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Week of 13 Feb 2017: Rethinking local transportation needs

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While last week I was talking about long distance transportation of pulp by pipelines, let's look at what should be done locally, given the current state of technology.

In many cases, local transportation needs, say from a small warehouse at the dry end of a paper machine or pulp machine, have often been replaced with conveyor systems, some up to several miles long. Not related to our industry, a few years ago, when Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport added a fifth runway, a conveyor was constructed to span a distance of several miles to bring fill dirt to the site. This made more sense than doing the job, and adding to highway congestion, with a zillion dump trucks.

But back to the premise at hand. You may have a case on your campus where several trucks spend each shift shuttling material from one part of the site to another. You may have considered replacing this system with a conveyor.


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Not so fast. Autonomous (driverless) equipment is available today that will do the job. The beauty of a closed course at low speeds is that markers can be permanently mounted to guide the vehicles throughout their very repetitive run. They may be less expensive and more reliable than that conveyor you were thinking of installing. And they are available now, or at least by the time you finish your current capital planning cycle.

Don't think this is possible? John Deere has been sending tractors down one mile long rows within an accuracy of an inch for many years. It is just a matter of setting the appropriate local markers to triangulate the tractor's autonomous steering system. This is a much easier job than sending a truck or car down an open road where the only markers are the old human visual ones.

Where can we apply this? I have seen trucks on the docks at pulp mills in South America that do nothing all day but move loads from the warehouse to shipside where they can be picked up with cranes. No drivers needed for this application--it is completely routine and horribly repetitive.


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The same thing can be done on the other end of these pulp mills where they sit in the middle of the eucalyptus forests. Why are there still operators in the feller/bunchers? Why are there truck drivers to transport the loads of pulpwood from the forest to the mill on private roads? All of this can be delineated, staked and established now.

Closer to home in our mills here in North America, on many sites there are spotters who do nothing but pull and return trailers to a marshalling yard. They bring the trailers to a dock where they are loaded or unloaded and then return them to the yard to be picked up by over-the-road drivers. This can easily be automated now (and eliminate many human error problems).

We have had autonomous buggies inside mills and converting plants for decades--I saw my first ones over forty years ago. It is time to expand our vision, capabilities, and efficiency.

Are you ready for autonomous vehicles to be driving around your campus? Take our quiz this week.

For safety, autonomous vehicles can be safer than drivers, especially bored drivers.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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