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Focus on wood innovation – an Australasian first

Focus on wood innovation – an Australasian first

Wood processing and manufacturing companies are currently feeling the heat out in the marketplace. It’s challenging out there. “In the current economic environment, local companies are recognising that to remain competitive that they need to think outside the square” says Forest Industry Engineering Association (FIEA) Director, Brent Apthorp.

“Squeezing efficiencies out of current manufacturing operations is only a short term fix to remain internationally competitive. To stay in the game, new wood product innovations that can be adopted to diversify current manufacturing operations, product mix and markets need to be evaluated”.

Globally, manufacturing is the largest investor in applied research and innovation. It’s also a key driver of productivity improvement. The spill over effect is also critical for the remainder of the economy. Each job in manufacturing generates on average between 2 and 5 additional jobs.

“Because we’re relatively isolated, small by world standards and our research capacity and funding for the primary and manufacturing sectors has dropped away considerably, a large proportion of new technologies continue to be imported” says Mr Apthorp.

For wood products companies, we’ve been very successful in developing and fine-tuning manufacturing processes. Innovation is still strong. New equipment, tools and systems have been adopted by local companies to improve their productivity and operating efficiencies. In most instances though, rather than a breakthrough, it’s been a step change.

Wood plastic composites - a mixture of plastics and wood filler designed to look like wood - are a clear example of just how quickly the game has changed. At the recent Wood Preservation 2012 event run by FIEA, local wood treaters were shown just how the composites share in the home improvement market has climbed. For products like wooden decks, fences and siding, the consumer market’s tastes have changed. The trend to outdoor living, lower maintenance, improved durability and to products that don’t include preservative chemicals has meant that the composite market share has jumped 31% in the last 10 years.

Trex Company, the world's largest manufacturer of wood-alternative decking and railing products, recently announced their net sales for the first quarter of 2012 had increased a staggering 39% with projections of another 15% for the second quarter. Advanced Plastics Recycling from SA at Wood Preservation 2012 outlined the inroads that they’d made in their sales of products like decking, posts, fencing, railing, sleepers, bollards and garden edging. The message was simple. The wood products industry has to look closely at adjusting what and how they’re manufacturing to meet changes in consumer’s demands and to stay in touch with the competition.

With this in mind, FIEA has been working closely with leading technology providers around the world and R&D organisations that have research programmes directly relevant to the local industry. The focus is on new products that have been commercialised and could be adopted by forestry and wood products companies in Australasia – from solid wood – through to panel products. Wood Innovations 2012 will run in both New Zealand and Australia in mid-October.

“The list of innovators and technology providers taking part in this first Australasian event is comprehensive”, says Brent Apthorp. “We’ve been able to identify some of the most innovative products out in the marketplace at the moment. Major technology providers and R&D specialists from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Germany, Finland, Austria, the USA and Canada have already committed to Wood Innovations 2012”.

For full details on this unique programme, visit The event runs in Melbourne, Australia on 10-11 October and again in Rotorua on 16-17 October 2012.

The Forest Industry Engineering Association (FIEA) a division of Innovatek Limited is a unique grouping in Australasia. It's the principal vehicle for technology transfer for forestry and wood products companies. Through a range of independent programmes, new product and process technologies are introduced to New Zealand and Australian companies. Technologies best suited to the size of the industry and to the local resource are being identified and "showcased".

A regular series of conferences, practical workshops and managed exhibitions are run every year. Forestry and wood product companies, key product suppliers, researchers and technology providers from throughout the world are targeted and involved with the programmes. In addition to these events, new resources from the technology programmes are being supplied to New Zealand and Australian companies. FIEA is also now the largest provider of weekly and monthly forest products news in Australasia. For more information visit


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