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Operation deployment of robotics in Australasian mills

7 May 2020

An exciting new format for dry-mill and wood manufacturing operations has been set up by the local industry. This has been to ensure that the two-yearly WoodTECH series, originally scheduled to be run in New Zealand and Australia in August, can be run this year. A series of short 60-90-minute interactive webinars have been set up and will be run between 13-24 July 2020. Information and details on the series of WoodTECH 2020 webinars can be seen on the event website.

As well as highlighting a raft of disruptive technologies that are being developed and used to boost the operational performance of manufacturing operations, insights for the first time are going to be given to local wood manufacturers on the first large scale operational deployment of robotics into mills in New Zealand and Australia. Marcus Fenske, Tumbarumba Site Manager for Hyne Timber, Australia and Shaun Bosson, Chief Executive Officer of Wood Engineering Technology, New Zealand will together discuss lessons learned from installing and operating this new equipment.

The Hyne Tumbarumba sawmill robotics project is “a world first” for graded timber stacking. The team created a fully-automated timber sorting and packing production unit for the mill. The sorting and stacking of graded timber is made possible through the use of optic recognition of on-the-fly grading markings on the individual pieces of timber. Human operator’s safety is protected by world-class safety cells and sensors utilising light curtains.

Energy efficiency was also imperative in the design with advanced energy-efficient technologies employed. For examples the system automatically shuts down when timber is not coming through the production line. Lighting and motors are also energy efficient. The objective of this ground-breaking project was not simply to be a world first, its prime objective is to eliminate the injuries attained on the old manual sorting and stacking lines.

In New Zealand, Wood Engineering Technology’s (WET) plant in Gisborne incorporates Industry 4.0 principles including automation, data-driven decision-making and real-time analytics fed by well over 2000 sensor inputs and outputs.

Auckland and Gisborne-based Wood Engineering Technology (WET) which, after 15 years of R&D, has mastered how to do it using a data-driven end-to-end automation process. WET has a patented method of creating glue-laminated timber, or ‘glulam’, which consists of pieces of wood stuck together with a moisture-resistant adhesive.

The approach and technology underpinning WET’s innovation fit under the broad umbrella of “Industry 4.0”, which uses interconnected sensors, artificial intelligence and robotics to digitise manufacturing for greater productivity and better products. It is the optimisation of the disassembly and reassembly process that gives WET its innovation edge.

The result? Intelligent systems that might be more typically associated with automobile or electronics factories than with wood manufacturing operations. The plant is equipped with laser sensors, cameras and mechanical stress-testing devices to analyse the quality of the wood and monitor it as it passes through the different phases of production. The factory has been described as an outstanding example of an Industry 4.0 installation in New Zealand, proving the economic and technical advantages of this new approach.

The 60-minute webinar aimed at local wood products and manufacturing companies is planned for Wednesday 15 July. If wanting to hear more about these Australasian firsts, integrating robotics and automation into local manufacturing operations, you can register on line here.

Photo: Hyne Timber

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