President of APA-The engineered wood association, Dennis Hardman, is a marketing man. When he joined APA in 1981 it was as advertising and PR manager. When he became president in 2005, it was after a lengthy stint as vice president of marketing.

“APA doesn’t make or sell anything. Our value proposition is the services we provide to support and promote structural panels’ and engineered wood products’ (EWP) use in construction and industrial applications,he said, defining the APA’s role.

Structural panels include plywood and OSB. Glulam, LVL and other structural composite lumber also came under the APA’s purview because, although not strictly speaking panels, they are made using similar production methods.

APA has its roots in the Douglas Fir Plywood Association which was founded in 1933. Then, plywood was used in nonstructural applications, such as automobile running boards (the ‘step’ running along the side of the car between front and rear wings).

But, it was the post-World War Two boom in US housing that saw it take off, when homes previously braced with sawn timber began using plywood instead.

“Plywood housed America after World War Two because it was affordable, strong and went up fast,said Mr Hardman. Records meticulously maintained by APA’s director of market research, Craig Adair, show plywood consumption in North America doubling from 1945 to 1950 and tripling over the next decade.

By the mid 1960s, consumption was 11.8 million m3; expansion continued until OSB’s emergence in the 1980s.

APA embraces OSB
In 1980 the APA, under then executive vice president Bronson Lewis, embraced OSB.

Said Mr Hardman: “OSB challenged structural plywood as a competitor in most construction applications, so it was farsighted of the APA to accept OSB – and necessary, since a level playing field was needed”.

APA then began drafting performance standards to ensure that plywood and OSB competed equitably. Currently, APA is responsible for 70% of product certification in the US and Canada.

“APA maintains rigid compliance standards and since the wood products business is dynamic, we review and make changes, if required, every few years,Mr Hardman said.

He went on to emphasise APA’s role in promoting its members’ products by providing information to users and specifiers that’s backed up by applied research and testing, much of it done at APA’s own 42,000 ft2 facility.

“Earlier, APA used aggressive advertising and mountains of printed material to get our message out about plywood. We had offices in Europe, Japan and Mexico and advertised on prime-time television: Huge cost. Now, our message goes out over the Internet at a fraction of the cost.”

A visit to brings up a comprehensive website. Managed by marketing communications director, Marilyn LeMoine, the site boasts over 500 publications, many downloadable, including design guides, case studies and international publications. Over a third of those requesting APA materials are engineers, with a significant percentage being architects, builders and remodellers.

In the first eight months of 2010, APA distributed over 27,000 pieces of printed literature, with 275,000 brochures being downloaded from its website.

Said Mr Hardman: “Our website more than satisfies an important association mandate to provide vital information and disseminate it. In these tough times it’s a vital function of our association and one we can be very proud of. However, providing literature alone doesn’t necessarily change building practices or increase the use of engineered wood systems over alternative products, like foam wall sheathing or concrete slab floors”.

He stated how APA also provides ‘boots on the ground’ through its Field Services Division, which works with builders, code officials and designers to overcome obstacles to increased use of engineered wood products, primarily through face-to-face promotion and educational seminars.

“We’ve reduced costs enormously by providing downloadable documents from a knowledge base that is second to none and instantly accessible,said the president.

Help Desk
APA’s Help Desk was born several years ago, when management realised that engineering staff were fielding the same questions repeatedly over the phone.

“The same question was often asked repeatedly and answered by different individuals. Redundancy wasted our resources,said Mr Hardman.

Currently, two people staff APA’s Help Desk, fielding phone calls and e-mails. A question sent via e-mail was answered in 20 minutes and came with a 25-page document titled ‘Performance Rated I-Joists’. Impressive.

“Our Help Desk has created considerable equity with specifiers, architects and builders. They know we are more than a certifying agency. As the secretariat responsible for overseeing the performance standards of North America’s structural panels, we must maintain our knowledge at current levels and ensure it is always available to members. The high professional standards of the Help Desk help us to do that,he said.

Over 12,000 contacts are received and answered by the Help Desk annually, ranging from technical issues to questions about markets and historical data.

