TP&EE 2018: automation and IoT in the “fourth industrial revolution”
By Ellen Cools
Oct. 23, 2018 – “A lot of the exhibitors have orders on backlog and they’re trying to get machinery to the mills, so it’s a great situation,” said Rich Donnell, show director of the 2018 Timber Processing and Energy Expo, when asked about the state of the industry.
That sentiment was echoed on the show floor as Canadian Forest Industries spoke to different manufacturers at TP&EE, which took place from Oct. 17 – 19 at the Portland Exhibition Center in Portland, Ore.
The show, produced by Hatton-Brown Expositions, saw nearly 200 exhibitors showcase their newest products and technologies for over 1,000 attendees, and also featured two different educational streams: the Mass Timber Workshop and the Lumber Manufacturers Workshop.
“I think the show’s coming together real well,” said Donnell on the second day of the event. “We’re having attendance from all the major mill companies and personnel.”
“There seems to be pretty good geographical representation too – a lot of southerners and northwesterners,” he continued. “So I’m pretty happy with the event.”
Of course, Canadian exhibitors were also in full force at the show, including big players like BID Group, Samuel Packaging Systems Group, VAB Solutions Inc., Simonds International and, of course, Canadian Forest Industries.
A number of these larger manufacturers also spoke about new or planned installations throughout Canada, especially in Quebec.
For example, VAB Solutions – now represented by Timber Automation – recently installed its new all-in-one lug loader/fence/trimmer, Opti-Trim, at Groupe Lebel in Quebec.
The Opti-Trim is an automated solution that produces every length of board in one production shift, and can process boards at a maximum speed of 220 boards per minute.
The automated revolution
Looking around the show floor, this was not the only automated solution on display – multiple manufacturers offered new mechanized products that can help optimize sawmillers’ operations.
In fact, automation emerged as a key trend during the conference, with a number of the educational sessions touching upon the topic, including the presentation, “Rising from the Ashes: Update on Swanson Group’s New Plywood Plant with Meinan Automated Green End,” by Steve Swanson, president and CEO, Swanson Group, and Anna McCann, president, Merritt Machinery on the first day of the show.
Swanson and McCann provided an update on Swanson Group’s plywood plant in Springfield, Ore., which features Meinan Machinery’s automated lathe line, and shared how it has positively impacted product quality, costs and more.
The fourth industrial revolution
But it’s not just automated technology that can benefit plants and mills. The data provided by the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, particularly sensors, is becoming a critical part of operations.
During the Lumber Manufacturer workshop on day two of the conference, Laurie McCabe, TradeTec Computer Systems’ sales and marketing manager, gave a talk called, “Maintaining a Modern Sawmill: Embrace the 4th Industrial Revolution by Leveraging the IoT and Generate ROI.”
This revolution is a “digital transformation of a fully connected enterprise or world,” in McCabe’s words, as IoT devices provide data to users over the cloud or other networks.
According to McCabe, IoT presents an opportunity for businesses when it comes to mission critical maintenance procedures, which in turn creates financial benefits.
For example, a thermal sensor can be programmed to know the typical operating temperature of a bearing and warn operators when it becomes too hot.
“Just by knowing the temperature of a bearing, you can prolong its life from a few months to a few years,” McCabe said. This means saving on the cost of replacing the bearing, as well as repairing the damage it could have caused, and minimizing downtime from unplanned maintenance.
TradeTec’s approach to maintenance in the age of IoT is Visual MaintenanceMan, which was on display on the show floor. Visual MaintenanceMan features an automated maintenance schedule, enabling users to determine key maintenance points using drill down hot spots, custom reporting and more.
And TradeTec is not the only company that sees the value in using IoT for preventative maintenance. Other companies, such as Wolftek Industries, displayed thermal cameras and sensors that can help keep mills and plants safe, as well as prevent breakdowns.
At the end of day two, Sierra Pacific Industries’ founder and chairman emeritus Red Emmerson received Timber Processing magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year award.
Stay tuned for coverage of other new products and solutions on display at TP&EE 2018, and check out our coverage of the Mass Timber workshop here.