Finnforest aims to become “the European market leader in wood product solutions for building, industry and the retail sector, by 2005” and has identified engineered wood products as one of the routes to reaching this goal.

Since 1999 the pace has quickened, with the mergers of Moelven and LP Europe into Finnforest’s team enabling Finnforest to offer all of the key components for an engineered wood products package.

One component that needed to be added was a high quality I-joist.

The decision was made to establish a plant at the company’s mothballed site at King’s Lynn in Norfolk, bringing one of the largest single pieces of capital investment in engineered wood products to the UK: a full I-joist manufacturing plant capable of producing 16 million metres of product per year.

Kim Poulsen, European director of Finnforest’s Building Systems division, explained the background: “We identified that our main market is currently the UK and Ireland. However, as demand in mainland Europe increases it is actually more cost-effective to ship from the UK to the mainland. We also had the advantage at King’s Lynn of a large freehold site and experienced workforce, with a long-standing background in timber machining. We’re now very committed to the UK for the long term.”

While the plant can produce 16 million metres per year, under the brand name Finnjoist, the total annual European demand stands at around 8 million metres, which shows the confidence Finnforest has in its product growth. “The current British housebuilding volume stands at around 170,000 units,” said Mr Poulsen, “which we see rising to around 185,000 per year for the next five years. However, within that, the growth of timber frame’s share should move from its existing base of 12% to well over 40% and that, combined with our plans to develop Finnjoist sales in mainland Europe, drives the growth for our products.”

Manufacturing process

For the flanges of the I-joist, Finnforest uses its own Kerto LVL material to give a consistent, strong, stable component.

The web stock is produced from OSB which is cut to the required widths then jointed to give a continuous ‘extrusion’, with the edges tapered, ready to be pressed into the flange stock.

In the production centre, the flanges have to be grooved to accept the web and then they meet in what is virtually a continuous process, bonded by pressure, using a resorcinol glue. A ‘flying’ cross-cut uses scanning technology to detect the trimming point for each joist at 14m, producing a final Finnjoist. Scanning equipment defines the quality ranges, ensuring that production is consistent and meets the standards that Finnjoists have been tested to, in accordance with the BM TRADA Q-Mark scheme. European technical approval will follow.

The process is completed by curing through a temperature-controlled oven with final stamping of the web for pipe hole cutting points and production control marking. The finished product is wrapped and packaged before being stored in a controlled environment, ready for shipment.

Finnjoists are accredited for and can be produced with flange sizes between 38-89mm and overall widths from 195-600mm, which gives virtually every possible permutation of joist that will be required within the target market.

Sales plan

With the plant fully commissioned, the next major task is to bring the product onto the market. Sales manager Ken Riley explained the ethos behind the sales plan: “We will be working with our customers to set up a sales network to provide national distribution of Finnjoists and there will be a national technical back-up support team for our customers. We have developed a software package that acts as a design tool, producing floor plans, cutting lists and all of the back-up data for the production of individual plot sets of joists. It’s Windows-based and CNC compatible so that architects and engineers can plug straight into our systems, giving a smooth flow of data.”

This should give many truss manufacturers, timber engineering companies and timber merchants a huge growth potential as they can literally bolt on this new product and sell it to their customers. While there will be a need for distributors to ‘tool up’, the potential payback looks to be quite high. “We want to work with distributors who need to commit to investing in storage, software, training, cross-cutting facilities for long lengths and a high level of service to sites, but the rewards are there in what will be a large growth market,” said Mr Riley.