R.I.N.G.S. Recognition, Innovation and New Grading In Sawlogs
Recognition, Innovation and New Grading In Sawlogs
The RINGS project is an E.U backed Eurostars project aimed at researching and developing a novel process which will significantly improve the yield of good quality construction timber from softwood logs. As trees grow and mature, they spawn branches. The interface between each branch and the trunk of the tree is commonly referred to as a knot.
Knots are sources of weakness within cut timber and have the potential to pop out in use. As such, any
timber lengths which have knots in them, are relegated to lower grade usage.
The prime goal of this project is to consistently and repeatedly identify all of the knots within a timber log and provide a three-dimensional image of the log as a whole. This information will be used to manipulate the log such that it is presented to the sawing station in a way which delivers the optimum quantity of high grade timber. In addition, quality is also related to the age of a tree. Older trees, with many rings tightly packed together, are much more dense and therefore stronger. This project will also count the rings on each individual log. This will enable a finer level of segregation to be made on finished timbers. Finally, the moisture content of a log is extremely important in terms of the efficient and effective operation of the sawing station. The greater the level of moisture which has penetrated throughout the log, the better it will perform at the sawing station. Moisture acts as a lubricant.
Traditionally, most logs processed in the timber sector came from large forests. Because these forests are managed by state agencies or large companies, they tended to produce relatively uniform output. However, over the last 30 years, farmers have been encouraged through the common agricultural policy (CAP) to divert part of their holdings to the growth of trees. In many countries, there are strong incentives to do this.
These small forests are now maturing and are ready for processing. Unfortunately, there are significant
problems with these forests:
• Many have not been well maintained and the normal practice of thinning has not been carried out properly.
• More significantly, because these forests are small, they have a disproportionate amount of what are called ‘edge’ trees. These trees occupy the perimeter of the forest. As such, they have access to light at all times.
Because of this, they tend to grow a lot more branches, and hence knots, than trees in the middle of the
forest. The latter tend to use their energy to reach up towards the light and thus produce both less branches and also branches which are smaller.
While the RINGS project will be of benefit for all logs, it has a significant benefit for logs coming from these edge trees. A recent survey carried out within the West Cork Growers Association found that approximately 10% of all trees were edge trees. This form of planting is also quite common in several other countries within Europe.
RINGS will research and develop a system to optimise the return from trees. The primary research will
involve the identification of appropriate sensor technologies, experimentation on the viability of such
sensors, the development of algorithms to interrogate the information coming from the sensors, the
development of an integrated control system for managing the information from the sensors, and finally, the integration within a mechanical handling environment.
The target market for this application is medium and large scale timber processing facilities. The initial target geographies will be the UK and Ireland and Scandinavia.
The project consortium is comprised of 3 SMEs. Each of these is a research performer in its own right. GP Wood, the project leader, has a significant research and development capability and has previously been involved in 2 EU projects under the LIFE banner. Milltech, from Sweden, provides R&D services to companies within the timber sector. It has significant strengths in the area of software development and in 3-D scanning. ITS, from Middleton in Co. Cork provides R&D services to several multinational companies in Ireland. It is primarily focused on researching and developing bespoke systems for inspection and other processors within manufacturing lines.
The consortium as a whole is well balanced. GP Wood provides strong knowledge of the sector, good technical ability and excellent testing and verification capabilities. ITS provides strong sensor capability and also excellent system integration strengths. Milltech is well known within the timber sector and has a strong reputation for the delivery of specialist systems to the sector.
The project started at the beginning of 2012 and was successfully bought to a conclusion in March 2015.