Maximizing small logs: FPInnovations’ project tackles residuals
By Vincent Monbourquette
June 5, 2018 - The SM2 Initiative by FPInnovations is up and running. After several months of design and planning, and an enormous amount of work by the management team and scientific and technical personnel supported by specialists from the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, the first projects approved in the fall of 2017 are underway. Project teams will now help revolutionize the Canadian sawmill industry.
The SM2 Initiative aims to tackle competitiveness issues faced by sawmills in Eastern Canada. The five-year initiative, launched in 2017, is a collaborative effort that includes the governments of Quebec, Ontario and Canada. Its fast-tack approach is designed to deliver solutions to complex problems.
Through SM2 FPInnovations will bring together internal specialists and pair them with leading university, research centre, industry, and equipment manufacturer experts. SM2’s targets are bold:
- Increase timber salvage (nominal board feet) by 30 per cent;
- Reduce by-product production volume (odmt) by 20 per cent;
- Reduce unit conversion costs ($/mfbm) by 10 per cent; and
- Increase revenue from non-traditional markets (solid wood products and co-products).
In December 2017, SM2 included eight major projects and two exploratory projects. Almost $9 million out of a total budget of $42 million has already been mobilized. Six other major projects are in the pipeline. More than 20 specialized employees at FPInnovations’ Quebec office are directly involved in the projects, with the support of other specialists at the Montreal and Vancouver offices. Until now, this team has been working closely with eight research partners, including the University of Montréal’s Centre de recherches mathématiques and various teams at Laval University, 11 industrial partners and 12 manufacturers. This multi-partner collaboration will become even more diversified as future projects are launched. The FPInnovations team recently brought on board experienced and skilled individuals in order to ensure the most effective collaboration possible with all stakeholders and to enable knowledge transfer to the next generation of researchers.
Work teams are undertaking projects that will, among other things, improve operational control, particularly in terms of the debarkability of logs, smart machining centres, wood impregnability, the manufacture of new types of co-products for the panel industry, and high-frequency precision drying. The list will soon include other projects: saw filing room automation, ultra-fast drying, the development of new materials and coatings for circular saws, and designing a low-cost CT scanner to detect internal log defects. While current projects are already promising, some new projects have the potential to revolutionize the industry.
Projects stemming from the SM2 Initiative are very diversified and involve several wood processing value chain components, including the following.
Tree species identification
There are two separate tree species identification projects: the first utilizes sawn wood, while the second examines non-debarked logs to identify the tree species using bark images.
The sawn wood project seeks to provide an approach for automated species separation using near infrared technology (NIR). The technology, developed by FPInnovations, will be adapted to the specific context in Eastern Canada (spruce, fir and jack pine); there are plans to conduct a prototype trial at a planing mill in the spring of 2018 and to adapt it for sawing. The manufacturer Autolog is actively involved in the system’s design, making this project a stellar example of the type of collaboration sought by FPInnovations. This project has the potential to help mills create more value by improving drying and planing mill performance and providing greater opportunities to create value-added products.
The species identification concept for non-debarked logs falls under the overall debarkability improvement project. As part of this project, a work team, in collaboration with professor Roger Hernandez’s team at Laval University, will focus on assessing the incidence of temperature, moisture content and type of tree species on debarkability. In this project, too, collaboration with a Laval University team associated with the FORAC Research Consortium will lead to the contemplated solution for tree species identification. Using recent advances in convolutional neural networks, the team is successfully training a system to recognize a tree species from images of its bark. If results with standing trees reach an impressive level of precision, the next steps will be to train and test the technology in an uncontrolled environment.
This project, which is currently at the exploratory stage, will enable the work team to identify potential solutions to significantly improve wood impregnability, an issue that greatly reduces the in-service performance of treated products, limits the wood species used and hampers the marketing of wood-based products at the expense of composite products. By addressing this issue, which has a greater impact on heartwood, the team at FPInnovations is seeking to provide long-term protection, primarily for SPF (spruce-pine-fir) species. Enhanced impregnability of SPF species to facilitate treatment in order to improve dimensional stability and densification is a major issue for the industry. Reaching this goal would also pave the way for the development of various engineered wood products.
Why jump on the bandwagon? How does this initiative differ from FPInnovations’ usual program? Given the current industry context, major changes must be made quickly; consequently, additional financing and a medium- and long-term vision will greatly facilitate competitiveness. The team’s structure has been reviewed and project management resources have been added to provide researchers with 360 degrees of support so that they can focus on what they do best — conduct research.
The stage has now been set to win the trust of partners and the industry and to ensure the program’s success. The initiative has several projects already underway, with numerous other projects that will be added quickly and form the core of the SM2 Initiative over the coming years. The initiative aims high with its focus on “innovation” and “collaboration” and will propose significant solutions for the future of Canada’s sawmill industry with the support of FPInnovations’ partners.
Vincent Monbourquette is an innovation support specialist with FPInnovations’ SM2 Initiative.