Friday Offcuts – 3 February 2023

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What’s that saying about the canary in the coalmine? It’s an indicator or warning to changes up ahead. The mining industry has been at the forefront in developing and adopting a raft of major new technologies. Automation of their vehicle fleet, truck platooning, autonomous processing, the development of advanced information and communication technologies and remote management of their mining operations. It’s been years ahead of other industries. The forest products industry is learning, trialling and now adopting much of this early innovation designed, developed and adopted by Australian mining companies.

In vehicle fleet technologies, the roll out of electric fuel technology has already been well covered in this newsletter. In July 2022, the world’s first electric timber truck with a capacity of 80 tonnes was delivered to Swedish company, SCA. It’s operational. In October, Fennell Forestry, a Mount Gambier based harvest and haulage company commissioned the world’s second ever electric log truck converting their once diesel- powered prime mover to a fully electric battery operating system. These conversions and results from early operations of log cartage across South Australia are going to be presented for the first time as part of this year’s major Wood Transport & Logistics 2023 event in May.

We also reported late last year that 60 medium duty electric trucks from Volvo Trucks and Daimler Fuso had been ordered, part of an AU$44 million project representing the largest ever electric truck trial in Australia, if not the world. Again, leading the charge for major change is the Australian mining industry that has announced an AU$1 billion deal that’s going to see 8,500 Toyota Hilux and Land Cruiser vehicles converted to electric. The switch is happening right now and the speed of conversion is remarkable.

Talking about new innovations, you may well have picked up on another disruptive technology taking the world by storm right now, ChatGPT. It’s a new artificial intelligence programme. It's being described by some as "the internet on steroids". The impact globally is going to be immense – programming, interaction with machines, business to business communications, data analyses ... It’s also got to be taken pretty seriously with Microsoft making a “multiyear, multi-billion dollar investment” in the artificial intelligence start-up OpenAI that’s reportedly worth US$10 billion. We’ve built in a couple of videos this week for you to get a much better feel for the new technology.

And finally, our thoughts this week are with those that have been impacted by heavy rain along with significant flooding that occurred around Auckland and the top of the North Island over this last week or so. Many forestry businesses have been impacted, with some Tairāwhiti contractors unable to work due to road closures, and Central North Island and Northland businesses facing ongoing flooding. For those outside New Zealand, Auckland Airport last Friday broke its record for the wettest 24-hour period with 249 mm of rain falling. In fact, it achieved its annual January rainfall in less than one hour. The clean-up continues and the impact of this adverse weather event is going to be felt by many for many months ahead.

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Council responds to community petition

A petition calling for a stop to the ongoing environmental disaster in Tairāwhiti (East Coast of the North Island, New Zealand) following ex-tropical Cyclone Hale was presented at a Council meeting late last week with a total of 8,500 signatures. On Friday morning the petition had increased to almost 9000 signatures.

The petition calls for an independent inquiry into the regulations for land use in Tairāwhiti, prioritising a review of Council land use rules and, among other issues, requests the establishment of a ministerial group to support the development, implementation and monitoring of a regional Just Transition Plan for the region.

Mayor Rehette Stoltz says Council supports the concerns of the community and those who have signed the petition. “We want to acknowledge the financial as well as emotional impact log waste has on our whole community. As a community, we need to have discussions around how we will operate differently. We have heard your concerns and now we need to work alongside each other to leave a better legacy for our children and the community of Tairāwhiti.”

Mayor Stoltz says the petition highlighted several issues Council is already aware of regarding land use in the region. It’s a complex situation that needs support and commitment from across Tairāwhiti alongside central government in order to make the kind of transformational change that’s needed.”

“Regarding the establishment of an independent inquiry it will be essential to have Central government support and commitment as it’s unlikely Council will have the necessary regulatory levers and financial capacity to deliver on recommendations that might come from it” says Mayor Stoltz.

Council chief Executive Nedine Thatcher Swann says there is also potential to establish greater controls on land use on steep, erosion-prone land. “This might entail restricting certain land uses (such as plantation forestry) on high-risk land or restricting how much of an area or catchment can be harvested within a set time period. We could also potentially require bonds or financial contributions for higher-risk land use activities. The details of all this would need to be worked through with Council and stakeholders.”

Ms Thatcher Swann says new approaches to land-use could also be explored through the development of the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) which will be required by the new Spatial Planning Bill currently being considered by Select Committee. Other organisations such as Federated Farmers, Eastland Wood Council and Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust have also backed the calls of the petition presented by Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti.

