The future for lumber manufacturers looks more desirable than ever heading into 2014. Housing starts are consistently increasing and research shows that trend will continue. According to the US Census Bureau, privately-owned housing starts were at an adjusted rate of 891,000, which is 0.9% above the revised July estimate and 19% above August 2012 rate. In addition, single-family housing starts were at an adjusted rate of 628,000, which is 7% above the July revised estimate. This growth has Lucidyne Technologies moving quickly to adjust and adapt.
Lucidyne was able to maintain a steady position the last few years while the economy was poor. The company made several tough changes to become increasingly efficient but was still able to retain its entire engineering staff. Thanks to a strong focus on providing good service with its products, some of Lucidyne’s customers still kept the company busy with challenging projects. Developing an optimizer to grade Shop lumber was a good example; this is a first for the industry and has the potential to benefit several mills in the West.
The primary focus for Lucidyne is scanning technology. It makes sense that the company continue with its successful line of Grade Mark Readers and control systems because both are valuable elements for a complete scanning project. On the flip side, staying away from building other machine centers has kept the company from being distracted or diluted by trying to master too many areas. Still, adapting to the increasing demand for scanning systems and taking on even more technologies can put a strain on any company, no matter how efficient.
The positive financial impact of increased business has finally allowed Lucidyne to leverage the momentum and grow its staff. Besides adding technicians and fabricators, some of the most recent hires are experts in their field, with Masters and PhD degrees. For some, the opportunity is like having all their dreams come true – it presents the challenges of applying a variety of technologies to real-time applications, and working on a medium (wood fiber) that is never the same. Each one of these new hires are dedicated and focused on wood science. In addition, they are young and current with all the latest tools and techniques, excited to use their talents to partner with the experienced staff at Lucidyne. Some of these new faces include Scott Fairbanks, Ian Lawson, and Ryan Shear.
Fairbanks is Lucidyne’s new Senior Sensor Design Engineer. He holds a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from University of California, Santa Barbara, and a PhD in Computer Science from Cambridge University. His achievements include 16 U.S. Patents, 13 of which he was the primary inventor. He joined Lucidyne having 15 years in the computer industry at Sun MicroSystems, Oregon State University, and IBM Labs.
Lawson is Lucidyne’s newest Mechanical Engineer. Ian holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a BA in Liberal Arts from Oregon State University and Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, MI. While finishing up his Mechanical Engineering degree, Ian worked at Cooper Bussman as an ME intern. As a more recent college graduate, Ian brings a fresh perspective to Lucidyne Technologies, Inc.
Shear is Lucidyne’s newest Software Engineer. Ryan holds a BS in Computer Soloymftware Engineering from Oregon Institute of Technology. His employment experiences include Kiln Manager for Craftmark, Inc., where he was responsible for wood drying, and Software Engineer for Maxcess International. Ryan was also a Control and Automation Engineer for Forest Grove Lumber Company. His extensive mill background and wood science knowledge make him a valuable asset for Lucidyne.
Lucidyne’s staff is not all that is expanding. New methods are being explored for looking at wood fiber, specifically in the context of lumber grading. This past year saw an increase in the resolution in Lucidyne’s GradeScan sensors. This high-resolution improvement shows up as a positive contribution to a mill’s bottom line by capturing more value from the wood. For example, take the case of a board with a two-inch knot. Without high-resolution capability, a typical scanner would have to be configured to slightly oversize a knot to keep borderline knots from causing below-grade lumber. The alternative is to not be conservative and end up with inconsistent results of both above- and below-grade. This is expensive – and risky when it comes to grade checks or potentially off-grade lumber finding its way into the market.
GradeScan’s ability to more accurately measure knot sizes results in a more consistent product, which in turn provides more opportunities for a mill to create and maintain custom products. At the end of the day, more borderline boards get into higher-grade packages because they can be more accurately identified as “on the line” but not “over the line.”
Other benefits of high-resolution scanning include identification of Timberbreaks and other very small horizontal cracks, and being able to better scrutinize the grain of a board. Lucidyne achieved the Timberbreak milestone once it was able to also increase its resolution along the length direction of the board. This improvement, in combination with an increased understanding of grain characteristics has resulted in quite accurate pith location estimates, plus certification by the ALSC to strength grade lumber.
