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Wood Engineering Technology: A second-rate log turned into first-rate building materials

This article was published on Oct 8, 2019, 11:46 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

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.

What's in this article

    At a glance

    • 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

    Seeing the wood for the trees

    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.


    WET OEL 2017

    All around New Zealand there are big forests the fast-growing pine trees planted by private and public investors to use our amazing client and conserve our precious native forests these forests also soak up Co2 from the atmosphere, some logs on our pine forests are processed domestically but most are exported to overseas processing companies and end up in low value products like boxes pallets and crates, a tree is one of nature's cleverest designs for its weight wood is one of the strongest and most flexible materials known to man, a tree trunk is a column where the strongest wood nearest the bark in order to hold up the weight of its branches needles or leaves, by contrast in the centre of this column the wood is weakest and less useful, in New Zealand sawmills cut up the larger strongest unpruned logs and separate out the high-value strong wood from the base and from the exterior and use it for structural lumber, the weaker wood goes off to be used for lower value items like boxes, pallets and crates, then along came the guys at wood engineering technology they've figured out the design and process for an automated plant to give the weaker wood a high value and even how to use the smaller logs to make only structural strength lumber, to prove the steps of the process they made and reassembled small uniform pieces of wood to be just like the big strong tree, strong on the outside weaker on the inside, they named the new strong strange uniform laminated lumber optimised engineered lumber or OEL for short every piece of OEL is built like an i-beam, strong, straight and ideal for building houses, this system has been patented around the world and product from a pilot plant independently tested and confirmed by scientists at SCI on New Zealand's premier Forest Products research facility, this unique OEL production process gives us 100% high valued engineered structural lumber at a similar projected production cost to a traditional sawmill where historically only about half the wood recovered is high value structural number a high-value product with a projected attractive margin and projected big profit potential engineered structural lumber is projected to be about half the cost of conventional glue-laminated alternatives and low-cost structural building products that are straighter and more dimensionally stable than conventional lumber just what builders prefer the market for OELlumber looks very bright a leading New Zealand structural timber user has checked samples from the OEL pilot plant confirming that OEL outperformed solid structural timber as soon as it becomes commercially available they will prefer to buy it and there is similar interest from Australia the guys at Wood engineering technology have proved their skill by designing and receiving worldwide patents for OEL a pilot plant was built to prove key steps in the production process confirming that the automation works reliably and is technically feasible Sion independently agrees market demand has been shown to exist in New Zealand and Australia at an attractive price pine trees will be abundant in New Zealand from existing forests for at least the next 30 years OEL production plants are designed to run 24 hours a day seven days a week to keep production costs down with each plant size to produce 50,000 cubic metres of structural lumber when required the product from each plant would be Boron treated so the finished OEL lumber will meet the New Zealand strength and durability performance standards profits on the new factories will be reinvested to expand production for local and export sale grow the value of the business and reward shareholders for their investment, the opportunity for New Zealand is exciting the benefits include new export sales the Australian market is large consuming 1.5 million cubic metres per annum with 20% imported from Europe it provides Regional Development and the creation of high-value skilled jobs there is large scale potential with the conversion into high-value of an existing resource currently exported unprocessed, the use of a sustainable natural New Zealand resource, this resource is available now and the value is realised in New Zealand, it is consistent with the New Zealand wood industry strategic plan and as a platform technology with the potential to revolutionise the wood industry in New Zealand, the guys at Wood engineering technology are getting into business they are building a first production plant in Gisbourne to see the new large-scale industry for the New Zealand, Australian and global markets there is room on an adjoining site for more plants and support from existing shareholders, wood engineering technologies is a global opportunity for its technology and has received government support through technology grants, opportunities in New Zealand for this potential for scale rarely come available, this is an exciting new business opportunity Wood engineering technology has a projected high return on capital with a superior product with a defendable margin, a global growth opportunity with a product intended for export markets and revolutionary technology that is great for New Zealand if you would like to become involved contact the guys at Wood engineering technology via this webpage.

    Long-term commitments, long-term benefits

    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.

    Shaun Bosson (WET Chief Executive) & Ivo Gorny (Callaghan Innovation’s Team Leader Electrical Engineering)

    Shaun Bosson (WET Chief Executive) & Ivo Gorny (Callaghan Innovation’s Team Leader Electrical Engineering)

    Building a sustainable future

    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.

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