Teaching Timber – educating future engineers

Teaching Timber – educating future engineers

ARTICLE · By Tabitha Binding · 25 March 2020

A pilot of the Timber Trade Federation’s new regional and educational engagement strategy is underway, organised by TTF’s Regional Engagement and Education Manager, Tabitha Binding, the North West Timber Trade Association (NWTTA) and Liverpool University.

University students taking civil and structural engineering courses learn little about timber during their three- or four-year studies. If timber is to be one of the material solutions in our advance towards Net Zero Carbon in buildings, we need to teach timber on a par with other materials, at universities across all disciplines.

The recent announcement by UK Government that legislation will be brought forward to set a Net Zero Carbon target in law is a considerable wake-up call to all those who work in the built environment and will place tremendous responsibilities on structural engineers to grasp the challenges and opportunities head on.

To enable our future engineers to begin learning about the most abundant, low carbon sustainable material, NWTTA members donated timber for a pilot learning-module at Liverpool University’s School of Engineering. Working in small teams, 130 second year engineering students measured tested and broke three types of timber beam, for the first time.

Martin Clarke NWTTA chair commented “the North West Timber Trade Association in conjunction with James Jones & Sons, are delighted to support this TTF initiative.

Timber is increasingly specified as the material of choice in a wide range of uses and applications and with unrivalled environmental benefits and advantages. We are grateful to have the opportunity to assist in enhancing and developing the knowledge of students in the use of timber products as part of their engineering study programme. 

The NWTTA wish to thank both James Jones and Sons Ltd and Beesley & Fildes Ltd for their support in supplying the timber for this project.”

The module, Structural Tests on Timber Beams, developed by Dr Zongwei Guan and Dr Jurgen Hackl, aims to enable student to understand the structural behaviour of timber beams with different grades and to learn how to conduct a structural test to obtain key parameters and characterise structural performance.  At the end of this assignment a student should be able to:

  • Identify the advantages of timber as a construction material
  • Identify the major characteristics of solid timber
  • Explain how timber is graded
  • Measure moisture content of timber beam using a moisture meter
  • Design and conduct structural flexural tests on timber beam
  • Process experimental data from structural tests
  • Produce load-deflection curves
  • Calculate the initial stiffness and flexural strength of timber beam
  • Discuss the failure mechanism.

 

Tabitha Binding added “I’m encouraged that Liverpool University are looking at widening the structural materials they teach in line with IStructE’s  declaration that climate change is the biggest threat to our planet, and that structural engineers have a responsibility to demonstrate leadership and influence change within the built environment. If this pilot is successful, we plan to expand the range of beams tested, into engineered timber products including – glulam, I-joist & CLT and roll it out to other universities.”

The TTF is leading a multi-pronged approach to enlighten, enthuse and educate current and future design professionals and craftsmen to construct healthier, warmer and more energy efficient low carbon buildings.  NWTTA is taking the regional lead on teaching engineering – bringing together the timber trade, manufacturers, suppliers and academia to support and enhance student learning. Our goal is that our future engineers will have the knowledge to work with the timber industry to help ‘Solve the Housing Crisis’ by engineering timber-based Housing: Fit for the future.