Fear of unfavourable panel prices and far-from-filled order files hung over the APA attendees as they sat down to hear their new chairman, Warren Easley of Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, give his impression of the situation.

APA reduced its originally planned 2001 US$13.8m budget by 5%.

Mr Easley ticked off the negative issues: product substitution, over-capacity threats, regulatory overkill, international competitiveness, resource supplies, the industry’s public image and the stressed bottom lines of company books.

But looking at a brighter side, he said: “To the degree that our association can help us identify, understand and address some of these and other challenges, we are stronger companies and a stronger industry.”

He said that a number of converging factors threaten not only to limit market growth, but possibly even erode existing panel market share.

These are:

* A rise in concern reported in the news media about building envelope system failures and about the performance and durability of structured wood panels, particularly OSB;

* Exploitation of those concerns by competitors, particularly foam sheathing;

* Construction labour shortage that has a direct bearing on mis-application of the industry’s products;

* Energy code requirements that have exacerbated air exchange, condensation and other moisture-related building envelope performance problems;

* Professional disagreement over the best science of some moisture-related problems and how best to solve them;

* Rise of the litigation industry with aggressive lawyers looking for deep pockets.

Mr Easley called for greater investment in product research, application research, processing technology and quality assurance innovations.

He said: “There has been a fundamental shift in the industry – a rising demand for specialised solutions to customer needs as opposed to the ‘one size fits all’ approach of an earlier time.”

New members

APA president Dave Rogoway introduced new member mills: Georgia-Pacific OSB in Fordyce, Arkansas; Footner Forest Products OSB in High Level, Alberta; Martco Plywood in Chopin, Louisiana; Louisiana-Pacific OSB in St-Michel-des-Saints, Maniwaki and Chambord, Quebec; Cumberland Wood Industries glulam, Cumberland, British Columbia; Slocan Group glulam, Chilliwack, British Columbia; Duco Lam glulam, Drain, Oregon; Les Chantiers de Chibougamau, I-joist, Chibougamau, Quebec; Weldwood Engineered Wood LVL, Rocky Mountain House, Alberta; Anthony Forest Products I-joist, El Dorado, Arkansas; Romaro 2000, engineered joists, St-Victor, Quebec.

Mr Rogoway pointed out that, with these additions, membership is now 73 companies operating 156 structural wood panel and engineered wood product mills.

He also introduced new chairman Warren Easley, vice-president of technology and quality, Louisiana-Pacific Corp, Portland, Oregon; new vice-chairman John LeFors, vice-president of building materials sales and marketing, Willamette Industries, Inc, Portland, Oregon; and new trustees Robert Bagwell, International Paper Company, Dallas, Texas; William Corbin, Weyerhaeuser Company, Tacoma, Washington; and Dennis Robinson, Plum Creek, Columbia Falls, Montana.

Kelly McClosky, president and CEO of Wood Promotion Network, reported on his organisation’s plans to combat the wood industry’s unfavourable public image.

He said: “Three-quarters of the public believes that we are using more of our forests than we are replacing. About half of the public believes that we are going to run out of trees in their lifetime. Just over half have some guilt over the use of forests for commercial purposes. We need to invert that guilt and bring down that anxiety level.”

Keith Russell, reporting on Forest Express, the e-commerce site of Georgia-Pacific, International Paper, and Weyerhaeuser, said the current focus is on paper, recycled fibre, and building materials.

He sees the advantages in increased efficiency, automated transaction processes and improving customer contacts and information flow.

He said, “We’re not changing the market channels, product flow, or relationships. This industry is pretty efficient, but there are some things we feel we can do even better.

Safety record

Vice-chairman John LeFors, on introducing mill safety award winners, said: “Nothing is more important in this business, or any business, than the safety of our employees. I am happy to report that our occupational injury incidence rate declined again last year. That’s the fifth time in six years that our industry has improved its safety record.”

He added that a total of 112 mills participated in APA’s safety competition.

The top 10 awards were Rosboro Lumber Company plywood, Springfield, Oregon; Georgia-Pacific Corporation, Dudley, North Carolina plywood; Georgia-Pacific Emporia, Virginia plywood; Georgia-Pacific Warm Springs, Georgia plywood; Georgia-Pacific Louisville, Mississippi plywood; Louisiana-Pacific Corporation Silsbee, Texas plywood; Georgia-Pacific Prosperity, South Carolina plywood; Georgia-Pacific Whiteville, North Carolina plywood; Georgia-Pacific Hawthorne, Florida plywood; and International Paper, Jefferson, Texas OSB.

Fred Barnes, the executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Washington, DC, provided an insight into the close US presidential election race. He gave a slight edge to Governor George W Bush over Vice President Al Gore. By the time this is read, that race may have been decided.

Best attended session of the other meetings was the Marketing Advisory Committee presided over by John LeFors where Roy Diez, associate publisher of Professional Builder magazine, drew attention to the skilled labour shortage in the building trades.

The lack of skill can result in panel products being improperly installed and therefore later causing trouble.

