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Lumber markets anticipate arrival of new wood product

Meridian — Imagine a strong, uniform, engineered wood product that could be brought to local lumber yards, and then custom cut into the sizes needed to make beams, headers, joists and other structural timber supports. And then imagine that this wood product was made from an underutilized forest resource, thinnings from pine tree plantations.

Samples of such a product called Scrimtec made with the patented TimTek process were taken to potential distributors by forest industry marketing researcher Dr. Leonard Guss of Leonard Guss Associates Inc., Woodinville Wash., a couple years ago.

“We have never had such a favorable reception to any concept we have looked at as for this one,” Guss said. “It is a remarkable product, and will take a foremost place among engineered wood products in the U.S. People are demanding more reliability and strength value in structures. The ability to predict strength values is becoming extremely important. That is difficult to do with natural products. It is easier to do with engineered wood products.”

Currently one of Mississippi’s largest privately-owned timber companies, Shuqualak Lumber (www.shuqualak.com), is planning a $140-million investment in its subsidiary, Loblolly Industries, LLC, to bring the Scrimtec product to the marketplace. The project is expected to create 140 jobs with an annual payroll of $6.5 million.

“What OSB (Oriented Strand Board) means to plywood, Scrimtec means to lumber,” said Skip Scaggs, manager of business development, East Mississippi Business Development Corp. “It is stronger than lumber. Its performance is more predictable. It comes from an available renewable resource. Scrimtec is the only engineered wood product made from immature pine trees. They will use the first thinning when pine plantations are 10 or 12 years old and trees are thinned out so the remaining trees grow faster.”

Usually the only market for pine tree thinnings is for pulpwood. With pulpwood prices so low, the availability of another market for the thinnings will be good news to tree farmers in the Meridian area who will be drawn upon for raw material. It is estimated that 13,375 acres of young pine plantation would have to be thinned each year to supply the mill.

Anderson Thomas, vice president, Shuqualak Lumber Co., said that while the effect of this plant on prices for thinnings is difficult to predict, they are creating an additional outlet for timber growers who have for several years faced a declining market due to closure of several pulp and paper mills in the region.

The product could end up revolutionizing the wood products industry much in the way OSB has now become standard.

“Scrimtec is the ‘OSB’ of the structural wood products category,” Thomas said. “Both products are manufactured from pine plantation thinnings and compete, within their respective applications, with products manufactured from mature logs.”

Thomas said while structural engineered wood products are always more expensive than lumber, they are stronger than lumber, more uniform and have a very narrow range of variability from piece to piece.

In addition to the direct jobs, the project is expected to recreate an additional 168 indirect jobs with an estimated payroll of $5.9 million. Mill construction is expected to begin by the third quarter of this year, with the mill coming on line in late 2007.

The process of commercializing Scrimtec has been assisted by $1 million in research done at Mississippi State University.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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