The use of panels in construction is far from a new idea, but the innovation in manufacture and performance in panels has been significant, if little understood. Stuart Devoil, Group Head of Marketing at James Latham brings some of that innovation to light.

James Latham was founded in 1757, when they first imported hardwoods into Liverpool. But, much like construction panels, they’ve progressively moved forward to remain at the cutting edge of panel materials technology. In fact, Lathams has always been ahead of the panels game, being the first UK importer to set up a panels business in the early 1900’s. They were the first stockist to take delivery of MEDITE MDF in the UK, and the first importer to stock TRP plywood from Weyerhauser. With a history like this, and the experience gained from these firsts, it is fair to say that Lathams lead the way when it comes to panels.

Products such as WISA Spruce plywood demonstrate the qualities a business like Lathams expect. WISA is another historic company, with links to Lathams going back many, many years. Their sustainability credentials, teamed with some of the most stringent certification in the market, makes them a trusted supplier. Perfectly suited to volumetric and offsite construction, WISA Spruce panels offer stability, predictability and consistency necessary for repeatable, accurate modular units. Whilst a traditional plywood in appearance, the materials and manufacturing process make it stand out. Finnish spruce is renowned for stability and once peeled and pressed produces a plywood that remains flat and stable in use, whilst the Class 3 exterior grade glue line means concerns over delamination are a thing of the past. Available in a multitude of sheet sizes in T&G and square edge variants, and including a Euroclass B flame retardant option, it is the perfect product for offsite builds.

Another product which offers outstanding fire performance is the newly launched SMARTPLY MAX FR B. What makes this product unique is the manufacturing process. Individual flakes (or strands) of wood are treated with a water-based FR solution before the panel is manufactured, meaning the fire protection is maintained all the way through the panel. This allows it to be cut or machined without losing any of the fire performance. The boards are then produced using ContiRoll® technology, meaning panels of practically any length are achievable. Much like rolling out pastry, the OSB panel goes under rollers on a continuous conveyor, allowing the panels to be cut only when the desired length is achieved. Panels of up to 2.8 x 7.5m are achievable, making them ideal for Modern Methods of Construction. A structural, moisture resistant, flame retardant Euroclass B panel, up to 7.5m long! What more could the sector ask for?
Well, perhaps something to help with weight? One of the most innovative products to arrive in Latham stocks recently is the amazing Ultralight panel from Spanish poplar plywood experts Garnica. Poplar plywood is very light anyway, due to the nature of the species.  However, Ultralight takes that one step further by using two 4.5mm poplar plywood faces, either side of a 9mm ultra lightweight XPS foam core, effectively creating an 18mm SIPS panel weighing just 250kg/m3. Ideally suited to ceilings, walls and furniture, the Ultralight panels are available with a number of face options, including real wood veneers in a number of species, or High-Pressure Laminate variants. Furthermore, the panel can be made (to order) using Garnica’s Duraply on the faces, which offers a 15-year external warranty. While well suited to construction of buildings, Ultralight has also started to find itself very popular in the garden building, mobile home and leisure accommodation sectors.

So there we are, a trip through the world of panels which, possibly, has breathed a little life back into a subject that many may see as ‘commodity’. Like Lathams, the panel industry does not stand still and has adapted very well to MMC. Products listed here are available throughout Latham’s network of 12 depots in the UK & Ireland.

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