High Tech on Display at Wood Tech

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Wood Tech show enjoys 10% increase in participation.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The economy — including the lumber industry — is not going great guns right now, and this year’s Wood Technology Clinic and Show seemed a bit quieter.

The opening of the trade show earlier this year coincided with the first day of the invasion of Iraq by U.S. and its coalition of military forces, and many initially were preoccupied with the war, watching television reports in the lobby of the convention center.

Generally, if a supplier does not participate in a major trade show, like Wood Tech, it may appear to be having difficulties. Leading suppliers were represented although some small companies were absent.

Nevertheless, the combined number of exhibitors and visitors increased 10% to 6,400, according to VNU Expositions, producer of the event, which is sponsored in part by the Western Wood Products Association and APA-The Engineered Wood Association. There were 51 new exhibitors. Also, visitors widely hailed the trade show a success, according to information gathered after the show by VNU Expositions.

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Touring the show and meeting old friends was as much fun as always. It took me a full day to walk the aisles.

At the risk of leaving many suppliers out ( my apologies if I missed you), here are some things I noticed in the ‘what’s new’ or ‘nearly new’ category and trends that I thought were of interest this year. One major industry trend, of course, is the ever-widening use of computers, electronic scanners and automated control systems, which can do a better job — and faster — than any mill operator, however experienced.

Automated Lumber Grading

Talking to some of the sawmillers walking around the show, I picked up on their interest in automatic grading systems. This seems to be a definite trend in the industry, and there were a few systems on display.

One all-new machine was being demonstrated by ALGIS Autograding Inc. of Burnaby, British Columbia. ALGIS stands for Automatic Lumber Grading & Inspection Systems, so this is obviously their main product.

“This is our first machine,” said Roland Kruchak of ALGIS, “and we feel it is the first fully automatic transverse grading system.” He emphasized system’s transverse layout. “It scans the boards using machine vision every 2 feet along their length on all four sides to find defects and decide the optimum grade-trim. It can process up to 200 lugs per minute.”

Lumber Size Checking

On the same general theme of quality control and grading, more companies this year exhibited size control systems. These are designed for installation at the outfeed of a canter line, board edger or similar equipment. Instead of occasional random dimension checks for target size tolerances by mill personnel, these systems work in real time, check every piece produced, and the data is captured on a computer. These systems will spot a problem immediately — even identify the reason and alert the operator or quality control personnel. Notification can be done by pager or similar alarm method.

At modern high-volume production rates, a lot of mis-sized lumber can be manufactured before a random sample check finds a problem, either under or over target sizes. Both situations cost a mill money, which a company can ill afford in these times of small profit margins.

Among the companies selling these systems are Porter Engineering, Perceptron and EB Associates Inc.

EB Associates in Enumclaw, Wash. has sold 23 systems, reported Larry Barker. “On a typical mill producing around 150 million board feet a year ( softwood ), sawing variations of 0.010-inch from target sizes can cost a mill $300,000,” he said. The company is on its third generation of software, and the system uses Hermary LRS-50 laser range sensors (as does Porter).

Perceptron, now owned by USNR, also was running a size control system at its exhibit. It was the first time they demonstrated the SeeCon system from Finland, but 70 of the systems are operational, presumably in Europe. It utilizes digital machine vision instead of laser range sensors, which seems to be another trend. Camera systems can see color variations as well as dimension. “Payback for a typical softwood mill can be from a few weeks to a few months,” said Perceptron’s Craig Sharun.

Cross-Cut Defect Optimization

Although not strictly brand new, automatic cross-cut optimization — to cut out defects before fingerjointing, for example — is becoming more common.

One of the leading suppliers of this technology, GreCon Dimter from Germany, had two optimized chop saw lines running at the show. It is now a division of Weinig, which makes moulders.

Shawn Miller of Weinig, based in Mooresville, N.C., demonstrated the automatic Opticut 350, which is controlled by a LuxScan machine vision scanner. “This optimization scanner is built in Luxembourg,” he said. “It can find defects in lumber — like knots, wane, density and color variations — and control one or more Opticut chop saws downstream.” GreCon Dimter also exhibited a simpler machine, the Opticut S50; designed for a smaller mill, it cuts out defects in boards based on manual grading crayon marks and does not require a computer.

