The Finnish sawmilling industry is facing difficult times due to the high price it has to pay for its raw material, which is among the highest in the world, and the oversupply of sawn timber in the world as a whole. In 2004, global production of sawn timber was approximately 268 million m3, but consumption amounted to only 258 million m3, says the Finnish Forest Industries Federation (FFIF). Excess supply was a particular problem in Europe where there was an oversupply of 16 million m3 – exceeding Finland’s entire annual sawn timber production of 12-13 million m3.

With the excess supply of sawn timber increasing, customers are unwilling to pay a premium for high-quality Finnish sawn timber. On the other hand, foreign competitors are able to make a profit since their raw material costs are lower. In fact, the Finnish sawmilling industry has been suffering from weak profitability throughout the current decade.

Although its ability to pay for logs is weakening, the sawmillers still need domestic rough wood. Sawmills are searching for a solution to their low productivity by upgrading their products but it is difficult to achieve a substantial improvement to the degree of processing in the short term. Thus, the profitability of basic production will also have to be improved.

Industrial dispute

Production volumes of sawn timber in Finland fell by 11% in the first nine months of this year (8.8 million m3 as against 9.9 million m3 for the corresponding period in 2004). This was caused by production stoppages at mills affected by last summer’s labour dispute that prevented sawmills from delivering woodchips, a significant by-product of their operations, to pulp and paper mills.

Plywood production volumes for the first nine months were 5% lower on the year at 960,000m3. However, this was not due to last summer’s labour dispute but to prevailing market conditions.

Because Baltic and Russian imports are so important to the Finnish forest industry, knowing the origin of the imported raw material is vital. Finnish forest industry companies want to ensure that the wood is legally logged and comes from sustainably managed forests. One example of the emphasis placed on certification is a development project that UPM is setting up for its newly acquired Russian logging company ZAO Tikhvinsky Komplexny Lespromkhoz. This will result in forest management and wood sourcing practices meeting the requirements of international forest certification standards. The logging company holds a licence to log almost 200,000ha of forests in Tikhvin municipality, about 250km east of St Petersburg.

A study covering the environmental impact of Metla’s (The Finnish Forest Research Institute‘s) own building in Joensuu showed that using wood as a building material instead of concrete reduced the project’s environmental load. All the properties of a modern office building were achieved, including adaptability. The building (TTJ November 27/December 4, 2004) received the 2005 Finnish Wood Award for its outstanding architecture.

A total of 3,460 gigajoules of non-renewable energy went into the wooden building whereas the control building would have required 8,320 gigajoules. In addition, a total of 1,480 tons of non-renewable materials were used as opposed to 6,280 tons, or four times as much, necessary for the control building. The wooden building’s fossil CO2 emissions were 320,000kg compared with 943,000kg for the control building. Thus, by using wood as the building material, CO2 emissions were reduced to about one-third.

Glulam structures

The Finnforest subsidiary, Moelven Limtre AS, has supplied glulam units for a considerable number of wooden bridges in Norway in recent years, including the world’s largest wooden bridge (TTJ September 6/13, 2003). It has also supplied glulam units for two recently opened bridges, both of which are of considerable significance. The first, a 160m-long wooden bridge, with the longest span measuring 45m, has been built over the River Rena for the Norwegian Defence Forces. It has been designed to withstand loads of up to 110 tons in order to carry tanks and other heavy equipment. The bridge’s load-bearing structure is of glulam, although a concrete road surface has been used since no other material would withstand the tracks of a tank.

The second is the Måsør Bridge, which carries the busy E6 at Steinkjer. It is thought to be the first wooden bridge built to carry a European highway. The bridge is over 80m long and, in addition to the glulam supports, it has a wooden deck with an asphalt surface.