I was fortunate to attend the Mass Timber Conference in Portland, Oregon in March and gained a better understanding of innovations and growth opportunities in this rapidly growing industry.
My trip was primarily focused on the cutting tools and machinery sectors of the mass timber industry. However, I found myself thinking a lot about the broader implications for the Canadian economy and innovation initiatives surrounding the building industry. Wood stick framed buildings are obviously still the standard for residential buildings, and the progression into mass timber for residential applications, still seems far away. But commercial mid-
rise and high-rise sectors seem to be embracing wood buildings like never before.
I believe this trend will help our industry, as we all contribute to the building process of wood structures. What is mass timber?
Mass timber is an engineered wood product formed by gluing or fastening wood panels in layers to achieve exceptional strength and stability. The end product is extremely versatile and can be used as structural panels, columns, beams, load-bearing structures, or even for interior finishes. Why is mass timber growing in North America?
Demand for more sustainable construction materials and methods, as well as more sophisticated design and production systems, is stimulating the construction market in Canada. There are many reasons for industry growth as follows:
Progression of building codes throughout North America to accept mass timber
Architecture and engineering firms have adopted mass timber designs and the overall philosophy on a larger scale.
Building efficiency and accuracy is improved while dramatically reducing labor requirements for erecting and finishing of structures.
More affordable products due to manufacturing efficiency and new material development
Increasing consumer interest in green building materials and sustainable designs.
The weight of mass timber buildings is dramatically less than concrete or steel alternatives, so structures can be erected in a wider variety
of soil conditions.
Wood buildings are more earthquake resistant What does all this mean for Canada?
Canada is well positioned as a leader in the mass timber industry in North America due to a long history which began decades ago in interior B.C. and has grown nationwide. Canada's forestry sector is responding to growth opportunities with innovative new materials and a broader selection of material options. A massive supply of raw material in accessible locations obviously provides an advantage for Canadian mass timber. Canada has relatively high wages, which can deter large scale manufacturing in some sectors of the economy. However, mass timber manufacturing dramatically reduces manual labor requirements, and utilizes automation for material handling and CNC technology to machine components. Canadian companies have developed some of the most advanced manufacturing facilities in North America and continue to drive innovation in the mass timber industry.
Engineers and architects are inspired by availability of new materials and development of new building concepts and creative designs only made possible by mass timber materials. Machinery designers and fabricators enjoy the production challenges and new demands from a rapidly growing industry.
Cutting tool manufacturers are constantly challenged by a demand for larger tools to run at higher feed rates. From a cutting tool perspective, the emergence of mass timber has created a number of design and manufacturing challenges.
The most common challenge
is the dramatic increase in
size of cutting tools for
CNC machinery. Image 1
shows a solid carbide spiral router tool used for machining mass timber at high feed rate. In other wood industry sectors the size of spiral router tools generally ranges from 3 mm to 20 mm diameter with an overall length ranging from 50 mm inch to 150 mm. By contrast, the most common size of solid carbide routers in the mass timber industry is 40 mm diameter by 260 mm overall length. Custom tools are currently being manufactured at 330 mm length to satisfy demands to machine extremely thick material floor panels.
These extreme tool lengths add additional requirements for tool balance and clamping force. Notice the tool is being
held with a shrink fit tool holder to increase clamping force and stability during deep machining applications. Hydraulic tool holders are also available for a variety of machinery to improve tool and machine performance. Image 2
shows a hydraulic tool holder extension with a diamond tool to allow 330 mm of tool projection for specific applications. In this scenario, the tool holder acts as an extension rather than using a longer cutting tool. ETP hydraulic tool holder technology has existed for decades in the wood industry, but thick mass timber components have created a demand for much longer holder formats. This tooling solution is designed to create a square corner in window openings to avoid manual sawing operations on site. Image 3
shows a large carbide insert cutter used to perform multiple operations on CNC equipment. Mass timber components require extremely deep rabbet operations to create lap joints or splines in floor and wall components. Beams and other components often require high volume surfacing operations to provide optimal surface finish quality. This tool can perform both operations, but the greatest challenge is the excessive size requirements. Some machinery is designed to use 300 to 500 mm cutter diameters, which must be manufactured and dynamically balanced
to ensure optimal
and operator safety. Image 4
shows a large diameter saw blade mounted on an HSK holder to cut all sizes of mass timber panels. Like router tooling, saw blade sizes have been dramatically increased to deal with excessively large mass timber components. Traditional wood industry saw blades diameter range from 150 mm to 450 mm. The saw blade in Image 4 is 640 mm diameter and some saw blades are manufactured in excess of 1000 mm. Conclusion
Rapid growth of the mass timber Industry is challenging many Canadian manufacturers to refine production processes and develop new products. Mass timber materials, fastening systems, machinery and cutting tools have all evolved to meet a growing demand for larger stronger mass timber components. As wood building structures continue to increase in popularity throughout North American, Canadian industry will play a valuable role.