, heavy haul driverless train. The robotic train carried 28,000 tonnes of iron ore a distance of 280 kilometres from Rio’s Tom Price mine in Western Australia to the Pilbara port of Cape Lambert. Its journey was monitored from an operation’s centre more than 1500 kilometres away in Perth.
The mining industry is undergoing a major technological shift, automating many of its processes and bringing more unmanned vehicles on to mines, however, it has found Australia lacks the number of workers it needs to make this change.
Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques told Fairfax Media Australia was falling behind when it comes to digital, automation and the so-called STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] skills. “It is absolutely clear that technology, automation, artificial intelligence and digitalisation will play a more important role across industry, and it's fair to say, in Australia today, it is difficult to find data scientists,” Mr Jacques said. More >>
Source: Sydney Morning Herald
XLam appoints head of business developmentIn the midst of an investment growth phase, New Zealand prefabricator XLam is expanding its senior management team with the appointment of John Eastwood as the head of business development for Australia and New Zealand. XLam is Australasia’s only manufacturer of CLT.
Mr Eastwood has a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Unitec and has spent most of his career in the building materials, manufacturing and construction sectors. He joined XLam in a business development role at the beginning of 2018. He has previously held country manager and senior commercial management roles with a number of multinational and national building material manufacturers and suppliers to commercial and residential construction sectors.
Mr Eastwood said he was excited to be taking on an important business development and leadership role at a tipping point for XLam and CLT. “The demand for CLT in Australasia has grown to a point that we opened a second plant earlier this year to support our plant in Nelson (NZ).
“The new plant in Australia makes XLam a true Australasian business and has necessitated my role – the drive for improved productivity and quality in the construction sector is driving demand for offsite manufacturing and the technical expertise and advice that is required to ensure its successful delivery.”
XLam chief executive Gary Caulfield said that the company was fortunate to have Mr Eastwood in a top role. “John has become familiar with XLam from the inside over the past seven months, and we are pleased to have him now in one of the most important roles in the business,” he said.
Fully automated drones – they’re here nowNot far from Tel Aviv a drone flies low over a gritty landscape of warehouses and broken pavement. It slowly approaches its home — a refrigerator-sized box inside a mesh fence, and hovers, preparing to dock. It descends like some giant bug, whining all the way, and disappears into its base where it will be cleaned, recharged and sent back out into the air.
This drone is doing the nearly impossible: it’s flying and landing autonomously and can fly again and again without human intervention — and it’s doing it all inside a self-contained unit that is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time.
The company that makes the drone, Airobotics, invited us into their headquarters to see their products in action. In this video we talk with the company about how the drones work, how their clients use the drones for mapping and surveillance in hard-to-reach parts of the world and the future of drone autonomy. It’s a fascinating look into technology that will soon be appearing in jungles, deserts and war zones near you.
On your wood processing site – security – log stock pile checks …. This may well be the way of the future. Check out the clip below to learn more.
Are we ready for the 'Wall of Wood'?Special correspondent Gavin Evans finds NZ log exports have tripled in the last decade and could at least double again over the next decade. He takes a detailed look at the wave of port, rail and road investment needed to cope with this 'wall of wood', let alone an even bigger one planned under the Government's 'Billion Trees' programme.
All over the North Island, ports and KiwiRail are scrambling to deal with a 'wall of wood' that has tripled since 2008. They say they will need to invest heavily again if they are to cope with another potential doubling of the harvest in the coming years. High log prices because of Chinese demand could easily trigger another surge in the 'wall'.
The ports of New Plymouth, Gisborne, Napier and Wellington are straining to keep up with the demand to move logs from forests to ports and will have to work hand-in-hand with a capital constrained KiwiRail to avoid regional roads and highways being pounded into potholes by fleets of logging trucks.
For example, Port Taranaki is hoping a planned rail service from Whanganui will help it capture a bigger share of the wall of wood coming out of the lower North Island. The company has been working with KiwiRail and foresters and says it is close to settling a new service that could deliver between 80,000 and 120,000 tonnes of logs to the port annually starting early next year.
Chief executive Guy Roper says the details of the cost and the share of the investment are still being worked through. But he says an improved supply chain would be more efficient and improve the return to forest owners. “This is about growth – additional logs coming to Port Taranaki from the Whanganui area,” he says. More >>
Full-scale multi-storey timber model being builtHyne Timber is proud to be partnering with WoodSolutions to supply both lightweight and massive timber elements for the construction of a unique, full-scale multi-storey timber construction model at Holmesglen Institute, Chadstone in Melbourne.
Laurence Ritchie, WoodSolutions Mid-Rise Advisory Program’s Cost and Program Estimator said the model, once completed, will provide a real to-scale-example of lightweight timber framed and Cross Laminated Timber mid-rise construction elements and systems. “The model will be three storey’s in height and is intended to demonstrate the structural, fire rating, and acoustic systems commonly seen in mid-rise timber construction”.
“In partnership with our timber suppliers, we will be hosting a series of one-on-one discussions, group seminars and displays, hands on training and workshops, student education sessions etc to a broad range of stakeholders throughout the design and construction sector. Having actively worked amongst this sector for a number of years, the questions we field and the apparent unknowns led to the idea of this model being developed so people can see, touch, feel, learn and understand timber solutions in mid-rise construction for themselves.” Mr Ritchie concluded.
Hyne Timber, a gold sponsor of the WoodSolutions Mid Rise Advisory Program, welcomed the idea to construct the mock-up and look forward to showcasing the elements once completed.