Source: Gisborne District Council

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Pilotless planes to fight bushfires

A New Zealand aviation technology company is developing pilotless planes to fight bushfires from the skies.

Canterbury-based Skybase is converting aircraft to fly remotely in a world-leading move designed to revolutionise firefighting. It involves putting high-tech artificial-intelligence computer systems inside Kiwi-made Fletcher top-dressing planes and keeping pilots safely behind computer screens on the ground.

The move will mean when conditions - such as poor weather, fading light or firefighter fatigue - ground planes and helicopters, the converted drone aircraft can still take to the air and drop vast litres of water and fire retardant on flames and hotspots.

In a New Zealand-first, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) granted Skybase certification in May 2022 to carry out remotely operated test flights on the condition a pilot was on board. “That was a key moment for aviation in New Zealand,” said Skybase founder Michael Read.

The company, which was founded in Christchurch in 2017, has been testing the technology out of Rangiora airfield, 30km north of the city. Its long-term vision is for the aircraft to be completely autonomous. But for now, they are reliant on pilots to supervise and step in when needed.

The remote pilot on the ground has to be qualified in the New Zealand-made Pacific Aerospace Fletcher - often described as a “workhorse” utility plane - but can be based anywhere in the world. Pilots fly as if they’re inside the cockpit, talking to air traffic control, and watching several monitors.

“You’re doing everything from the ground that you would do from the air,” said Read, a former Royal Australian Airforce pilot. The ground technology is connected to the aircraft through several communication modes, including tracking antennae, satellite and mobile phone network. And the development of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet constellation could prove a “gamechanger” in the future.

Read envisages the flight autonomy upgrade system for existing aircraft, dubbed SOFI, also becoming useful for other sectors, including agriculture, mapping, surveillance, cargo operations, first responders, medevac missions and natural disaster responses.

The plane can carry 1500kg and could air-drop emergency supplies after floods or cyclones and in weather deemed too dangerous for manned planes. “There are a lot of reasons to do this technology other than aerial firefighting,” Read said. “But right now, that is the focus because [fires] are extremely dangerous and increasingly prevalent.” Skybase expects SOFI units to be rolled out commercially in 2024.

More >>

Source: NZ Herald

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AU$1b deal to electrify 8500 Toyotas for mining

SEA Electric has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with systems integrator MEVCO, which specialises in battery electric light commercial vehicles, to provide electric Toyota Hilux and Land Cruiser models for the mining industry. Under the deal valued at nearly AU$1 billion, MEVCO will commit to order 8500 units during the next five years.

More than half of the 2023 allocation of the Australian-developed BEVs have been pre-sold, with demonstration models available in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. SEA Electric’s proprietary SEA-Drive power-system is included, with zero local emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, or nitrous oxide.

Thanks to its medium‐voltage architecture and electronic thermal management, SEA Electric’s solution is light, cost‐effective, and efficient, with the system tested in the field across eight countries with over 2.5 million kilometres of real-world use registered to date, SEA Electric explains.

Available in various mining-specific designs for 4×4 and 4×2 configurations, the vehicles can be specified with two SEA-Drive options – an 88kWh battery providing 380km range, or a 60kWh battery for 260km of use. Fast DC to DC charging is available for the system, which provides up to 80% battery power in less than an hour, with a five-year factory warranty on the batteries supplied.

MEVCO is a portfolio company of RCF Jolimont – the innovation fund of Resource Capital Funds, one of the largest private equity managers in the world focused on mining. “This is a pivotal partnership for the mining industry,” says MEVCO chief executive Matt Cahir.

“It enables the world’s leading EV technology for heavy and light commercial trucks to be commercialised on a scale that makes sense for the bespoke needs of the mining sector. SEA Electric’s unique architecture is perfectly suited for the task, with the system’s high-torque characteristics ideally fit for purpose.”

For SEA Electric, it’s the logical next step in the company’s expansion in the commercial vehicle space, opening up possibilities for the technology on a global scale for a wide variety of applications. “This deal is a significant step forward in Australia and shows just what is possible when it comes to electrifying the world’s fleets.”

Source: Transport Talk, SEA Electric

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ChatGPT and AI will disrupt these industries

ChatGPT is the world’s most powerful AI chatbot. It offers a human-like alternative to search engines and can do everything from compile a menu to writing a TV script to explaining quantum physics.