Mr Diez said that the US industry needs at least 1.5 million framers. He suggested that trades that are part of a system might be combined, resulting in the need for fewer subcontractors. Framers might also do dry walls.

Dynamic Eric S Belsky, executive director, Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University, declared that the US’ longest housing expansion could be coming to an end, but he is bullish about the future.

He cited increasing immigration (foreign-born account for a quarter of household growth), minority market opportunities (minorities will account for nearly two thirds of household growth over the next decade), surging wealth (strengthening second home construction) and a stronger remodelling market (nearly rivals homebuilding).

Mr Belsky predicted that engineered wood will benefit from mounting labour costs.

Jay Schuette of Wausau Homes, said his firm produces 4,000 manufactured homes annually. They’re designed with CAD systems so that builder customers can make changes on the computer with the customer on hand.

“We have eliminated field framing,” he said. “It’s stick building indoors with materials stored in a controlled environment. The computer does a lot of the work for us. We download to the production floor and deliver to the marketplace.”

He said the system results in a guaranteed price for the builder with material from one source on one invoice with construction time reduced from months to weeks.

Floors are produced with a panelised jig on a flat table. Walls are also manufactured horizontally, all machine-nailed, with windows installed at the same time.

Mr Schuette says his firm serves more than 500 builders, resulting in neat, professionally organised job sites. A 2,000ft² house is delivered by three trucks.

Michael Ainsworth, Ainsworth Lumber Co, Vancouver, British Columbia is the new Marketing Advisory Committee chairman.

Terry Kerwood of the Engineered Wood Research Foundation was chairman of the Quality & Technical Forum that specialises in the ‘nuts and bolts’ of panel production.

Rodney Pennington, Durr Environmental, Inc, outlined the advantages of a single rotary valve control in RTO installations. He said it minimises components and increases reliability. The modular design allows a spare module to be included so maintenance can be accomplished off-line, decreasing downtime.

He said: “This allows one valve instead of nine, two actuators instead of 18. The valve indexes 30° at a time as it rotates around the equipment. This changes the process flow from an inlet flow to an exhaust flow, giving you the capabilities of heat recovery that is part of the regenerative process.”

Inorganic build-up

Mr Pennington said: “Most inorganics in the process stream are associated with wood combustion. Fly ash from wood heat sources is being carried through the process and into the RTO equipment. The bulk of the fly ash is associated with calcium and potassium. Potassium is the key component contributing to build-up.

Andre Klemarewski, Raute Wood Ltd, compared various LVL presses. He said continuous belt pressing looks good at production levels up to 2.3 million ft³ per year. Above this level, he said the step press looks better because of substantial production increase without much more investment.

Robert E Pitts of Willamette Valley Co’s Precision Technologies Division described his firm’s spray booth innovations to upgrade panel appearance, reduce maintenance and save money. He said present booths have little or no air flow dynamics to contain overspray and optimise transfer efficiency.

He continued: “You can produce the best board in the world, or the best plywood, but if the package looks shabby, the customer is going to think: it’s shabby. On the other hand, you can produce the weakest board or the poorest quality plywood and if the packaging is there, so will be your sales.”

He quoted a hypothetical example of reducing costs through spraying efficiency. He used OSB production of 400 million ft², 3/8 in basis, with an 8 wet mil coating at 100% transfer efficiency with a coating material cost of US$4.25 per gallon. Cost would be US$255,000 per year.

He said the industry average of coating efficiency is 50% to 55%. At 50% transfer efficiency the cost would be between US$425,000 and US$430,000 per year.

He said increased spraying efficiency will result in cleaner booths where maintenance can be performed more efficiently. Air is pulled into the booth from outside.

Mr Pitts said his firm will be working with a robotics company to use robots on rail systems to paint OSB and plywood units. With that system he foresees transfer efficiencies above 90%.

Accuracy is one of the big advantages for book sawing, according to Bob Schimetat of Giben Impianti. He said single panel systems provide accuracy slightly better than 1/8 in, while book sawing aims to achieve an accuracy better than ±0.009in.

Book system

With the book system the saw is mounted on a carriage that moves through the book of material which is clamped on a solid base.

He said cleanliness of the cut can save material because it allows less paint to be used.

Cutting rates can exceed 50m/minute. A single blade can cut 200mm while a double blade can cut up to 310mm (12in). Mr Schimetat said the system can operate with up to five cutting patterns simultaneously.

Dr Joe Marcinko, Huntsman Polyurethanes, said that MDI adhesives are insensitive to wood species. They primarily react with moisture in the wood. He said size and shape of molecules are important because adhesion is “things getting next to each other and interacting.”

Roger Van Voorhis, Ventek, told the session that more “fuzzy logic” is being applied in vision-based control systems, such as grading. He said it takes pattern matching further: “Here are our parameters; here are our rules. It sort of looks like a square, it must be a square.”

Gary Raemhild of Geoenergy discussed RTOs on direct-fired OSB dryers. He said that most problems have been associated with deposition of wood ash. Wood is about 2% ash. He added that sodium and potassium are of particular concern because of their effect on the ceramic heat exchange media.