Resolute’s Wood Products segment, in collaboration with the FORAC research consortium of Université Laval in Québec City, recently developed an innovative technology that could revolutionize lumber drying operations at sawmills.
The technology uses mathematical models and artificial intelligence algorithms to dramatically reduce the time required to plan the lumber drying process.
“Up to eight weeks in advance, planners must determine which bundles of lumber to dry, the configuration of the lumber in the dryer, and the timing of the whole process. It’s like doing a gigantic three-dimensional puzzle,” explained Jonathan Gaudreault, a professor in the Computer Science and Software Engineering Department at Université Laval.
Vanessa Simard played a key role in the project while pursuing her masters’ degree in industrial engineering at Université Laval. For two years, she worked on the design of the new technology with Resolute planners at the company’s Dolbeau-Mistassini (Québec) office.
“The geographical location of Resolute’s network of sawmills is unique,” Vanessa explained. “You need to respond rapidly to uncertainties related to the availability of lumber at each facility; moreover, the interdependence of the facilities creates an even greater risk of changes in lumber supply and, therefore, a need for flexibility in planning.”
“Taking into account thousands of variables and constraints, the new system determines a complete drying plan in about five minutes, versus about one hour for the previous drying process,” said Michael Plourde, who is responsible for logistics in Resolute’s Wood Products segment. “This results in considerable productivity gains.” The technology will eventually be extended to all our sawmills in Canada.
“Vanessa was the catalyst for this technological breakthrough,” Dr. Gaudreault added. “Her project at Resolute effectively bridged the academic and industrial worlds. She also made it possible to truly understand a planner’s reality in the field. Hats off to Vanessa!”
The solution developed by Resolute and FORAC is the only one of its kind in the world and was a finalist in the 2018 OCTAS Awards competition, organized each year by the IT ACTION Network to highlight Québec projects that use digital and information technologies in exceptionally creative and innovative ways.