COLUMNS: Small Okanagan town has modern value added industry

A January 2014 article in the Logging and Sawmilling Journal describes how a value added company  started out over 50 years ago producing glu-lam products.

After being taken over by a Vancouver  based company in 2007 Structurelam added the Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) technology.

This company is located in the small town of Okanagan Falls in the B.C. Interior.

A recent 2013 purchase was a $1.5 million computer controlled panel cutting robot that cuts and drills CLT panels.

These  wood panels up to 12 metres long, three metres wide and 350 millimetres thick  are made of three to nine layers of finger jointed wood (usually two by six) with each layer alternating 90 degrees.

Polyurethane glue is applied between layers and the panel is then pressed for 90 minutes.

The panel then pass through the robot which cuts, drills and notches to within one millimetre accuracy.

CLT panels were originally developed in Switzerland in the 1990s and have a number of good features but one of the main attributes is that while it is comparable in strength to concrete, it is six times lighter.

The lighter panels mean reduced costs in foundations as well as superior insulating qualities and finishes compared to concrete walls.

Transportation costs are less, a variety of wood products can be used and the construction time is considerably less than the traditional steel concrete because the walls are closer to a finished product when erected.

These new products can be used for residential home construction but the main use will be multi-storey buildings that were normally built from steel and concrete.

Conventional wood construction was limited to four stories.

With the new CLT panels and changes to the building codes, some impressive wooded high rise buildings have been possible.

For example the $25 million six story building in Prince George. The newest will be the 18 storey UBC Brock Commons student housing building opening in 2017.

This will be the tallest wood structure building in the world when completed.

Other products include industrial matting used for roads, platforms or bases for rigs, cranes or other industrial applications which must operate on rough, unstable or sensitive soil conditions.

These mats are superior to traditional products that were nailed or bolted together.

The transition into wood based high rise buildings has not been easy as the steel and concrete industries which dominated the large buildings tried to limit the market by restricting wood structures through government regulations.

After considerable research, development and testing, it was proven that glue laminated wood products were not only equal to the traditional concrete products but in many was exceeding them.

With competition from wood based high rises the traditional concrete based contractors must be more cost competitive  resulting in better prices and more options for consumers.

The challenge for communities like ours is to find similar value added industries and associated markets that can utilize the changing wood fibre profile.

In the case described above it was a company that was experienced in producing glue laminated products and adding a new product like CLTs.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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