A lot to learn13 June 2008
The International Wood Composite Symposium seems to have made a permanent move to Seattle, Washington from its long-time home at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. In fact, meeting veterans still refer to it as the 'Pullman meeting'. Attendance stood at 173 and of these, 25% were board manufacturers, 50% suppliers, 20% education and research and 5% associations. Kelly Shotbolt, president and ceo of North America's largest MDF and particleboard producer, keynoted the symposium.
Then Steve Zylkowski, director of the quality services division of APA, Tacoma, Washington, said slumping housing demand in the US has created a strong headwind for engineered wood products. He said US residential construction has plunged at a record pace, but commercial building continues to increase. Low-rise non-residential construction continues to be an attractive market for wood products. "Unfortunately, wood framing still represents less than 10% of the total low-rise construction market in North America. Five major North American wood products associations are working to expand that market," he said. He said glulam hit bottom this year, but is starting to climb back, as are I-joists.
Mr Zylkowski advised that the following is necessary to get housing starts up again: lower home prices; better liquidity/credit; increasing sales to lower inventory; consumer confidence; and a stable economy. "We have two out of five and that isn't enough," he indicated.He said the housing recession is causing a national recession and the traditional remedy is to use lower rates to spark housing to lead the economy, but this can't happen because of the huge housing inventory. "Housing and wood products will suffer for another year," he warned. Sunil Ramachandra, Armstrong World Industries, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, described his company as a global leader in hard floor coverings, ceilings and cabinets, with annual sales of US$3.4bn. The company is working on computer analysis of wood flooring. His laboratory has developed a 3'4in panel with hardwood MDF core. President Laszlo Döry of the European Panel Federation (EPF) said, "Climate change is one of the most pressing and complex issues facing society today. The countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol recognise this and are developing measures to adapt to climate change and also to mitigate its effects. This development opens up new threats, but also new opportunities for the economic value of forests and the environmental value of forest products. As part of the important role that forests can play in providing well-being to citizens, forests and their products can also make an important contribution toward the problem of climate change." However, the potential benefits of using wood products to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are not recognised by governments, and not well understood by individual consumers, said Mr Döry; forest-based industries need to take a united position if they want to be recognised for their role in the climate change fight. The EU woodworking and furniture industries' production value is e230bn/year, employing 2.3 million workers. The key wood problems are inaccurate forest inventories, small forest owners' reluctance to enter the wood markets and large forest owners' lack of interest in market share, said the speaker. Higher wood prices allow them to earn what they need by cutting less. Policy is directing the long-term price of wood to its energy content, thereby linking it to fossil fuel prices. The challenges are soaring production costs, increased competition for wood raw materials, growth deceleration in the construction sector and increased competition, especially for extra-EU exports. Panel production in Europe is 62% particleboard, 21% MDF, 7% plywood, 6% OSB and 4% hard/softboard. This excludes Russia and Turkey, said Mr Döry. Michael Zimmerman, Sauder Woodworking Co, Archbold, Ohio, described his company as a ready-to-assemble furniture manufacturer and one of the largest users of particleboard and MDF in North America. The furniture is made primarily by laminating paper to particleboard and MDF, cutting to size, edge-banding the appropriate sides and boring the parts. The parts are hand-packed and shipped flat. The company works with 100 different panels. Mr Zimmerman said: "In order to compete in the current furniture market, we need to value-engineer our units to meet all the required specifications and yet hit extremely competitive pricing." Harald Schwab, Wilhelm Klauditz Institute, Braunschweig, Germany, said: "Formaldehyde is a most simple, but highly reactive organic compound. It is a natural trace and an important substance for chemical and technical applications - and for hygiene purposes. It is used for the formulation of wood based panel adhesives." In 1980 some European countries started with formaldehyde regulations on particleboards. He said emission standards have been tightened since 1984, but do not apply to wood based panels to which no formaldehyde-containing materials are added during production, in production, or in post-production processing. John Bradfield, Composite Panel Association, Gaithersburg, Maryland, said the California Air Resources Board (CARB) restrictions on formaldehyde emissions are now in place and will have a worldwide impact. The current proposal would reduce emission rates by 60 to 85% from the current low levels in two phases - the first on January 1, 2009 and the second on January 1, 2011. "The new limits will create a technical challenge for adhesive producers and their customers in the composite industry. However, the CARB rule will lead to an opportunity to market products where formaldehyde emissions are not an issue. Composites already have one of the greenest wood products stories with their nearly 100% recycled/recovered wood usage rates." The CPA/EPP requirements are the most widely-specified environmental certification programme for composite wood panels in North America. They require using all recycled or recovered wood fibre and formaldehyde emissions which meet CARB phase 1 levels. Frédéric De Champlain, FPInnovations-Division, Forintek, Canada, said, "Formaldehyde is a confirmed human carcinogen and is, among many sources, released from UF-bonded wood composite products used for furniture and structural panels. "Even if the industry has reduced by more than 80% the formaldehyde that emanates from these products since the 1980s, public concerns about air quality in working and living spaces are increasing the need for lower, or zero, formaldehyde emitting products. This has resulted in stricter regulations around the world." In North America, average formaldehyde emissions from panels is 0.15 to 0.20ppm. New standards provide 0.04 to 0.10ppm in off-gassing. A major challenge is not only to produce these low-emitting products, but also to ensure that the sampling and analytical methods are sensitive and reproducible enough at these low levels. He said increased sealing of homes to save heat energy has increased the formaldehyde problem. Mario