CTI Blog

CTI Blog - The Timber Skills Funnel: Unlocking potential

This blog post is by BWF Chief Executive and Member of CTI Board of Directors Iain McIlwee. It originally featured in the CTI Newsletter Winter 2017-18.

 

Currently a third of construction apprenticeships are employed in the wood trades, but this is just the tip of the iceberg for timber. The opportunities to work in the timber sector are manifold, currently employing 350,000 people, the £10 billion integrated supply chain is actively engaging talent in developing pre-manufactured buildings and components for construction, seeking foresters to support our vibrant forestry sector, creating new roles to support digitalisation and logistics in the complex and evolving supply chain, employing ever more engineers, technicians and product designers to support our modern manufacturing units and requires high-level craftsmen to produce bespoke furniture or deliver complex restoration work fundamental to preserving our heritage. Whilst we remain optimistic about the future, we have some fundamental concerns about the education and training landscape

The Confederation of Timber Industries through the Wood Industry Training Group is looking to ensure that these opportunities are communicated and the infrastructure in place to support sector growth. At the top of the skills funnel (attracting people into the industry), the Makeit Wood Campaign is an exciting initiative, reaching into schools across the UK. This educational program fits into the Design and Technology curriculum in years 9-12. We have plans to scale this work up, however have concerns that Design and Technology is a subject in decline

Despite being a practical subject that engenders a vital understanding of our manufacturing industries and the fundamentals of product design, skills so critical to any industrial strategy, it is seen as somehow less important than the more academic sciences.  he decline in GCSE entries in this subject (from 440,000 in 2004 to just 185,279 in the last academic year) is a real concern for the UK industrial sector. Teacher recruitment in this discipline is also at an all-time low (less than 50% of the target DfE set in 2016) making the subject unviable in an increasing number of schools. As part of any overhaul of the Technical Routes for education Design and Technology should have equal status with the sciences on the National Curriculum. 

As an industry, we are optimistic that the Apprenticeship Levy and resulting reforms provide greater flexibility and suitable incentive to deliver positive change. In readiness we have developed new Apprenticeship Standards covering manufacturing, processing and furniture production and we welcome the control that these standards hand back to the employers, however, the process needs urgent attention. It is taking too long to develop new standards and the goal-posts set by the Institute of Apprenticeships seem to be a moving target.  Delivery is also a challenge, with FE Colleges under increasing financial pressure and limited support for the capital investment and additional space required to offer many of our courses. 

The timber industry is working hard to support these vital institutions through the BWF Centres of Excellence initiative. As we develop ever closer relationships it is clear that more needs to be done to address the inherent competition between schools and FE Colleges.  Developing a focus for Technical Qualifications through a UCAS equivalent system is also a priority that should focus on post 16 learners and ensure that all training and apprenticeship opportunities are presented to all students without prejudice. This process should also support a “clearing” system to minimise wastage, recycle opportunity and support informed choice. Every effort must be taken to ensure that the Technical Routes are not seen as the lesser option.

Higher level apprenticeships and the traditional academic routes also have a strong role to play to support innovation and the implementation of cutting-edge technology and as a consequence similar initiatives are being set up with Universities across the UK. The timber industry needs a constant flow of graduates in disciplines such as wood science, product design engineering, process engineering, mechanical and materials engineering as well as business, IT and logistical focussed subjects to support the digitalisation and ‘service-ification’ of manufacturing and construction. It is for this reason that the CTI and our respective Trade Bodies are working with Universities around the UK and exploring the opportunity of setting up an Innovation Council to better support innovation through collaborative networks across the UK.  

Timber is very much seen as the emerging material of the 21st Century with huge global potential. To ensure the UK economy is well placed to benefit from the clear obvious opportunities that timber offers to develop, from forest through to factory a profitable supply chain capable of delivering to support the UK economic and sustainable targets, it is critical that we continue to work to ensure that schools, colleges and universities are engaged with industry.

This means collaborating to develop our rising into work ready pioneers that can help to support the UK in building a modern and sustainable and world-leading industrial sector, capable of harnessing digitalisation, leading manufacturing 4.0 and ensuring the timber industry is a jewel in the UK industrial crown. 

