Innovative start-up Wood Engineering Technology (WET) is making glue-laminated beams that are much lighter, straighter and stronger than conventional milled timber, and are a less costly, more sustainable alternative to steel and concrete for commercial and residential construction. WET’s patented “optimised engineered lumber” (OEL™) system is also a significant advance on older forms of timber lamination.
WET New Zealand Chief Executive Shaun Bosson says OEL™ is a potential game changer for forest processing here and globally because of its improved product quality, its utilisation of lower-grade logs until now rejected for construction, and its commercial and environmental advantages. “We need to make far more use of wood in commercial and residential building given its renewability and lower carbon footprint … OEL™ is a huge step in that direction,” Mr Bosson says.
WET has been producing OEL™ beams at a demonstration plant in Gisborne since April last year, with its system being fine-tuned before output is scaled up and more plants built in other forestry regions. “We want to identify all the issues at an early stage so our system and the quality of production can be optimised at least cost in time and money,” Mr Bosson says.
This approach reflects the innovativeness of both WET’s product and its production technology. Logs of all shapes and sizes are broken down and re-assembled with precision to achieve weight, uniformity and strength characteristics that are unrivalled in other wood products. The Gisborne plant has over 2,500 sensors, scanners and cameras that capture the critical attributes of the wood at each stage, along with huge data processing capabilities which drive automated decision-making and robotic manipulation of logs, timber fragments and finished beams.
In fact, Mr Bosson says, WET is as much a technology company as it is a forestry processor – one of New Zealand’s first working examples of Industry 4.0.
“There are huge data and automation challenges when you’re cutting logs into thousands of small pieces that are going to be re-assembled in an optimal way ... we need to understand the characteristics of all that material throughout the process and determine how it’ll contribute to a finished product with the specifications we’re pursuing. That just isn’t possible without digital technologies,
“We’ve taken the best digital technology available, often found in other industries, improved on it where we can, and imported it into a wood processing environment,” Mr Bosson says. “How we identify objects and materials within our processes is critical … identification is a foundational element in our data harvesting and analysis.”