The Timber Trade Federation’s (TTF) inaugural UK Wood Panels Conference on November 7 brings the federation’s National Panel Products Division into line with its counterparts the National Softwood Division and National Hardwood Division, which held their own conferences earlier this year.

The rationale for staging all the conferences is the same: to bring news of latest innovations, legislation and market dynamics to TTF members enabling them to maximise the opportunities open to them – and to avoid the snake pits.

The panels sector is ripe for its own UK conference because of the diversity of its market, the speed at which those markets are developing and the growing appreciation of their resource efficiency.

“It is probably the fastest growing section of the timber portfolio right now,” said Dave Hopkins, TTF managing director. “We’re seeing a lot more demand across all different markets, from panelised timber systems in the construction industry to interior design.”

He added that, in the very long term, it could also be argued that panel products can play a key role in mitigating environmental impact by virtue of the fact they make efficient use of resources – using lower grade material and turning it into higher value, higher functioning products – and they play a vital role in recycling.

“For timber to have a value it needs to move away from being a commodity to being a product designed and manufactured for a specific purpose and end use. We can really see this with panel products and I think the market will continue to move this way.”

Adding value and innovation during and post-production are the key themes of the conference and will be put into context by Clive Pinnington, managing director of the European Panel Federation, who will provide an overview of current output and an insight into which products are proving popular.

Dave Murray, innovation manager at MEDITE SMARTPLY will then speak about water and fire resistance and how these properties can be incorporated during the OSB and MDF production processes. Craig Bartlett, co-founder and managing director of MDF Recovery, will follow on with a presentation on recovering wood fibre from waste MDF.

Post-production treatment will be addressed in a later presentation.

“This is a huge agenda for our members because it is subject to so many vague bits of regulation and we want to ensure they are fully aware of the opportunities but also the risks and obligations that are part of it,” said Mr Hopkins.

The conference programme will link back to the well-attended Fire Seminar hosted by the TTF in September. This had a bias towards fire resistant treatments for panel products.

“If you can build [fire or water resistant] treatment in during production rather than adding it at the end you can cut and shape those products without reducing their properties and that makes a big difference to the range of applications they are suitable for.

“Public procurement after Grenfell is only going to get tighter so you need to demonstrate you understand [your obligations] and can provide the evidence to make it really simple for the buyer to see that your product meets all their requirements.”

Although Chinese plywood is not specifically on the conference agenda it is still front and centre of panel products’ debate.

The Panels Review launched earlier this year saw all TTF members sign up to provide more information regarding Chinese plywood procurement and are doing so via the RPP process. The required information comprises a Declaration of Performance (DoP), a copy of the Factory Production Control (FPC) certificate, third party testing of the glue bond and third party testing of the species. This information, pointed out Mr Hopkins, is a legal requirement, not just a TTF one.

The RPP returns are currently being reviewed and while Mr Hopkins said he will be “very critical” of companies who can’t produce the necessary information, at this point it will be a warning shot across the bows. However, a ruling from the TTF’s governing board has tightened this up and from next year non-compliant companies will be expelled from the federation.

Action in the field will also be taken next year in the form of “a mystery shopper”.