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RFID Chops Timber Costs

Using tags embedded in plastic nails, German forestry company Cambium tracks logs as they move from the forest to the factory.
By Rhea Wessel
"There were plenty of specialists for each step of the process, but DABAC needed someone who understood the forestry supply chain," he explains.

Friemel studied forestry at the university level before working in state-owned and private forests, then founding his own company. He now employs 19 people, himself included. Four employees drive trucks, and five are so-called forest engineers who have attended technical college. Another two employees are in the back office, and Friemel also employs eight forest managers with a minimum of three years of practical training. Each forest manager is responsible for implementing the 10-year plan designed for his assigned patch of land. The plans are based on statistics prepared by an outside company with data provided by the owner of a forest. Depending on the owner's goal—for example, to sustain the forest, make a profit of a specific amount or expand the forest by planting more saplings—the plans are drafted with precise details on how much can be logged of which types of wood.

With Cambium's LTS RFID system, a forest worker uses a specially designed hammer to pound into the end of a trunk a passive RFID 125 kHz inlay embedded in a plastic nail.

The Way It Was
Before the RFID system was implemented, Friemel's loggers tacked square waterproof ID labels onto the trunks of higher-quality trees such as beech, which can be used to make veneer. They then use a pen and notebook to jot down each tree's length, diameter and quality, plus the ID number on its label. For some lower-quality trees, the loggers used a neon-colored wax marker to apply a symbol directly onto the base of a trunk. For a few customers, Cambium applied a bar-code label that was then read by the sawmill upon delivery. Back at the office, all data about the trunks was entered manually into Cambium's ComForst database software, produced by Finnish company Savcor.

A few days later, log haulers would appear on the scene and drag trunks into a heap along the road. The trunks were later loaded onto a truck and delivered to customers, who noted by hand how many and what type of logs were received. The timber was then paid for based on a contract price and the quantities noted by the customer and the driver. In the event of discrepancy, Cambium would go back to the drivers and ask them to confirm the total number of logs delivered. Payment usually took between six weeks to four months.

"We always had problems matching our information with the sawmill's," Friemel says. "There always seemed to be a log missing."

Since the tacked labels or flags used by some companies could easily be lost or damaged during transport, forestry companies such as Cambium often had problems tracking exactly what was delivered to customers. Given the remote nature of the work and the long distance from a company's office to the woods, management oversight of this manual accounting was limited.

Under the old system, logs could lose about 10 to 20 percent of their value by sitting outside too long. For instance, papermakers require fresh wood that has a natural dampness, and wood used for building must retain its natural color. Long periods of storage in the forest can diminish these qualities.

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