Plywood: Seeing through the smoke and mirrors
24th June 2018

Plywood: Seeing through the smoke and mirrors

This blog post is by TTF Managing Director David Hopkins. It originally appeared on the Timber Trades Journal.


The bright light that the Timber Trade Federation (TTF) has been shining on the Chinese plywood trade over the past 12 months has shown up a variety of interesting practices, with a view to gaining extra clarity and transparency for all involved.

As we know, many players in the plywood trade routinely keep a beady eye on what their competitors are selling and how they are selling it. Allegations have been rife as to how other traders can make claims of high quality, while selling at such a low price. Especially when most of those involved know first-hand the mills which are producing these goods and exactly what to expect from them!

Many of the problems we’ve seen have come from importers not understanding and not adhering to the basic requirements of the standards they claim their products are meeting.

Our early stakeholder engagement workshops highlighted the disparity in understanding of performance standards between architects, contractors, merchants and importers.

Let’s start with the obvious: the glue bond. The different technical classes of plywood require a different strength of glue bond depending on the performance claim the product makes. Samples of the product should undergo soak and boil tests ahead of a shear test on a regular basis to prove their quality. Our testing regime during the panels review last year highlighted the difference in quality which can be experienced from Chinese imports and the need for thorough factory production control.

Up to twenty per cent of the cost of making plywood can be in the glue bond. So, this is often where manufacturers know they can control costs. Yet it also the issue that defines the applications the product can be used for and therefore where a lot of attention should be focused.

The Timber Trade Federation requirement for all members to conduct third-party testing over glue bond, along with collection of all relevant paperwork concerning factory production control should go some way to bringing more consistency and confidence to the market. Members are using testing facilities in China, the UK and in the EU.

The new plywood framework – audited as part of the RPP – contains several other criteria, and Members are using different means of providing evidence. Some have opted to invest in one single third-party verification scheme, such as the TFT Diamond Mark, Q-Mark and others, to cover all aspects of factory production control, product testing and verification. Others are choosing to gain separate third-party evidence themselves for each individual criteria.

All systems are acceptable, it depends what works best for the companies involved. Over time we hope this will have positive impacts not just in the UK, but across the globe.

This is not to say that problems do not still exist. There is clearly a high degree of ignorance in the market – particularly within Merchant groups – about the different classes of plywood and their applications. We need to take steps to ensure this is not exploited and that merchants are not selling sub-standard goods into applications for which they are unsuitable. On this the TTF has started an education programme for our members and for Merchants which we will roll out across the country.

Secondly, pack marking. All packs should have clear identification of the species involved and the technical class of the product – ideally printing all of the information from the CE Mark – to aid transparency and clarity with the buyers.

Terms such as ‘MLH’ or ‘As per Invoice’ are just meaningless smoke and mirrors and no longer allowed. Yet, time and again we are still seeing these marks used. This has to stop.

In conclusion, the process the TTF has put in place has done an excellent job in bringing greater transparency into the market. However, there is still work to do to make sure we are addressing problems not looking straight through them.