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Tech transfer for the softwood sector to improve processing

Prof Tim Young

A new approach to tech transfer and skills development was delivered through a workshop to help the softwood sector improve its understanding of how to better use the massive quantities of data collected during mill operations, with a view to improving processing activities. Source: Timberbiz

Forest and Wood Products Australia’s Centre for Timber Durability and Design Life co-sponsored the inaugural five-day workshop, which centred on the softwood timber industry’s statistical process control in the manufacture of structural and treated sawn timber.

Initiated by Dr Chris Lafferty, FWPA’s R&D Manager, the workshop was hosted by the University of South Australia at its campus in Mt Gambier.

The workshop was attended by 17 operational and technical staff from around Australia.

Professor Tim Young of the Forest Products Centre at the University of Tennessee was invited to lead the course when his expertise was identified as part of FWPA’s ongoing scanning of international R&D capacity.

Professor Young has more than 20 years’ experience delivering similar courses in the USA and was quickly brought up to speed with the idiosyncrasies of the Australian sector through a number of site visits and discussions with key industry partners. These included AKD, OneFortyOne, TimberTruss and Warrnambool Timber Industries.

Also among the presenters was Dr Geoff Boughton, director of TimberEd Services, Professor Jeff Morrell, director of the Centre for Timber Durability and Design Life, and Dr Jim O’Hehir, from the University of South Australia.

Over the five days, discussions covered the ways in which data may be used to improve processing, optimise recovery and enhance the ability to verify whether materials are fit for purpose.

Professor Young said statistical process control is already being successfully used across many industries, including automotive, hospitality and manufacturing. He believes the softwood sector should be embracing this tool to ensure its success.

“The bottom line is: I don’t think you will be competitive if you do not use statistical tools and analytics nowadays,” Professor Young said.

Professor Morrell said that while lots of organisations collect large amounts of data, many have inefficient analysis methods.

“The idea behind this course was to demonstrate that data can be used to improve recovery, quality and efficiency during processing, while helping to maintain a competitive environment,” Professor Morrell said.

“We wanted to inform the softwood industry by showing participants how they can optimise the data they are already collecting. This course is just one example of our commitment to delivering education for the sector around issues of strong relevance.”

The workshop included participants with a wide range of skill sets and diverse roles within the industry. One of the main topics was how to ensure data was clean and not misleading. Attendees also discussed how statistical tools can be used to turn data into valuable information and how this can help create fit-for-purpose products cost-effectively.

Participant Michael Lucebte, OneFortyOne Plantations Dry Mull Supervisor, described the course as a rare opportunity.

“A lot of workshops centre around production and people, but this course was based on technical strategies. It has given me a more robust technical knowledge of statistics. It has also given Mt Gambier a networking opportunity for likeminded companies,” Mr Lucebte said.

Another participant, Nathan Kitto, TimberLink Australia Optimisation and Efficiency Technician, said the opportunity increased collaboration and helped develop industrial relationships.

“The workshop was a pilot, and based on the positive feedback, we now think there is an opportunity for a range of workshops to help forest growers and wood manufacturers better utilise their data and improve R&D adoption. Additional themes, locations and dates will be announced in the coming months,” said Dr Lafferty.