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VTT: The sawmill of the future manufactures special products using advanced measuring technologies and control systems


The value yield of wood can be improved by 10 to 30 per cent

The products and productivity of the sawmill industry can be improved through advanced measuring technologies, control systems and self-learning systems. In the SisuPUU project, VTT developed production systems enabling more efficient and flexible methods of using diverse wood raw materials to produce special timber with specific properties. By adding services to their products, sawmills can better service to wood processing companies and enhance the efficiency of the wood conversion chain.

In the SisuPUU project, VTT created detailed models of the wood processing and delivery chain from forest to timber. These models were used to calculate, evaluate and develop process options. Modelling and simulation software can be used to determine exactly how the wood raw material can convert from trees to timber and wooden components in the most economical way. Wooden components are special timber, i.e. timber with precisely specified properties. For example, a piece of wood used for such a purpose must be completely knotless, or have a knot incidence within specified limits. Also, wooden components are usually much smaller than pieces of timber; there are also specifications for knot structure in ordinary timber.

The project results show that there is scope for considerably better exploitation of the wood material and its quality properties in production. Product quality could also be improved, and special products could be manufactured instead of standard ones. Process re-engineering can yield a considerably improved financial performance. In fact, the value yield of wood could be improved by 10 to 30 per cent with modern production methods.

An advanced production process requires careful measuring of the properties of wood, for example ‘X-rays’, the efficient collection of measurement data and their conversion into information that can be used for business management. Measurement data enable the allocation of incoming timber to a suitable production process at an early stage.

Professor Arto Usenius declares that the Finnish sawmill industry is a world leader in its field. “Nevertheless, we must be prepared for a shift towards the manufacture of components with a higher degree of processing. Special products can command prices many times greater than those of bulk products,” Usenius says.

Sawmills could serve wood processing companies better by adding services to their products. For instance, they could issue their customers instructions as to how and for what purpose a particular delivery should be used. An even more advanced service would be to measure the properties of the outgoing timber in detail at the sawmill, for instance the precise positions of knots or the grain pattern of the wood. The wood processing company could then use this information in its own production process as it cuts the timber up into wooden components. In other words, the wood processing company would not need to measure the timber all over again, as the producer would have tagged the timber with RFID tags, for instance, and provided the customer with a chart of the properties of the batch.

This technology improves production flexibility, as production lines can be reallocated from bulk products to special products and back again, as the market situation dictates.

Changes that improve production efficiency can generally be implemented at a relatively low cost. Indeed, optimisation of timber sorting and sawing patterns could be introduced immediately in existing processes, without any substantial new investments. The WoodCIM modelling system developed by VTT is already in use in the industry, and several new features have been added to it in the course of the SisuPUU project. New sawing methods, such as efficient through sawing, could be introduced when investments are made in new sawmill production lines. Precise measuring of the inner quality of wood still requires further research. 

The participants of the SisuPUU project coordinated by VTT and conducted between 2006 and 2009 were Stora Enso Timber, Metsäliitto Finnforest, Koskisen Oy, Heinolan Sahakoneet Oy, John Deere Forestry Oy, Mikropuu Oy, Savcor Forest Oy and WSAB Oy. The project was funded by Tekes, VTT and the participating companies.