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Normally, German-built Kuka industrial robots are used for precision machining, high-speed assembly or other automated manufacturing tasks.

On Thursday, however, Oregon State University employed one of the $300,000 machines for a more mundane purpose: cutting the cake at the grand opening of the new A.A. “Red” Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory.

It was a crowd-pleasing way to demonstrate some of the technical capabilities of the 14,000-square-foot lab. Along with the 80,000-square foot George W. Peavy Forest Science Center under construction nearby, the lab is part of a new Oregon Forest Science Complex that’s intended to nurture and showcase the state’s growing expertise in engineered wood products and mass timber construction.

The first piece of cake went to Anthony Davis, interim dean of the OSU College of Forestry and one of several speakers at the grand opening ceremony.

“Wood is the only primary building material we can grow, and its effective use has to be a cornerstone in mounting an aggressive front in challenging our sustainability and climate crises,” he told the 150 or so people on hand for the event.

“These new facilities represent a critical step in the pathway towards using renewable materials in new ways.”

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, said the state has an opportunity to take a leading role in the emerging mass timber construction industry, creating markets for Oregon timber and jobs for Oregon workers.

Innovative products such as mass plywood panels manufactured by Freres Lumber of Lyons and cross-laminated timber panels made by D.R. Johnson of Riddle are already being used in the Oregon Forest Science Complex, he pointed out.

“Hopefully, we can take some of Oregon’s trees and turn them into engineered products and ship them all over the world, to the strength of Oregon’s economy,” Merkley said.

The A.A. “Red” Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory is home to the TallWood Design Institute, a partnership between OSU’s Colleges of Forestry and Engineering and the University of Oregon’s College of Design. The building is named for the co-founder of California timber company Sierra Pacific Industries, which donated $6 million toward construction of the Oregon Forest Science Complex.

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Located at 3205 SW Washington Way on OSU’s Corvallis campus, the lab will be used for development and testing of new structural wood products and mass timber design.

In addition to the robot, the lab’s fabrication bay is equipped with an array of high-tech tooling for producing cross-laminated timber panels and other elements used in mass timber construction, an emerging field that uses wood in place of concrete and steel in midrise and highrise buildings.

The lab has 40-foot ceilings, two traveling cranes and a massive concrete “strong floor” for testing the effects of various stresses on building materials, connectors and designs.

First announced in 2015, the Oregon Forest Science Complex has been dogged by ballooning cost estimates and construction delays.

Both the wood products laboratory and the Peavy Center had to be scaled back from their original designs to keep costs from soaring still further, although TallWood Design Institute Director Iain Macdonald says the lab didn’t suffer much.

“We haven’t compromised our technical capabilities at all,” Macdonald said. “We just have smaller offices and less fancy entrances and such.”

Initially projected to cost $60 million, the Peavy Center is now budgeted for $79.5 million, even with the design rollbacks. Its opening date has been repeatedly pushed back, in part because of the failure of a massive CLT panel last year that forced the replacement of more than 80 defective panels.

But now the project is back on track and the Peavy Center should be up and running by late March, Davis insists.

“We’ll have classes in there spring term,” he said. “We’ll finish moving in over spring break. It’s coming.”

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at bennett.hall@lee.net or 541-812-6111. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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