Western Timber Trade Association – Teaches the Teacher
4th November 2019

Western Timber Trade Association – Teaches the Teacher

The Western Timber Trade Association’s (WTTA) first ‘Who teaches the teachers?’ educational tour, saw five key lecturers from Wales and the West of England travel to Austria in late September, to update their knowledge of today’s timber production and products.

Hosted by TTF Member Binderholz, the visit was arranged by WTTA as part of our new regional engagement programme. The lecturers were invited and accompanied by TRADA’s University Engagement Manager Tabitha Binding.

The four-day trip involved visits to: forests to see harvesting and extraction; a sawmill,  biomass production and CHP plant; 3-ply (multiply) manufacturing facility; Glulam factory; offices and schools constructed of CLT BBS and built to Passivhaus standards; hotels and guest houses both finished and under construction; Kuchl College of Wood Technology and Binderholz’s new Timber Brain office building.

Wayne Probert, chairman of WTTA and Binderholz’s Head of Sales for UK and Ireland, was keen to follow EATTA’s lead “Seeing is believing. By visiting the whole supply chain from forest through milling, production and construction at the scale Binderholz operates the lecturers can have no doubt that timber is sustainable and can be used as a construction solution in both small and large scale projects. They can also see that there is no waste – everything is used from the core to the bark.”

Tabitha was impressed by the family managed company’s ethos and openness “Binderholz have constantly been expanding and looking to the future since Franz Binder started the business in the1950’s, embracing new technology, new products and new methods of construction. They are at the cutting edge of modern timber buildings, and currently testing the as built thermal performance of 234mm BBS walls on their four storey Timber Brain office along with the health and wellbeing effects of the timber building on the employees. By sharing their passion and knowledge with the lecturers, they are reaching out to the next generation of construction professionals. It’s great to see the lecturer’s enthusiasm and knowledge grow as the visit followed the supply-chain. Wayne’s suggestion that carpentry lecturers should be included was inspired and added a previously missing dimension. A huge thank you to Wayne, WTTA and all at Binderholz for supporting the ‘Who Teaches the Teachers?’ programme and enabling this trip to take place.”

This first hand industry knowledge will reach over a thousand students across the five universities and colleges this year via the lecturers who participated:

  • Aled Davies, Cardiff University
  • Andrew Thomson, University of Bath
  • Greg Workman, NPTC Group
  • Joshua Mudie, University of Bristol
  • Martin Gillie, NMiTE

Their reflections post trip – and yes it was a BBS CLT swimming pool…!

“The visits to timber mills and production facilities were brilliant and very informative, as was seeing cable-logging taking place on a steep mountainside.  Being on-site to experience timber buildings being constructed using CLT elements was very worthwhile and the speed of construction was impressive.  When visiting completed buildings, the apparent environment of calmness and peacefulness formed by the expressed timber structure was evident and somewhat intangible, even when we were in a busy school environment!

A very worthwhile trip which has raised the question again; ‘Why don’t we have more commercial timber structures in the UK?” Aled Davies

 “It was extremely interesting to see this process first-hand, to appreciate the complexity and the scale of the operation. The degree to which the glulam and 3-ply board processes have been automated is very impressive, and the presence of people to visually check the timber throughout the process gives confidence in the quality of the material being produced.

… The culture of having wood as a surface finish to walls and ceilings also highlighted the reduced time and cost requirements for buildings using these timber elements, as they are at the same time the structure and final interior surface.” Joshua Mudie

“Of the various CPD type activities I have undertaken it was by some margin the most informative and well organised.  The small group ….proved to be stimulating and varied company and provided good discussion, technical and non-technical, during the full three days.  I have come away with a much clearer idea about the benefits of engineered timber as a building structural material, and also some idea of the challenges it faces, particularly in the UK, before it is adopted more widely.  I also now have the beginnings of an effective network in timber engineering that I hope to work with to develop the proposed Timber Engineering centre at NMiTE in Hereford.” Martin Gillie

“The sheer scale of the saw milling operation in Fugen was astonishing and I was impressed by the amount of timber that was processed in a relatively short timescale. The efficiency of the set up was remarkable, running 24/7 with a relatively small workforce.

The cable logging observation is undoubtedly the most picturesque setting for teacher training I have experienced, and am ever likely to! Kristian provided us with an informative talk on how Binderholtz works with private land owners to harvest the appropriate amount to meet demand whilst maintaining harmony with nature. This particular logging session benefitted the community in general by widening the ski run ensuring no future risk to the ski lifts nearby. This opportunity strengthened my depth of knowledge into the process of cable logging and forestry management in general. Future delivery of timber technology sessions will be developed to include this amazing experience, ensuring learners are provided with most recent logging and timber conversion techniques.

The technical talk at Hallein around cutting edge CLT technology and the issues the industry, outside Austria, face when designing such structures, was well paced and pitched at a level that was easy to follow. The fact that the building itself, being CLT, was somewhat experimental added to the interest and there was a noticeable change in environment when we ventured into the older areas of the offices. CLT will be included in future ‘Principles of Building’ sessions throughout all teaching levels, primarily within the carpentry department, then hopefully other trades and design learners across NPTC.” Greg Workman

Andy Thomson answering questions posedbyTabitha Binding.

What was you timber knowledge like before the ’Who Teaches the Teacher?’ trip to Austria?

For the last two years I have led the timber engineering teaching the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering at the University of Bath.

Previously I worked on large CLT and glulam projects as a structural engineer and had also visited glulam manufacturing facilities in the UK and Austria around 7-8 years ago. Therefore, I would say that I had a solid working knowledge of timber engineering and glulam manufacture. However, I am well aware that the timber construction industry is going through a period of rapid change; particularly in the engineered timber sector. This trip therefore offered me the opportunity to reconnect with the cutting edge of structural timber manufacture and design, which is essential to keep my teaching up to date.

What did you learn?

A sense of scale! Four days before heading to Austria I visited a UK sawmill in SW England. At the time I was amazed at the amount of timber being stored and processed. However, what we saw in Austria was on a completely different scale again. The innovation, efficiency and scale of the Binderholz operation was very impressive. In particular the glulam factory provided a real insight into our automated future. The level of automation was incredible. I also learnt about cable logging on Austria’s steep slopes, timber education in Austria, bio-energy production and zero waste manufacture.

What surprised you?

The level of automation being achieved in manufacture and the timber swimming pool! The other thing that really struck me was the sense of rapid change and growth within the industry.

How will you use and disseminate this knowledge?

Primarily to inform my timber teaching at the University of Bath. Specifically, I will be updating my glulam and CLT content to reflect the latest innovations we saw on the trip. I will also use photos and findings from the trip in my first year lecture on vernacular timber construction and how automation and technology could influence this in the future. I am also co-authoring a textbook, which is aimed at timber engineering students. Photos and findings from the trip will definitely be making an appearance.

What else would you have liked to have seen?

I would have loved to have seen the CLT production plant. I’ve never seen CLT being produced so this would have been really interesting.

How could TRADA, TTF and WTTA further help you include timber in your teaching?

More initiatives like this! One of the striking things about the visit to the Holz Technikum Kuchl (College of Wood Technology) was the strength of the link between industry and education. Clearly the HTK is a bit of a unique case but perhaps the WTTA, TTF and Trada can continue to help establish and strengthen links between the structural timber industry and education through promoting opportunities such as site, factory and mill visits.