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The Case for Mass Customisation of Structural Timber Design

Andrew Livingstone MSc1, Jesus Menendez MEng1, Kenneth Leitch PhD1, Robert Hairstans PhD1

Edinburgh Napier University, Centre for Offsite Construction + Innovative Structures,

42 Colinton Road, Edinburgh EH10 5BT.
email:; PH +44 0131 455 5124
email:; PH +44 0131 455 5104
email:; PH +44 0131 455 2325
email:; PH +44 0131 455 2891
This paper reports on the potential of timber for structural applications in the
international construction market, particularly in the light of its environmental credentials
and the advances being made in engineered timber products. The UK market is examined
with a specific emphasis on the residential sector, given the target of the UK Government
to deliver three million new energy-efficient zero carbon and sustainably built homes by
2020, with a 33% reduction in combined initial and whole life cost of the constructed
asset. The paper also reports on the work being undertaken to remove the barriers to
timber specification for such applications, through the provision of structural design and
detailing tools. These new tools allow a mass customised approach to be taken, facilitate
research into practice and improve design efficiency through simplification.
Mass Customisation, Design for Manufacture and Assembly, BIM, Offsite, Modern
Methods of Construction, Timber, EuroCode 5
In many respects, sustainably sourced timber is the ideal modern building material; it
exhibits a high strength to weight ratio, is cost effective and easy to work with. It possesses
aesthetic qualities prized by architects and offers a low carbon alternative to more
conventional construction materials. On average, trees absorb a tonne of CO2 for every
cubic metres growth(Woodforgood); this compares to nearly 0.9 tonnes of CO2 emitted
for every 1 tonne of cement produced(Mahasenan et al., 2003), and an average of 1.8
tonnes of CO2 emitted for every 1 tonne of steel produced (World Steel Association,
2014). Most importantly, timber is indefinitely renewable. Wood is extremely durable if
used properly; it is ideal for a systematic approach to construction and the prefabrication
of buildings and building components. With the global construction market forecast to
grow by over 70% by 2025 (HM-Government, 2013) this paper explores why timber
structural design would benefit from taking a mass customised approach, by
demonstrating a series of software applications developed in accordance with Eurocode
5 (EC5, 2004).

Market sense
The following section explores the European and US construction market trends, using
the residential sector as an indicator. This reveals current opportunities for timber use in
the international construction industry.
Predictions for the U.S. construction market
The U.S. economy is moving towards stronger growth. All construction new starts for
2015 are estimated to grow 9%, and residential starts are expected to grow anything from
11% to 14% in 2015 (DODGE, 2014, GDM, 2014, AIA, 2014, Gerrity, 2014)
Predictions for the European construction market
As the European sector is complex, it's convenient to divide the European economy into
four areasThe financial forecasts for the construction markets in each of these identified
areas has been found to differ (Burda, 2013, Euroconstruct, 2014, Malleson, 2014).
Variation in the financial outlook can be summarised as follows:

Western Europe will see steady growth in the coming years.

The Scandinavian countries will remain successful, with underlying growth in all
countries for the next three years.
Southern Europe will continue to struggle. The next few years look set to be more
about stabilisation and a halting of the rapid decline, rather than a return to growth.
Where as Central and Eastern Europe saw a significant reduction in output after
2007, with the exception of Poland, this area is forecast to either return to a
position of stability or exhibit growth.

The European scenario for 2015-2017 is improving and is expected to grow overall within
the next three years.
The residential market in 2013 suffered a decline of 4% whilst in 2014 growth was
recorded at 0.1% in new starts. The short to medium term will be very important
for the European market, with an expected growth of 4% on average for the period
2015 to 2017.
In non-residential, for which the decrease in 2013 was even steeper, the expected
growth is around 2% in the period 2015-2017.
Timber Construction Industry
Within a number of developed nations, timber construction is the dominant construction
method for residential construction, accounting for over 70% of all new starts in climates
as diverse as Australia and Norway. Table 1 gives a detailed breakdown of the residential
market and corresponding application of timber construction in different countries, based
on statistical data from (ABS, 2014, Baily, 2014, CMHC, 2014, e-stat, 2014, Ireland-afterNAMA, 2011, Japan-Property-Central, 2014, O'Driscoll, 2011, Palmer, 2000, Statistisksentralbyr, 2013, Timbertrends, 2013, TradingEconomics, 2014, MacDicken, 2014)

