IN DEPTH: Engineered Lumber Products

 LVL Shortage?

Another longer-term but growing concern focuses on a predicted shortage of LVL by 2017. “With LVL operating rates still below 70%, it’s not surprising that most LVL manufacturers are not making plans at present to add capacity,” says a report from Forest Economic Advisors. “However, perhaps they should be.”

The group predicts LVL demand will rise much faster than demand for sawn lumber, but permanent closures have caused a loss of 15.6 million cubic feet of capacity. With a 30-month lag between a company’s decision to add capacity and when that capacity can add to the market, FEA forecasts more demand than supply by 2017.

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That’s especially important for Ijoists, which use LVL for flanges, LP’s Midgette says. “We expect to see a shift from using LVL to LSL because of the shortage of supply. When demand outstrips supply and you can make more selling LVL as a product, flanges will need to find a substitute.”

“LVL supply is definitely going to begin to be tight, probably within the next 18 months,” BlueLinx’s Nichols says. “Capacity came out of the industry over the last five years, but usage rates have continued to increase. I would guess that in the next year or so, manufacturers of LVL-flange I-joists will be looking at LSL as flange material.”

Labor shortages also are causing concern, both in-house and in the field. “Labor at the site is a challenge for some builders,” Huber’s Flotkoetter says. “Labor shortages in some markets are holding back more construction. Some builders tell me they could be building more, but they can’t go faster. These are growing pains, certainly, that will work themselves out over time, but it’s creating slow growth now.”

Others report hearing few complaints of labor shortages, indicating it’s not a universal concern. “Framing labor is not as big of an issue as we anticipated this summer,” Boise Cascade’s Huston says. “Framers are filling into gaps where needed.”

But other labor is falling short. “As the business climate continues to improve, distributors, dealers and builders are finding it difficult to find experienced engineered-lumber designers,” GP’s Watterson reports. “Our customers have been asking for our assistance on this issue.” GP introduced a design program last year that can be learned quickly and allows designers to work faster, allowing the same personnel to complete more projects, he says.

Boise Cascade’s SawTek program has a backlog of customers waiting installations, Huston reports. The system has been revamped to create three levels of operation, and dealers can upgrade onto their existing system as their use grows.

“Dealers have wasted a lot of material cutting I-joists to the proper length, and this eliminates that.”

Design software is becoming a must for sophisticated housing systems, Roseburg’s Killgore says. “Larger production builders have their own design centers, but smaller builders rely on lumberyards or wholesalers to do the breakdowns for them.”

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