 

[News URL: http://cti-timber.org/content/cti-blog-timber-skills-funnel-unlocking-potential]

CTI Blog - Engaging with politicians both nationally and locally

This blog post is by CTI Chairman Roy Wakeman OBE. It originally appeared on the CTI Newsletter Winter 2017-18.

 

Whilst politicians come and go, their influence is continuous and so it is vital that the timber Industry engages fully with their local and national politicians and representatives.

It is so because our Industry whilst large, adding over £10bn to the UK economy and creating overall employment in direct and indirect trades of nigh on 500K people, has serious competition. This in the form of competing materials who display more aggressive lobbying techniques than we traditionally do.

Yet our message is fundamentally in today’s age stronger, whether for environmental issues, commercial advantage, productivity and if home grown timber was favoured in R&D, a positive on the UK economy and trade imbalance.

Sometimes it is easier for us to concentrate on our own Company or individual industry issues while, in the wider world, events can be more influential to our growth and success.

I mentioned the home grown timber Industry where some politicians might just think of this as a Scottish out post cottage industry or some historic way of delaying and maybe avoiding tax. But if invested in a radical way so that the species of timber to be grown can be proven to have a secure market to replace imported goods then the UK benefits both for employment and the balance of trade.

In vogue, today is the housing shortage and affordable housing for our future generations. We have a strong off-site production capacity that could be helped with a major investment that targets “kit-houses” designed for onsite erection with low costs.

Our imbalance of trade in the joinery industry is such that we need to address the reasons for our uncompetitive base and to explore with our politicians these reasons and thereby addressing the areas of need for investment and training. We consume more doors per capita than anywhere else in the world due to our history of small houses with lots of rooms and have become a natural target for global manufacturers based overseas to direct products at the UK.

We developed the factory assembled door set and in the case of fire door sets all that is necessary to obtain the third-party certification necessary to guarantee performance. We need to keep the pressure on government to make third party audits and certification part of the building regulations and not just a side document to make sure that when buildings get built all the necessary safety features are built into the design. Also, to go further and through the insurance industry and financial instruments that fund buildings make regular Inspection schemes, part of the conditions.

All these areas are not new to us but we do seem to have the habit of dropping the batten. It needs a war of attrition so that all of us every day call for the action and keep the pressure up on our law makers to improve the health of our Industry. Only this new, collaborative approach will really help keep our people housed and safe, using what is and has always been the world’s best and truly renewable building material: timber.

 

[News URL: http://cti-timber.org/content/cti-blog-engaging-politicians-both-nationally-and-locally]

CTI Blog - What do you need to know about Formaldehyde?

This guest blog is by Ian Rochester, Technical Manager at the Wood Panel industries Federation. It originally appeared on the BWF Blog.

 

Every now and then we get asked about ‘Formaldehyde’ and mostly it’s in relation to compliance with a specific requirement or from a concerned user or specifier in relation to health impacts. In this piece I will try to explain what the current state of knowledge is and what the future is likely to be.

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring colourless chemical composed of Hydrogen, Oxygen and Carbon.  Formaldehyde is quickly broken down by sunlight and bacteria in soil and it does not accumulate in the environment. As well as occurring naturally in the environment and being essential to life, formaldehyde is also synthesised for use in manufacturing.  It is a compound that provides functionality for the manufacture of plastics and polymers. One of its most common applications is as an intermediate component of some adhesive resins/binders and in this regard its use in the manufacture of wood-based panels has been widespread.  

 

Understanding the impacts

As an intermediate compound, most of the formaldehyde used in binders is converted to other stable compounds by chemical reactions, but there can be some residual ‘free formaldehyde’ that can be emitted. It is the concentration of free formaldehyde released from products that has given rise to safety concerns over the past three decades. Over this period however research, product innovation and regulation have all helped to enhance understanding about impacts and also control. Importantly it is known that, formaldehyde has a threshold concentration below which no harm will occur. In both the workplace and in products, formaldehyde exposure can be controlled to well below those safe levels. 

There is a lot of information out there on formaldehyde - some scientific and some is no more than opinion (and some which is completely erroneous) - which makes it difficult to form an opinion on at a glance. The World Health Organization (WHO) have made assessments (and reassessed in 2010) to provide guidance on a safe indoor air concentration for the general population and, as I write, formaldehyde is currently going through the most thorough assessment ever undertaken as part of the REACH regulation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & Restriction of Chemicals). The substance evaluation process assesses all the relevant scientific information available from across the world and draws conclusions on how to manage the risks which in the case of formaldehyde will be occupational and consumer exposure limits.

