The forest products industry faces a number of challenges as it looks to grow over the next 10 years. One of the key concerns pertains to demographic trends. As mill personnel retire, newer generations are increasingly choosing different careers. This is putting a strain on plants to find qualified personnel. Automation, then, has become the top initiative to help alleviate the unavoidable loss of this wealth of experience.
Basic automation may be able to replace human movement, but decisions that push the business forward require data. It is for this reason that mills are pushing to collect as much data as possible. With more data in hand, it can be used to optimize processes. At the most basic level, operators want to monitor a process to maintain critical final product quality. Adding sensors throughout the production process not only aggregates the information that makes this doable, it provides the data necessary to help decision-makers improve efficiency, reduce emissions without sacrificing production volume, determine preventative maintenance schedules, and more.
It started with Signature Control Systems (SCS) Forest Products. In 2008, SCS Forest Products acquired Northern Milltech (NMI) in order to provide mills an end-to-end solution for moisture measurement and tracking. These companies are now all consolidated under Finna Sensors. We’ve created a suite of new products that not only monitor lumber from sawmill to kilns to planers, but also provide a rich amount of data that can be used to improve processes and prevent downtime.
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Starting at the sawmill, we offer weight, bulk density, moisture and strength grading. These inputs are used to sort lumber for eventual processing. The goal, at this stage, is to sort like pieces together to improve throughput and quality. As an example, you would not want to mix heavy boards with high MC% with light boards when processing through kilns. The product then has high standard deviation for quality. This results in many rejected pieces in final QC. It is worth noting that each individual piece can be tagged with its associated data to track outcomes. Sort parameters and processing conditions can then be adjusted to maximize profit.
Once lumber reaches the dry kilns, we offer in-kiln sensors to measure the moisture content of lumber packages. Dry kilns can be a continuous or bulk process. Depending on the process type, we offer a wireless or wired installation. These sensors enable an operator to shut down the drying process at a targeted, average moisture content. Instead of relying upon fixed schedules or historical data, the sensors measure moisture content in real-time to dynamically adjust to the lumber mix and ambient conditions. Throughput has been shown to increase by 10%+ through the use of our systems. Quality will also increase as lumber is no longer over or under dried.
In the planer, our scanners read incoming lumber packages. Each piece is measured either pre- or post-planer by moisture and strength grading sensors. The results are logged to a database for each lumber package. Pieces that fall outside of accepted parameters are rejected. The data can be analyzed via reports so operators and managers can make better operational decisions for lumber currently in-process. All of these sensors are easily integrated with large material handling companies for grading and cut-in-two solutions.
For biomass applications, our sensors are ideal for measuring the moisture content at the beginning of the process so companies have an idea of the inbound moisture content, even before any processing begins. For energy plant systems, our sensors can measure the moisture content of the main constituents to present a general BTU potential, help optimize the blending process, or to verify the moisture content of the material out of a dryer before being pressed into pellets. With simple PLC integration our sensors can provide controls to optimize your whole process.
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