Woodspan PLT Panels
Sustainable mass timber solutions
Business View Oceania interviews Tom Boon, CEO of Woodspan PLT Panels, for our focus on Prefab Construction in New Zealand
A proud, New Zealand owned business, Woodspan PLT Panels is revolutionizing the NZ prefab timber construction sector with its signature brand parallel laminated timber (PLT) mass timber panels and glulam engineered wood products. The company is a division of Taranakipine, well known in Australia and New Zealand as an experienced and trusted manufacturer of engineered timber products for 40 years. The dedicated Woodspan team are focused on providing sustainable, high quality product solutions to the building industry using materials sourced from 100% renewable New Zealand radiata pine plantations.
Woodspan PLT’s innovative engineered timber panel system is ideal for residential and commercial floor and roof construction. During the prefabrication process, fingerjointed or solid timber boards are laminated into large panels with all grain running parallel to panel span direction to produce a strong, structurally efficient panel.
Tom Boon, CEO of Taranakipine and Woodspan Ltd, explains, “Taranakipine is a well-established sawmilling business specialising in finger-jointed and laminated products, and Woodspan is an expansion of our laminated timber business. It’s wholly owned by the same shareholders (including myself) of Taranakipine but because the Woodspan PLT product is brand specific to the construction industry, we wanted to keep Woodspan PLT as a separate brand identity.” While Woodspan PLT Panels, itself, is only two years old, promoting the connection to the longstanding Taranakipine sawmilling business is key to assuring the market that they have a secure supply of raw logs and manufacturing capability. As Boon tells people, “We’ve been gluing timber together into structural laminated products for over 30 years. This is just an extension of our product range with Woodspan.”
The roots of the company go back to 1954, when Rodney Jones started a business processing indigenous species of New Zealand. In early 1980, he recognized that there was a maturing crop of radiata pine (an exotic species) in the Taranaki region that was ready for harvest, so he established Taranaki Sawmills Limited in New Plymouth, as a traditional sawmilling business for timber products used in the local domestic market. Over time, the company progressed into remanufacturing or engineered wood products. Boon recalls, “When I joined the company about 14 years ago, we rebranded the name to Taranakipine that was more about the engineered wood products we were making and less about the sawmilling end of the business. Over the next 10 years, we expanded our presence in laminated products and became a specialist in the sector and the largest producer by volume in Australasia of this type of product using this form.”
New automated equipment was put in place and productivity and volume rose significantly. Then about four years ago, the growing trend toward building out of mass timber in Europe and North America caught the interest of the Woodspan leadership team. The benefits of constructing buildings out of mass timber were many. Wood provides a much lower carbon footprint than steel or concrete and the prefabrication of components in factories that are then delivered to the site creates huge cost savings when it comes to labour for the build. “We decided we wanted to be part of that industry,” says Boon, “and we eventually linked what we could physically manufacture here in New Plymouth at Taranakipine to what we thought was a real market opportunity for us. Out of that we developed PLT (parallel laminated timber) panels and we realized that with our existing manufacturing equipment we could actually start making panels straight away.”
The Woodspan business gained momentum, employing quite a few specialists, and recruiting from within the Taranakipine production side and retraining the staff to running the machinery. They purchased a state-of-the-art Hundegger CNC machine out of Germany, put in all the latest technology, leased a new building for a new factory. They did prototyping and testing in the factory environment, very confident that the product would work. But they still had to build that first house. Boon admits, “Someone had to go first, so my wife and I built our own house as a test and the product performed brilliantly. We used BOON Architects and Chris Bell Construction for the design and build and they both loved the product. It’s a two-level house, so not only was it a structural floor, but we used the finished panels exposed as a beautiful timber ceiling, as well. The builder loved the speed – having floors down in less than a day. So we’ve been very fortunate that both the architect and the builder have continued to use Woodspan PLT since the early days in their local projects, in the same town where we manufacture the product.”
From there, the company has done extensive target marketing, getting products specified with other architects and builders into attractive high-end homes. Woodspan PLT’s next big break was in Auckland where there is quite a serious housing shortage. Du Val Group, a major property developer of quality, affordable housing, visited Taranakipine and Woodspan and saw that they not only have a good product but the manufacturing capability to back it up. And control of the whole supply chain from raw material to finishing to distribution.
Boon reports, “They did a 33-townhouse block with us using our product for ground floor, mid-floor, roof and they’re very happy with it. We just finished that in October and now we’re doing 101 townhouses with them using the same system on another site in Auckland. So we’ve cracked into the multi-residential housing market and from that we’ve just completed a 44-unit apartment building in Wellington. Because our system is new, a lot of companies are hesitant to use it until it’s proven but now we’ve done about 40 different projects from a house right through to apartments and townhouses and we’re getting a good track record.”
The main advantage is speed of the build. The project for the 33 townhouses was made up of six blocks with the ability to fully install an eight-unit floor in one day. For a property developer, the sooner they complete a project, the sooner those units are rented out or sold. It’s all about speed. Woodspan’s market channel is a direct install, finished panels leave the factory and are delivered to the building site ready for the crane. According to Boon, “Our initial contact is through architects and eventually our customer becomes the builder – the construction company – and we work with them directly. The panels are tailored to their specifications, stacked in a certain way, and delivered on a specified time and date to locations throughout New Zealand.”
From a sustainability aspect, wood ticks all the boxes when it comes to an environmentally friendly build. In fact, Woodspan is now having architects and builders coming to them specifically because their clients want low carbon emitting building materials. And that demand is growing. Radiata pine is the main species grown in New Zealand and the plantations are all replanted as sustainable forests. “And there is very little waste in our process,” says Boon. “Right through from the log, all the residue such as bark goes into garden products, wood chip goes to pulp mills, and shavings from the timber goes to the planers to use as fuel for our kilns. Or it goes to bedding for the local chicken farms – that’s a big industry here. And after a few weeks it’s extracted from the sheds and turned into fertilizer that is spread on the farm fields.”
The nature of the product and the manufacturing process means there are next to no offcuts. The panels get made exactly to length for the build, so very little waste there, either.
Woodspan PLT Panels delivers to jobs all throughout New Zealand and expansion beyond the country is on the horizon. As Boon confides, “Being a fairly new business, we’ve been fine tuning the product offer and the manufacturing to fully understand our cost margin and now we’re looking at expanding to other regions. Australia is currently our biggest market for Taranakipine, making up close to 50 percent of our total turnover for sales. We have been exporting there for over 30 years and have a lot of experience in this market. It would be the logical place to expand for Woodspan – the customer base might be different but the construction methodology in Australia is very similar to New Zealand. So, Australia is of strong interest.”
To best sum up the important attributes of his company, Boon shares, “Woodspan PLT Panels is a mass timber product with proven market performance that equally matches the construction industry needs for high-end residential construction through to the multi-unit affordable housing market. That is accomplished using a long-established wood processing company, Taranakipine, that has the capability to deliver the scale needed from the raw log material right through to the finished product and distribution. We’ve had so much encouragement, and support and knowledge sharing from the industry overall and the Taranaki region, and we are very grateful for that.”
AT A GLANCE
Woodspan PLT Panels
What: An industrial scale producer of parallel laminated timber (PLT) panels
Where: New Plymouth, NZ