Coillte Panel Products exports 90% of its output, the majority to the UK.
• €80m is earmarked for investment in a new continuous press at SmartPly.
Medite Tricoya was launched at Timber Expo last September.
• When Medite Tricoya’s market is established, acetylation technology will be installed at the Clonmel factory.

This year is likely to prove interesting for Coillte Panel Products on several fronts.

There’s the potential, but as yet by no means ratified, government sell-off of its parent company, Coillte, for example. But there are also exciting developments at Medite and SmartPly, and Coillte Panel Products’ managing director Gerry Britchfield sees “a bright future, particularly on the innovation side”.

Their performance thus far hasn’t been too shabby, either. Last year the two factories’ combined production volumes since their launch exceeded 11 million m³. The estimated value of that production is £2.5bn and about 90% of it was exported. And the group continues to build on its success.

“We had a good year last year,” said Mr Britchfield. “We saw strong growth in the first half and looked like emerging from the recession, although it slowed in the last quarter. Our OSB and MDF volumes were similar to 2010.

Eurozone crisis

“The Eurozone crisis has had a big impact but as that starts to resolve itself and confidence increases, customers will start stocking again,” he continued. “This year started well for us so we’re hopeful that the first half of 2012 will mirror that of 2011.”

Stock is under control, with steps taken to ensure there isn’t too much held in the warehouse, and prices are “reasonably OK”, reflecting the increased cost of resin. “There’s a sense of reality in the market now and people realise they have to cover these costs,” said Mr Britchfield.

Despite its depressed economy, the UK remains a hugely important export market for both Medite and SmartPly. “The UK isn’t a train wreck by any means – especially from an Irish perspective,” said Mr Britchfield. “We export 90% of our total output and the majority of those exports are sold into the UK market.”

“It’s a massive market for OSB and we’ve had considerable success in displacing plywood,” he said, adding that this is partly attributed to SmartPly’s strong environmental credentials.

Bank funding, subject to government approval, is being finalised for Coillte, approximately €80m of which is earmarked for investment in the SmartPly factory.

New press

The current Washington Iron Works daylight press dates to the mid-1990s and is set to be replaced by a continuous press and all its affiliated kit. The preferred machinery suppliers have been selected and once funding and government support are in place, the upgrade will commence.

The investment is not about increasing volumes but improving efficiency and adding more value to Coillte’s pulpwood resource.

The new press will also create new avenues for SmartPly. “The Washington press is imperial dimensions, which prevents us from working with some European markets,” said Mr Britchfield.

Tricoya MDF

At Medite, much of the focus has been on the successful launch of Tricoya MDF – two years ahead of schedule.

“The launch was fast-tracked and there has been lots of interest in it, particularly in Continental Europe,” said Mr Britchfield.

Medite Tricoya, which comes with an impressive 50-year service life guarantee, has potential in many sectors, he said – external cladding, windows, doors, fascias, and soffits.

Capacity for 2012 will be around 4,000m³. The acetylation process is carried out at Accsys Technologies’ factory in the Netherlands; however, once the market is established, the intention is to invest – around €30m – in acetylation technology at Medite’s Clonmel factory. Output would rise to around 40,000m³ per year – about 10% of Medite’s production.

“Our strategy at Medite is to produce as many high value-added products as possible and Tricoya would displace lower value commodity MDF,” said Mr Britchfield. “So there would be no increase in the demand for fibre.”