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Officials at Oregon State University’s Advanced Wood Products Laboratory recently announced that they tested a new type of plywood building panel, developed by Freres Lumber Co. of Lyons, that may be the largest such product ever manufactured.

The veneer-based panels can measure a whopping 12 feet wide, 48 feet long and 2 feet thick. Standard plywood sheets typically are 4 feet wide, 8 feet long and between a quarter-inch to 1-inch thick.

Rob Freres, executive vice president of Freres Lumber, said more of the “mass plywood panels” could be on the way. “We hope to manufacture a lot of them,” he said.

Freres Lumber is planning to build a new 168,000-square-foot building to make the new product on Lyons Mill City Drive, in between Lyons and Mill City. Designs for the MPP plant haven’t been finalized, but Freres hopes to be producing the sheets in late 2017 at the site.

The company will need to hire 20 new workers for the first shift there. “It could be 40 or 60 over time,” Freres said.

With federal harvest levels being reduced by more than 90 percent, it’s been rare to see a new timber industry plant constructed in Oregon, he added.

The largest volume produced at the plant is expected to be 4-inch to 6-inch thick material, which could be used for floors and walls in construction. But there also could be behemoth sheets that come out of the facility.

“The plan is to lay it out to go 60 feet long if the market demand is there,” Freres said.

The panels can be made to order – doors and windows can be cut out at the plant – and Freres expects them to be used for multi-story commercial buildings.

“This may be viewed as revolutionary in the construction industry. … We’re hoping to do entire building packages,” Freres said.

The product may be a hit because Americans are cost-conscious. Structures made out of MPP could be erected by cranes in days, not months, it would reduce truckloads of material versus other types of construction, especially concrete, and the lighter weight also could reduce transportation costs, Freres said.

Second and third-generation 8-inch logs will be used to manufacture veneers, which are compressed together to make the panels, he added.

The panels also could have different recipes of various veneers depending on what engineers and architects need for performance.

MPP underwent more than a year of development and performance testing at the Advanced Wood Products Laboratory.

Ari Sinha, assistant professor in OSU’s College of Forestry, oversaw the tests and said that MPP could be very versatile.

“These panels could be customized for different applications. Because they have very good compression qualities, they could be used for columns as well as panels,” Sinha said, in a news release.

Sinha’s testing focused on the panels' structural and physical properties such as density, adhesive bonding and resistance to the kinds of vertical and horizontal stresses experienced in an earthquake. Additional tests are planned after the first of the year.

“This is an important product to use in seismic zones. Unlike concrete, it will give,” Freres said. A Japanese company has expressed interest in MPP.

Mass plywood panels can achieve the performance characteristics of a similar product known as Cross Laminated Timber panels, the news release states.

“There could be a savings of 20 to 30 percent of wood fiber and yet the same performance of CLTs,” Freres said.

CLT building construction is common in Europe, but the product is relatively new in North America as an alternative to concrete construction for commercial buildings, Freres said. MPP would likely fill a niche in that existing marketplace.

A test press for the MPP will be installed in Freres’ Mill City plant in January.

Freres Lumber has about 480 employees, and 2017 will be the company’s 95th year in business.

The MPP plant will be the second-largest expense ever for the company, and will cost slightly less than a co-generation facility installed about 10 years ago, Freres said. The estimated expense for the co-gen plant was roughly $26 million.

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Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.

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Business Reporter