Use of robots in the wood industry is allowing manufacturers to remove employees from potentially dangerous environments, strengthening the safety-first environment in mills while at the same time trimming production costs. But new systems are also demonstrating an ability to handle more complex processes with robots, and coordinating multiple robots to act in concert and carry out an orchestrated process.
From a design point of view, although wood products are not known as an area for advanced automation, it shows robotics bringing automation to applications and processes that traditionally have only been done using manual labor and operators.
One prime example is a successful application designed by the system integrator PRE-TEC, a Division of the Willamette Valley Co., where four FANUC robots apply protective wrapping and end sealant to I-Joist Beams or Stacked Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL). In this system, robots replaced an operation that presented stapling hazards as well as those that come with handling large pieces of engineered wood products. Previously, the made-to-order wood products of varying sizes were loaded, hand-sealed, wrapped, stapled, and labeled manually in this steady production process.
In the past, there was concern for worker safety when climbing on the wood to stretch the wrapping. But with the new system, robots bring in each piece, accurately measure and stretch the wrapping to match the piece size, apply the sealant, and stack the wood for distribution. Beams are measured continuously on the conveyor to be sure the correct size wrapping is loaded, and then the robots wrap and staple the wood automatically.
Rufus Burton, PRE-TEC's robotics sales manager, told us:
- This new process effectively eliminates any human stapling hazards, as well as the cumbersome process of cutting and stretching the wrapping to size, making the process more efficient. From our vantage point, we saw the project as being able to provide a labor reduction and environmental improvement. The mills have really been a blacksmith-type world but with the need to be globally competitive, they have moved to sophisticated levels of automation.
In the wrap area, where engineered wood made up of particle board and laminated pieces has replaced solid beams used in the past, robotics has provided a way to both improve safety and also coordinate the manufacturing process more precisely.