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TALK ABOUT push­ing bound­aries .... the lat­est trends in build­ing ma­te­ri­als and build­ing sys­tems have taken a quan­tum leap for­ward in re­cent times. But, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try ex­perts, that’s just the be­gin­ning!

The fu­ture of the tim­ber con­struc­tion in­dus­try presents some unique chal­lenges but over­all ev­ery­thing points to plenty of op­por­tu­nity for those will­ing to learn, adapt and take some risks.

That was the over-arch­ing mes­sage from Frame Aus­tralia 2017 (Tim­ber Offsite Con­struc­tion) Con­fer­ence in Mel­bourne which at­tracted 270 del­e­gates from the tim­ber and pre­fab­ri­ca­tion sec­tor (57%), de­sign and con­struc­tion (26%) and CEOs from in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions and hous­ing sec­tor bod­ies.

The two-day event cov­ered ar­chi­tec­ture, spec­i­fi­ca­tion, con­struc­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing with spe­cial­ist pre­sen­ters out­lin­ing ad­vances made in re­cent times. Site tours were also con­ducted.

The process of offsite man­u­fac­tur­ing (pre­fab) con­tin­ues to gain ground. Speak­ers stressed that through this process qual­ity, quan­tity, safety were read­ily achiev­able and there was a re­sul­tant less­en­ing of on­site wastage. Ad­vance­ments in ma­chin­ing (offsite pro­duc­tion) are paving the way for even quicker build times and, again, more con­trol over the fin­ished prod­uct.

With the change in build­ing sys­tems come dif­fer­ent skills sets for work­ers, too.

On the flip side, dur­ing a work­shop ses­sion one del­e­gate sug­gested that while it was well and good to pro­mote the use of tim­ber and the in­no­va­tive changes in build­ing, he queried the con­tin­ued avail­abil­ity of re­sources in Aus­tralia. Cur­rently, sev­eral ma­jor or­gan­i­sa­tions are lead­ing the way in pro­mot­ing and pur­su­ing in­creased plan­ta­tion in­vest­ment in Aus­tralia (one ex­am­ple is the AFPA’s con­tin­ued push for a hub sys­tem through­out Aus­tralia) and the re­cently-an­nounced $110 mil­lion in­vest­ment in plan­ta­tion forests in Vic­to­ria is also a plus.

How­ever, del­e­gates are show­ing a mea­sured con­fi­dence in the fu­ture and main­tain “the po­ten­tial is huge and we need to look at and take the op­por­tu­ni­ties”.

“Col­lab­o­ra­tion, learn­ing from ex­pe­ri­ence and tak­ing some risks.

The num­bers jus­tify con­fi­dence in the fu­ture”.

Con­fer­ence Di­rec­tor Kevin Ezard was un­der­stand­ably rapt with the suc­cess of the 19th event.

Topic bundling

“I felt the speaker ses­sions and work­shop top­ics be­ing ‘bun­dled’ into the ba­sic com­po­nents of con­struc­tion worked well with Ar­chi­tec­ture, Spec­i­fi­ca­tion, Con­struc­tion and Man­u­fac­tur­ing be­ing a very good ba­sis to cre­ate topic ar­eas that can be read­ily ad­dressed, es­pe­cially where tim­ber con­struc­tion re­quires greater un­der­stand­ing, and needs to be ap­proached dif­fer­ently to tra­di­tional build­ing ma­te­rial meth­ods.

“This topic bundling also en­abled a wide diver­sity of views to be ex­pressed in the panel dis­cus­sions, with a group of par­tic­i­pants each from dif­fer­ent busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties pro­vid­ing del­e­gates with vi­tal in­sight into the con­cepts and re­quire­ments for tim­ber offsite con­struc­tion,” he added.

“The event had more than 40 speak­ers and panel mem­bers, which was a lot of in­for­ma­tion be­ing pro­vided to del­e­gates, but the flow of top­ics and dis­cus­sion was se­quen­tial and by the event con­clu­sion had em­braced all the ma­jor as­pects re­quired.

“It was in­ter­est­ing to note the recog­ni­tion by del­e­gates that col­lab­o­ra­tion is a key el­e­ment for suc­cess, and was fre­quently raised in dis­cus­sion as some top­ics moved pro­gres­sively through a num­ber of ses­sions,” said Kevin.

Keep­ing pace with change

He said the next con­fer­ence in 2018 would be fur­ther de­vel­oped in many top­ics to keep pace with the con­stantly evolv­ing mar­ket­place changes and new de­vel­op­ments that will con­tinue to at­tract a broad base of pro­fes­sions and dis­ci­plines within the build­ing de­sign and con­struc­tion sec­tor, along with the sup­ply chain of tim­ber, en­gi­neered wood and pre­fab­ri­ca­tion equip­ment.

