A decade since the financial crisis shook the world, the wood based panels industry has shaken off once and for all the long shadow the recession cast.

Expressions of cautious optimism with caveats are gone, replaced by confident forecasts of growth and news of investments under way and more planned.

This is evident throughout this issue of WBPI but perhaps no more so than in our annual OSB survey In Europe OSB production and demand have been rising for several years but recovery has been slower in North America. Now, however, buoyed by strengthening demand and forecast growth in housing starts, North American producers have restarted mills that have lain dormant for nearly 10 years. Norbord, Huber Engineered Woods and Tolko Industries have all resumed production at mothballed mills – and Norbord is preparing to restart a second mill – and LVL manufacturer Forex has installed an OSB line at its mill in Amos, Quebec.

Investments in new mills and added capacity also continue in Europe. Deiffenbacher anticipates 2018 will be one of its busiest years on record.

OSB prices have risen dramatically over the past year and while the increase in production may soften prices in the short term, the investments across the world indicate producers’ confidence in the long term.

Panel processing manufacturers are also enjoying buoyant business – reflected in machinery sales. Preliminary figures for 2017 show the value of Italian woodworking machinery production increased by 11.6% to €2.29bn – higher than before the financial crisis. And at this year’s Xylexpo, taking place in Milan in May, many exhibitors have booked larger stands and organiser Acimall is expecting “double-digit growth” in visitor numbers .

Many of these machinery manufacturers have helped customers improve productivity and efficiency through introducing Industry 4.0 technologies and this will be a major focus at this year’s Xylexpo. In our feature on downline processing we look in detail at how machinery manufacturers are using digital technology so their customers can develop smart factories.

This issue of WBPI also features the final contribution from Dr Mark Irle after nearly 18 years and 102 columns. Under the heading Technically speaking, Dr Irle has explained the science involved in wood based panel manufacturing and kept us informed about some of the latest research. We’d like to thank him for his dedication and for sharing his vast knowledge.

As Dr Irle’s last column could become a collector’s item, if you have the pleasure of meeting him at a conference you might like to follow the example of students at the Pacific Rim Bio-Based Composites Symposium in Japan in 2012 and ask him to sign this issue of WBPI.

We would also like to thank Julian Champkin for his dedication in editing WBPI over the past two years. Julian has moved on to a new role within the Compelo publishing group and we wish him well.