Association chairman in conversation

Topics such as sustainability, affordable housing, limited space in urban areas and a lack of skilled workers are currently occupying the construction industry. What are the challenges for timber construction? We spoke to associations from Germany, Austria and Europe about the tasks and opportunities that arise from this.

Erwin Taglieber, Chairman
Deutscher Holzfertigbau-Verband

How is timber construction changing?
Thanks to the contribution that it can make to climate protection, timber construction is being socially recognized and there is an enormous demand for it. In particular, the areas of multi-story construction and urban redensification will increase enormously in the future. Through standardized serial construction, the capacity of timber construction can increase significantly.

How are methods of construction changing?
Detached and semi-detached houses are still our most important market segment, but the construction of commercial and multi-story property is also increasing. Growing numbers of developers are recognizing the benefits of industrial production from serial components right up to entire house modules. Prefabrication makes construction less dependent on the weather, faster, easier to control and more comparable in terms of quality. Not only does it reduce the construction phase, it also reduces the restrictions of the infrastructure around the construction site. That is very significant for urban redensification, for example, but also for business customers. Another important topic is adding additional stories to existing buildings, as this is where the benefits of our light and energy-efficient method of construction takes effect.

Markus Baukmeier, Chairman
Europäischer Fertigbauverband
Hans Volker Noller, Chairman Bundesverband Deutscher Fertigbau

Mr. Noller, how do you value the degree of digitalization in timber construction?
Digitalization is penetrating almost all areas of construction. However, the networks should be expanded even further. The goal is intelligent machines that exchange information indepen – dently and coordinate processes and schedules. They communicate directly with all IT systems and, in an ideal si – tuation, are networked with systems of suppliers and customers. This will give a consistent flow of information, e.g. from sales or development right up to system suppliers and customers. Production will become more flexible and efficient and errors and malfunctions will be re – duced to an absolute minimum. Thanks to its industrial method of prefabrication, timber construction is ideally suited to lead the way in digitalization and to establish sustainable solutions.

How do you assess the development of the use of wood as a construction material?
Timber construction offers an enormous opportunity to cover the increasing de – mand for sustainable, energy-efficient buildings that are also economical. Ho – wever, the high demand means that we have to ensure the supply of the natu – ral material wood in Germany over the long term. At the moment, spruce, as the most important indigenous const – ruction timber, is most strongly affected by storms and beetle infestation. We will therefore have to get used to plan – ting climate-resistant types of trees if we want to build our houses with wood from German forests in the future.

Thomas Elster, Chairman
81fünf high-tech & holzbau AG

What challenges will timber construction face in the coming years?
Wood will become more attractive as a construction material. The topic of CO² and hopefully also the evaluation of primary energy use will cause demand to increase. In my opinion, meeting this demand in the appropriate quality is a key challenge. Developers and architects must also become more digital, pay more attention to BIM and promote it.

To what extent should production processes change?
Our construction method and the way we plan are very complex and time-consuming. This is the first thing we need to look at. This will produce positive effects for production: less diversity in terms of materials and details, clearly structured processes that are used frequently and thus more opportunity to use mechanization and automation.

Wilhelm Bauer, Chairman
Josef Gruber, Chairman
Österreichischer Fertighausverband

How can productivity and quality be increased in timber construction?
We have to use prefabrication, with its clearly structured processes, even more than before and digitalize the entire project flow even more strongly. For me, there is a simple rule of thumb: the greater the level of prefabrication and the more perfect the design, the fewer problems there are on the construction sites, the lower the costs are and therefore the greater the competitiveness. However, one area where “digital” has not advanced very far is the construction site. So far, there has not been enough analysis of how far processes can be simplified and optimized or whether even more work steps could be completed in prefabrication rather than at the construction site. In the entire process of a building project, from planning up to demolition, it is at the construction site that there is the most improvisation.

What does wood as a construction material mean to you?
Wood is a gift from nature that we must cherish and handle with care. For me, the use of wood to create healthy, ecological and sustainable living spaces that have a feel-good factor is a worthy one. As timber construction specialists we can be proud of enabling this use. However, we also have an enormous responsibility: we must prove ourselves worthy of this construction material to the extent that we preferably use indigenous timber from forest management that is guaranteed to be sustainable, with the shortest transport routes and processed by local saw mills. The construction material will thus create additional benefits through optimal use of the value creation chain and by securing jobs.

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