Gippsland timber company Fenning will be the first to use a revolutionary new robotic system for sorting and stacking timber, “Manual stacking is one of the toughest and most physically demanding jobs in our industry,” says Rodney Natty, Fenning’s general manager.
Developed by Machinery Automation and Robotics (MAR) with FWPA funding, the robotic system sorts and stacks various lengths (09–£0 m) and weights (up to 100 kg)
The system can place binding sticks, stack timbers of the same or random lengths, place short-length pieces end-to-end and handle multi-board layer and panel stacking. The system can sort and stack simultaneously, virtually eliminating the need to pre-sort timber-a major advantage over conventional stacking machines.
“We’ve got two robots on order with delivery anticipated in January,” says Natty. “They will improve packing consistency and help reduce injury and fatigue. We’ll be able to relocate two staff to other duties in the same area, such as setting up the robots and ensuring they have enough timber.”
Natty says the robots will take all timber (from 100×50 to 300×50 in cross-section and 0.9 to 5.4 m in length) from the outfeed of the company’s Dimpter docker and stack up to 15 packs by length at a rate of 12 boards a minute.
Fenning is one of ten Australian timber companies currently considering the new system.
One company has placed a firm order, another has requested a proposal for immediate submission to the company board, and several others are considering specific applications.
Automated and robotic systems cope well with dusty and saw-dust filled environments that are unpleasant or potentially harmful to staff. This improves workplace conditions by reducing the need for staff to undertake heavy and repetitive physical work in unpleasant environments and enables the staff to be reallocated to more valuable tasks.
Troy Krogh from MAR said the system could also help reduce operating costs and material waste, increase output rates and manufacturing flexibility, and save space in high value manufacturing areas.
The FWPA funding enabled MAR to further develop and broaden the scope of an earlier project that focused on a specific stacking environment. MAR successfully designed and tested robotic technology-robot, vacuum gripper arm and associated software-for a broad range of timber stacking, movement and storage situations, both for finished products and work in progress.
Factory acceptance trials conducted at MAR confirmed that the technology could achieve the required specifications for piece selection, transfer speed, rotational or linear movement, stacking accuracy, binder placement and automatic pack tallying.
The robotic technology was then presented to 18 hardwood and softwood timber processors in northern NSW, Victoria and Western Australia. The processors were selected according to the types and sizes of plants that could benefit in terms of throughput, processing costs, OH&S issues, sorting accuracy, product presentation or automatic tallying, including links to management software and labelling. Thirteen companies requested on-site presentations, which enabled their staff to discuss the technology in terms of existing systems, development needs, company strategies and limitations.