Enhancement’ is the watchword on the lips of Andy Hodge, Osmose European marketing manager, speaking at the company’s UK headquarters at Marlow. He explains that the timber protection market is going through large changes, mainly due to legislation affecting CCA, but also because retailers and consumers are better informed and want more from their piece of timber.

But he describes this as an opportunity, especially for ground-breaking treatment technologies coming out of Scandinavia.

He says Osmose is determined not to be “tunnel-visioned”, and to that end has been investing in some of the fresh technologies, with the intention of ‘enhancing’ timber as well as preserving it.

Change in outlook

This represents quite a change in the company’s market outlook.

He said: “The preservation industry has to recognise there has to be a fragmenting of the market. Instead of the situation where you sell one product, we are now going to be completely open to all different things and focusing on end users.”

At the centre of this has been the company’s development of a hot oil treatment process, in partnership with IWT of Denmark, which it is preparing to launch onto the UK market as the Osmose Royale Process. This has developed from an older system – the Royal process.

Basically, the hot oil is a medium for transferring heat when drying treated timber and consists of mineral oils plus additives. The oil floods the timber in a treatment vessel and pressure is applied, removing moisture.

It is designed to seal and protect the timber surface; reduce cracks and surface deterioration; stabilise the wood; add colour; and dry to the desired moisture content (mc).

Mr Hodge says its technical advantages include fast and flexible drying (to 18-22% mc); the fact it can be combined with non-metal preservatives and surface coating systems; and meets most environmental expectations.

A value added product

Economic advantages cited include the fact that the process is adding more to the timber than just drying and so it becomes a value-added product.

End products include cladding, noise barriers, fencing decking, garden furniture and playground equipment.

“Timber can be used on the outside of timber frame buildings and people can have complete confidence that it is stable and comparable against other alternative materials. There is opportunity here.”

He points out that people replace timber cladding not because it has rotted but because of surface deterioration and general appearance. “This is a new way of putting up a product that does not need as much maintenance.”

Ongoing development

Development work has been going on for at least six years. The standard formulation oil is being marketed as Osmose Designwood Oil and the pigments as Osmose Designwood Colourant.

Untreated wood going through the Royale process is branded DesignWood, whereas wood products preserved with the company’s Naturewood and Protim Clearchoice treatments and passed through the oil process will be attached with the Royale brand.

Mr Hodge predicts investment by several UK companies. The first test cladding products treated with the Royale process have already entered the country.

He says benefits for the supplier include a demand for drying impregnated wood in all Nordic countries; the process is very controllable; and it is a quick and efficient way to dry impregnated wood. Meanwhile, the retailer has a ‘new’ building material with different properties from those of treated wood in general. “This process is very flexible. It can be used in conjunction with some of our existing preservative brands or untreated timber and they will all display enhanced properties.”

Colour durability

Adding pigments during the process effectively kills two birds with one stone and takes market share from the pre-stain sector. But it also promises longer colour durability, with a painting interval of 8-12 years.

The company has also struck up a relationship with Swedish company Bitus AB which uses Osmose preservatives, its Designwood oil and now an Osmose heat treatment system.

Mr Hodge said the company could easily have viewed heat treatment as a threat to its established business – after all it does not involve the use of preservatives. But it believes heat-treated timber will be enhanced by the hot oil system, producing a product that can be used externally in applications where reduced strength and durability is not an issue.

Bitus is currently in commercial production, with timber subjected to high temperatures in a three to six hour process under 20 bar pressure. Moisture and resin are removed from the wood, adding stability, with less shrinkage/swelling and improved weather resistance.

End use products include cladding, garden furniture, kitchen and bathroom units, and parquet flooring.

Heat-treated wood products passed through the hot oil process will come under the banner Osmose Pre-Therm Royale.

He said: “These alternative treatments add a new dimension to the wood. We have something that is treated and is enhanced to look better for longer. So, that should open up a whole new market place.”