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World-leading robotics set to transform processing of export logs

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

World-leading robotics technology is transforming safety, efficiency and accuracy of the measurement of export logs at the Port of Tauranga.

Minister of Trade and Export Growth, David Parker, cut a ceremonial ribbon this morning at an event to mark the commissioning of two Robotic Scaling Machines (RSM) at ISO’S log scaling facility at Mount Maunganui.

The Robotic Scaling Machine was initially a concept of ISO’s, and they searched for a partner to transition the concept to full commercial reality. They formed a development partnership with Tauranga-based firm Robotics Plus to develop a full-scale, commercial model complete with custom robotics and sensing systems for meet their requirements.

ISO CEO Paul Cameron said his company had been looking for some time at how to improve the efficiency and safety of measuring truckloads of logs as they come to the port. Over 25 million logs a year come through New Zealand ports.

Mr Cameron said the existing manual system used throughout the world requires people to hand scan the logs and climb between trucks and trailers.

"The Robotic Scaling Machine now gathers this information with a robotic arm which passes over the logs on a truck and a trailer. This makes the process much safer for workers. It is also much faster, taking between three and four-and-a-half minutes to scan and measure a truck and trailer, no matter how many logs. In contrast, the manual process can take up to 40 minutes.

"We have found the RSM to be much more accurate as well. So far, we are achieving 95% accuracy in the measurement of packets of logs. This has exceeded our expectations," he said.

Mr Cameron said the Robotic Scaling Machines are creating new higher skilled jobs, and help address a long-term, chronic labour shortage. "We always have a number of vacancies for the manual measuring, so the new machines are helping address that. They also need highly skilled people to run the processing side. So far, we have employed five people to do this with six more to come."

Robotics Plus Chief Technical Officer Dr Alistair Scarfe said the automation of the prototype provided some complex technical challenges. "Logs come in all sorts of sizes and number on each truckload. Sometimes the ends are caked in mud and light conditions vary constantly."

"To overcome these issues, we developed an array of cameras which take multiple images and process them into a three-dimensional representation of the load of logs. The RSM then calculates accurate dimensions of the load which are uploaded to ISO’s database.

Dr Scarfe said the way the technology is being applied and the problem-solving which has made the log scaler work is world-leading. "We’re very proud of what our team has achieved."

"Local suppliers also made important contributions to the development of the RSM, showing the potential for robotic technology to create clusters of excellence."

They are: RFT Engineering (structural steel); Festo Linear (guides and controllers); SICK NZ (safety systems, distance sensors); Flir (imaging cameras); Mulcahy NZ (laser cutting); and Gamman Engineering (precision machining). 

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