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Mass timber a ‘digital material’ with a plethora of possibilities: Panellist

Don Procter
Mass timber a ‘digital material’ with a plethora of possibilities: Panellist
DON PROCTER - Pictured are panellists at a mass timber conference hosted by the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades.

Conventional construction alone won’t solve the housing crisis Ontario is facing.

Even if interest rates drop enough to spur construction, meeting the demand for two to three million units by 2030 is unrealistic unless new ways of design and construction are employed.

That’s the word from several speakers on a panel recently at a Timber Talks conference on Building Ontario’s Global Leadership, hosted by the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades (CCAT) in Woodbridge.

Panellist Steven Street, executive director of WoodWorks Ontario, said the only way to meet the pressing demand is to build more housing in factories. An example is light-wood frame which can be designed for up to six storeys and built much quicker than conventional construction.

“We know how to build these six-storey multi-family buildings in factories,” he said, adding the province has the grey fabrication sector to help meet the industry’s needs for light-wood frame housing models.

Up to 80 per cent of all houses built in Sweden today are prefabricated, Lars Henriksson, honorary consul general of Sweden, said, pointing out Sweden wouldn’t meet housing demand if it relied on traditional construction methods.

Mass timber could be part of the solution to the housing crisis partly because of the speed of construction and the fact it meets government decarbonization targets.

The global capacity of mass timber production has increased from about 25,000 cubic metres annually in 1995 to an estimated 2.9 million cubic metres this year, Franco Piva of Ergodomus Timber Engineering told the seminar audience.

Piva’s concern, however, is that the building and design industry’s knowledge of mass timber hasn’t kept pace with its demand.

“In my opinion there is a lack of knowledge among designers, architects, engineers, builders and developers. We are seeing some problems due to the cost of these buildings all over the world.”

Piva said training and education, including at post-secondary levels, needs to increase or mass timber construction could decline.

He called mass timber a “digital material because we can quite easily create a 3D model. We can really use BIM technology and what you have on your computer can be very easily transferred to a CNC machine.”

Piva promoted Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA) as “a new value and generating tool for all of our mass timber structures in the future.”

He added insurers might be less apprehensive about mass timber if they can be shown on the digital model how mass timber can mitigate risks.

“Mass timber does not increase the risks of your investment, but you have to wisely use the digital model to know exactly how to manage it, in my opinion,” he said.

Michel Shi, sales engineer of European-based Hasslacher Timber Inc., spoke about the company’s use of mass timber for EV stations overseas and also raised the importance of the company’s recent acquisition of a stake of Element5’s St. Thomas, Ont., operations.

The move was made as the demand for mass timber products grows in North America. Plans call for Hasslacher to finance a glulam line at the St. Thomas plant to supply beams, columns and various mass timber assemblies as a complement to the existing CLT line.

According to a press announcement by Hasslacher, capacity at the production plant will reach 100,000 cubic metres by 2025 and increase the number of Element5 employees from 100 to 200. Hasslacher is the first European company to invest in the development and expansion of mass timber in the North American market.

The seminar was held at the third conference presented in the past two months organized by Mike Yorke for the CCAT.

Held at the Paramount Eventspace in Woodbridge, it was sponsored by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and UBC Local 27.

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