Potential market gain for Canadian softwood plywood in residential construction could arise from the emerging Chinese market to build massive numbers of affordable apartments and the upcoming rebuilding effort in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami disaster. Compared to the main Chinese species (poplar), common BC species, such as Douglas-fir, spruce and hem-fir, have competitive advantages in the aspects of log diameter, wood properties and veneer quality and processing productivity. For non-residential construction, Canadian plywood concrete forms also offer competitive advantages over Chinese overlaid poplar counterparts due to their higher stiffness and strength. However, the production cost has to be kept to below US$ 500/m3 for a profit margin. Further, three-ply and four-ply Canadian softwood plywood panels are ideally suited for the base materials of multi-layer composite floor, which currently is gaining momentum in China and other countries.
A sizeable increase in industrial and remodelling market is anticipated for the Canadian plywood industry. This will be mainly driven by a number of specialty plywood products, such as container floor and pallet, light truck, utility vehicle, trailer and camper manufacturing. However, these products are not commonly manufactured by larger commodity manufacturers in Canada. China is currently the largest global supplier of container floors, most of which are made from imported plywood, bamboo and poplar veneer. To meet their stringent requirements and gain a market share, Canadian plywood industry should take appropriate actions in adjusting veneer thickness, veneer grade, veneer treatment, and panel lay-up.
Japan has developed customized products such as oversized plywood for wall applications, and termite/mould resistant plywood for above ground and ground-contact applications. China has developed numerous new value-added veneer products for niche markets. Such products include marine plywood, sound reducing plywood, non-slip plywood, metal faced plywood, curved plywood and medium density fiberboard (MDF) or particleboard (PB)-faced plywood.
In order to stay competitive in the global market, Canadian plywood industry needs to:
remove the trade constraints between softwood plywood and hardwood plywood,
remove in-plant manufacturing barriers to deal with both softwood and hardwood processing,
diversify products for both appearance and structural based applications, and
develop new value-added products for niche markets.
This study suggests the following opportunities for Canadian plywood producers to
incorporate naturally decay-resistant species such as cedar as surface veneer and/or perform veneer or glueline treatment to make marine and exterior plywood for improved durability,
characterize veneer properties from the changing resource for better utilization,
peel some thinner and higher quality veneer for making specialty plywood,
conduct stress grading in combination with visual grading to maximize value recovery from the available resource,
increase the flexibility of panel lay-up for domestic/overseas markets and various applications,
develop mixed species plywood by mixing available hardwood species such as birch, maple, alder, aspen veneer (as overlay materials) with softwood plywood to achieve better appearance and higher performance,
develop new structural composite lumber (SCL) products such as veneer strand lumber (VSL) from low quality logs, particularly beetle-killed, and random veneer or waste veneer,
develop new drying, pressing and adhesive technologies for processing high moisture veneer, particularly hem-fir and spruce, to improve productivity and bond quality and reduce panel delamination,
develop light weight and strong hybrid plywood panels for furniture applications, by adding MDF or PB on the face of plywood,
develop hybrid plywood for floor applications to reduce thickness swell and increase dimensional stability and stiffness,
develop hybrid cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels from lumber, plywood and laminated veneer lumber (LVL) for low- and mid-rise residential and non-residential applications, and
develop a series of new product standards for specialty plywood.
A market research study for each product opportunity is recommended to develop a solid business case for each.