- The increasing demand for forest products and restricted use of natural forests has resulted in a shortage of high-strength wood fiber. The area covered by plantation forests is steadily rising, but the fiber produced by these forests is often unsuitable for high-strength applications. One attempt to combat this problem is the Viscoelastic Thermal Compression (VTC) process, which can dramatically increase the strength and stiffness of any wood species.
In order to advance VTC wood from the concept evaluation stage to the development stage, concept testing interviews were conducted with individuals in the forest products industry and with design professionals (i.e. architects, engineers, contractors, etc.). Valuable opinions, ideas, and insights were gathered from interviewees concerning potential applications for VTC wood, as well as advantages and barriers to its commercialization.
Overall, forest products interviewees thought the most viable uses for VTC wood were LVL, plywood, concrete forms, transportation components, and flooring. The most frequently mentioned advantages to commercialization included increased mechanical properties and the utilization of a low-value wood species; barriers to commercialization were cost and the forest products industry’s resistance to change. Forest products interviewees thought VTC wood would be successful as long as it was not markedly more expensive than similar products.
Design professionals thought the properties of VTC wood are best suited for use in glulam beams, flooring, cabinetry, and LVL. The most commonly mentioned advantages to commercialization included increased mechanical properties, the ability to achieve greater spans, and the color darkening that occurs during production; barriers to commercialization included cost, energy use during production, and unfamiliarity. Overall, interviewees seemed to think VTC wood could be successfully commercialized if it is cost-competitive, energy-efficient, and tested extensively on a large scale.
As a whole, the interviewees believed that VTC wood has the most potential being successfully commercialized as a component of LVL, flooring, and/or glulam beams. These three products were likely mentioned with the highest frequency because radical changes in production would not need to occur in order to integrate VTC wood. One (or more) of these three products would be a logical starting point for VTC wood to enter the market. LVL and glulam beams have the potential to gain market share from steel, which could be used as a selling point. Flooring, on the other hand, cannot be used structurally, but may garner higher profits than LVL and glulam beams. Unique product ideas that may warrant additional investigation in the future are components for car/truck/train/boat interiors, commercial truck/trailer beds, retrofitting, SIP panels, benches, specialty pallets/crating, furniture, and export products. While interesting, these types of products may not be worth exploring until VTC wood is proven in more conventional products, such as LVL or glulam beams. However, they should not be ignored due to their potential for higher financial returns.