Table 1. Snapshot of current global timber residential market share


(in millions)



Housing stock Annual housing Structures
market share
(in millions)


90 %+
90 %+
90 %+
90 %+
90 %+

Predictions for the United Kingdom construction market

According to recent reports (Francis, 2014, Boston, 2014, Hubbard and Bliss, 2014), the
UK construction industry is expected to grow 23% by the end of 2018 and contribute
12 billion to the UK economy over the next two years alone. The total construction
output for 2015 is expected to grow by 5.3%, while private residential starts are expected
to grow 10%. The private commercial sector is set to increase by 6.1%.
Drivers for change within the UK construction industry
The UK Government have produced Construction 2025, a report which outlines a
clear and defined set of aspirations for the UK construction industry. For construction to
be at the heart of a low carbon, resource efficient, modern and globally competitive
economy, the industry needs to address three strategic priorities:

Smart construction and digital design

Low carbon and sustainable construction
Improved trade performance

The objective of these priorities is to underpin sustained growth across the economy and
improve quality of life for citizens. The aim is to lower costs by 2025, with a 33%
reduction in the combined initial cost of construction and whole life cost of the built
asset. In addition faster delivery is expected, with a 55% reduction in the overall time from
inception to completion, for new build and refurbished assets - as well as a 50% reduction
in greenhouse gas emissions in the built environment. Finally, the report targets
improvement in exports, specifically a 50% reduction in the trade gap between exports
and imports for all construction products and materials(HM-Government, 2013). .
The methods identified for achieving these aims (HM-Government, 2013, HM_Crown,
2009) are listed as follows;

MMC - Modern Methods of Construction is a term used to encompass a range of

processes that a builder can undertake to meet planned, measurable benefits in time,
cost, quality and sustainability.

MC - Mass customisation is the fulfilment of customised requirements at an industrial

scale, with competitive prices and competitive lead times.
BIM - Building Information Modelling is a way of describing a collaborative design
process, using computer model data rather than separate sets of drawings.
DFMA - Design For Manufacture and Assembly delivers design aimed at ease of
manufacture of the parts that will form a product, and ease of assembly.
OSC - Offsite construction offers the benefits of rapid site erection, weather
protection, less trade interfaces, fewer wet trades/less drying out time and simplified
management. In the factory OSC offers precision engineering, less on-site damage,
better consistency and fewer post completion defects.

Engineering design and specification transitions

The UK timber engineering practice is undergoing a period of transition, with Permissible
Stress design(BS-5268-2, 2002) being superseded by Limit State Design, Eurocode 5(EC5,
2004). This transition brings timber design in line with other materials such as steel and
concrete. Eurocode 5 contains only the essential rules and general formulae for design.
It is an analytical approach that benefits from a transparent method of calculation, which
allows users to change variables in order to achieve an efficient structure. It also allows
for empirically validated strength values for both the material and the fasteners, which is
directly applicable to the implementation of mass customisation (optimisation of standard
components), and simplifies the use of new engineered solutions such as:

Timber Concrete Composite combines timber and concrete, utilising the

complementary properties of each material, Figure 1a.

Structural Insulated Panels consist of an insulating layer of rigid core sandwiched

between two layers of structural board, Figure 1b.
Engineered Joists sandwich the web between a top and bottom flange, creating the
I shape. The flange can be made from laminated veneer lumber or solid wood,
Figure 1c.
Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) is an engineered wood product consisting of a
number of layers of wood glued at alternating angles to one another, providing a
structural two-way spanning timber panel that can be used to form walls, roof and
floor panels, Figure 1d.
Dowel Laminated Timber is fabricated from softwood timber posts connected
with hardwood timber dowels. It can have a nailed or interlocking variant and is also
referred to as brettstapel, Figure 1e.
Glued Laminated Timber is made by gluing pieces of timber together to make
larger sections. It is a way of manufacturing timber elements that cannot be easily
sourced in solid timber, due to large size or unusual shape, Figure 1f.

