Timber Advisory Panel

Timber Advisory Panel discuss industry growth and economies of scale

  • 18 May 2016

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UK Construction Week recently held a panel discussion to debate growing the structural timber market, economies of scale and encouraging students into the timber sector.

The Timber Advisory Panel, organised by Timber Expo 2016, consisted of 14 industry leaders including Oliver Novakovic, Technical and Innovation Director at Barratt Developments and David Hopkins, Director of the Timber Trade Federation.

Timber Expo is the second largest show at UK Construction Week and will expand in 2016 to include a dedicated section for offsite construction.

Growing the structural timber sector

The panel began the discussion by debating the future growth of the sector and the potential obstacles it may need to overcome.

Andrew Carpenter (Structural Timber Association) and Anthony Thistleton (Waugh and Thistleton) both commented that continued growth of the sector would result from a focus on the speed of build and energy efficiency benefits that timber presents.

 Anthony Thistleton commented: “Alongside improving the speed of build, the number of deliveries to site are reduced as well as onsite waste, due to the panels being pre-cut prior to delivery – these are benefits our clients value.

Also, the health and well-being benefits of structural timber are becoming more apparent. For example, Ickburgh School in the London Borough of Hackney, which provides specialist accommodation for 150 pupils on the Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties spectrum has recently seen real well-being improvements passed on to its students after relocating into a newly built structural timber building.”

Oliver Novakovic (Barratt Development) suggested that the sector must focus on three specific points to ensure growth:

  • demonstrating that timber is cost competitive against other materials
  • proof that the speed of build promise can be delivered
  • ensuring that a skilled workforce is available to deliver projects

Economies of scale

Whilst considering the economies of scale, the growing potential of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital design tools formed the key points of the conversation.

Alastair Parvin (WikiHouse) commented that the timber sector is currently facing the ‘Third Industrial Revolution’ – manufacturing becoming digital. He said: “By utilising the latest digital fabrication design tools that incorporate building design limitations and legislation, consumers could generate their ideal home design, with costings, which could then be taken to a manufacturer to print.”

ARUP Associate Director Timothy Snelson added: “By creating BIM components, suppliers can make it easier for architects to design with timber. Libraries of standard details as BIM components would also speed up the process and improve reliability, therefore, providing more confidence in the product.” 

Recruiting students into the timber sector

Approaching the final topic for the panel, Dave Campbell (BWF) highlighted that many SMEs currently have apprenticeship schemes, although the main barrier they face are recruitment, training and continued professional development.

Dave pointed out the state of the woodworking and interior fit out sector, which requires 4,000 new entrants each year, but is currently falling short of this industry demand.

Timber Expo 2016Rupert Scott (TRADA) commented that more hands-on courses were needed with schools, and that without hands-on experience of working with tools and materials, students lack a means of entry into the construction and timber industries.

It was agreed that the industry needs to better appeal to graduates and students by focusing on the opportunities and projects that professionals can be a part of.

The Timber Expo, taking place at the Birmingham NEC as part of UK Construction Week, was considered by the panel to be the ideal platform for showcasing the design, innovation and opportunities within the sector.

Providing the opportunity for construction professionals to view the best of the timber industry, the event will take place from the 18th – 23rd October 2016.

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