In a local NZ newspaper last week, Universities were stressing out on how they’re going to resolve the issue of assignments or essays being produced on demand. Students can freely access this new chatbot software.

From the article, “the Otago business school dean said that ChatGPT delivered "fairly extraordinary" results when he asked it to create a 12-week course outline with a week-by-week list of lectures. After typing in what he wanted, the task, which would usually take him several hours, was completed in just three seconds. He then asked it to produce a 1500-word essay, which took slightly longer — about five seconds”.

Could it also transform the jobs of hundreds of millions of people? Find out more if interested from the two clips below.

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Parkside announces closure of Manjimup mill

West Australia's timber towns have been left ''stunned' by the speed at which the industry is shedding workers ahead of a looming ban on the widespread logging of native forests. More than 20 workers at Parkside Timber's multi-million-dollar dry mill, which processes timber in Manjimup, are set to be out of work when it closes on Friday.

It comes two weeks after 45 workers lost their jobs when Parkside closed its Nannup mill. The ABC understands the Queensland company has made the decision that the mills are no longer viable as the state government moves to shut down the native timber industry by next year.

The Shire of Manjimup had hoped Parkside would keep processing timber for another two years. Shire President Paul Omodei says his heart goes out to the workers.

Mr Omodei, a former Liberal leader, took aim at the government for driving the decision. "This is what happens when governments make political decisions about sustainable industry," he said. "The timber industry is one of the original industries in the state. For the government to do what they've done, without a social and economic impact study, is an absolute disgrace."

WA Forestry Minister Jackie Jarvis said there was on-the-ground support to workers in both Nannup and Manjimup to help mill workers with support payments and retraining.

More >>

Source: ABC

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Legal proceedings filed challenging plantation forestry

The Environmental Defence Society says that New Zealand’s National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF) are failing to protect the coastal marine environment from the significant adverse effects of sedimentation associated with plantation forest harvesting. This has been starkly apparent in Tairāwhiti, but it is a nationwide problem.

“The NES-PF permits harvesting and associated earthworks of plantation forestry on erosion prone land. We have filed legal declarations in the Environment Court challenging the lawfulness of that regime, which we consider is a breach of the Resource Management Act 1991,” says EDS CEO Gary Taylor.

“A major cause of marine sediment is from harvesting activities undertaken by plantation forestry operations. This is particularly so during the approximately 7 year ‘window of vulnerability’ post clear fell harvesting on high erosion risk land.

“During and after high rainfall events, which are becoming more regular, steep land that has recently been harvested is more susceptible to landslide and erosion. This generates sediment that runs off into the receiving marine environment, smothering aquatic life. In the Marlborough Sounds, this pollution is resulting in significant adverse effects on marine flora and fauna.

“The Government is currently reviewing the NES-PF to address permanent exotic carbon forests, but the permissive regime for harvesting is outside the terms of reference. This makes no sense. The NES-PF is not fit-for-purpose for managing plantation forestry harvesting activities, especially in this climate-changing world which is set to deliver bigger and more frequent storms.

“It’s time for the plantation forestry sector to start internalising the costs of its significant adverse effects, instead of making downstream communities and environments pay,” Mr Taylor concluded.

Donations to the cause are currently also being welcomed by the EDS.

Source: Environmental Defence Society

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Waratah marks 50th anniversary

Waratah Forestry Equipment is celebrating 50 years of innovation within the forestry industry and thanking its customers for decades of trust and loyalty to the brand.

“We’re proud to celebrate our 50th anniversary this year thanks to our loyal customers and dedicated team members across the globe,” said Heather Robinson, general manager of worldwide distribution at Waratah. “It’s exciting, because we are in a unique position to offer our customers experience, expertise and innovation.”

Established in 1973 in Tokoroa, New Zealand, the company manufactured a delimber-feller-buncher with a four-roller fixed head to meet local loggers’ heavy-duty delimbing needs. Following that innovation, a red grapple processor manufactured for the Canadian markets marked the start of the 600 Series line. It cemented Waratah’s place as the original red head in the industry.

Today, Waratah’s full line of harvesting, processing and felling heads are used in a variety of logging applications from cut-to-length hardwood harvesting at the stump, to processing on a landing, felling on steep slopes or debarking on plantations.

