Projects using engineered wood from New Zealand producers are popping up all over the rebuild blueprint for earthquake-damaged Christchurch city.
The much-anticipated plan includes key sites for major facilities, including a new 2000-capacity, three-storey convention centre by the Avon River, a huge aquatic and indoor sports facility, a revitalised city square with a new central library, office blocks, shops and restaurants.
“The Christchurch rebuild seems to be one of the few bright spots in a slow-growth market for building timbers,” says Brendan Smith, president of the Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia.
“The market in New Zealand is increasingly competitive under pressure from imports, but higher volumes of particleboard and strandboard panel products are kicking in now as the pipeline to Christchurch for building materials widens,” said Mr Smith who is site manager for Juken New Zealand’s plywood and sawmill operations at Gisborne.
Juken, which has provided innovative seismic earthquake proofing systems using LVL to a new community centre in Carterton, is also winning business with products from its Triboard mill at Kaitaia in the North Island. These include a three-layered panel with a wood strand core sandwiched between an MDF outer ‘skin’, which gives a clean-lined panel of high resilience, strong impact resistance and greater stiffness than other similar products.
Mr Smith said although the company’s volumes were increasing and they were maintaining market share, “there seems to be someone new in the game every month”.
“But EWPAA members are in the market with a big advantage over many fly-by-night overseas suppliers – consistency of supply, service back-up and the all-important product guarantees, something that is seriously lacking in a lot of the imported products,” Mr Smith said.
EWPAA members and the association’s education and marketing program are pushing these attributes hard and this has turned up the volume for the ears of Worksafe NZ, the country’s tough workplace health and safety regulator.
An offshoot of the old Department of Labour, Worksafe NZ has about 350 staff located in 20 offices across New Zealand.
“New and revised Australian-NZ standards have been noted by Worksafe NZ inspectors and they are asking some very pertinent questions about certification and fit for purpose materials on building sites,” Mr Smith said.
“They are pushing for the highest safety and checking to see if planks are certified and used in a safe way.
“Some products, believed to be of Asian origin, have failed on compliance and in fact been removed from building sites, so Worksafe NZ is showing some teeth in this regard.”
Mr Smith said there would always be a preference by professional builders to work within the best guidelines.
“But we must make sure these guidelines all align with new standards in a way that’s not over-technical and that they are provided in simple, plain English.”
EWPAA general manager Simon Dorries has been making regular visits to New Zealand to update and explain new Australian-NZ standards to government building authorities such as the NZ Commerce Commission and the NZ department of Building and Housing.
“We’re talking to the right people,” Brendan Smith said.
He said imported product was here to stay and South America was ramping up supply; it was a challenge to go up against it.
“But in turn, the challenge for them is to show product and supply guarantees and their supply chains can’t provide this. There’s a lot of duck-shoving on the problem about who is responsible.
“That’s were EWPAA members shine – product responsibility, back-up, guarantees and the all-important certification and fit-for-purpose brand.
“About 70% of New Zealand’s structural plywood is still CCA treated, so if you start putting non-compliant plywood into vacuum solutions under pressure something is going to go seriously wrong with the bonding and pretty quickly and, well, there’s your first problem.”
Photos: Brendan Smith .. keeping up the standard in New Zealand.