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From left, Frederico Franca, assistant research professor of sustainable bioproducts; Songyi “May” Han, an MSU sustainable bioproducts doctoral student; and professor Dan Seale. The team’s work is part of the university’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center The team created Smart Thumper an app to test the stiffness of lumber. (Photo by David Ammon, MSU)

A new app developed by faculty in the Mississippi State University College of Forest Resources could now gives consumers access to functions previously available on expensive equipment for the cost of $4.99.

The Smart Thumper App was developed by a team of sustainable byproducts faculty in the College of Forest Resources. The app allows consumers to test the stiffness and density of wood, particularly Southern pine lumber using sound waves and vibration.The team of Warren S. Thompson Professor or Wood Science and Technology Dan Seale, assistant research professor of sustainable byproducts and graduate student Songyi “May” Han began working on the project in 2014.

“It’s an app that predicts the stiffness of a piece of lumber,” Seale said. “Stiffness does not absolutely predict strength, but they are correlated statistically.”

Seale said the app could be used by anyone from lumber mill quality control personnel to do-it-yourself carpenters.

“To look at the material that’s going to be used in certain applications, you’ve just got to whip out your smart phone and do it at thejob site,” Seale said.”

He said the idea for creating a smartphone app to do the job came first from Franca, while they were working on a research project involving more than 2,000 pieces of lumber. Han worked mostly on researching how to market such an app and found coders to build it.

“It’s a non-destructive tool,” Franca said. “It’s portable, because it’s on your phone, cheap because it costs $4.99, and it’s able to estimate the stiffness of each piece of 2x4 or 2x6, 2x8, 2x10 Southern pine or Douglas fir lumber.

Franca said the app had first become available to the public in November 2018.

The app is used by first setting a piece of lumber on two sawhorses. To check using sound waves, the sample is hit gently with a hammer while the phone is held close to the end of the sample. To test with vibration, the phone is set in the middle of the sample, and the sample is vibrated vertically. Results are given on a color scale, with red representing low stiffness, yellow representing medium and green representing high. A gray reading is a suggestion to test a second time.

“We are trying to get this certified by the American Lumber Standard Committee,” Franca said. “We believe that we do have a bright future, not just because of the tool, but for a better understanding of the mechanical properties of lumber.”

The app is currently available in the Apple App Store, and will soon be available on Google Play.

“In terms of an app, this is kind of the first one of these,” Seale said. “We have some scientific equipment using vibration and sound waves. The vibration device is made by a company on the West Coast and costs $10,000, and the sound wave equipment costs about $8,500, and this app gives you very, very similar results and it costs $4.99.”

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