European Mass Timber Tour
May 22nd to May 26th, we had the opportunity to visit the epicenter of Mass Timber. Europe has been developing the market for mass timber production and construction for more than a decade. It’s not much of a surprise to see Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and Glue Laminated Beams (Glulam) structures in most parts of Europe. And that is continuing to grow.
On May 23rd, we stopped in London to see Waugh Thistleton. Considered by many as the world leaders in Mass Timber design. They have many projects completed with many more to come. There’s a small, unassuming sign above the mid-block, street level entrance. The firm looks like many architecture firms. Two rows of desks with designers quietly looking at their screens, adjusting current projects.
We were quickly greeted by Karis Eaves, who had helped arrange the visit. Unfortunately, we were not able to spend any time with the ever-busy Andrew Waugh, but he set us up with Architect Luke Pawlina. We were quickly outfitted with hard hats and safety vests to visit a nearby site. We walked for about 7 minutes to their latest project. A five-level timber structure of CLT called Pitfield Street. The project will be a beautiful mixed residential structure, that when finished, will look like the beautiful 1914 structure Hoxton Cinema.
Waugh Thistleton works hard to find projects that will be best suited in Timber because they have a strong conservation ethic. As Andrew Waugh says in his speaking engagements, they don’t think it’s enough to build without considering the primary building products. Simply including solar power or wind power isn’t enough. To be truly eco-friendly, the choice of Timber helps store the embedded carbon in the wood. At the same time using CLT and Glulam helps support healthy, managed forests and rural economies. A true win-win. We salute Waugh Thistleton. We are grateful for the time spent with us while in London.
Our next stop was in Munich, Germany. From there we drove 2 ½ hours to the small village of Sachsenburg, Austria. There you will find a quaint little mountain town with lots of history. Sawmilling and timber experts, Hasslacher Norica Timbers are headquartered here. They recently celebrated 115 years of business. Their sawmill and value added facility is an ever-expanding site with many new timber buildings housing new projects. The sawmill is impressive, but it’s what they do following that really sets them apart.
They look to add the most value possible at each stage. They create biomass power, produce wood pellets, beautiful pattern boards, and all types of Glulam beams. All in one integrated facility. 20 miles away they have another very impressive plant that produces CLT. This was my second visit to Hasslacher in 15 months. The change in that time was truly impressive. And more changes are on the way.
The Glulam plant is amazing. It combines two Kallesoe multi beam presses that lead to multiple Hundegger CNC lines for finishing. The beams can be produced up to 88 feet in length. It appears that nearly everything is produced with a destination in mind. A far cry from the commodity production seen in so much of North America. The buildings themselves are incredible. Massive timber beams supporting CLT and Glulam paneled roof systems. They made all the walkways or catwalks with wood. It’s awesome.
The CLT plant has a Kallesoe press capable producing 8-foot-wide, 60-foot-long panels. This unique layup line allows for openings prior to being pressed. Allowing for better lumber utilization. Springer wood handling equipment help move the lumber and lamellas into place. Following the press the panels are transferred to the Hundegger CNC line. Since the last visit in February of 2016 they have added on to the building and added a new CNC line from the SCM Group. This time of year, the plant is buzzing with activity with pressure behind every order.
A new Kallesoe press is being delivered in October 2017. Upgrades to the finger jointing and pressing should nearly double their capacity to produce CLT. It’s incredible to see how much value they are adding to what was traditional lumber.
Off to the world-wide wood show in Hannover, Germany. This marks the third time I’ve attended Ligna. It never ceases to amaze. I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to see the entire thing. To say it’s huge is an understatement. Massive halls with everything from small hand tools to large robots. Some displays are fully functional wood handling systems with demonstrations on going. Others had full size equipment on display before being shipped to its final destination somewhere in the world. Companies like Ledinek, System TM, Microtec, Springer, Weinig, Linck, Nicolson, Conception, USNR, had displays to name a few. We also spent time with friends from Veisto, Valuetec, Kallesoe, Minda, and Henkel.
If you like wood this is the place for you. Outside, between the halls there are trucks, lift trucks, logging equipment, personal hobby sawmills, and everything in between. Attendees from all over the planet come to see the latest and greatest in their respective market segment. The overall sentiment and outlook of the visitors was very positive according to many of the exhibitors. Deals were being discussed regularly with many quotes being put together for future purchase decisions.
For some companies, Ligna is only a short drive. Minda is one of those. Being 90 minutes from show floor, we arranged a factory tour. Gerhard Binder was kind enough to break away from the show to let us see the company’s manufacturing capabilities. The weather couldn’t have been better. It was sunny and clear with warm temperatures. When we arrived, the place was a ghost town. You see, Thursday was the European Father’s Day and that leads to a long weekend with very few working on Friday or the weekend.
The lack of activity allowed us to walk through the work stations and see the components up-close and personal. We saw some familiar names on some of the almost completed projects destined for North America. Respectfully, we won’t name them here. We were impressed by the facilities and the components. In the office there were displays of completed lines as well as product renderings. Minda has been around for a few decades now. They have a reputation for building quality and innovating in mass timber and corrugated box markets. I look forward to seeing more of their products in action in North America and worldwide.
This week was awesome. Hopefully the notes we took will help us recall much of what we witnessed. This trip showed us that mass timber is here to stay and growing rapidly. Adding value in the form of CLT and Glulam will have a serious positive effect on markets over the next few decades. There’s a great deal of opportunity in all markets to take advantage of possibilities. Once critical mass starts to take hold in North America we think it could be even bigger than what’s happening in Europe. It would sure be a good way to re-shape how we manage the intermountain forests. Providing value to urban infill needs with an eco-friendly product that also helps support rural economies while providing forest restoration. This is a worthy endeavor and we need to make this vision a reality.
We’ve seen the future. Now we just need to apply the sensibilities of the North American marketplace and build a new future for America’s forests.