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Source & Photo: Waratah

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Consultation: FSC National Risk Assessment for Australia

FSC ANZ is inviting all its stakeholders to participate in the public consultation on its revised National Risk Assessment (NRA) for Australia.

FSC ANZ CEO Melanie Robertson explains that: “FSC ANZ is undertaking an unscheduled revision of our National Risk Assessment to ensure the FSC Controlled Wood system continues to be properly implemented in Australia”. The NRA is used by FSC Controlled Wood/Chain of Custody certificate holders to control uncertified materials from Australia so that those materials may be mixed with FSC-certified materials and used in products that carry the FSC Mix label.

Melanie Robertson underlines that: “The strength, value, and quality of FSC’s normative documents are built on the active engagement of our stakeholders in their development and revision to ensure they are fit for purpose. We encourage all interested economic, environmental, and social stakeholders to participate in the consultation to ensure the changes proposed to the NRA are clear, auditable, and reasonable.”

The revision was prompted by the uplisting of the east coast koala and the southern and central greater glider from vulnerable to endangered under the EPBC Act and a suite of recommendations provided by FSC’s assurance services provider, Assurance Services International (ASI), following an investigation in Australia.”

To assist in the revision of the NRA, the FSC ANZ Board established a chamber-balanced NRA Advisory Working Group tasked with proposing a draft of the revised NRA to the Board. Through constructive and careful deliberations, the Working Group recently reached consensus around a draft version of the revised NRA.

States Melanie Robertson: “FSC ANZ now invites all interested stakeholders to participate and provide their input to the proposed revisions to help ensure they are understandable, auditable, and reasonable.” The consultation runs from 21st December to 19th February.

The consultation material and information on how to participate can be accessed via the FSC ANZ website here. If you do not already have an FSC Consultations Platform account, you must register first before gaining access and participating.

Source: FSC ANZ

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Notaras & Sons business being sold

After more than 70 years supplying quality hardwood timber and timber products, the Board of J Notaras and Sons is pleased to advise that the northern NSW business will be continuing its strong legacy and commitment to the family-owned service ethic and outstanding quality its customers have come to admire and respect under the direction of the Marshall family.

Completion of the transaction, which includes land, buildings, equipment and all business assets is subject to the fulfilment of essential conditions precedent including the assignment of the Wood Supply Agreements with Forestry NSW to the purchaser.

J. Notaras & Sons was founded in Grafton by two brothers – Lambrinos (Brinos) and Spiro Notaras – in 1952 and has continuously operated since then under the ownership of the Notaras family. J Notaras & Sons has been a significant long-term employer and contributor to the Grafton and Clarence Valley community, as well as a strong sustainability advocate for the timber industry. Marshall’s Timbers is a family-owned business, operating for over 60 years and are Newcastle’s largest supplier of timber and timber products.

Paul Marshall, representing the Marshalls group who are purchasing J Notaras & Sons said “We welcome the opportunity to continue and grow the specialised timber production business started by Brinos and Spiro Notaras in Grafton over 70 years ago.

Donna Layton, General Manager J Notaras & Sons said, “I have mixed emotions, after working for the Notaras family for 45 years it is hard to say goodbye. However, I am excited that the Marshall family, as the new owners, will continue to keep the business operating with the existing staff and the same commitment that family businesses have. Their enthusiasm to continue and grow the business into the future is great news for everyone concerned, including our community which the Marshall family will continue to support”.

The transaction is expected to close within six weeks of fulfilment of essential conditions precedent, with all employees to be retained by the new ownership structure.

Source: ARR News, Photo: J. Notaras & Son

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Robot dogs making construction sites smarter

Hanhwa Engineering and Construction (Hanhwa E&C) is rethinking how it approaches construction projects by deploying the latest innovative smart construction technology.

“We are currently utilizing robot dogs with 3-D scanners as well as augmented reality (AR) technology for the construction project in Seoul Station,” said Hanwha E&C CEO Kim Seung-mo.

The multi-complex construction project is a large scale innovation intended to transform unused railroad sites in the northern part of Seoul Station into a dynamic area with countless facilities such as commercial and cultural complexes. This scheme is worth approximately 2 trillion won ($1.4 billion) and is expected to become the COEX of northern Seoul.

One of the smart construction technology systems being used at the site is a robot dog that walks on four legs. This smart device assists workers by accumulating and processing required data via a 3-D scanner. The robot is also able to scan places that might be too dangerous for human workers. Hanhwa E&C demonstrated its smart technology at the construction site late last year.

