Our quarterly focus on the New Zealand milling and processing sector highlights the investments to boost cross laminated timber (CLT) production made by XLam, both here in New Zealand at its Nelson plant and in Australia.
KIWI HIGH-TECH WOOD COMPANY, XLam, is primed for growth following a multimillion dollar investment that will enable it to further ramp up delivery of pre-fabricated buildings to help with New Zealand’s housing shortage and the ambitious KiwiBuild project.
XLam is Australasia’s largest manufacturer of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) – largeformat structural building panels and elements created by bonding together timber boards in orthogonal layers.
The company has invested around $5 million in upgrades for its Nelson facility, with 15 new staff also joining the team, on the back of the opening of its $30 million Australian manufacturing facility. And following extensive testing, the Australian operation can also supply treated timber to comply with New Zealand Building Code requirements if necessary.
The investments come as New Zealand experiences a resurgence in demand for sustainable timber construction and one of the busiest times seen in this country for construction of prefabricated businesses, homes and buildings.
XLam CEO, Gary Caulfield, says: “CLT is a key building block in the delivery of prefabricated buildings, which offer the potential to address New Zealand’s current housing shortage, providing safer, high quality, faster builds.”
Mr Caulfield says demand for XLam’s products and services has risen dramatically in the last 18 months, with 2017 turnover increasing in line with expectations.
“While Europe has been using CLT for more than 20 years and the United States has seen a strong uptake in the last few years, New Zealand has lagged behind in adopting the more efficient, higher quality building material and the associated construction methodology,” he says.
“However, with New Zealand’s current housing shortage and high demand for lower cost housing, along with a construction industry staffing and skills shortage, demand for CLT prefabricated houses is expected to soar – indeed we’re already seeing the increasing demand.”
XLam’s CLT panelised solutions are already being used by Housing New Zealand in its new prefabricated houses. XLam is currently being suggested as an option to enable the government to deliver on its flagship KiwiBuild programme, which promises to build 100,000 houses over the next 10 years.
In March this year, industry body PrefabNZ released a report showing prefabricated housing could deliver around 7,000 homes
a year in New Zealand from 2020 if the wider prefab industry scales up.
A PrefabNZ statement claims that prefabricated houses can reduce construction time by up to 60% and provide approximately 15% cost savings, while also having significantly fewer defects and providing around a 25% waste minimisation saving. Another significant advantage of prefabrication construction is that it reduces time in which builders work ‘at height’ on building sites, reducing health and safety incidents. Onsite construction is also quieter due to the very different way in which prefabricated construction occurs compared to more traditional forms of building.
XLam’s recent investments include $3 million for another Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) cutting machine, to custom cut CLT panels to designers’ specifications. The new CNC machine, which allows precision cutting to tolerances within a millimetre went into operation in June, increasing capacity in New Zealand by more than 30%. The Nelson plant is currently capable of producing around 250m of CLT a week – enough for more than eight houses or a full apartment block. Typically, on-site building assembly rates exceed 100m per hour using products like CLT.
Ancillary equipment is also being added, with a further $300,000 investment in quality test equipment.
“Given the massive potential for CLT in
New Zealand, we have significantly expanded both our staffing and our production capacity,” says Mr Caulfield.
“The new CNC cutting machine will provide us with a large amount of extra capacity to take on additional projects and ensure we can meet market demand for our products.”
Configuring the business to Industry 4.0, or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), XLam has implemented a new $1.2 million ERP system to ensure the highest level of systems integration assisting with the translation of design through to manufacturing, thus increasing productivity.
XLam partners with companies like Arrow International for large builds, with Mr Caulfield noting that the uptake of new technologies requires different thinking, new forms of contracting, intelligent procurement and generally a new non-traditional attitude.
“The leadership shown within the vertical construction market by companies such as Arrow International on a large scale and Christchurch’s Miles Construction in the medium scale is to be commended,” he adds.
XLam CLT panels are treated in accordance with regulatory requirements for New Zealand, adding to the durability and longevity of the products. Mr Caulfield says untreated timber used in the past in New Zealand raises questions about professional indemnity insurance for the industry.
“There are still a lot of questions around who is liable for specifying a 50-year-old structural product that is untreated,” he goes on to say.
“There is more to robust design than simply specifying treated timber. However, until detailing, staff skills, training, systems and workmanship are improved the use of treated timber is, unfortunately, a required part of the timber construction solutions ensuring adequate durability is achieved and mitigating the risks.
“This is the best time in New Zealand’s history for wood construction and offsite manufacturing, and XLam is investing heavily to ensure we can help bring better, more affordable housing to more New Zealanders.”
As part of its growth programme, XLam has also expanded its senior management team with the appointment of John Eastwood as the head of business development for both New Zealand and Australia.
Mr Eastwood has previously held country manager and senior commercial management roles with a number of multinational and national building material manufacturers and suppliers to commercial and residential construction sectors.
Main pic: The main structural support and shear walls of the Plant & Foods Research centre in Nelson comprise XLam 5-layer 130mm thick CLT panels.
Above: CLT supplied by XLam is used in this Housing New Zealand multi-unit residential development in Auckland. Below: CLT was used in the walls and staircase in the Bealey Lodge Backpackers Hostel in Christchurch.
Above: This award-winning architect-designed rural work studio in the Waimea Inlet, in Tasman district, was conceived with CLT in mind.Below left: XLam CEO, Gary Caulfield.Below right: The inside of the Waimea studio shows off the CLT wood panels.Opposite page:
Use of prefabricated CLT panels allows buildings to go up faster, with less labour.