Merchant News
Future opportunities in the wood supply chain
17th May 2019

Future opportunities in the wood supply chain

Future opportunities in the wood supply chain

We look into the future of timber supply with the BMF and Home Builders Federation

David Hopkins, Timber Trade Federation

Softwood suppliers in Scandinavia and beyond are starting to look at more efficient ways of utilising their wood raw materials.  Laminated products, such as those now widely used in the door and window manufacturing industries, have reduced wastage for the wood supplier and for the wood user in local joinery shops nationwide.  Timber frame and engineered timber construction is now taking centre stage in the current and future plans of  some TTF and BMF supplier members, as they develop their product portfolios to meet the growing demand from specifiers.  What does this indicate for the future of timber supply through the builders’ merchant channel?

There are a number of opportunities to enter the engineered timber market.  Firstly through products such as Glulam and LVL beams, which a number of suppliers are beginning to stock in more standard sizes, making them available to merchant customers when builders request  them.  Secondly, laminated engineered timber components, both in softwoods and, increasingly, in a choice of hardwoods, enable merchants to seek new business with the joinery sector. Merchants could play an aggregator role for their regional housebuilder customers, such as the members of the Home Builders Federation, when they undertake offsite construction projects. With increasing use of offsite housing, taking a creative approach to future timber supply will pay dividends.

Stewart Baseley, Home Builders Federation

These are significant times for our industry with pressure being applied in a range of ways and change gathering pace. Whilst we have delivered an unprecedented 78% increase in output over the past five years, Government’s ambition of 300,00 a year is a huge challenge. And as we continue to increase output, ensuring homes are of the highest possible quality is absolutely key. Innovation and collaboration with the supply chain will be critical.

Across the industry, companies are increasingly investing in off-site initiatives to help drive volumes and quality efficiently. Ensuring we work together to develop and mainstream best practise will be essential to progress.

Similarly, builders must be planning effectively with suppliers to ensure materials are in place to enable more homes to be built, not least with Brexit in mind.

On skills too the industry is increasingly looking to work with the supply chain, that provides the majority of the on-site expertise and labour, to ensure the capacity and skills are in place to enable volumes and quality to be driven. Closer links within the industry will also help with vital initiatives such as our current focus on addressing mental health amongst our workforce. Developing ever stronger business ties will better enable all parties to achieve their objectives.

John Newcomb, Builders Merchant Federation

Building excellence in materials supply, the central tenet of the BMF’s future vision, requires a solid foundation in the present and a weather eye on what’s ahead for the sector.

We often hear that construction should be more innovative, and an article in The Financial Times last year quoted offsite construction as having the potential to be the industry’s “Uber moment”. Yet offsite manufactured housing has not manifested itself as a major opportunity for merchants to date. Factory-built housing will have to play a role somewhere in the mix if the Government is to reach its housing targets, and some see it as a ‘silver bullet’.

There is an argument to be made on social housing where volumetric construction could bring time and cost efficiencies. However with, as yet, a small proportion of housing being built offsite, we view it as a supplement to traditional building, not a replacement for it. In the short term, offsite is most likely to present new opportunities for merchants, particularly on projects where modular elements form part of a largely traditional build project. For example, when adding another storey to an existing building to maximise residential space above a high street retail unit or within an office to residential conversion. We will certainly follow with interest the developments in offsite methods including timber frame, both in housebuilding and in the wider materials supply chain.