Q: We see some claims that automated crosscut saws have the potential to improve yields and lower costs. Do you agree?

A. Yes indeed, such claims are valid. They are valid because the computer and scanner work early on Monday morning as on Friday afternoon, but they also work for 10 hours a day without a v=break. Further, the computer can make a bunch of imaginary cuts and test solutions before arriving at the best solution. Plus, we can teach the computer that a 22 inch long cutting is worth a lot more than two 12 inch pieces—lower yield but longer cuttings is worthwhile to some extent. Note that these last two items are looking at value and not just yield alone.

Where we really see an improvement in both yield and value is when we have a variety of lengths. You can probably imagine that with just one length, the yield decisions would be pretty easy and a human could do about the same as a computer. A lot of lengths and varying values, the human would need lots of luck to be competitive.

When we look at the cost of furniture or cabinets, we might find that 75 percent of the cost is the wood itself. So, this means that managing the cut-up costs (higher yield and more value with a computer) will be a huge benefit.

The actual numbers or benefit will vary from one operation to the next. I would easily expect to see many operations looking at 5 percent improvement and some doing even more when they fine tune the overall operation.

Another improvement will come when instant yield or cost data is related back to the raw material sources and back to lumber sawing, grading, drying procedures. Some suppliers, for good and bad reasons, will affect yields and costs quite substantially, yet subtly. With this instant yield info, you can find out why and where you are potentially losing money and do something about it. Just one example, you can easily see the effect of proper end coating of the lumber right after sawn, boosting yields several percent, as well as reducing rejects later in manufacturing.

Gene Wengert, “The Wood Doctor” has been training people in efficient use of wood for 35 years. He is extension specialist emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.