To understand the state-of-the-art in the wood industry, Anders Kruse Aagaard and Niels Martin Larsen went on a research trip to Finland in 2018. The complete wood supply chain was studied, from harvesting through sorting and cutting at the sawmill, fabrication of LVL and CLT and production of various building components, such as CNC-controlled processing of wall panels and construction of room-size modules for high-rise housing. The many companies were generally extraordinarily open and willing to share their knowledge and interest on all levels, from economy to technical details. It was apparent that the key to the industry’s success was the close collaboration between the different actors. The supply chain handles a large volume with relatively low profit, paying close attention to optimisation. Every slight improvement can have a significant impact on the companies’ revenues. On the other hand, this also means that there is a growing interest in finding product niches and manufacturing wood products that are more refined than is the case with most of the wood that is exported from Finland.
Even the controlled plantation forestry produces trees with a high degree of variation in both shape, composition and quality of the individual tree parts. This has led to advanced digital technologies for inspecting and controlling the wood throughout the production chain. In modern forestry, each tree is mapped and measured and then followed with digital technology throughout the production chain at the sawmill. For instance, photogrammetry is used for registering the species, current size and position of every tree in a forest area. This can be used to determine the total value of the available wood material. The harvesting machines automatically register the diameter of the tree trunks and match these with the database of dimensions needed for the production at the sawmill. This makes it possible to automatically adjust the sawlogs’ precise length in real-time at the spot during harvesting. See Fig. 3.
When the sawlogs arrive at a modern sawmill, they are evaluated and graded automatically. This happens with multi-sided X-ray scanning that creates a three-dimensional representation of the log’s exterior shape and interior composition. See Fig. 4. The logs are sorted to fit best with optimised saw patterns, which later happen in batches so that several logs can be cut up in the same pattern. The analysis, which takes place in a second, includes information on the log’s diameter, dimensions, internal cracks, curviness, knots and foreign objects, like screws and stones. The evaluation takes up to 400 parameters into account to define the following use of the log. The logs that have not been discarded for their irregularity and crookedness already in the forest are detected and discarded and sent to be used for paper production or combustion.
In the fabrication workflow, other scanning methods are used for quality control and steering the processing of the wood, for instance, to mitigate minor deviations when boards are cut. A certain degree of skewness is accepted for some product categories, and this allows optimised use of the log volume. Another example is seen in the production lines for laminated veneer lumber (LVL), where surface scanning and immediate computational analysis of every veneer layer and subsequent mixing of veneer from multiple trees ensure consistency of the final product. See Fig. 5.
The wood industry has reached a high technological level. It is optimised for manufacturing standardised products, which again feeds into the efficiency required by the building industry that is increasingly dominated by modular construction systems. The basis for these systems is entirely homogeneous products, such as equal-sized boards, certified timber and EWPs of specific dimensions. The basis for these products comes from the controlled plantation forest and automated production workflows. While these optimised production lines enable the wood to compete economically against other less climate-friendly construction materials, the resulting plantation forest characterised by monoculture has a negative impact on biodiversity  and a degrading effect on the forests . Another criticism could be pointed toward the fact that the series of laminated, composite and half-way artificial EWPs deprives the wood of some of its inherent properties, such as fibrous strength or natural shape, and then reinstate these in a more controlled way through extensive use of adhesives, making the material less sustainable and much more difficult to recycle. It should be acknowledged that these EWPs, such as CLT panels, are helping to promote the use of wood in the building industry and provide a clear alternative to concrete panels [2, 18]; however, this way of employing wood seems to overlook its natural properties. The natural strength of wood is already mentioned, and when the wood fibres are generated, they organise into optimised layers as a result of the growth pattern and the changing climatic conditions. Some of these embedded qualities are lost when reconfiguring the wood into laminated products through cutting, slicing, unrolling and glueing.
As mentioned above, the wood industry uses a large spectrum of advanced computational technologies to maintain highly optimised workflows. Similar technologies have been adopted and explored in various experimental architectural projects and architectural research laboratories, but with other aims than mere optimisation. Here, the focus is more on exploring new adaptable design-to-fabrication workflows that allow for a significant degree of variation in the architectural expression and are open to developing new construction types. [19,20,21]. We seek to demonstrate with the following workflow that there might be possibilities for making better use of the capacities found in natural wood by employing technologies that are already present in today’s modern sawmills and manufacturing companies.