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Australian timber research takes industry to the cutting edge

CSIRO : 02 October, 2006  (Technical Article)
Technology used in the nuclear power and aerospace industries will help enhance timber quality control. A world-first application of aerospace technology to enhance timber quality control has been instigated through a joint research venture between:
Ensis, a collaboration between CSIRO in Australia and Scion in New Zealand, and
Australiaís Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation.

Neville Smith Timber, the processing division of Integrated Tree Cropping Limited and Australiaís largest hardwood timber processor, adapted ultrasonic void detection for use at its Heyfield sawmill in Victoria after the Ensis/FWPRDC project confirmed the technology could be used to detect internal faults in dried hardwood boards, a common and costly problem.

The faults, known as internal checks, are hidden and occur in a small percentage of timber lengths where cells within the board structure collapse as the timber dries, creating a void.

Ensis Deputy General Manager Wood Quality Dr Simon Potter says a thorough evaluation and understanding of non-contact ultrasound technology led Ensis scientists to the United States, where ultrasonic void detection had been successfully used in the nuclear power and aerospace industries.

'Neville Smith Timberís adaptation of this technology, in collaboration with the US manufacturer, is a world first and it could revolutionise hardwood timber processing internationally,' Dr Potter says.

Neville Smith Timber General Manager (Heyfield) Mr Vincent Hurley says that until now, voids have been exposed during further processing by cabinetmakers or joiners, inhibiting confidence in hardwood species.

'Ultrasonic void detection enables us to see inside each piece of solid timber that passes through the mill and to separate affected timber from higher quality select material,' Mr Hurley says.

'The timber is then regraded for use in structural products where appearance is irrelevant.

'This process ensures our products are quality controlled to standards that match customer expectations, and in future it will also allow us to measure the effects of different treatments to reduce internal checking.'

FWPRDC Executive Director Dr Glen Kile says the projectís success represents a significant return on investment in Australian timber research and development.

'This project is testament to what can be achieved in a short timeframe when industry and research bodies collaborate to drive innovation and growth,' Dr Kile says. 'The technology will build confidence in Australian wood products and open up international markets.'
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