PRODUCT QUALITY IS KEY
WITH A history dating back to the Egyptian Pharaohs, plywood has been used over the centuries for decorative products, packaging, boats, planes, buildings, and more. Plywood is an incredibly versatile timber product.
In Australian construction, common uses of plywood include flooring, cladding, roofing, bracing, and linings. Its uses also include temporary structures for concrete construction, with overlaid formply often being used in the concrete form during the construction of concrete structures. Plywood sound barriers are visible along the edges of freeways and rail corridors in our capital cities. By changing the orientation of veneers, a uni-directional plywood product – better known today as Laminated Veneer Lumber – caters to an even wider range of uses; including joists, bearers, truss chords, lintels, portal frames, scaffold planks, power pole cross arms and more.
Plywood, and more generally engineered wood, are products which have been historically relevant in Australian construction, and their versatility will continue see these products being used in detached housing, commercial, and medium rise construction.
Sourcing reliable local product
With so many uses, plywood has to be reliable enough for the highest risk applications. Bonds need to be reliable and structural plywood needs to meet the stress grade that it claims. If these fundamental requirements aren’t met it will, at best, result in delaminated product having to be replaced or sag under load – both are issues that spell trouble for the installer and the suppliers. More significantly, a disregard for these fundamental requirements risks catastrophic failure and potential for loss of life.
The Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia (EWPAA), along with the plywood producers who subscribe to the EWPAA’s plywood certification program, recognise the high importance of product quality. The complexity involved in making a reliable plywood product is far greater than most people would imagine. Manufacturers contend with complex interacting variables in their processes. In spite of these variables, they voluntarily open their mills for regular audits of their manufacturing processes. In addition to their own in-mill testing they submit on a daily basis samples for independent bond and structural testing.
Voluntary involvement in the certification program reflects producers’ commitment to delivering a fit-forpurpose product that can be trusted to perform. These are businesses who have invested millions of dollars in manufacturing equipment specifically to supply Australian markets. Their local manufacturing presence sets them apart from trans-global suppliers who can turn to other international markets if their products fail in Australia, or when the Australian market is flat.
On top of the need for a reliable product, specifiers are increasingly interested in the sustainability credentials of timber products. All manufacturers of plywood in Australia have Chain of Custody certification to AFS/PEFC standards, and a number also have FSC certification. The EWPAA is involved in ensuring that manufacturers have robust systems for determining the sustainability of their log and other wood inputs, and how they manage their wood flow. If you are purchasing or specifying EWPAA certified plywood product from an Australasian manufacturer, you are buying a sustainably sourced timber product.
Changes in regulations
A major issue affecting the Australian building products industries has been non-conforming building products. Australian regulations have not been effective in ensuring that construction products are fit for purpose, or that they conform to the Australian standards they claim. This has been a frustration to Australian manufacturers as cheap non-conforming products are devaluing their markets and creating reputational issues through product failures.
This problem has been recognised in discussions at the COAG Building Ministers Forum in December 2016, and is the subject of a Senate enquiry. The Queensland Government has recently tabled a Bill intending to address product conformity. Subject to appropriate allocation of responsibility and enforcement, this initiative has the potential to address issues with non-conforming products, reinforce the quality proposition of Australian manufacturers and have a positive impact on the quality of Australian building stock, and on the safety of people working in construction.
Product certification is one way of suppliers gaining an assurance of product conformity. However, the rigor of product certification needs to match the risk. The conformity of life-safety products should be based on an ISO type 5 certification system, encompassing initial testing and manufacturing audits, ongoing surveillance of the manufacturing process, ongoing surveillance testing, in-market assessment, and management system audits. This comprehensive process, particularly the element of ongoing market surveillance testing, ensures that a random sample of any product produced within this certification scheme will attest to its fitness-for-purpose, much the same as a random audit by health and safety auditors should attest to safe workplace practices. Certification which is based on a one-off test certificate is not an adequate basis for determining that a product conforms.
Plywood has a well established reputation established over many years. Legitimately conforming products have been and can continue to be part of building solutions today and into the future. Specifiers and building products suppliers need a means of ensuring that they use conforming products. The EWPAA’s type 5 certification, and the capital investment of EWPAA certified manufacturers in domestic markets present a very strong case for products which conform.
EWPAA lab staff doing mechanical properties testing on plywood here in the EWPAA lab.