Pulp and Paper Canada

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How to use satellite communications to strengthen forestry supply chains

Smart satellite communications solutions can bridge the gap when forestry supply chains are disrupted


July 3, 2020
By Fintan Robb

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Circular economyPhoto: Adobe Stock

In the midst of disrupted supply chains and unforeseen logistics challenges facing the pulp and paper industry, maintaining mission-critical and productive operations has never been more challenging.

As a result, many companies are deploying updated or new communications strategies to ensure business continuity and maintain critical connections for workers and assets from the forestry supply chain to the pulp and paper mill.

With key parts of these operations located beyond the reach of terrestrial or cellular networks, smart satellite communications solutions are helping bridge the gaps and build redundancy into essential operations.

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In these uncertain economic times, the need for reliable communications is paramount for successful operations. From identifying risks, potential bottlenecks and points of failure across the supply chain, companies that fall within essential service categories, including the forestry and pulp and paper sectors, must now re-examine these critical links within their operations as they put business continuity plans into action.

Without reliable communications and connectivity with workers and assets that are often located well beyond the reach of cellular networks, ensuring productive operations is a virtual impossibility.

The pulp and paper industry began the year with its own unique set of challenges, from sawmill curtailments to price pressures. Add to this the effects from the current global pandemic – increased demand for certain consumer paper products, a halt to new construction, business closures and disrupted supply chains and a volatile market – and maintaining essential operations within the forestry industry has become even more challenging.

With tight margins driving pulp and paper mill closures across North America before the pandemic hit, those remaining can’t afford any significant reduction in productivity caused by a break in any link along their critical supply chain.

Managing people and worker safety

Most resource-based companies operate within the nearly eight million square kilometres of Canada that lie beyond the reach of cellular networks.

These companies are increasingly using satellite technology such as GPS messengers to maintain reliable contact with workers. These devices not only ensure safety and reliable communications for remote workers, such as forestry workers in woodlands operations, but enable operators to map routes of travel in near real time and ensure compliance with check-in policies and lone worker regulations.

In case of an accident or injury, at the push of a button a worker’s GPS location coordinates and a request for help can be sent to emergency responders. Portable satellite data hotspots are another way that companies are maintaining communications for workers in the field.

It allows small groups to connect their Wi-Fi enabled smartphones, tablets or laptops to a satellite network for voice, text and email communications, independent of the availability of cellular networks. This ensures forestry workers can keep business moving by using their smart devices to remain connected with their supply chain partners and management, even when they are off the grid.

Real-time asset monitoring and management

Visibility into the movements of essential equipment is a crucial part of forestry operations today. Using satellite tracking devices, operators can monitor and map routes of travel and receive automated text or email alerts if geofence alarms are triggered.

With near real-time gate-to-gate knowledge of vehicle movements, mills can schedule various parts of their operations with minimal staff needed to carry out seamless operations and maximize productivity.

Using satellite geofencing, managers can also be informed when a truck might go astray, while satellite communications can quickly be used to help course correct the operator and adjust schedules on the receiving end.

Meanwhile, woodlands equipment status can be mapped with satellite location technology, providing alerts, fuel meter readings and other data to better schedule maintenance and reduce unnecessary site visits.

Business continuity and emergency preparedness

Disruptions in the forestry sector are nothing new. Forest fires or weather hazards have become common occurrences, but the current pandemic exacerbates these and puts even the best business continuity strategies to the test.

For forestry operations that encompass gaps in cellular and landline communication networks, satellite technology offers that critical last mile of connectivity to ensure seamless operations.

Importantly, satellite solutions are affordable, easy to deploy and use. The technology supports the voice, data and geolocation functionality that can be required in an emergency.

Fintan Robb is senior director of marketing for Globalstar Canada Satellite Co.