Colombelli, Duratex SA, Såo Paulo, Brazil, whose 50-year-old firm is building the world's largest MDF plant, said the Brazilian MDF market is experiencing a high growth period. He said this is Brazil's "magic moment", with home construction booming, and that more MDF production is needed. His firm opened its first hardboard line in 1955. It has its own forests. The new mill at Agudos, Såo Paulo is a US$200m project producing 2,300m3 of board daily. Ken Pratt, Olympic Panel Products LLC, Shelton, Washington, said customer needs are more valuable than manufacturing needs. Of sales, he said: "You basically have to be a consultant, not a glorified order taker." Speaking of the value of speciality panels he said you have increased margins, predictable sales volume, partnership loyalty, reduced risks during commodity dips and growth opportunities for both partners. Mr Pratt said: "We have 15 to 20 new ideas in the hopper at any one time. About half come to fruition. About 80 to 90% of the ideas come from our customers." Lacramioara Schulte auf'm Erley, NanoDynamics Life Sciences, Inc, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, described nanotechnology as manipulating matter on the atomic and molecular level to create new materials and processes. She said that it has been too costly to use in many areas, but advances in technology, and new commercial uses for the tiny materials, will allow nanotechnology to become more cost-effective. Durability of wood products refers in part to their resistance to microbial attack. Biological contaminants include bacteria, mould, mildew, fungi and viruses. One technology is based on encapsulation of biocides into the naturally occurring nanotube clays, which allows slow release. Biocides are important agents which could replace copper chrome arsenate treatments. Encapsulated biocides facilitate incorporation of heat labile biocides into wood composite materials, protect and keep biocides dormant until needed, and release them at a controlled rate. The materials can be incorporated into the wood composite materials during the processing, or as finishing. Kai Greten, Fagus-GreCon Greten GmbH & Co KG, Germany, said spark extinguishing systems in mechanical or pneumatic conveying systems are valuable for fire prevention. Sensors can detect sparks and burning embers and automatically extinguish them by water spray or other systems. This can prevent fires or dust explosions further on in the line. The delay between spark detection and extinguishing water flow is 0.2 of a second. "Every spark is dangerous and many disturbances can be traced by the plant operator at any time, due to a millisecond-accurate data recording of the sensor." Hauke Kleinschmidt, Electronic Wood Systems GmbH, Germany, explained on-line measuring systems. He said extended press length and market growth for thin panels has created significant production line speed increases, up to 6.5ft/sec. He credits improved drying, forming, pressing and handling equipment. He explained that minimum density variations during mat forming are necessary to optimise production speed. Thickness data collection in the press exit area must follow high panel speed, simultaneously with blow detection. He said traditional measuring equipment uses gaps between the boards for calibration. "New solutions must calibrate on-line instruments where little or no gaps exist, due to the high production speed. "The increased production speeds make it difficult to obtain panel weight because the time for weighing it is not long enough, or there is simply not enough space to install a mechanical scale between the cross-cut saw and star cooler," Mr Kleinschmidt concluded. Jamie Hague, CSIRO, Clayton, Victoria, Australia, said: "The Australian forest industry generated sales of $14.1bn in 1999-2000, accounting for 7.5% of Australia's manufacturing industry and 1% of GDP". There are currently 1.7m ha of industrial plantations established in Australia. Of these, one million ha are softwood. There are 164 million ha of native forest covering 21% of the continent. Just 1% is logged commercially. Australia's wood production has been unable to meet consumer demand. "The Australasian panels industry has considerable experience in addressing formaldehyde emission issues. It is possible to achieve required emission levels with amino plastics without incurring prohibitive costs. MDF has proved to be relatively straightforward. Particleboard presents greater challenges of furnish pH, new catalysts and resin spread," he concluded. Bruce Broline, Arclin, Springfield, Oregon, said: "Amino resins are the most widely-used adhesives in the forest products industry. Despite the importance of these resins, some of the frequently used methods of determining free formaldehyde give erroneously high values when time dependency is not taken into account. "Quantification of formaldehyde in amino resins is a non-trivial exercise". Björn Engström, Casco Adhesives, Sweden, presented thoughts on NIR spectroscopy for formaldehyde emission measurements. He said laboratory results were encouraging and demonstrated the possibility of formaldehyde emission measurement in just seconds. He reported that an NIR probe has been developed and a full scale installation has shown good results in comparing calibration of NIR with measured formaldehyde emissions. However, the ability of calibration models to compensate for process drift is still not satisfactory. Anke Schirp, Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research, Braunschweig, Germany, said his group is researching lightweight particleboards for the furniture industry, varying from 300kg/m3 to 500kg/m3. The first project uses annual and perennial plants such as hemp, sunflower, topinambur, maize and miscanthus. The light parenchyma cells are particularly suited. The experiment used different conventional and natural adhesives such as urea or tannin-formaldehyde resin and PMDI. Board properties were compared with reference particleboards made from wood. A second project, funded by the German Ministry for Education and Research, developed a lightweight particleboard based on foamed adhesives. This included foaming urea formaldehyde adhesive using air and surfactants; mixing expandable, gas-filled microspheres and polystyrene into UF adhesive; and using formaldehyde-free foam-generating polyurethane adhesives. Chris J Watt, Columbia Forest Products, Bellingham, Washington recounted that in 2003 Columbia Forest Products, after using traditional UF glue for 40 years, embarked on a project to use a soy protein-based adhesive using cationic amine polymer-epichlorohydrin as a fortifier. This produced a novel adhesive with superior durability and lower overall cost. The UF adhesive within Columbia's hardwood plywood operations contributed to plant emissions and limited durability and did not fit with Columbia's moves towards sustainable products. Mill conversion took three years, starting in 2005. It involved retro-fitting glue lofts with new high-shear mixers and glue pumps. The exercise of implementing the new technology now acts as a model for further company innovation.