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New ways to use wood

Paul Lansbergen of FPAC thinks that the lumber industry needs to join the world of value-added production to help it move beyond its traditional markets.

Pulp and paper mills are playing an increasing role in the global bio-economy by adding on the production of everything from car parts to cosmetics to clothing. Now it's time for its sister sector, the lumber industry, to explore moving beyond its traditional markets and suite of products into a more value-added world. After all, a healthy lumber sector is critical to the health of the pulp and paper sector.

The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) and its partners recently undertook what it called the Construction Value Pathways initiative to see how the forest sector could better work with the construction sector to capitalize on Canada's extensive supply of natural and renewable wood. The study found the Canadian forest sector is well positioned to produce new building products and systems of the highest environmental standards ―something that will help increase jobs and build the economy.

Overpopulation, a shortage of land for development, and transportation pressures are leading to urbanization and densification. The result is more multi-residential units and retrofit/renovation of existing homes and buildings. The growing need to conserve natural resources is also creating a demand for "green" building materials. At the same time there is a growing lack of skilled labour to serve construction sites. The Canadian forest products industry could take advantage of these trends by offering new products and processes to gain a larger slice of the estimated $8 trillion a year global construction market.

Modular systems are driving changes in construction materials. The new wave in design-build will likely incorporate growing levels of customization. The forest sector could consider more prefab, pre-assembly and just-in-time manufacturing. Other products include next generation engineered wood products, fibre-based insulation, composite wood products, thermally modified wood and pre-fabricated solutions for non-residential construction. Indeed, some designers see wood as a "new hi-tech material".

In doing so, Canada's lumber mills can exploit the growing appetite for clean technology, given that wood's green credentials and life-cycle costs are extremely competitive when compared with steel and concrete.

There are still notable barriers to the increased use of wood in construction. In particular, the forest products industry must overcome code restrictions that restrict the height of buildings made from wood. Still Canada's forest sector can work with the construction industry to overcome these barriers.

The industry can be more nimble, modernize its supply chains, provide better end-user support, demonstrate cost-effectiveness, and instill confidence in the long-term durability of new products. By working in partnership with designers, architects, engineers, builders, suppliers, and environmental specialists, the forest products industry can build trusted relationships and unlock vast opportunities in new markets.

It's time for the Canadian lumber industry to join its pulp and paper colleagues in the world of value- added production and think big ― perhaps to a future era where an entire village of homes made from wood systems might be built in a single day.

Paul Lansbergen is Vice-President of the Forest Products Association of Canada.

December 11, 2012  By Paul Lansbergen FPAC

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