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Laser technology at Michigan State.

Using a laser beam that operates at 4000 C, the Forestry department staff at Michigan State University demonstrated ALPS (Automated Lumber Processing System) during an open house that included 30 woodworking industry representatives last Nov. 6.

"Stewardship in our forests is an important topic today because it requires the efficient management of forest utilization, and that is the key to the ALPS," said Dr. Kali Mukherjee, chairman of the MSU's Department of Metallurgy, Mechanics and Material Science. "ALPS is capable of giving higher yields than traditional saw systems because it is very adequate and the kerf is one-tenth the width of a regular saw blade."

Dr. Henry A. Huber, professor emeritus of the Michigan State Forestry department, added that other benefits of the system include reduced labor costs of up to 50 percent, no blades to buy or resharpen and since the system turns wast into smoke, no sawdust or dust control systems are needed.

Laser systems can also perform very intricate cuts, such as chair back designs and doll house furniture, with smoother results than traditional saws, Huber said.

ALPS operates by moving boards on a conveyor belt into a booth containing a video camera. The board is scanned for knots, wane and other imperfections. After registering this information into a computer, the system calculates the needed lumber sizes and presents a picture on a computer screen of how the board will be optimized. The board then moves into the cutting area, where needed pieces and defects are cut out by the computer-guided laser. The optimized board is then moved on for manual part separation.

Funded with a grant from the USDA, the Michigan State ALPS program is still in its infancy and does have some drawbacks. For optimizing, the maximum cutting speed of 300 inches per minute is slower than today's saw technology.

Also, any wood surface cut with ALPS that requires gluing will have to be sanded before adhesive is applied because the carbon residue from laser cutting hinders bonding.

Probably the biggst drawback to ALPS is the price,. Traditional saw optimizing systems cost about one-third as much as laser systems do. But Huber and Mukherjee think the cost of ALPS will decrease when more systems are sold and competition between ALPS manufacturers increases.
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Title Annotation:Michigan State University's Automated Lumber Processing System using laser technology in cutting wood
Author:Derning, Sean
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Words:377
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