World’s first Optimised Engineered Lumber (OEL) plant opens

Wood Engineering Technology (WET) in New Zealand says its Optimised Engineered Lumber (OEL) sawmill is open for business.

Angus Fletcher, the chairperson of WET, says the Gisborne plant is the only one of its type in the world. “This is the biggest development in wood processing in over 30 years. But, more importantly, OEL is helping New Zealand address its biggest challenges – climate change, productivity, regional development, and the need for higher density housing,” he comments.

Fletcher says OEL is an engineered wood product that is 40% stronger than structural lumber.

“This, and its guaranteed consistency, create opportunities for wood-only, higher density, multi-storey residential buildings. OEL is an affordable zero-carbon substitute for concrete and steel in building and construction. We are getting a lot of interest from those involved in providing social housing.”

“For years, New Zealand has been talking about moving up the value chain to improve our productivity in the primary industries. Our disruptive technology turns logs that would have been sent overseas [for processing] into an innovative, high-value product. And it does it in a fully automated, artificially intelligent, robotic factory in less than 12 hours while creating skilled, higher paid jobs in our regions.”

The manufacturing plant is small compared to other log processing operations and is significantly lower in cost to build

Automated saws cut one-meter logs into uniform lamellas weighing 2.25kg each after drying. Next, the components are strength-tested and finger-jointed to form six-meter lengths. Finally, the finger-jointed pieces are laminated into a single piece of OEL in a continuous press in a way that replicates the strength characteristics of the original tree.

“It’s that simple,” remarks Fletcher. “Each stick in a piece of OEL serves a purpose in its new configuration. The engineered wood product is designed to achieve a specific strength characteristic analogous to the inherent strength found within the original log and tree stem.”

With this approach, it is possible to harvest young trees rather than those at full term rotation while still achieving the required strength characteristics. Bent and curved logs and those too small to process through a conventional sawmill or peeler mill are useable as OEL feedstock.

Larger cross-section posts and panels for walls and floors can be fabricated by combining OEL or implementing changes to the production system.

When complete, the Gisborne location will have six OEL production lines, producing up to 140,000 cubic meters of product and employing more than 130 people.

The OEL is intended for the domestic New Zealand market. “By retaining more wood processing onshore, we create local jobs and further support rural communities”, states Fletcher.

Sources:  https://www.timberbiz.com and https://woodeng.co.nz/blogs/news

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