Product, technology, manufacturing and marketing advances point to another windfall this year for the producers of oriented strand board (OSB)
OSB has already taken a whopping 70% share of the North American residential market for floor, wall and roofing sheathing (decking). The structural panel, veering from its commodity category, is now cracking new value-added markets, a development that is expected to further spark demand
OSB for the first outstripped plywood by a slim margin in North America structural panel production last year, totaling 40.2 billion square feet (3/8" basis). According to the APA, The Engineered Wood Association, that margin will increase to 5.6 billion square feet a 65% share for OSB, by 2002. The following factors explain why OSB will continue to gain major strides:
1) Low Cost
OSB has the lowest cost structure of all structural wood panels. That means huge savings for and consumers. In addition, OSB is now one of the most profitable sectors in the wood industry.
2) Environment Factors and Advantages
The erosion of softwood plywood production will switch demand from plywood to OSB. Wood products consultants Leonard Guss, of Leonard Guss Associates, estimates that at least six billion square feet of plywood production will disappear in eight to ten years, due to mothballing of antiquated plants and the diminishing availability of construction grade plywood.
The scarcity of larger trees has affected plywood, which must be made from individual veneer strips, or peeler logs. OSB is made from strands of small-diameter trees like aspen. The strands of aligned longitudinally and laterally in alternative layers for structural strength and bonded with water-resistant resins under heat and pressure.
Using all parts of the log, bark and fines are collected for fuel in the production possess, OSB is an extremely resource-efficient product. It makes the most of fast growing trees, a factor complementing environment consideration.
3) Product Advantages
Guss, a respected products consultant, says OSB is not only an adequate replacement of plywood but convincingly better. "OSB has unlimited sizes variations, even up to 8' x 24'. It's good on both sides and offers a broad array of thickness." Guss says OSB's blending process allows for a more thorough distribution of resin and wax of the strand surface, thus permitting a good control of board properties.
OSB's manufacturing process also yields consistent panels free of knots, splits, and voids, making them easy to saw, drill, nail, plane and sand.
The largest wood products acquisitions in resent times occurred last year. They involved the two largest OSB manufactures in North America, Louisiana-Pacific and Weyerhaeuser, buying out Le Groupe Forex and MacMillan Bloedel, respectively the second and third largest Canadian OSB manufacturers. Duplicating functions of combined entities will be cut and efficiency increased.
These moves underscore a new strategy by manufacturers moving toward manufacturing wood products to supply higher margin building materials. A decade ago firms were not pressured to adopt such a strategy because traditional lumber was plentiful and higher quality panels.
Consolidation is being accompanied by a frenetic push to upgrade existing mills and develop new mills with the latest technology that will make them most efficient facilities producing lower-cost but higher- quality panels.
6) Performance Manipulation
Manufacturers are mass producing high-quality boards with a very high degree of efficiency. Change the process, manipulate resin content and strand orientation, and flexible or stiffer panels can be produced. Board dimensions can also be customized from the factory floor to fit the needs of builders, home owners and value added product manufacturers.
7) Marketing and Branding
An interesting trend, pointing to far-reaching ramifications, has companies installing whole engineered flooring systems, combined I-joists and OSB panels into a single branded product. There is no end in sight to the expansion of this value-added approach. Firms will race to supply an entire OSB roofing,
flooring and wall systems, in which multiple components will be branded as value-added single products with 25- and 50-year guarantees. No longer can OSB, in this context, be considered a commodity production.
8) Engineered Wood Boom
The boom in engineered wood, employing products that are stronger and more durable than traditional lumber, will further increased OSB demand and accelerated value-added OSB use. A striking example involves wood I-joist. Composed of a thin OSB web that is bonded to the top and bottom flanges of lumber or laminated veneer lumber, I-joists are commonly used in roof and floor systems.
From virtually no market share in the early 1990's, it is estimated that half of all homes in the North America will be supported by I-joists floor systems in several years. Structural installed panels (SIPs), foam sandwiched by OSB panels, are beginning to be used by buyers of energy efficient homes, and could be making the same sort of impact as I-joists over the long run.
9) Housing Fundamentals Still Strong
Despite concerns about housing starts slowing, there are no signs of a dramatic downturn, If starts do begin to slow, due to interest rate hikes, the home repair and the remodeling market would take up some of the slack, since potential new buyers would motivated to hold off on purchases and renovate existing homes. The popularity of OSB, as with engineered wood, is also dovetailing with the shifting residential needs: homes are larger, as well as garages, and more materials, including OSB, are required for each residential unit.