From an occupational health and safety point of view, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits (SCOEL) has recommended an OEL of  0.6ppm STEL and 0.3ppm 8hr TWA*. If as expected this becomes a binding limit, then even in spite of BREXIT, it is highly probable that the current UK OEL of 2ppm will be amended.

 

Product emissions and indoor air quality

In terms of product emissions and indoor air, in Europe there are currently two formaldehyde classes for wood-based panels, namely E1 and E2.  E1 is 0.124 mg/m3 (0.1 ppm) concentration in a test chamber and E2 is an open ended class for any product higher than E1. The WHO recommended safe concentration limit in indoor air is 0.1 mg/m3 (rounded down from 0.12mg/m3) and recent studies have shown that buildings, including low energy new builds, have formaldehyde levels lower than half the WHO recommended limit. Let’s not forget, the WHO limit has a factor of safety of 5 included from where sensory irritation occurs therefore making sure it’s safe.

There is concern that the E2 class could result in an indoor air concentration higher than the WHO limit because E2 has no upper limit, this is why WPIF members and European Panel Federation member manufacturers do not produce E2 boards and haven’t done so since 2007 and many stopped making it before that. The European Commission has resisted the European wood-based panel industry’s call to remove the E2 class but until eventually removed, industry bodies should continue to insist that E2 products are not specified.

EN Standards and regulations have set the tone across Europe but elsewhere there are requirements that may vary from those in Europe that have to be met if exporting to those countries or particular certification schemes. Notably laws like CARB in California (soon to be US Federal Law), or specific scheme’s requirements like the Blue Angel, BREEAM, LEED etc… most of which approach the subject in slightly different ways. 

The modernised manufacturing techniques used by manufacturers across Europe along with advances in resin development have transformed the way panels are produced such that our members can supply products that meet such demands, from zero added formaldehyde products to ultra-low emitting products that meet both the technical needs in terms of strength characteristics and that of very low formaldehyde emissions.

 

*ppm = Parts Per Million
STEL = Short Term Exposure Limit
TWA = Time Weighted Average

 

[News URL: http://www.cti-timber.org/content/cti-blog-what-do-you-need-know-about-formaldehyde]

CTI Blog - It’s time for a holistic approach to Fire Safety problem

This guest blog post is by David Oldfield, Chairman of BWF Fire Door Scheme and Head of Joinery at Arnold Laver

 

The stories we hear about Grenfell Tower are concerning and the BWF team has been working tirelessly since the tragedy to provide the necessary support and advice to those involved and ensure that corrective action is timely and efficient.

Fire doors are in every building that we live in, work in and sleep in, but they are often overlooked, ignored and allowed to slip into a sorry state.

Many people do not realise that the real job of a fire door is to hold back fire, smoke and toxic gases, delaying the spread around a building and keeping the vital means of escape route clear. They only work properly if they are specified, manufactured, installed and maintained correctly, and of course, closed when a fire breaks out.

Fire Door Safety Week investigations have pointed to an endemic fire safety problem in this type of housing stock and many other residential, recreational, leisure, healthcare and educational buildings.

It is sadly not uncommon to see buildings without fire doors, no emergency lighting or signage on doors and escape routes, broken fire rated glass, wedged-open fire doors, poor fire stopping around service hatches that breach compartmentation, no intumescent or smoke seals in fire doors, rubbish and combustible material left in the common areas.

In the catalogue of issues that the full investigation will reveal, it is clear that there are systemic failures that need to be looked at. We must look for quick wins, but take a holistic approach to active and passive options to ensure that we can all live, recover, work, learn and play in relative safety.

Our hope is not simply that full and comprehensive inspections and risk assessments happen now, but that their recommendations are acted upon quickly, and that the regulatory framework is addressed and policed with suitable resource to ensure we don’t simply create a hiatus and allow matters to drift back to the reprehensible state they are now in.

We also reiterate our call for a Register of Responsible Persons so that the responsible person is not a mystery person lurking in the shadows, but must be front and centre so that people know where to take their problems.

By identifying the responsible person by name and providing the appropriate contact details, residents and building users are empowered to raise problems. This also ensures that those responsible for keeping them safe are made aware of issues directly. This doesn’t do away with the need for fire risk assessments, but supplements an effective process by harnessing the crowd to stay vigilant.

