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Q&A with Paolo Lavisci on Engineered Wood Products | Wood Solutions

What are the biggest supply chain issues facing the property industry currently? 

Generalised price increases in raw materials, energy, assembled products and logistics have all significantly affected the property industry, along with the availability of skilled labour. Currently, the prices of Engineered Wood Products (EWPs) seem to have peaked and are slowly decreasing, but supply is still lower than demand for some of them, like LVL, due to the import ban from Russia. The demand for more EWPs is growing and whilst Australia currently has enough plantations, and the land to establish even more, the industrial capacity to turn our logs into EWPs doesn’t grow overnight: even just hiring and training new staff for a third shift can take months, and procuring new equipment takes years. But it’s definitely happening across our industry. 

How can organisations meet sustainability goals through supply chain management?

Seeking Early Supply Engagement is the natural consequence of both the pandemic, and higher ESG targets. Suppliers are increasingly acting as veritable partners on some projects, contributing to design optimisation and logistics, buffering against cost escalation through a revival of “rise and fall” contracts and also engaging as co-developers.  

Circular economy goals are also becoming very tangible objectives, for instance through design for disassembly to increase reuse and recycling once decommissioned. This is particularly effective when using EWPs, as the applicable Environmental Product Declarations describe and quantify. 

The risks associated with procuring EWPs are generally similar to those encountered with any other prefabricated elements, such as precast panels, fabricated steelwork and glazed curtain wall units. Quality Assurance is a simple task with EWPs because highly automated processes are normally used, in which all the materials are tested, recorded and tracked throughout the production line. As with any other product, it is important for the contractor to ensure that all elements installed are compliant with the specified design. The Annex to WoodSolutions Technical Guide #51, “Cost Engineering of Mid-rise Timber Buildings” provides specific guidelines on how this should be planned and implemented, while the main part of the guide describes many aspects of procurement, from the understanding of suppliers’ capacity, visual grades and finishes, moisture variations and their effect, logistics and storage. 

Has supply chain disruption impacted organisations focus on prioritising sustainability?

Not in every case, but certainly for organisations that care about future-proofing their investments. The recent Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) report on cutting embodied carbon, features two outstanding case studies of timber structures, proving that Australian developers and builders do not have to choose between saving money and protecting the environment. Instead, they can take advantage of the latest in sustainable material and design innovations that will reduce emissions without incurring higher costs. The CEFC’s new $300 million Timber Building Program helps to finance this transition by encouraging owners, developers and builders to use lower carbon engineered wood products in their projects. 

How does using timber as a core building material create better sustainability outcomes?

The forest and timber industry provides stable, long-term employment in rural towns around Australia, with $23 billion/year of direct economic activity, and positive outcomes in terms of land management and protection against wildfires and extreme rainfall. 

As CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth said:

Timber has been used in construction for generations. Innovations in engineered wood products have created new opportunities for mass timber construction to be used in larger projects, creating the potential for immediate and long-term environmental benefits.”

 It is a win both for the environment and the building sector. 

Is all timber created equally? How can we ensure we use the most sustainable timber products whilst balancing the rising costs of constructions?

EWPs only come from sustainably managed plantations through a certified chain of custody. Using more EWPs, even within hybrid structures, helps balance the rising costs of constructions as they help keep projects within schedule.  If delays are compared to budget over-runs, the former play a much greater role in affecting the profitability of a construction project. Indeed, time performance has been identified as the most important factor defining whether a construction project has been successful or not, surpassing both cost and quality performance. 

What innovations/progress has been made to the production of timber to make it a viable competitor to steel and concrete?

EWPs have a very predictable and well documented fire behaviour and maintain their strength and stiffness while the temperature rises. Understanding and designing for these factors is critical to demonstrating that a performance-based fire strategy will meet building code requirements and has successfully been done in several cases in Australia for projects up to 10 storey (built) and 15 storeys (approved). In North America and Europe, even taller buildings have been completed up to18 storeys fully in EWPs, including the core, and a24-storey hybrid construction. 

Using EWPs rather than concrete or steel structures has been demonstrated to enhance site safety due to larger working platforms and pre-installed edge protection., Anchoring for safety harnesses is simpler and easier, fixing of components and services uses smaller and lighter tools with no trip hazards from cables, and there’s no need for hot works or welding on site. 

A significantly high level of construction safety is the major driver for both efficiency of installation and absence of defects. As wood-based projects require design to be largely resolved before the elements can be produced, projects often experience fewer variations than is common with other materials that have larger tolerances and require more site work. 




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