a: Timber Concrete Composites

b: Structural Insulated Panel

c: Engineered Joists

d: Cross Laminated Timber

e: Dowel Laminated Timber

f: Glued Laminated Timber

Figure 1: Examples of timber engineered solutions

Barriers preventing timber usage
In order to ascertain the barriers preventing the use and application of structural timber
within the UK construction sector. Two surveys were developed based onthe findings of
the Thinking outside the box report (Harker, 2013). The first was an online
questionnaire which surveyed 76 structural engineers working within the UK. The second
survey targeted timber product manufacturers and associated suppliers with the purpose
of assessing the UK market potential for software which can be used to help specify
timber and related products in structural applications.
Despite the many advantages and positive perceptions of the material, out-with the low
rise housing market it is seldom viewed as a viable alternative to steel or concrete. The
survey reports have identified the issues that prevent Modern Wood Building Solutions
from being considered on an equal footing to more commonly adopted approaches.
The survey findings are summarised below:

On average, approximately 33% of the work undertaken by respondents involved the

specification of structural timber. Regional variations were found to exist; this value
was found to increase to approximately 50% in Scotland. This has been primarily
attributed to the prevalence of the timber platform method of construction in the
high volume, low cost domestic housing sector.
The survey showed a good level of agreement with Thinking Outside the
Box(Harker, 2013), indicating that in general a poor level of knowledge of timber
and its applications exists and that this is an obstacle to its specification.
33% of respondents indicated that they were using Eurocode 5(EC5, 2004). It was
found that the code was perceived as generally not fit for purpose, overly complex
and that it did not offer any advantage over the standard which it replaced. This
indicated that the adoption of Eurocode 5(EC5, 2004) would only come as a result
of its use being made a mandatory requirement it is unlikely that engineers would
make the switch to it by choice.

A wide range of software platforms were shown to be employed by engineers for the
purposes of structural design. 57% of those surveyed used TEKLA Tedds(Tekla,
2015) software, showing this to be the platform adopted as standard throughout the
UK industry for design and specification, see Figure 2.
40% of respondents agreed that a lack of information relating to timber product and
performance was a barrier to the specification of the material.
A need for the standardisation of details has been identified in particular those
relating to commonly specified connections.
30% of respondents indicated that their design procedures are adopted as part of a
wider BIM framework, although further analysis showed that most did this at a low
The survey revealed a lack of clear pathways for the integration of knowledge and
63% of companies agreed that the idea of providing new calculations enabling timber
specification within an existing software platform has potential.













Bentley RAM Steel








Scale / SAM



Autodesk Robot


TEKLA Fastrak, Orion, Solve


Figure 2: Software platforms used by UK based structural engineers, from survey.

In many respects the non-timber construction sector within the UK is several steps ahead
of their timber counterpart, with better implementation of Building Information
Modelling, Mass customisation and Design for manufacture and assembly. This is
primarily a consequence of the fragmentation of the structural timber supply chain. There
is a major disparity in investment into research between the steel/concrete and the timber
sector. This disparity and fragmented supply chain results in the following shortfalls
within the UK timber industry:

The quality and accessibility of data to support modern wood building solutions and
their associated design processes.
Established standardised design and detailing and communication of best practice.
Effective dissemination of academic research to practising structural engineers.

The mass customisation approach

For the timber construction industry to meet the targets set, the industry must engage
with Modern Methods of Construction. This will involve various levels of offsite
construction and design for manufacture and assembly. The key to this is having a mass
customised approach within the construction sector.
This is a large undertaking; Figure 3 shows a simplified version of the various systems,
sub-systems and components that may be used within a house construction.








Engineered Wood Products



Composite Products



Steel to

Timber to


Horizontal Diaphragms

Vertical Diaphragms

Building Envelope

Figure 3: Simplified view of key stages of Mass Customisation for the timber construction industry
The focus of this research so far has been to concentrate on timber connections using
dowel type fixings, i.e. nailed, screwed and bolted, see Figure 4.