Bar Coding

Big retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s are driving the trend of increased use of bar codes. The big retailer require lumber suppliers to attach a bar code to every piece of wood — just like everything else they sell in the stores. The trend is spreading, although at present it seems to require rather labor-intensive operations at the sawmill end of the supply chain.

Several suppliers of bar code technology exhibited at the show, including Fastik Label & Supply in Langley, British Columbia. “Most of the labeling at present is done with a pneumatic hand tool that staples the bar code label on to the end of the boards,” noted Brad Malchuk of Fastik. “Fully automatic machines have proved to be high maintenance and so far have not been very successful.”

Curve or Shape Sawing

Most industrial sawmill machinery suppliers now offer some form of curve sawing equipment, and almost all of them use horizontal arbor saws or chipping heads.

One company that takes a different approach is USNR, which displayed an impressive vertical arbor machine. “This is our second improved version of the Vertical Shape Saw (VSS) system,” said Mike Knerr, vice president and manager of the USNR Woodland, Wash. division, “and it is going to the North Florida Lumber Company. The first VSS machine has been running for some time at the Mead Lumber Company in Cottonton, Georgia.”

The USNR Vertical Shape Saw features modular construction with a pull-out sawbox. It is designed to be close-coupled behind a primary breakdown line, such as a DLI canter line. As Mike said, “There is no need to let go of the piece or turn it 90 degrees before curve sawing it, and both machine centers are run by the same operator.”

Other Things of Interest

I noticed some other machinery and equipment of interest. Tom Hermary of Hermary Opto Electronics showed off a new scanner. Hermary Opto is an innovative company and supplies scanner hardware to many well known system suppliers.

The new Hermary Opto DPS-824 scanner is a larger version of its popular LPS Laser/ Camera shape scanner. It can be mounted in multiple configurations for applications such as log bucking in order to provide a bigger scan ‘window’.

Nicholson Manufacturing exhibited a monster A8 ring debarker that is used in many high production softwood mills. (Nicholson’s A6 model is designed for debarking hardwoods.) The company has done studies that show ring debarking improves recovery, according to Nicholson’s Ed Hogarth.

“Initial price puts off many of the smaller hardwood mill owners,” said Ed, “but actual mill tests have shown recovery improvements of 8 percent or better by greatly reducing gouging or ‘barber-poling’on the outside of the logs — where the highest value lumber is.”

Perceptron displayed a system for total mill management in which all machine centers are linked to a central computer. However, machinery suppliers do not use the same protocols for computerized data collection, communications, etc. Forintek is working on this, and many manufacturers already have agreed to standardize data units and protocols.

A few smaller items I found interesting included a range of quick-change saw guides for smaller bandmills from Norpac Equipment Sales of Langley, British Columbia. Its Norguide saw guides are standard equipment on many larger bandmills with wheels 5 feet in diameter and larger. Norpac exhibited a new smaller range of guides.

Precision Bolting of Edmonton, Alberta showed an interesting way to torque up large bolts on plywood press columns and other equipment. The Superbolt Tensioner, also available from Superbolt in Carnegie, Penn., replaces a conventional large high tensile nut with a collar and ring of small jacking bolts. These can be easily tightened with a small hand torque wrench instead of having to use heavy special tools, heating and other methods. There would seem to be applications for this approach on many machines with high tension bolts that are 2 inches in diameter or bigger.

Award, Seminars

Organizers of Wood Tech presented Bob Chapman, president of Optimil Machinery, with the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his long, successful career in the sawmill machinery business.

Seminars covered a wide range of topics and were led by bright stars of the forest products industry, including Terry Brown of Oregon State University and Dean Huber of the U. S. Forest Service. The educational sessions were conducted for most of the three days of the show and covered such topics as improving kiln performance, machine vision systems, Asian markets, improving mill profits, engineered wood products, trouble-shooting fingerjointers, log supply analysis benefits, training for employees, and selling skills.