"In an era of global unemployment, hunger and bankrupt businesses, plywood manufacturers had to be optimistic to invest in something for the future, but which could not immediately influence markets still in the grip of depression," Cruver recalled. A major potential boost to the fortunes of the Association’s members occurred in 1934 when Dr James Nevin, a chemist at Harbor Plywood Corporation in Aberdeen, Washington, developed the first fully waterproof adhesive. That promised a much improved product suitable for more demanding applications, but the industry still faced major obstacles. Product quality and grading systems varied widely from mill to mill, individual companies lacked the technical resources to research and develop new uses and new customers had to be made aware of the product and convinced of its benefits – all in the midst of the Great Depression.
The struggling organisation limped along until 1937, when a handful of industry leaders sequestered themselves on the Washington coast to hammer out a new and more effective charter. Mr Cruver, who was there as a member of the DFPA Management Committee, remembered: "For almost a week in early November 1937 we debated the objectives and structure of an organisation that needed a clearer mandate if it was to succeed". The new charter fashioned at that meeting made market development and the advancement of industry-wide product quality standards top priorities – APA mandates that continue to this day. Before long, technical services, including, and especially, engineering expertise, were added to what became and remains the Association’s mission – To work in partnership with members to develop and maintain markets through excellence in APA trade-marked product promotion, quality assurance and technical and educational support.
With the coming of World War II and the end of the Depression, the plywood industry began to grow dramatically. The war was a proving ground for the product. Plywood barracks went up around the country, the navy patrolled the Pacific in plywood PT boats, the air force flew reconnaissance missions in plywood gliders and the army crossed the Rhine River in plywood assault vessels. When the war ended, the industry geared up to meet the demand for construction grade plywood created by the booming post-war economy. The industry that in 1934 boasted 17 mills and produced 400 million ft2 (3’8in basis) of plywood had by 1954 grown to 101 mills producing almost four billion ft2. Ten years later, with the development of new technology facilitating the manufacture of southern pine plywood, the first of numerous southern pine plywood mills opened in Fordyce, Arkansas. Before long, the South was as important a plywood-producing region as the Pacific Northwest.
Having outgrown its name, the Douglas Fir Plywood Association became American Plywood Association (APA) in 1964 and then in 1969, to keep pace with its members’ growing need for technical support, APA dedicated a new 37,000ft2 Tacoma research centre, still one of the most sophisticated applied research laboratories in the world. Demand for plywood continued to grow as the list of uses continued to expand: sub-flooring, wall sheathing, roof sheathing, exterior siding, soffits, stair treads and risers, concrete forming, upholstered furniture frames, crates, bins, boxes, shipping containers, truck trailer linings, pallets, cabinets, boats, recreational vehicles, signage, highway noise barriers, shelving, agricultural buildings, do-it-yourself home projects, and on and on. Another milestone occurred in the late 1970s when the Association promulgated new performance standards which opened the marketplace door to an innovative new type of structural wood panel – oriented strand board, or OSB.
Made of wood strands rather than veneer, the new product employed the same principle of cross-lamination as did plywood, thereby providing the performance benefits of orienting the wood grain in alternating layers. These ‘performance-rated panels’, whether plywood or OSB, are designed and manufactured to meet the demanding performance requirements of specific end-use applications, such as sub-flooring, wall and roof sheathing and exterior siding. The idea of ‘reconstituting’ wood fibre to improve on wood’s inherent structural properties, whether as veneer for plywood or as strands for OSB, has led in recent years to a technological revolution and the acceptance and use of whole new categories of engineered wood products, such as glued laminated (glulam) timber, wood I-joists, laminated veneer lumber (LVL), oriented strand lumber (OSL) and so on.
With its growing OSB constituency, and then also with the addition to its membership of these other engineered wood product manufacturers, in both the US and Canada, the American Plywood Association changed its name again in 1994 to APA-The Engineered Wood Association. The ‘APA’ was retained as part of the name because of its widespread reputation for quality within the design, construction and regulatory communities. Today, APA, as the organisation is still commonly called, represents approximately 160 softwood plywood, OSB, glulam, wood I-joist, structural composite lumber and other structural engineered wood product mills in 22 US states and seven provinces of Canada. Its services and activities are equally diverse. Among those are: New product qualification; quality auditing and testing; standards development and maintenance; building code and regulatory body liaison; development of end-use recommendations; user and specifier field support; electronic and printed product and application information; market research; demand and production forecasting; product and systems application research and testing; marketplace education and training; product promotion; and industry communication.
"It’s a tough year to be celebrating an anniversary," notes APA President Dennis Hardman. "The housing market is the worst its been for a quarter century and the industry is facing difficult times. On the other hand, our 75 years as an organisation is powerful testimony to this industry’s ability to maintain solidarity and to come back strong from adverse market conditions. "We’ve done that time and time again and that’s certainly something to celebrate."