Type 1

Type 2







Figure 4: Subsection of Mass Customisation

Mass customisation permits the use of many different types of components and
configurations to suit the project in hand. Engineers need good quality information in an
accessible form to maximise the advantages of mass customisation.
Streamlining academic research onto the desks of structural engineers
The functionality of Eurocode 5(EC5, 2004), and the Eurocodes in general, are driven by
the requirement for empirically validated strength values within the calculation process.
This lends itself to a greater freedom of product specification, and can be exploited to
facilitate the inclusion of academic research data onto the desks of structural engineers,
in a mass customised approach.
Justification for software platform TEKLA Tedds
The use and application of structural timber engineering research findings within the
Architecture, Engineering and Construction - AEC sector is currently limited. The AEC
sector is fragmented in relation to the application of structural timber. Currently there is
a lack of available mechanisms capable of demonstrating overall technical compatibility
of new timber solutions from a holistic perspective, while conforming to current and
future building codes. This is a real problem, as building methods must change through
research exploitation in order to reduce the environmental impact and achieve UK
Government residential building targets. One solution for this would be the development
of software tools to allow engineers to take advantage of the latest research findings in
their routine structural calculations.
TEKLA Tedds(Tekla, 2015) software has been shown via the UK based surveys
conducted to be the most commonly utilised structural software platform within the UK.
It is therefore currently the most effective way to condense the latest research findings
into the hands of practicing engineers.
The Centre for Offsite Construction + Innovative Structures at Edinburgh Napier
University has a track record of embedding research in to practice via TEKLA Tedds
calculations ((Leitch, 2010) (PD-6693-1, 2012) (EPSRC, 2010) (Mendez, 2014). This mass
customisable engineering approach utilising the industry standard software demonstrates
a mechanism for streamlining research into practice.

TEKLA Tedds timber connections

Within timber engineering design, connections are normally the critical design
consideration, and within the Eurocode 5 this is very time consuming to do by hand
(Figure 5). Consequently, a series of standardised calculations (Figure 6) that can be mass
customised, using generic component information, product supplier information or
performance based information from test results would be more practical. These can be
created and distributed via the industry standard software TEKLA Tedds.

Figure 5: Calculation find the characteristic lateral nail shear resistance failure mode, per shear plane
This research has already delivered two timber connection calculations within the TEKLA
Tedds software platform, namely Main member to side member and Multimember, with
the remaining two currently under development.

Main member to
side member


Figure 6: Calculation examples

Tension splice

External cladding

The global construction market is forecast to grow by over 70% by 2025 and the UK
construction market is forecast to grow by 23% by the end of 2018. Add in the current
drive for sustainable construction, coupled with advances in multi-story timber
construction utilising engineered wood products, allowing timber to compete alongside
conventional construction methods. This combination presents a good opportunity
within the UK and internationally for the timber construction industry to increase their
market share.
In order for timber to achieve full market share potential and to support modern wood
building solutions, this research work has shown that the AEC sector requires accessible
data containing structural performance values and life cycle analysis information. Working
engineers currently lack design tools for Mass Customisable design. Given that TEKLA
Tedds is an industry standard software platform within the UK, a series of simplified
calculations are being developed that will additionally facilitate research into practice. This
research will create a platform for a Mass Customisable Eurocode design approach,
removing current barriers for timber and timber related product specification.
Future work
Building Information Modelling - BIM tools for modelling timber structures have
advanced in the last two years, but there is still disparity between the timber sector and
the steel/concrete sectors. In order to advance the timber market share, The Centre for
Offsite Construction + Innovative Structures at Edinburgh Napier University plan to
build upon the existing research to develop a robust and credible open access BIM data
platform for the AEC sector. This would involve collating the appropriate findings of
historic and ongoing structural timber research, including life cycle analysis data. This
research would then lead to a series of BIM enabled tools, capable of communicating the
industry-required data for design and sustainable specification of new timber and timberrelated products. These tools will create an easy route to take research information straight
into BIM enabled software platforms.
The authors would like to acknowledge the European Regional Development Fund
funded project named Wood Products Innovation Gateway for financial contribution to
this research, TEKLA for their assistance with developing and distribution of the timber
connections to Eurocode 5 calculations and Leading Edge assistance with market

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