Column: Product innovations and technology important to industry

B.C. needs to take a lead in new technology rather than following.

B.C. needs to take a lead in new technology rather than following.

A paper on “… Competitiveness of the Wood Products Sector in BC” by Thomas Maness describes the province’s engineered wood panels market position.

According to the author “Much of the current technology used to manufacture engineered wood products was invented in Canada. However, the technology has more recently been adapted for southern pine, and [manufacturing] is growing in the south-eastern U.S. Nonetheless the level of technological sophistication is still judged to be higher in Canada, and oriented strand board (OSB) made from aspen is more consistent and lighter than that manufactured from southern pine. Therefore OSB may still present an economic opportunity in Canada for some time.”

The author then describes a new OSB plant (one of the largest in the world) constructed in Fort St. John because of the close proximity to some of the highest quality aspen stands.

Analysts are closely watching how this plant competes with the southern operations which have inferior raw material but are much closer to huge U.S. markets. While Canada produces about 40 per cent of the OSB production in North America the capacity is moving to Europe and South America, as well as the southern U.S.

“Plywood is another product for which BC has a clear competitive advantage. Western plywood is recognized in the market as a superior product and draws a 10 per cent premium over southern pine plywood.  However, plywood production is shrinking for a number of reasons, but chiefly because OSB continues to gain market share in structural residential and non-residential applications.”

Plywood’s main strength is in the industrial market when made from a superior grade of logs which B.C. has in relative abundance.

The value added industry is growing in Canada but unfortunately B.C. is lagging behind the rest of the provinces because of a lack of skilled labour and a sawmilling industry that has been designed to produce products that just meet grade standards. As log size and quality has dropped so has lumber quality.

Canada has been good at implementing proven technologies but not necessarily good at first inventions.

Successful first inventors reap the largest rewards as there are few barriers to the entry into these new markets. Canadian industry needs to respond more rapidly, be more innovative in adapting new technology to meet customers’ needs and take a lead rather than following.

The author also describes innovative modular housing using new cad/cam software that has been developed in Europe but could be developed in Canada. We presently lack many of the skills, management and mindset to adopt this technology in a large way. It is good fit since we have the natural resources like quality wood fibre.

The paper goes on to describe some product innovations, including OSB products, composite products, which incorporates recycled plastic materials.

Mixing these products with wood fibres gives the end product more strength than plastic on its own.

Since this paper is nine years old it may not be the best source for the most recent innovations.

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.