The company equipped Boston Dynamics’ robot Spot with Trimble’s X7, a 3-D laser scanner model, allowing the robot to calculate elevation levels and the volume of earth in the terrain. Hanhwa E&C plans to utilize the figures when displacing nearby buildings during construction.

“The inventive technique removes the burden of workers who have to physically move around 3-D scanners and tripods in harsh weather conditions,” said a Hanhwa E&C official. “There existed many practice tests using robot dogs, but this is our first practical deployment on an actual construction site, which adds to the project’s significance.”

Hanhwa E&C additionally displayed its AR technology based on a global navigation satellite system in the demonstration. Workers identified the site by observing the building information modelling (BIM), a virtual imitation of the actual area. With a simple tap on their cell phones, workers could assess the terrain boundaries, view the blueprints and establish construction plans.

More >>

Source: koreajoongangdaily

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Gaia AI raises US$3M for forest data collection service

Gaia AI has secured a US$3M Pre-Seed to automate the collection of forestry data, verify carbon credits, and build a data platform that empowers foresters to make the best financial and ecological decisions for their forests. This round was led by E14 with participation from Ubiquity Ventures, Space Capital, and SOSV’s HAX.

Gaia AI is adapting LiDAR and computer vision hardware/software from the autonomous vehicle industry into a mobile tool for foresters to automate the collection of high quality below canopy data in forests. Foresters wear Gaia AI’s sensor backpack as they walk through their forests and the backpack automatically collects and characterizes the width, height, species, and density of trees in the forest. This data is combined with existing above canopy data streams on Gaia AI’s cloud platform to give foresters the most accurate depiction of the current state of their forests.

By combining existing data streams and empowering foresters with new tools for data collection, Gaia AI is not only accelerating the data collection processes by over 100x, but also allowing foresters to make the best financial and environmental decisions for how to best manage their land. The forestry industry has recently seen a significant amount of interest from SaaS startups, which have turned to available satellite data to provide additional value to foresters. These collection methodologies lack crucial below canopy data points which provide the most accurate information on a forest. By combining the two, satellite imagery and scaled data collection below the canopy, Gaia AI can unlock the full potential of satellite imagery by using below canopy data as training data for machine learning models.

“Satellites provide a powerful tool for collecting data and understanding our world on a global scale. But satellites have a number of limitations and benefit greatly from complementary data collected by ground sensors. Gaia AI is building a proprietary platform to collect, process, and analyze under-canopy data while leveraging the best in next-generation satellite capabilities” said Justus Kilian, Partner at Space Capital.

This round of investment will be used to expand Gaia AI’s team, deploy their product in pilots with some of the largest timber companies in the world, and add more functionality to their data platform. “We recognize the value and expertise that foresters bring to the forest. Our automated data collection process adds to foresters' existing skill set by seamlessly integrating into their existing workflows. By augmenting a forester's capabilities we are able to help the experts, foresters, make data driven decisions that optimize both carbon impact and financial bottom line” said Peter McHale, Co-Founder and CEO of Gaia AI.

Source: Gaia AI

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Tarpeena mill expansion on track for September

A small town in South Australia's far east has been chosen as the site for an Australian timber industry first that will provide dozens of extra jobs for a community which has been doing it tough.

An AU$90-million expansion of Timberlink's Tarpeena mill will add an AU$63-million manufacturing plant producing cross laminated timber (CLT) and glue laminated timber (GLT) for the construction industry.

Timberlink general manager of sales, marketing and corporate affairs David Oliver said the "enthusiastic and growing" uptake of the products by the construction industry was a "firm nod to moving into a sustainable future", with timber "the ultimate sustainable resource". The manufacturing facility used local timber from Green Triangle pine plantations, processed at Timberlink's adjoining mill.

"It's the only combined radiata pine facility to produce CLT and GLT in Australia," Mr Oliver said. He said the project – which attracted a AU$2-million co-investment from the South Australian government – used local contractors "wherever possible" and was set to be operational in September this year.

More >>

Source: ABC

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Buy and Sell

... and some to end the week on ...

On that note, enjoy your weekend. Cheers.

Brent Apthorp
Editor, Friday Offcuts
PO Box 904, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand
Tel: +64 3 470 1902
Mob: +64 21 227 5177


John Stulen
PO Box 1230, Rotorua, 3040
Tel: +64 7 921 1381
Mob: +64 27 275 8011

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