Source: Hyne Timber
More than doubling Chinese tariffs being consideredAccording to Bloomberg, the Trump Administration is considering more than doubling proposed Chinese tariffs. Earlier in July, President Trump threatened 10 percent tariffs on more than $200 billion worth of Chinese exports to the U.S. Bloomberg has reported that Trump is expected to increase tariffs to 25 percent.
The move is thought to be a negotiating tactic with the Chinese government - aimed at gaining the upper hand in the trade war. Bloomberg's correspondent, an anonymous White House staff member, said Trump doesn't wish to fundamentally change U.S. economic policy.
Beijing has already reacted angrily and has accused Trump of "blackmail". It has threatened to retaliate. The list of $200 billion worth of Chinese products, running around 200 pages, includes industrial goods and chemicals, consumer products, and wood products.
If Trump follows through, just under 50 percent of all Chinese imports would be subjected to tariffs. Wood products facing a tariff include oak, beech, maple, ash, cherry, mouldings, rods, particleboard and various types of plywood. Furniture items include wood chairs and furniture designed for offices and kitchens. Wood pulp products and paper products are also on the list.
The proposed tariffs would be on top of 25 percent tariffs that the Trump administration has assessed on $50 billion of Chinese goods: $34 billion of which took effect July 6. China then fired back with tariffs of the same amount.
Because China imported just $130 billion worth of products from the U.S. last year, it cannot fire back with matching tariffs again. If China wishes to retaliate, experts say it must do so with different measures.
New forestry and forest engineering scholarshipsTwo new scholarships have been made available to directly support new-to-university study for the B For Sc and BE(Hons) Forest Engineering at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
The first (Nga Karahipi Uru Rakau Forestry Scholarships) is administered by Ministry of Primary Industries and is open to Maori and/or women and this includes people who may wish to upskill into forestry. The awards are NZ$8,000 per year for 4 years and there are two for the B For Sc and two for the BE(Hons) degrees. The link for further information and application details can be found here. Applications close on 31 August.
The second scholarship is administered by the School of Forestry and is open to students commencing the B For Sc (two awards) and 1st Pro Year of the BE(Hons) Forest Engineering degrees. The awards are valued at NZ$10,000 each. Closing date for this scholarship is 15 August. The web link for information on this scholarship can be found here.
Taxpayers could be left holding carbon billOwners of post-1989 forests in New Zealand due for harvest might be tempted to arbitrage carbon credits, leaving taxpayers with the bill and driving liquidity out of the carbon market. Spot NZUs are currently sitting just below the Government’s $25 price cap and are well short of the $200 the Productivity Commission says is needed to drive decarbonisation of the economy.
That means that anyone with a current carbon liability – such as the owners of production forests that are being harvested – could be tempted to pay the Government $25 a tonne and sit on any credits they are holding in the expectation they will increase hugely in price. Under the Emissions Trading Scheme’s current rules, emitters can either surrender a carbon credit or pay the Government $25 for every tonne of liable emissions, a policy introduced by the National Government in 2009.
In February, Motu Research policy fellow Catherine Leining warned the current Government that with spot NZUs sitting at $21.50, it needed to lift the cap or risk incurring a large carbon debt for taxpayers as emitters started arbitraging.
“As the price approaches that $25 threshold, to me there’s a clear incentive for participants receiving NZUs to just hold those NZUs and buy out their obligation at $25 a tonne, which places that obligation on the Government to find the emission reduction,” she told a policy forum in Wellington.
Climate minister James Shaw acknowledged that risk, but said he was unlikely to move on the cap until next year. “I recognise that if the NZ ETS participants use the $25 fixed-price option extensively, it could shift some of the cost of meeting our 2030 emission reduction target from emitters on to the Government, and therefore taxpayers,” he told Carbon News in March.
Under the Emissions Trading Scheme, forests planted after 1989 are eligible for carbon credits in recognition of the carbon they store. However, when the trees are harvested, they incur a carbon liability. Many of those forests are now coming up for harvest. Forest Owners’ Association president Peter Weir says that with spot NZUs now at $23, it could be tempting for the owners of those forests to arbitrage in the expectation of selling their credits for much more in the future. “Why would you surrender your NZUs which are likely to be worth 10 times as much in five or 10 years’ time, when you can just pay the Government $25 a tonne and keep them?” he said.
Production radiata pine forests are usually harvested when the trees are 25 to 30 years old. Weir says he expects large areas of post-1989 forests to go under the axe soon. “Forests that were planted in the mid-90s are due to be harvested around 2020,” he said. “The timber market is at a 25-year high, and the only constraint on harvest is a shortage of contractors.”
The arbitrage opportunity applies also to some of New Zealand’s largest industrial emitters, who can apply for free carbon credits from the Government to cover up to 90 per cent of their carbon liabilities. In 2011, a review of the ETS, led by former Cabinet Minister David Caygill, recommended the price cap be lifted by $5 a year, starting at $30 a tonne in 2013 and reaching $50 a tonne in 2017.
The 2015 review of the scheme said that the $25 cap would not be appropriate for the 2020s, and in November Shaw told Carbon News that he thinks carbon prices need to be higher than $25. He recently said that consultation on the next review of the ETS would start within a month.
Source: Carbon News 2018
Buy and Sell
... and one to end the week on ... the tartan wedding
Two Scots, Archie and Jock, are sitting in the pub discussing Jock's forthcoming wedding.
And on that note, enjoy your weekend. Cheers.
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