Lucidyne is quickly closing in on some other challenging defects. Two of its most recent developments have to do with characterizing a board’s absolute grain angle and classifying decayed fiber. Its patented Grain Angle sensor is capable of measuring both surface and dive angle directions of the grain. Consider knowing the three-dimensional make-up of a board, to the point where you know what is happening inside the board! This has direct implications for estimating strength and use applications for specific boards.
Although decay can be identified with a limited degree of accuracy by most scanning systems using color and tracheid sensor technologies, these devices only can key on attributes seen as color variation and poor fiber quality. The results with just these sensors are inconsistent: minerals, location in the tree, and physical handling damage can cause color, texture, or other changes to the wood surface to make it look like decay. Lucidyne’s new T3 sensor uses a proprietary technique that looks for additional information to make its decision. It also offers other attributes that contribute to improved defect analysis that results in a major step up in grading accuracy. Lucidyne is confident that the T3 sensor is a game-changer for the lumber industry and is now installing it into its new and existing scanner systems.
Lucidyne is taking advantage of its staff and technology changes to generate an immediate value increase to its own bottom line. Its customers are also responding to the increasing health of the economy. Lucidyne has seen its GradeScan installations jump from a few systems a year during the slow times to triple that amount last year, with the market gearing up to potentially even double again in 2014.
One of Lucidyne’s most recent installations was at Collum’s Lumber Products in Allendale, South Carolina. Collum’s had been plagued by the challenge of producing excessive above- and below-grade lumber for the past few years. Last July, Collum’s decided to install Lucidyne’s GradeScan in hopes that the new scanner would be able to eliminate the problems. Much of the lumber produced at Collum Sawmill includes high-quality appearance grades with very little wane or small knots. Because of this, a small measurement variation in knots or some other defect can change the lumber from one grade to the next.
The results thus far have been excellent: no below-grade problems and proven consistency in other products. Collum’s now looks forward to their inspector’s visits as they continue to “dial in” their new scanner to continually increase its grading accuracy and are pleased with the consistent results.
Another recent sale of Lucidyne’s was with Idaho Forest Group, located in Lewiston, Idaho. IFG made a bold decision to switch their mill from two complete planer lines each feeding their own trimmer/sorter line to using a single planer and feeding both sorters. This required IFG to step up from a geometric-only grading system to Lucidyne’s GradeScan automatic grading system. Much of what IFG produces is cedar, which meant that Lucidyne’s GradeScan had to be trained to grade the material – a first for the industry.
The Lewiston mill was quite satisfied with the results of its conversion and IFG installed a second GradeScan this past fall at their Laclede, Idaho Plant. Both of these mills require GradeScan to process a large cross section of appearance grades and Dimension grades. Each mill carries very different product assortment, but GradeScan is flexible enough to be configured specifically for the preferences of each plant. They recently purchased two more GradeScan systems for their Chilco and Grangeville plants.
Another new system is scheduled for installation this April at Scotch Gulf Lumber Company in Mobile, Alabama. Scotch Gulf’s recent purchase by Canfor did not slow the mill’s continuous process improvements. The decision to buy a GradeScan was formulated from the need to improve production volume while not sacrificing quality. The GradeScan will be installed in early summer 2014. Much of the lumber that Scotch Gulf produces includes high quality appearance grades with very little wane and small knots. Included in the purchase were Lucidyne’s Strength Grading Module that will be integrated with the existing Metriguard HCLT, Lucidyne’s new T3 sensor for decay detection, and its Planer Merchandiser to help manage some of the “business” aspects of producing lumber. Grading rough lumber is also an important requirement at Scotch Gulf.
Thanks to the increase in housing starts, the market is looking better every month. Lucidyne is acutely aware of the opportunities ahead and is making aggressive yet conservative moves to position itself as the expert for lumber scanning. It plans to continue its development efforts, building on staff and technology, but contrary to what many companies in the industry do, refrain from providing other types of lumber manufacturing equipment. Throughout the challenging years, Lucidyne stayed committed to their expertise in scanning technology and remain focused on improving scanning and the technology that supports it. Lucidyne is excited for the years to come. Keep posted for more on Lucidyne’s latest technology developments, challenges, and successes!
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