Stockpile volume measurement in forestry

How Idaho Forest Group cut stockpile measurement time by 80% [ROI study]

Idaho Forest Group comprises six massive lumber yards that process 1 billion board feet (2.5 million cubic meters) of high-quality wood per year for buyers around the world. They’ve so far purchased six WingtraOne mapping drones, which stockpile survey log decks and wood residual piles on their yards in Idaho and Montana.

The WingtraOne fleet gathers high-accuracy data in a fraction of the time it took with their Phantom 4 drones (see below graphic). Lumberyard managers are so impressed by the savings in time and money, that they’re now running drone forestry test flights. They aim to expand the WingtraOne fleet and get better ROI on these larger surveys.

Surveying wood stockpiles on large areas, fast, with higher accuracy and with limited space to take-off and land

We don’t think we’d be really happy to fly Phantom 4 if we had to collect data on 600 acres. Compare this to Wingtra, where that would be a one-day mission.

Aaron Fisher
Technology and Project Manager, Idaho Forest Group 

Lumberyard surveys before and after Wingtra

Terrestrial survey methods


DJI Phantom 4

2 hours needed for stockpile survey with multicopter drone
2+ flights


1 flight

Both drones are a major improvement on terrestrial methods. With Phantom 4, each flight resulted in 100 to 200 images and each survey required at least one battery change, while WingtraOne completes an entire 400 to 500 image survey in just 35 minutes, setup and flight time combined.

Idaho Forest Group team with WingtraOne drone

The best of both drone worlds

Fisher oversaw the first drone purchases for Idaho Forest Group almost three years ago. On a limited budget, the group bought a few Phantom 4s, which saved time and offered better stockpile volume accuracy than walking around with tape measures. The only drawback was the coverage. So they soon started shopping for an “industry standard drone with a longer flight time and better sensors.”

“We actually have an eBee that an engineer grabbed before I came online,” said Fisher. “But managers can attest that our logyards are sometimes really hard places to get a nice, perfect landing strip. The ability to hover is one of the biggest things that we have with those Phantom 4s.”

So we got the best of both worlds when we purchased the WingtraOne—fixed-wing performance plus rotary landing capabilities.

Aaron Fisher
Technology and Project Manager, Idaho Forest Group

Faster stockpile survey, less man hours

For a typical lumberyard survey, Idaho Forest Group logyard lead Ryan Jones said he flies the WingtraOne with the Sony QX1 payload, covering 80 acres (32.3 ha) in 17 minutes. This happens once or twice a week. Faster surveys are better, since equipment and stockpiles are constantly moving around the logyards.

Jones said WingtraOne takes only about 25 percent of the time it took with the Phantom 4 and about nine percent of the time it took him on foot to complete these volume surveys. Unlike other stockpile measuring methods, when a WingtraOne pilot is trained, most of the process is hands-off, which means a big savings in man hours.

“At Idaho Forest Group, we wear a lot of hats. Ryan is in charge of anything from incoming logs to having a debarked block processed by the sawmill. There are a lot of steps in between. So he’s a very busy guy.” said Fischer.

Wood stockpile measurement with pix4d
A Pix4D reconstruction of WingtraOne stockpile survey data collected on an Idaho Forest Group yard. The group has dedicated servers to manage weekly surveys across their sites.

It’s a time saver that Ryan can go fly his Wingtra and throw the data into Pix4D, which runs in the background. This is a really big thing for us.

Aaron Fisher
Technology and Project Manager, Idaho Forest Group

Wood stockpile
Improving log stockpile accuracy by just a couple of inches can mean reducing more than a million board feet in errors resulting in thousands of dollars of estimated profit.

Better stockpile volume ROI

Estimating stockpile volumes for lumber will always present inaccuracy because of the differing spaces within the log decks. That’s why it’s crucial that managers get the most precise volume measurement possible for a wood stockpile. And this is one of the ways drone photogrammetry really delivers on ROI.

In fact, Fisher said before drone stockpile survey technology, lumberyard surveyors were allowed a 10 percent error due to the space and bark around logs. Measuring drone data against the final product volumes, he said this gap of error has narrowed significantly. WingtraOne pushes this a step further by providing best-in-class accuracy and thus allows for even more exact stockpile volume monitoring.

“We have a lot of logs sitting under our cranes,” Fisher said. “And that’s millions of dollars in inventory. So if you are off by a small amount on the bottom of a log deck, the margin of error is substantial. We use a board foot calculator [for volume], and you could be off by a million or two million board feet if you have a log deck a quarter of a mile long and are off by a couple inches.”

Lumberyard surveys before and after Wingtra

Saved time

per week
per year

Saved money (payroll)

per week
per year

Accuracy (profits)

Significantly higher accuracy for log deck volume estimates

All estimates are based on conservative calculations. Time is based on eight surveys a week compared with terrestrial methods. Drone ROI is based on hourly wage figures from the Idaho Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The power of excellent drone support

Idaho Forest Group offers pilots a two-day training on the WingtraOne.* After this training, they’re confident to conduct weekly or bi-weekly stockpile surveys. Fisher said the support from Wingtra’s partner, RDO Integrated Controls, has been key to implementing their program.

“We’ve partnered with RDO for many reasons. Their product support, continued training of our pilots, and geographic location related to our logyards is a great benefit to our drone program,” said Fisher. “Ryan and another member of our drone program are taking on key rolls, working to ensure best practices are shared across mills so that the pilots can help themselves.”

The Idaho Forest Group mills are spread out beyond easy driving distance. So the teams meet at least once a year to share updates on drone best practices, Fisher said. This regular knowledge transfer will be a big help as Idaho Forest Group trusts more of its operations to the WingtraOne.

* All pilots at Idaho Forest Group have their commercial flying license, required by US law and administered by the FAA.

RDO with Idaho Forest Group team
Left to right: Jones, RDO Lead Mapping Product Specialist Bill Edmonson, and Fisher unboxing the WingtraOne.

The support from Wingtra’s partner, RDO Integrated Controls, has been key to implementing their program.

Scaling up for broader coverage

With the lumberyard operations up and running, the Idaho Forest Group is now looking to expand their WingtraOne fleet to survey the forests, from which their stocks are sourced.

“I’ve started a pilot program to work with our resource team. That’s how we’ll start increasing the mission size of our Wingtras substantially,” Fisher said. “If we go out with a forester, outside of the mill, I usually borrow someone’s WingtraOne for a day. We can fly 800-900, even a thousand, acres in one day. Then we get to 2000-3000 images, depending on the level of complexity and detail that we want.”

These kinds of projects require take-off and landing amidst tree stands, wide coverage, and dependably accurate image results. The VTOL and fixed-wing capabilities of WingtraOne are proving that this not only possible, but also a great ROI in ways site managers may not have imagined. Idaho Forest Group is taking full advantage, as Fisher noted:

We’re flying the heck out of your big orange drones.

Aaron Fisher
Technology and Project Manager, Idaho Forest Group

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