 

More info:

See Best Practice To Refurbishing Fire Doors Guide here

See pecialist advice on fire doors in social housing produced for Fire Door Safety Week here

 

[News URL: http://cti-timber.org/content/cti-blog-it%E2%80%99s-time-holistic-approach-fire-safety-problem]

CTI Blog - Offsite: If it's not a System, then It's not a Solution

This guest blog post is by Gerard McCaughey, CEO of Entekra Inc

 

In Europe wood frame construction market adoption varies widely from virtually 100% in Scandinavia to 70% in Scotland and about 30% in Ireland and many other central and western European countries. However, what is common in all the countries, where wood frame is used, is that virtually all of it is constructed using an off site construction (OSC) system.

Most of the customers in Europe, whether they are builder/developers or custom home end users, understand the benefits that off site systems (OSC) can deliver in terms of speed, efficiency, quality, energy efficiency and sustainability. It would virtually be as alien to a European to stick build a wood frame house, as it would be to buy a new car and have every single component shipped to your front yard and have a couple of local mechanics come out in a pick up truck with welding equipment and pneumatic tools to build the car. You simply wouldn't dream of it.

Why ignore that 100 years of innovation and progress

Yet in the US market this is exactly how wood framed houses are built, without taking advantage of the last century of innovation and ignoring the benefits of computers, modern automation or factory controlled conditions and quality systems. The real question is Why?

Really the question is better phrased as why have off site solutions not been more widely adopted by the US construction industry?

Off Site System providers not component manufacturers

A large part of the reason is due to the nature of the "off site" industry in the US. In Europe and other parts of the world, the off site companies are part of a dedicated off site industry and categorically see themselves as offsite system providers and not as component manufacturers. In fact the term component is hardly ever used by the off site industry outside the US as the off site companies realize that the customer is not interested in purchasing components but rather is seeking a solution. The so called components are merely an output and form elements of a system which is a solution to the problem the builder wants addressed. They are not the raison d'être of the off site company.

Off Site benefits come from an integrated approach

Until there are dedicated Fully Integrated Off Site System providers it will be very difficult for the builder/developer to gain meaningful benefits and for off site solutions to gain a bigger share of the framing market. One of the major obstacles to this is the requirement for an experienced in house engineering team, as off site solutions will always be compromised if they are forced to use engineering that was designed for stick framing.

In particular, design, engineering and manufacturing of Pre Fabricated Floor Cassettes (PFC) requires a lot of internal engineering expertise. PFC's are are a critical element of off site construction in the multi-story , multi-family and light commercial markets. Engineering for maximum off site efficiency requires a detailed in depth knowledge of factory manufacturing techniques, structural engineering and the off site building process and connection detailing including sequencing and materials selection.

Until those in the industry with a genuine interest and vision for the potential of the "off site industry" realize that they need to become more than just component manufacturers and instead act as off site system/solution providers and resource themselves accordingly, the industry will fail to reach its potential, despite the the labor shortage, which is forcing builders to look for new solutions.

True off site companies are solution focused businesses that happen to manufacture components as an output of an integrated system that's purpose is to facilitate the fast track construction of a building utilizing both labor and material efficiency. Off site companies may manufacture components but they are not component manufacturers!

 

*Gerard McCaughey is Chief Executive of Entekra Inc, a firm specializing in design, engineering and manufacturing of Fully Integrated Off Site Solutions™ (FIOSS™) for homebuilding industry. Mr. McCaughey previously co-founded Century Homes, Europe’s largest offsite building manufacturing company producing over 8000 house units annually, with five plants in Ireland and UK, which he sold in 2005 to Kingspan Group Plc. He is regarded in Europe as being one of the leading figures in off site construction and green building movement, and was at the forefront of regulatory reform in both Ireland and Britain. He has acted as an off site construction consultant in Eastern Europe, United States and South Africa and has spoken and written about green and offsite construction in many other countries around the world and is a previous winner of Ernst and Young’s, Industry Entrepreneur of the Year Award and recognized by US Immigration Service as a "Person of Extraordinary Ability" in green and offsite construction.

 

[News URL: http://cti-timber.org/content/cti-blog-offsite-if-its-not-system-then-its-not-solution]

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