Circular Wood to Robotic Production

Project Description

How can digital twin technology help the digital production research group (DPRG) realise their vision of a circular wood factory?

Construction, interior architecture and product design industries are re-discovering wood as sustainable building material with high potential to create circular buildings and interiors. Upcycling and repurposing wood is one of the key strategies for circularity, as wood represents 42% of the current waste streams. In particular, residual virgin wood (left-over pieces) from wood industry and upgraded wood waste (i.e. cleaned by the material harvester) from building maintenance, renovation or demolition, are two valuable streams with a lot of potential for upcycling applications.

Large quantities of valuable residual wood are left unused (ending up burned or turned into low-value chipboard) because it is too costly to manually sort and process considerable volumes of uneven wood pieces, with variable forms, size, type and grain. Companies with such waste streams (in the wood processing industry) want to develop knowledge on how to create more value from re-using their waste, by making ‘new’ standard products for the market (i.e. window manufacturers), or finding upcycling applications that can also generate value (i.e. wood importers and resellers). Beyond the wood industry, Interior design and production companies want to know how they could incorporate high quality residual wood into their customized designs. In summary, digital design and production technologies are needed by different parties as a means to cost-effectively use residual wood to make valuable objects. 

In the past three years, the AUAS Digital Production Research Group (DPRG) and partners have explored the potential of digital production to effectively improve the use of residual wood. This work includes computational design methods and the deployment of a lab set-up with 6-axis industrial robots for automated 3D scanning and sorting, sawing and milling of wood. At the Robot Studio, homebase of the DPRG, two eye-catching examples have been made: a lounge chair from waste wood collected at an Amsterdam Afvalpunt, and a reception desk made of left-over hardwood pieces (from sawing) of wood reseller Amsterdamse Fijnhout. 

Foto credits: Sander Heezen

Various technical aspects have already been developed and/or currently studied  in small projects at the Robot Studio, such as:

  • Robo-Wood: creation of custom-made end-effectors to pick variable pieces of wood
  • Circl-Wood: parametric design processes using the data base of existing wood pieces, from a given stock
  • Smart Object Scanning: automated scanning paths for irregular objects 
  • Printing on a Cloud: surface treatments from 3D Scanning point clouds
  • Data-Wood: automated scanning, picking and sorting of mixed pieces of residual wood.

A wide range of companies and institutes related to wood processing have teamed with AUAS to research these subjects. DPRG and partners now want to connect all steps towards an integrated model of a wood workshop for residual wood, powered by digital production: the Circular Wood Research Factory.

The Circular Wood Research Factory is envisioned as an R&D set-up that allows for repurposing and upcycling of residual wood in an automated manner. For AUAS prototyping this set-up will facilitate new developments, innovations and process improvements, involving students from various disciplines. Most importantly, it can support working together with related institutes (HMC, TU Delft, TNO, 3DMZ and Saxion) and the direct involvement of SME’s in wood industry, who can learn and test how to create new applications for residual wood. 

This project focuses on the Sustainable Development Goals:


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