Using innovative design and technology, and with support from Callaghan Innovation, Wood Engineering Technology has been able to produce a sustainable, quality timber product from logs destined to be woodchip.
- Wood Engineering Technology (WET) set out to realise more value from ‘second-rate’ pine, overall wanting to create sustainable construction materials that are alternatives to concrete to steel.
- Supported by a number of Callaghan Innovation grants, WET spent years investing in R&D as well as Industry 4.0 technology to automate the production process.
- The patented product WET produces offers lighter and more flexible building materials and their production creates fewer carbon emissions.
They've seen the potential in what we are doing and wanted to support us at a critical time in the business as we were getting off the ground,” he says.
- Shaun Bosson, Chief Executive Officer, Wood Engineering Technology
New Zealand’s exported forestry products, like raw logs and milled timber, are worth billions each year.
And while our top-quality pine is highly valued, it only represents only a fraction of exports. The rest is considered second-rate, sent as logs for use in packaging or reduced to woodchip or paper.
Wood Engineering Technology (WET) set out to change that, wanting to find a way to turn that exported deadwood into valuable and sustainable building materials for the domestic market.
“We want to change the way we build mid-rise and even high-rise buildings by using a lot more timber, which after events like the Christchurch quakes, and a strong desire for more efficient and sustainable buildings, there is a lot more appetite for,” says WET’s Chief Executive Officer Shaun Bosson.
Wood Engineering Technology embarked on years of experimentation, eventually able to reconstitute pieces of wood to form durable beams that performed to tight building specifications.
“Once we proved we could make the product, our focus moved to how we could make it in an automated fashion,” says Bosson, who joined WET in 2015 and brought expertise in Industry 4.0 manufacturing to the company.
Bosson and colleagues mapped out every part of the manufacturing process so they could design a system that would capture data and produce insights about the plant’s operation.
The result? An intelligent processing plant equipped with laser sensors, cameras and mechanical stress-testing devices to analyse the quality of the wood and monitor it as it passes through the different phases of production.
Callaghan Innovation’s Team Leader Electrical Engineering, Ivo Gorny, says, “The factory is an outstanding example of an Industry 4.0 installation in New Zealand, proving the economic and technical advantages of this approach”.
Bosson says Callaghan Innovation’s support, including R&D Tax Incentives, and R&D Experience and Career Grants, which allowed WET to employ a masters student, has been integral to the company’s success.
“They've seen the potential in what we are doing and wanted to support us at a critical time in the business as we were getting off the ground,” Bosson says.
After 15 years of R&D, WET achieved its goal, creating a patented glue-laminated timber, or ‘glulam’, which consists of pieces of wood stuck together with a moisture-resistant adhesive.
A lighter and more flexible option than other building materials, WET’s production - which is completely automated - also creates fewer carbon emissions.
“Logs go in one end and finished pieces of serialised and fully tested lumber come out the other without anyone having to touch them,” says Bosson.
The automation and supply chain innovation WET achieved has been key to making the beams economically viable to produce. The product is also
The business started selling the product in early 2019 and is set to expand its demonstration plant and begin building a second plant on its Gisborne site. This will give it the capacity to produce 40,000 cubic metres of engineered lumber each year, enough to build over 1500 homes. What's more, plans for further processing plants in other forestry regions are also in the pipeline, with the ultimate goal to export the wood.