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Isabela Rodrigues de Campos Oliveira e Bruna Dinofre

R&D and Silviculture Supervisors at Sylvamo


Direct and indirect results from the application of quality tools

The quest to maximize productivity and lower costs has been a motivation and, at the same time, one of the main challenges faced by forestry companies since the birth of the sector. Considering that the amount invested in forest management needs to be competitive, the quality in the execution of activities becomes a determining factor to achieve this combination of productivity and cost. Since the 1980s, quality practices and tools have been increasingly demanded and improved.

Whether controls, inspections or audits of operations, each company has adopted a model and a rhythm of quality application, however, all are seeking the direct and indirect benefits of this practice. In order to have greater synergy and obtain the expected results, it is essential that the vision of the quality team and the operational team are aligned. For this to happen, maintaining the quality indicators of operations must be seen as everyone's responsibility, from field workers, machine operators, to, and above all, managers.

That's why, at Sylvamo, we adopt a hybrid model of shared responsibility, where controls and audits are carried out both at an operational and strategic level. This model allows us to sample enough to validate the efficiency of operations and, above all, to make important decisions for our business.

The quality system is made up of indicators, which, in turn, come from evaluations and routine controls, mostly carried out by the operational team, which is trained and qualified for this. At a second level of control, so-called “audits” are carried out, which are more complete and individualized assessments according to each operation, which are conducted by operational leaders and validated by a team dedicated to quality. Both levels of control are based on operational procedures validated by tests or specialists in the subject that prove to be the best way to reach the “optimal-economic” of a given operation.

An important competitive advantage of having a sector dedicated to quality in the company is the global vision of the process that it provides. The quality technical team monitors nursery, silviculture and forest harvesting indicators. Following the process from seedling production to post-harvest area assessments, it is possible to relate the impacts of different indices on the quality of the forest and their reflections on the following operation.

One example is how the quality of seedlings, which can be attested through parameters such as rooting, rusticity and substrate cohesion, impacts the silvicultural operation in lower replanting rates, reduction of irrigation and forest homogeneity. Within forestry, to collect information from audits and controls in our daily activities, we use technology to our advantage.

An example of this is the comparison of the recommended dose versus the actual dose of some costly inputs for the operation, such as fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides and exact measurement of the worked area to pay service providers that telemetry provides, enabling better management of our input and service costs.

To bring agility and quick correction of deviations, our operational leaders use mobile applications, which transmit the results evaluated in the field, in real time, directly to our databases. We also use drones and unmanned aerial vehicles to check the mortality rates of seedlings 90 days after planting, check the correct spacing between plants and survey damage caused by pests, wind and other abiotic factors. This integration between quality and technology consolidates the governance of activities and accelerates more assertive decision-making.

Taking advantage of the greater frequency with which the operational teams carry out their controls, the technical teams will be able to direct their efforts towards audits, which are more relevant at that time. We can mention the checklists of machines and implements, which have the function of ascertaining whether the machines are in adequate conditions in relation to the dosage and application technology to carry out their activities and whether they pose any risk to our operators, neighboring communities, to wildlife or watercourses, and the entire surroundings are monitored indirectly. If any item on this checklist appears to be non-compliant, operational leaders have the autonomy to correct the problem in the field.

In the harvesting operation, we verify, through sampling, the average height of the stumps left after the operation, in order to verify that we are making the most of our trees within the operational limits. This impacts the best use of wood, the reduction of waste and the guarantee of supply to the factories. We also evaluate other quality and safety points, such as disposal of waste in the field so that the next operation is not impaired.

Assuming that quality tools, when well executed, reduce rework and waste, consequently, contribute to cost reduction and productivity gains in the higher yield of operations, in addition to other indirect gains, such as governance of environment policies environment and safety at work for employees involved in the forest training cycle.

We cannot fail to mention the adoption of operational procedures and the standardization of activities in indirect gains, generating a positive impact on the safety of professionals. Once we make clear the model to be followed, how and when to execute it, adoption becomes easier, more generalized and organized by the teams. This is the case with the use of specific individual protection equipment for each activity, the correct handling of tools, the proper handling of chemical products and their dosage on the package insert, among others.

After all this work in the field, databases are generated that will become dashboards for the direct management of our activities in general, facilitating decision-making. With these results, we have the practice of holding monthly follow-up meetings, in which the heads of each area participate.

These meetings help us to maintain an open channel between the operational areas and the quality teams, as we take advantage of this time to discuss opportunities for improvement together. For simpler deviations, immediate corrections are generated, and for more complex deviations, preventive or corrective action plans are generated. These plans will be monitored until their completion, seeking continuous improvement of the process.

The quality sector at Sylvamo works as a bridge between operations and the research and development sector. It is through quality assessments that we verify whether the technical recommendations resulting from the survey are feasible with the operational reality and whether the procedures are, in fact, covering all our operations. This is how we manage to support the delivery of productive forests and within the cost expected by the company.