¦ Carrefour took place in Nantes from June 2-4.
¦ Overall attendance was up on previous years.
¦ The exhibition continues to focus exclusively on timber.
¦ Many exhibitors have rebooked for the 2012 show.

“It’s become the Davos of the European timber industry.”

That was the take of Heidi Carpentier, joint general manager of Carpentier Hardwood Solutions, on the Carrefour International du Bois (CIB).

Her comparison of the biennial timber exhibition in Nantes, France, to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, which gathers the movers and shakers of the global financial sector, was somewhat tongue in cheek but, she said, not entirely fanciful.

“The Carrefour has become the meeting place for the industry. It’s not only where you do business, it’s where you make contacts, renew old ones, discuss key issues and gather a lot of valuable market information.”

Genevieve Standaert, marketing manager of fellow Belgian-based international trader Vandecasteele, agreed. “The whole world is here and you talk with suppliers and competitors as well as customers,” she said. “I’d say if you take a stand at a show anywhere, make it here.”

According to communications director Cécile Touret, the statistics support anecdotal evidence of CIB’s growing international profile. Around a quarter of the 500 exhibitors, she said, are now from outside France. The biggest foreign contingents still come from Belgium, Germany and Austria, but other countries represented this year included Poland, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Italy, Slovenia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and China.

In its 11 outings, the proportion of visitors from abroad has also steadily increased. “At the last show in 2008, they made up around 15%,” said Ms Touret. “Early indications are that we had at least that proportion this year and overall attendance was up 5% at around 10,000.”

Conference programme

The global flavour of the CIB also came through in the conference programme, which included a presentation by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise on its industry’s “durable wood solutions” and a seminar hosted by the US Southern Forest Products Association on “Quality lumber from America’s forests”.

According to exhibitors and visitors, the fundamental appeal of the CIB is its continuing exclusive concentration on timber. That’s not to say it hasn’t evolved. In 2006, for instance, it launched a whole new section, Techniques & Solutions. This was added in recognition of global growth in the use of timber in construction, particularly in structural applications. But products here, too, are 100% wood or wood-based, everything from timber-frame housing kits, to wood fibre insulation.

“The industry needs a focused event and targeted buying experience like this,” said one visitor. “In fact, for importers and distributors like me, I’d say it’s become more valuable than Interzum.”

The overall upturn in visitor numbers this year was attributed in part to growing awareness of the event outside France. But the increase was also put down to the improving mood of the European and wider international industry. The consensus was that it was emerging gradually from the recession.

Ms Standaert described the market as “better and more optimistic than 2009”. “Now the issue is not demand, but supply and, as a result, rising prices – if you can buy today, it will be cheaper than tomorrow – so the benefit of holding stock for prompt delivery is coming back.”

French-based African hardwood and plywood specialist Rougier also took a more upbeat outlook and had good news on the supply side. “The plants in Gabon and Congo where we cut production last year are back to capacity,” said the company’s Paul-Emmanuel Huet.

As for the products shown at the CIB, the event has already built up a reputation for diversity and innovation, and this year the range and number of launches seemed greater still, another possible indicator of greater market confidence.

Among the key trends was an increase in the volume and variety of thermo-processed timber. It was a major focus from Ducerf. “We’ve invested €2m in the drying technology and see a good future for thermo-treating,” said export director Florence Perrucaud. “Architects, especially, need educating about it, but demand is growing. Here we’re presenting our Côteparc thermo-processed oak and ash decking and oak, ash and poplar cladding.”

Eastern French oak specialist Eurochêne also featured new heat-treated ranges, including acacia decking. “This is grown in our area and is inherently durable – traditionally it’s been used for vine poles,” said sales manager Marie-Thérèse Carrey. “Thermo-treating, makes it more hard-wearing still, easier to machine, and gives it a darker colour.”

Cladding popularity

Also highlighted by the show was the wave of popularity that cladding, both interior and exterior, is enjoying Europe-wide. In fact, it was probably the standout product, on display in a myriad of colours, species, surface effects and dimensions.

One of the leading players in the market is Sivalbp of Switzerland, which has daily output of 5,000m2 and has just signed a deal with a UK specialist distributor. It was showing thermo-treated spruce and radiata ranges. Also attracting visitors, said export director Mathieu Blanc, were grey finishes in its 2010 Infineo Natural Oiled range, which includes mountain larch and spruce, Siberian larch and western red cedar. “These give a ready-weathered appearance and the transition to the actual aged colour is less dramatic and more homogeneous,” said Mr Blanc.

Interior cladding eye-catchers from French producer PLF were new laminated ranges, in what director Vincent Rappaport described as “XXL” 185mm widths, and Diabolo, a 115mm collection in 10 “unusual” colours, including mandarin and strawberry.

Carpentier used Carrefour to highlight the recent strategic rebalancing of its business between tropical and temperate hardwood, with the aim of becoming “number one in European oak”. “We’re also featuring our machined, outdoor and other value-added products, emphasising that we are now focused on being the all-round hardwood solutions supplier,” said Ms Carpentier.

A further example of what seemed to be a trend among sawmills and traders to diversify into value-added areas came from French hardwood and softwood supplier Bourdaud Bois. “We’re promoting our planed, and laminated range of interior and exterior joinery components,” said Pascaline Bourdaud. “These complement our traditional sawn products and are an increasingly important part of the business.”

Engineered and structural timber

Since the launch of the Techniques & Solutions section, the presence of engineered and other structural wood products at CIB has increased show-by-show, and not just in the dedicated hall. This year was no exception. One Belgian supplier, Stabilame, covered the whole timber-building portfolio, including whole house kits, glulam and timber post and beam and solid wall build systems, and prefabricated cross-laminated panels.

“And we prefer to use screwed rather than glued cross-laminated timber,” said commercial director Rene Salter. “It means fewer emissions and air gaps between the layers improve acoustic and insulation performance.”

New from Austrian glulam producer Weinberger which, like Stabilame, expressed interest in moving into the UK market, were three-and five-layer laminated tongue and grooved beams for solid wood structural wall construction. With the grain of the different layers at right angles, the product is said to be so resilient, builders don’t need to allow for settlement.

Strength was also the stress for Bouvet Bois’ Open Joist Triforce. This new all-wood open web joist exceeds EU structural standards and its inclusion of a 61cm OSB flange at one end, replacing the finger-jointed wood diagonals, allows for easy on-site length adjustment, with no risk of compromising performance.

Among the staggering variety of products featured by sawmill to timber swimming pool manufacturer Piveteau Bois was its ultra-durable LamWood PinCL4 laminated structural range. Underlining the company’s confidence in the product, it recommends it for high moisture applications, areas exposed to weather extremes, ground contact and even “termite infestation zones”.

“The timber is autoclave treated before and after lamination,” said technical sales representative Sonia Jubier, “so it really has no areas of vulnerability.”

Enhanced durability

Enhanced durability was also the focus from treatment specialist Osmose. The aim of its stand, said European marketing director Andy Hodge, was to bring together its latest technologies, and the tactic paid off, with “a lot of interest and some potentially valuable contacts”.

“MicroPro micronised copper treatment got particular attention,” he said. “And what was interesting was that people were talking as much about the colour performance of the treated material as the preservative itself, with the wood going a warmer honey colour over a few months.”

Celbrite FS1, Osmose’s pallet anti-sapstain treatment and the only product of is kind approved under Europallet rules for use on food contact products, also attracted attention, including from one of “France’s biggest pallet makers”.

And according to Ms Touret, Osmose’s positive experience of the CIB was generally shared by other exhibitors. “In fact, we’ve already had quite a few requests to book space at the next show in 2012,” she said.