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Digitising the wood industry

Sophisticated artificial intelligence software and specialised cameras capable of identifying defects and grading lumber at production speed have recently been developed by the Neural Grader project.

Digital Economy
Food and Natural Resources

The European wood industry is at a distinct cost disadvantage when compared to Asian markets. This, in large part, is due to higher labour costs in Europe – costs that contribute to making European wood more expensive. As decreasing labour costs is difficult, the European wood industry instead needs to look for new ways to sharpen their competitive edge. One way is through the use of digitisation. To help digitise the European wood industry, the EU-funded Neural Grader project has developed an automated solution for processing lumber. “We saw many SMEs struggling to use digitisation methods that were too complex or too expensive, so we decided to do something about it,” says Benoit Nieuwenhuys, Managing Director at Fordaq and coordinator of the Neural Grader project. Fordaq is a leading online marketplace for wood professionals.

Ready to disrupt

Neural Grader’s genius lies in its use of industrial cameras. Leveraging the power of artificial intelligence (AI), the cameras capture images of each board and accurately classify the quality of the wood. “Neural Grader can detect defects and grade lumber at high speed and with an accuracy that far exceeds what any existing system can do,” says Nieuwenhuys. “The price will also be about a quarter of competing products, making it readily accessible to SMEs.” The system also computes the optimal method for cutting the boards. By automatically sending these optimised cutting instructions to the cutting machine, Neural Grader reduces wasted wood by over 20 %. “Studies show that such an automated solution will substantially reduce waste, which will help the wood industry lower its carbon footprint,” explains Nieuwenhuys. Furthermore, the system gives companies full control of production, meaning they can spend less time managing production lines and inventory and more time focusing on quality. “Said simply, Neural Grader is well-placed to disrupt the European and global wood industries,” adds Nieuwenhuys.

Ready for market

To ensure Neural Grader meets actual market needs, the research team carried out surveys with sawmills at trade shows all over the world. Moreover, the team visited facilities and production sites to see the real-world scenarios where Neural Grader will be integrated. The product is currently in the final stages of marketisation. “Using the technical specifications gathered during this project, we built a new prototype development plan and adjusted the hardware and software requirements accordingly,” says Nieuwenhuys. “We also started building a data-gathering hardware system to launch the training of new specialised AI algorithms.” Nieuwenhuys says that Fordaq has already received substantial interest from a large base of existing clients, and 10 sawmills located in Europe and North America have sent letters of support for the product.

Keywords

Neural Grader, artificial intelligence, AI, lumber, wood industry, digitalisation, Fordaq, SMEs

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