New Terahertz Imaging Technology Improves Competitiveness Of Oriented Strand Board Industry

In 2008, University of Northern British Columbia received a $200,000 grant from Northern Development through the Feasibility Studies program towards this $937,300 project. This has been a funding partnership of University of Northern British Columbia, Northern Development, College of New Caledonia, Community Economic Diversification Initiative, Del-Tech Manufacturing Inc., and Industrial Research Assistance Program

2012 – X-ray vision is yesterday’s news and terahertz technology is the wave of the future. In 2008, Northern Development supported this shift in technological advancement by funding a cutting edge terahertz imaging project led by the University of Northern British Columbia in partnership with Del-Tech Industries Inc. The project utilizes the unique properties of terahertz waves to analyze the physical properties and fibre structure of wood and composite wood products, resulting in millions of dollars in yearly savings for the oriented strand board industry.

Terahertz technology is similar in many ways to x-ray technology, but it does not have the associated health risks that x-ray technologies carry and has superior inherent imaging capabilities for wood fibre. Time is of the essence due to the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic. Forest companies are scrambling for a way to see the insides of trees so that logs can be properly positioned in the mill for maximum efficiency. Currently, mill managers have to overbuild oriented strand boards and then test them for strength. With this technology, operators will be able to ensure product meets standards and see any defects in real-time, providing them with something better than x-ray vision.

"This is the fastest terahertz imaging system in Canada right now. With the upgrade, it'll be one of the fastest terahertz imaging systems in the world. It's really only the last few years we've looked at terahertz applications. NASA uses it to examine foam on the space shuttle - that's really the only place that it's been used so far."

Dr. Matt Reid, Assistant Professor, University of Northern British Columbia

"The mills have to put more flake into each oriented strand board (OSB) to ensure they meet the standard. With this technology, they could make a 2.5 percent reduction in raw materials - that's $2 million a year for an average size OSB mill."

Keith Spencer, former General Manager, Del-Tech Manufacturing, Inc.

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Positive Economic Impacts in Central and Northern BC

The commercial implementation of new terahertz imaging technology will lower production costs within the oriented strand board sector, particularly as the industry works with Mountain Pine Beetle damaged fibre. Implementation of this technology will enable grade and revenue appreciation in lumber, oriented strand board, plywood, and other value added products. When this new technology is installed at operations throughout the region, it should increase lumber and oriented strand board revenue returns, resulting in a substantially more competitive regional forest industry.

The project resulted in the development of a full prototype system which was installed in a pilot plant, Ainsworth 100 Mile House OSB Mill, and has been in operation since June 24, 2009. The scanning system is being used to examine changes to the oriented strand board production process that may allow significant savings to the plant, making them more competitive in the market.

The success of the project led to the development of a Prince George-based spin-off company, Terahertz Solutions Inc., to further commercialize the technology. In addition to the three independant contractors that have been employed to further develop the prototype, the project trained a total of six skilled workers and continues to train workers through the planer mill training program at the College of New Caledonia.

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