Converging trends put timber in the spotlight

Converging trends put timber in the spotlight

June 2, 2017

Business as usual in the construction industry is getting something of a shakeup, as emerging trends in materials, technology and construction systems come together to create a whole new paradigm. 
Leaders like Strongbuild, Lendlease, Impresa House, Timberbuilt Solutions and Sekisui House’s Shawood operation are creating a real stir with projects that showcase how new engineered timber products combined with 3D design modelling and high-tech manufacturing technologies can achieve more cost-effective and efficient project outcomes.
Dr Perry Forsythe, Professor of Construction Management at the University of Technology Sydney and Chair of a workshop session at the Timber Offsite Construction conference in Melbourne on June 19-20, says that in terms of construction materials, there is growing interest in timbers generally.
For some clients, an interest in sustainability is a driver. Timber has a sustainability advantage over other materials through the fact they capture carbon and store it.
Other clients may be reluctant because of potential cost premiums. 
However, Perry says that “the rise of the machine” is keeping the market for timber products buoyant.
Because timber is easy to machine, it works well with the concurrent trend in architecture and design for the use of Building Information Modelling and other 3D design modelling technologies.
The design file can be sent straight off to the fabricator, who can then fine-tune the conceptual design into a panelised model. Those digital files then go straight to the factory floor where they direct the CNC machining and other production lines, Perry explains.
“It’s now become a lot more possible.”
Design for Manufacture and Assembly is another trend he finds exciting, and he believes more designers and project teams will be heading down that path.
“Previously construction was a very fragmented process,” he says.
Project managers would have to assign multiple small work packages to multiple trades. 
The new timber-plus-tech approach streamlines the entire project management task, and leads to a faster build process and building delivery.
“It becomes a simpler process for the project manager because more things are handled in one place,” Perry says.
He says that Strongbuild and Lendlease have by their examples generated an increasing market for Cross Laminated Timber. 
New Zealand’s XLam and Australia’s Hyne timber have anticipated this, with XLam’s new Australian CLT factory in Albury-Wodonga due for completion this year and well-positioned to supply the Australian market.
Lendlease have also developed their own CLT building component manufacturing plant in Sydney, and Strongbuild are in the process of moving the majority of their own construction to a factory setting.
“We will see CLT applied to complicated, large and tall buildings,” Perry says. 
For three to five storey building, he says we will see more use of timber framed construction.
This market, particularly multi-residential mid-rise, will grow with the densification of our major cities. 
Companies that can deliver prefabricated systems for framed construction will be well-positioned to succeed as densification gathers momentum.
The more advanced construction companies will also see the value-add of such approaches in terms of faster erection of load-bearing walls and flooring and an overall more continuous construction process.
“A few companies will be the trend-setters, then there will come the fast-adopters.”  
This topic and more will be presented at Frame 2017 titled ‘Timber Offsite Construction’ to be held on Monday and Tuesday 19-20 June 2017 at Park Hyatt Melbourne, and for event details visit the website 


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