“This will also be ac­cel­er­ated by the rapid up­take in tim­ber con­struc­tion cur­rently emerg­ing, and the num­ber of de­vel­op­ers and builders voic­ing their in­ten­tion to ‘get in­volved’ and be in front of the mar­ket to reap the re­wards of faster build times and lower cost con­struc­tion.

“Ex­hibitors were pleased with the ex­tended time­frame of two days, and with the cat­e­gory mix of del­e­gates were able to en­gage with a wide range of po­ten­tial cus­tomers,” said Kevin.

In­no­va­tion and pas­sion

Tim John­ston (Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of the Vic­to­rian As­so­ci­a­tion of For­est In­dus­tries [VAFI]) chaired the man­u­fac­tur­ing ses­sion and said he was “blown away by the in­no­va­tion, pas­sion and ded­i­ca­tion to the in­dus­try that was on dis­play”.

“As the con­fer­ence del­e­gates heard about new tech­nolo­gies, au­to­ma­tion, data­base in­te­gra­tion, pre­fab­ri­ca­tion and pan­elised pro­duc­tion, among many other top­ics, one thing was abun­dantly clear: the ap­petite for tim­ber is only grow­ing.

“I chaired the work­shop on man­u­fac­tur­ing which fol­lowed ear­lier work­shops on ar­chi­tec­ture, spec­i­fi­ca­tion and con­struc­tion. Lively dis­cus­sions were held about the role tim­ber plays in each of these pro­cesses, with ideas shared and knowl­edge trans­ferred. This is when we are at our best - when we come to­gether and col­lab­o­rate as an in­dus­try.

“We are all fighting our own bat­tles, each and ev­ery day, and there are times that we feel like we are out there on the front line by our­selves. We get caught up in our own world and the blink­ers go on, but is this the best way to fight a bat­tle, let alone win the war?

“To­gether we are stronger. We are an in­dus­try where ev­ery step along the sup­ply chain is in­flu­enced by both the pre­vi­ous step and the next, and we can­not op­er­ate in si­los.

“Dur­ing the panel dis­cus­sion at the

con­fer­ence I was asked what is re­ally a sim­ple ques­tion: Are we go­ing to have enough tim­ber?

“My an­swer is just as sim­ple: YES. I will con­tinue to fight to en­sure this is the case. My ques­tion to you is, are you go­ing to fight along­side me?”

Phil Al­viano (Sus­tain­able Build­ing Ad­vi­sor, Mas­ter Builders As­so­ci­a­tion) was an­other im­pressed at how the con­fer­ence un­folded. “This year’s themed ses­sions fo­cused on dif­fer­ent stages of the con­struc­tion process, which al­lowed the pre­sen­ta­tion of con­tex­tu­alised in­for­ma­tion from dif­fer­ent speak­ers,” he said.

More fo­cused dis­cus­sions

“The panel ses­sion that fol­lowed al­lowed us to ask ques­tions of the pre­sen­ters, which is al­ways help­ful. This en­cour­aged more fo­cused dis­cus­sions that delved deeper into the top­ics. Work­shops on the sec­ond day meant that some of these top­ics could be ex­plored fur­ther in or­der to en­sure that the con­tent de­liv­ered met the needs of the at­ten­dees.

“The qual­ity and va­ri­ety of speak­ers in offsite con­struc­tion pro­vided good prac­ti­cal ad­vice while also ex­plor­ing the ben­e­fits and pos­si­bil­i­ties of offsite con­struc­tion,” Phil said.

For the first time, del­e­gates had a se­lec­tion of site tours:- Im­presa House; On-site as­sem­bly of the Im­presa House sys­tem; Build­ing de­vel­op­ment site Ma­son Point; Medium den­sity res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment Tul­lam­ore; The Li­brary at the Dock; Mel­bourne Univer­sity School of De­sign; The Gar­den Build­ing ... and the gen­eral con­sen­sus of the site vis­its was “bril­liant”.

Dr Perry Forsythe, Pro­fes­sor of Con­struc­tion Man­age­ment at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Syd­ney and Chair of the Spec­i­fi­ca­tion work­shop, told del­e­gates that in terms of con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als, there is grow­ing in­ter­est in tim­bers gen­er­ally. Sim­pler process

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,” he said.

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 said.

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,” the Pro­fes­sor said.

Con­fer­ence Di­rec­tor Kevin Ezard.

Phil Al­viano (Sus­tain­able Build­ing Ad­vi­sor, Mas­ter Builders As­so­ci­a­tion).

Dr Perry Forsythe, Pro­fes­sor of Con­struc­tion Man­age­ment at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Syd­ney.

Tim John­ston (Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of the Vic­to­rian As­so­ci­a­tion of For­est In­dus­tries.

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