Supporting members
APA membership is restricted to North American producers. The only offshore members permitted are those in which a North American member has at least 51% ownership.

“We limit membership to protect the credibility of our APA trademark,said Mr Hardman.

At the top of the list of services, he believes, is the APA Quality Assurance Programme.

“APA has long been involved in developing building codes and performance standards for structural panels and EWPs in North America, including national consensus standards developed together with industry and accredited by the American National Standards Institute,he said, adding that APAis also the secretariat for standards PS1 (US product standard for structural plywood) and PS2 (US harmonised performance standards developed under the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement). Additionally, APA has developed proprietary standards for siding, sheathing, I-joists and rim board.

“APA accreditation is highly regarded, so we must protect our brand by setting high, yet achievable standards for our members. Initiatives like the Quality Assurance Programme, ongoing standards development and involvement in third-party auditing and testing ensure that the APA maintains value for its members who, in turn, deliver the highest quality products to their customers,said the APA president.

Addressing challenges
Mr Hardman spoke of the APA’S need to maintain market access for members by ensuring they aren’t disadvantaged by spurious building codes or nonsensical regulations.

“We need to ensure our members operate on a level playing field, so we must remain an unrelenting advocate on their behalf, ensuring they are heard at state, local and Federal levels.”

Among the most serious of challenges, Mr Hardman cited the recently-convened ICC Final Action Hearings concerning the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code.

The code exceeds the US Department of Energy’s goal of achieving 30% higher energy efficiency in new homes and commercial buildings beyond the 2006 IECC requirements.

Mr Hardman explained that the code, if implemented, would require builders in specific US climate zones to sheathe 2x4in framed homes in insulated foam panels, instead of plywood or OSB.

“This could seriously impact the volume use and market share of these products, so we are working with our board and marketing advisory committee to develop both defensive and offensive strategies going forward,he said.

Practical undertakings
According to Mr Hardman, leveraging outside funds is another important function the APA provides to its members.

“Our dues are proportionate to how much product members produce. Low output reduces revenue needed to fund our programmes. But because of the value we provide, APA gets funding from other sources as well,Mr Hardman said.

These include the US Foreign Agricultural Service, BCFII, Natural Resources Canada, the US Forest Product Laboratory and the Softwood Lumber Binational Council for initiatives ranging from international market access and promotion to US programmes which expand domestic markets.

APA’s raised wood floor initiative is a good example of the latter.

“Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, we undertook an initiative with the Southern Forest Products Association to promote the benefits of raised wood floors. Many homes in the Southern US are built on concrete slabs and when Katrina hit, many were damaged by rising water. Raising a house off the ground using a wood floor system mitigates the threat of flood damage and provides a more comfortable home with greater curb appeal,“ said Mr Hardman.

“Misery loves company …”
Mr Hardman believes this old cliché sums up the mood at the APA’s Annual Meeting and Info Fair held last October in Tucson, Arizona.

“Industry is hurting so attendees generally exhibited a ‘hunker-down’ mentality. The feeling was that we’ll eventually come out of this mess but it will take time. I was, however, encouraged by a very respectable attendance of over 300.”

Info Fair, held jointly with the Annual Meeting, gives industry suppliers the opportunity to showcase their products and services. Organised by the Engineered Wood Technology Association (EWTA), a related non-profit organisation of APA comprised of industry suppliers, it serves as a networking and information exchange for engineered wood product manufacturers and their product, equipment and service providers.

“Info Fair exhibitor numbers were up about 35% from last year, suggesting, I think, that the economy is stabilising,said EWTA managing director Terry Kerwood.

… “but hope springs eternal”
As to his hopes for the future of the industry which he has served in such dedicated fashion for over 40 years, Mr Hardman stated emphatically: “Growth and profitability! Driven by continued innovation, the highest quality products, a stable and healthy economy, with full recognition that wood is the most environmentally friendly of all building materials.

“And it wouldn’t hurt if every American and Canadian decided to cure their back problems by buying a sheet of plywood or OSB to stick under their mattress!he added.

With the enthusiasm of its president and the support of its dedicated staff, one can’t help but believe that the APA will continue to remain a viable and vital advocate for its members for many years to come.