Wood + IT = Powerful Connections

Pioneering New Simulation Process from St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences Brings Innovation to the Timber and Woodworking Industry

St. Pölten, 8 April 2010 – As a genuine novelty, an innovative simulation process ensures the optimal stability of wooden joints, while taking cost factors into account.
These unique capabilities enhance the significance of wood as an economically-competitive building material and boost the competitiveness of the timber industry. The innovation is the result of a joint research project involving St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences and Holzforschung Austria, which exploits innovative mathematical methods for industrial purposes. Additional industry partners are now being given the opportunity to perfect the research results in practice through cooperation projects.

Wood is a highly-versatile, environmentally-friendly building material and plays a major role in the economy in heavily-forested Austria where, after tourism, timber is the second most important foreign currency earner. The manufacture of wood laminates ranks as a particular strength. These products consist of short, individual lengths of wood that are primarily joined together with finger jointing to produce longer wooden panels. The individual strips of wood are bonded to laminated wooden boards. Austria is the second largest manufacturer of laminated timber in Europe with annual production of 1 million cubic meters.

The timber and woodworking industry, however, is currently facing an enormous challenge as new European standards require greater strength in finger jointing than previously. A cooperative research project – dubbed “Optwood” – between St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences and Holzforschung Austria offers a possible solution. Harnessing an innovative method of computer simulation, optimal finger joints are designed that meet the new strength requirements. At the same time, the designs must also ensure low material and production costs. The aim is to provide the domestic timber industry with a strategic advantage and boost its competitive strengths. In achieving the project objectives, both partners contributed their expertise – St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences in the field of computer simulation and Holzforschung Austria in wood and bonding technology.

Taking Wood to New Heights
Dr. Thomas Schrefl, project manager and renowned simulation expert, explains the significance of the Optwood research project for the timber and woodworking industry: “Finger jointing is the key technology in joining individual strips of wood into practically seamless laminated panels. The manufacture of laminated timber relies on this method. Only in this form is wood, as a construction material, capable of competing on an economic footing with other materials, such as concrete. Laminated timber currently holds a 30% to 35% share of the construction market, which is worth more than a billion euros. This market share will be lost if finger jointing is not optimized. We have now addressed this issue with an innovative, novel computer simulation process and are applying it to develop a new software solution to create optimal finger joints that meet the timber industry’s requirements in terms of standards and cost factors.”

To date, the timber industry has had to rely on an experimental “trial-and-error” approach and simulation methods that could only test existing finger joints. The new computer simulation process, which applies the fast boundary element method, clearly distinguishes itself from the two previous approaches. It is based on innovative, recently-developed mathematical methods that have not been applied in industry previously. Thanks to these methods, the surface structure of the jointing fingers and their load distribution is calculated using integral equations on computers. This enables the development of completely new geometrical shapes in finger jointing, while their potential and feasibility can be virtually tested on the computer immediately, and without incurring any major input or expenses.

Industrial Wood Expertise
By developing the new software for the optimization of finger jointing, St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences has transferred valuable academic knowledge to economically-important industrial applications. As Dr. Schrefl adds: “Work on the software will be completed by the summer. Together with our partner, Holzforschung Austria, we will then collaborate with partners in industry for the final finessing of the software. The methods applied and the software environment will then undergo further development, and will be optimally adapted to the requirements of the timber and woodworking industry. We are open to cooperation with additional companies that are ready to mutually apply the innovative software in practice. They would benefit from cutting-edge expertise at an early stage and gain clear competitive advantages.”

OptWood received funding from the Austrian Research Promotion Agency as part of the ModSim computational mathematics program. ModSim is being implemented by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT).

St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences
St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences offers vocational and performance-oriented higher education courses in the fields of technology, business and health and social sciences. More than 1,700 students are now pursuing 14 university courses. In addition to its educational activities, St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences also focuses intensively on research. Scientific work is carried out within the courses of study, as well as in the university’s own institutes, and is further developed and implemented in ongoing vocational and applied research projects.

Holzforschung Austria
With 85 employees, Holzforschung Austria (HFA), is currently Austria’s largest research and testing institute for timber. It is the only institute to cover the entire value-added chain, ranging from timber storage in the forest to timber processing and through to a wide variety of products. The institute also deals with related professional disciplines, such as surface coatings, wood preservatives and adhesives, and bonding agents.

Downloadable press information available at: http://english.fhstp.ac.at

Contact at St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences:
Prof. Thomas Schrefl
Fachhochschule St. Pölten
Studiengang Communications & Simulation Engineering
Matthias Corvinus-Str. 15
3100 St. Pölten, Austria
T +43 / (0)2742 / 313 228 – 313
E thomas.schrefl@fhstp.ac.at
W http://www.fhstp.ac.at

Contact at Holzforschung Austria:
Forschungsinstitut und akkreditierte Prüf- und Überwachungsstelle der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Holzforschung (ÖGH)
Franz Grill-Strasse 7
1030 Wien, Austria
T +43 / (0)1 / 798 26 23 – 0
W http://www.holzforschung.at

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PR&D – Public Relations for Research & Education
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1030 Vienna
T +43 / (0)1 / 505 70 44
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