The Next Veneer Boom? Structural Composite Lumber
Courtesy Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license: https://goo.gl/H9FUa8.

The Next Veneer Boom? Structural Composite Lumber

Once the go-to product for reducing the cost of furniture and panels, veneer has, for years, been losing ground to synthetic wood components. The change in consumer preference was evident after the 2008 recession when the sliced veneer industry failed to rebound with the rest of the economy. Many sliced veneer mills closed, never to reopen. Today, ten years after the recession, sliced veneer is considered a “luxury product,” according to one southern Ohio veneer manufacturer.

While the future of sliced veneer is uncertain, rotary veneer may be approaching its heyday—just not as a finishing material. Instead, it’s being used as a structural component in high-rise buildings. Structural composite lumber (SCL) has garnered interest among architects and the timber industry as a way to combat global warming and provide another source of income to the forestry sector. A number of wooden high rises have already been built, and more are in the works across the globe. The tallest of these buildings to date is the Mjøstårnet building in Norway, which reaches 280 feet fall (85.4m). Taller wooden buildings are planned—a 1,148-foot-fall (350m) tower in Tokyo and a 1,000-foot-fall (304.8m) tower in London, among others.

Among SCL technologies for these so-called “mass timber” and “tall timber” high rises are components made with veneer.

Posed for Growth

Several forces have primed the SCL industry for growth. The first is the push from the wood industry to produce new products. The industry has faced increased competition from synthetic materials, which are often cheaper than wood and always improving. The industry has also had to battle the unwarranted reputation of being harmful to the environment.

To remain competitive, the wood industry has had to invent new products that consumers find valuable. Industry advocates claim these new products—SCL specifically—cost less than steel and about the same as concrete. Manufacturers of mass timber SCL say their product enables construction teams to build faster and with fewer workers than if they were to use traditional materials.

Besides cost savings, SCL advocates tout the technology’s ability to store CO2—thus making it carbon negative and an environmentally friendly technology. This value is one reason why architects have developed interest in SCL. Another reason architects have become interested in it is because it won’t stand the test of time. The lifecycle of modern buildings is much shorter than in the past. Rather than creating structures that will last forever, architects are designing buildings they expect will be torn down and replaced within, say, a century.

Architects have found value in wood for other reasons. Wood has a warm, aesthetic appeal that surpasses that of concrete and other man-made materials. SCL also performs well against seismic activity. It burns predictably. And, depending on how it’s constructed, is stronger than steel beams.

SCL Technologies

The main technology driving the SCL movement is cross-laminated timber (CLT). CLT is created by gluing stacked dimension lumber boards perpendicular to one another. CLT is typically used for floors, walls, and roofing as load bearing components.

Other dimension lumber technologies include glulam (largely used in the Mjøstårnet building), nail-laminated timber (NLT), and dowel-laminated timber (DLT). Glulam is typically used for long, structural spans and columns as a load-bearing member. Glulam beams are made by gluing dimension lumber end-to-end with grains running parallel. NLT and DLT are similar to glulam and CLT but are fastened with nails or dowels instead of glue.

Strand-based SCL exists, as well. Laminated strand lumber (LSL) is made of flaked wood and looks like oriented strand board (OSB). The strands are parallel, arranged length-wise through the wood. It’s commonly used for joists and rims and other short spans.

Veneer-based SCL has existed for more than 30 years and aims to compete with CLT as the SCL of choice. Veneer-based SCL includes mass plywood panels (MPP), parallel strand lumber (PSL), and laminated veneer lumber (LVL).

MPP is made by stacking veneer sheets at 90° angles, as with plywood. (Parallel-grain-stacked MPP exists, as well, according to MPP’s manufacturer.) Freres Lumber produces MPP and is marketing the technology as superior to CLT. MPP, Freres claims, uses 20 percent less wood than CLT due to the fact that MPP utilizes lathe-peeled softwood rather than dimensional lumber, which produces more waste during manufacturing. The company also says MPP is stronger than CLT and can span longer distances.

Freres’ technology was recently approved for use in 18-story buildings in the United States of America.

PSL is similar to MPP in that it is produced by laying veneer sheets and bonding them with glue. The sheet grains run parallel, however, and available sizes differ. PSL is generally more expensive than LVL and can be stained and finished.

LVL is the oldest veneer-based SCL. It has been around since the 1980s and is commonly used for headers, beams, rimboard, and edge-forming. It’s stronger and more expensive than glulam and can be manufactured in narrower beam widths than PSL. LVL plys can be laminated with nails to make longer spans.

Production Technologies

With the potential to reduce construction costs and piggyback the green movement, SCL is in a good place to expand once advocates overcome regulatory hurdles (which they are accomplishing—the international code council recently approved 18-story, wood-framed high rises for 2021).

As you expand or retrofit your operation to take advantage of this burgeoning industry, Veneer Services® and its material handling division, Biomass Engineering & Equipment, are ready to assist. Come to us for:

Engineering

3D Modeling: Plan the perfect plant layout. Having a three-dimensional plan everyone understands aids in presenting important information to all team members.

Sawmill

Log Decks and Troughs: Our efficient decks and troughs use less energy to run. They cost less and are easier to maintain than traditional deck designs.

Roller Debarkers: One to three units debark large volumes of timber with little fiber loss.

Butt Flare Reducers: Remove root flares before processing your timber. Ensure your logs will pass through ring debarkers and chippers. Remove dirt before it gets downstream.

Log Grading Line: Sort logs with a modular system you can expand to meet future needs.

Veneer Production

Raute Machinery: Raute produces industry-leading, world-class equipment for veneer production. Veneer Services® is Raute’s official agent for hardwood veneer and plywood in the United States. Click here and here to read about advances in hardwood CLT.

Remanufactured Lathe: The steel carriage is one of the most expensive parts of a lathe. Purchase a used lathe, and we will remanufacture it completely with new components and the latest technologies to make it better than new at a significant savings.

Veneer Flattening Press: Flatten veneer with a hot-cold press, which better prepares veneer for further processing than a standard hot press.

Veneer Bundle Conveyors: Move veneer around your production facility with equipment from the experts.

Reclaim

Veneer Waste Conveyor: Move veneer scraps with our one-piece conveyor without catch points.

Drum Chippers: Our Model DPC chipper is the right chipper for voluminous material like veneer scrap. Our Model DPF chipper is preferred for more solid materials.

Drag Conveyors: SMART Conveyors from Biomass Engineering & Equipment are world-class machines perfect for moving woody material. Use them to move chipped material to your boilers or to coproduct processing. Extremely efficient and designed for low operating costs, these conveyors are damn-fine engineering at its best.

Belt Conveyors: Have your belt conveyors built right. Biomass Engineering & Equipment offers direct-drive belt conveyors made to your requirements.

SMART Containers: Store waste in a container-based system that utilizes a moving floor for metered output to your boiler, coproduct stream, or loadout. Containers can be made stationary or mobile.

Trailer Loading Station: Load trailers without an overhead bin. Load live stream material or from our SMART Containers.

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