A PhD project is set to make harvesting easier for the forestry industry

2 June 2015

Ben McGuinness
Ben McGuinness' PhD project, a seedling lifting and grading machine, looks set to make planting processes easier for the forestry industry.

A University of Waikato graduate student has devised a system that looks set to enhance forestry planting processes.

Problem-solving PhD

Ben McGuinness is studying his PhD in Mechanical Engineering in the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Originally from Gisborne, Ben says he's always enjoyed making "useful things."

One of these "useful things" includes his PhD project – a system that automates the lifting and grading process of seedlings for forestry planting by using a robotic machine.

"Lifting and grading pine seedlings with a machine poses many challenges and it's not something that's been attempted before," he says.

Interest from industry

The idea for the yet-to-be-named lifter/grader came when treestock company ArborGen needed help with the lifting and grading process of their seedlings.

"The main problem in forestry nursery processes is harvesting and grading seedlings before they're planted out – which is where the lifter/grader can come in," Ben says.

The first prototype of the machine uses two cameras to analyse a seedling, particularly its stem thickness and root structure, to then determine its viability for selling to the forestry industry.

The dibbler

ArborGen also assisted with the development of another University of Waikato agri-engineering project – the dibbler, which Ben developed with his supervisor Associate Professor Mike Duke.

ArborGen uses the dibbler to drill holes for planting pine cuttings in nursery beds. By drilling consistently deep, straight holes, the dibbler has helped improve treestock productivity by about 30%.

With a solution for planting seedlings now successfully implemented, Ben hopes the lifter/grader will work alongside the dibbler to improve forestry nursery processes.

The machine will likely be ready for market in a couple of years, and is being supported by Callaghan Innovation funding in partnership with ArborGen and the University of Waikato.

Exhibiting at Fieldays

The lifter/grader will be on show at the University of Waikato's Premier Feature stand at the National Agricultural Fieldays at Mystery Creek, 10-13 June. 

For more information on the University of Waikato's involvement at Fieldays, Click here

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