Lumber Machine Maker Cuts Woodand Costs with Servo Automation

Move to Servo Control Yields Extra Precision, Productivity

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A 2x4 piece of pine lumber doesn’t usually rank very high on a list of technology marvels. It is the construction industry’s ultimate commodity, which is why a leader in the lumber  industry is using some sophisticated automation to gain a  competitive advantage in this price-sensitive product.


WaneShear Technologies creates the sawmill machinery that puts a finished edge on dimensional lumber to create straight, clean, high grade 2x4, 2x6, 2x8 and larger boards. The equipment created by the Ukiah, CA company has the challenge of processing this consistent product from rough lumber sawn from raw logs, which can vary widely in width and length before entering the edging machinery. The technical challenge is further compounded by a constant need to increase production volumes, made necessary by the pressure to maintain profitability amid fluctuating prices in the volatile construction industry.

Yaskawa Customer

Project type: Servo Motor

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Traditional Solution

While automation has long been a part of this equation,  WaneShear has been pioneering a different solution. Traditional edging automation equipment made heavy use of hydraulic components.

  • Hydraulics deliver the powerful, high torque output the application demands, but often result in leaks of hydraulic fluid.
  • Spilled fluid can damage the lumber and make it unacceptable for sale.
  • Fluid can also combine with sawdust to create a sticky substance that gums up machinery and makes cleanup difficult.
yaskawa case study
case study

The Results

The ultimate proof of the servo’s successful implementation was in the edger’s ability to reach its performance targets. The goal was to increase output to 75 boards per minute, requiring a cycle time of 800 ms for every board. The design team also expected to improve the quality of boards due to the extra precision of the servo-driven control system. The figures below illustrate board staging and saw box output for the previous solution vs. the servo solution.

All the targets were met and exceeded. The overall quality of board output increased by 25%, and the new WaneShear servoequipped edger is processing standard 8 foot boards at more than 20 feet per second, awell beyond the 800 ms goal. “We’ve been so successful,” noted McGehee, “that now the rest of our customers’ plant equipment needs an upgrade to keep up with the edger…which used to be the other way around.” He added that the Yaskawa servos and controls are being designed into all future WaneShear machines. “We are also seeing other machines within our customers’ mills using the Yaskawa servo product. It’s a sign that we will be working with Yaskawa for a long time to come.” 
  • 25%
    overall quality of board output increased

Implementing the Servo Solution

Yaskawa and WaneShear quickly set to the task of solving the  application’s technical challenges, beginning with the staging of boards for cutting. The edger’s vision system extrapolated each board’s position into four position points, which were translated by a Yaskawa MP3200iec machine controller into 1000+  positioning points. The cam editor tool within Yaskawa’s MotionWorks IEC programming software was used to create a set of motion profiles, which were used by servo-based conveyors to precisely stage boards for the most accurate edging possible with the least waste.


The interface between the PLC and servo axes was made easier by the addition of Yaskawa‘s add-on-instructions (AOI), which allowed the servo amplifier to be controlled using a standard PLC. Yaskawa demonstrated this first to Waneshear using its SigmaLogic single axis controller, which comes standard with the AOI.


Implementing the Servo Solution


This feature proved to be particularly important for the WaneShear software development team, who didn’t want to ask their customers to learn an entirely new programming interface to successfully integrate the new Yaskawa servos. Since the Waneshear application required multi-axis control, Yaskawa engineers developed custom AOI, similar to those in its SigmaLogic product, for its MP3200iec controller, allowing for the usage of the cam editor as well

 Integration of the servomotors themselves proved to be one of the most positive outcomes in the development process.

  The dimensions of the Yaskawa motors made them an easy fit into the spaces once occupied by hydraulic components.

  The torque ratings of the motors suited them well to conveying lumber at the high-power, low-RPM rates needed by a sawmill application.

  The torque density profiles of the Yaskawa servos also made it possible to replace a gearbox on one of the WaneShear machine designs, resulting in a significant savings in component costs.

  The precision of the Yaskawa components allowed WaneShear to reduce following error on its conveyors from 1/8” down to 1/250”, allowing the company to shorten the length of its conveyor belts without compromising accuracy of cut.

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