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PANELISATON: A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE FOR TIMBER + TRUSS PLAYERS

AUSTRALIA’S TIMBER AND TRUSS MARKET IS FIERCELY COMPETITIVE. VICTORIA ALONE HAS SOME 70 BUSINESSES COMPETING FOR A SLICE OF THE PIE. IN A CROWDED MARKETPLACE, DIFFERENTIATION CAN BE A KEY TO SUCCESS, WHETHER ON PRICE, PROCESS OR PRODUCT. ONE MANUFACTURER HAS CHOSEN THE PRODUCT ROUTE.

“We’ve been making trusses and frames for decades and we’ve seen the industry become more automated and competitive, so we looked at how we could set ourselves apart from the crowd,” says Peter Ward of Victoria’s Drouin West Timber and Truss. “Our aim was to build on our long history and expertise in making wall frames, roof trusses and floor trusses.”

After examining the evolution of similar markets overseas, and the trends in design and construction, a move up the prefabrication ladder to panelisation seemed a logical progression.

“It’s really just taking our wall frames and floor trusses and adding extra components,” Peter says, “and by doing that we move the work off site, where it’s subject to weather conditions and the OH&S hazards of a building site into the more safe and controlled environment of a factory. The result is more efficient production and greater quality control, because we can inspect the products at every step to ensure they are both dimensionally accurate and constructed to our exacting standards. This means less remediation work onsite.”

“We’ve been making trusses and frames for decades and we’ve seen the industry become more automated and competitive, so we looked at how we could set ourselves apart from the crowd. Our aim was to build on our long history and expertise in making wall frames, roof trusses and floor trusses.”
Peter Ward, Founder and Managing Director, Drouin West Timber and Truss.

There are some other positive factors at play too. More work in the factory means fewer material deliveries to the site, which reduces the impact of the build on the neighbours and can reduce transport costs. It can be more environmentally friendly too, fewer truck movements mean less greenhouse gas emission and assembly in the factory can lead to more efficient use of materials over many projects, reducing waste.

Drouin West Timber and Truss went a step further than simply adding a skin to their wall frames. They created a proprietary product, the trademarked FutureFit Panelised Building System. This product, which comprises wall panels and floor cassettes, is providing a new option for designers, builders and developers looking for faster erection and increased quality control.

Asked if there was a ‘sweet spot’ for the system, in terms of its applicability to different types of projects, Ward confirms it was generally more applicable to residential constructions because of the spans involved, and that while they had successfully supplied single residential homes, the largest benefits came from multi-residential and aged care facilities which delivered the added benefits of repetition.

Currently, FutureFit wall panels comprise frames with an outer ‘light weight’ cladding of the client’s choice, the inner face is open to allow services to be installed. In future, as building regulations evolve, it’s expected that closed timber panels in which the services are already installed will become more common, as they are in Europe.

So, what’s the biggest challenge for companies building panels and designers, developers and builders planning to lower costs by using them?

“Preparation, early engagement and communication are the keys,” says Ward. “Designing a building for a panelised system is far more efficient than trying to retrofit a panel system to an existing design. It’s all about having the most appropriate dimensions and planning the build sequence to maximise the advantages of prefabricated panels.”■


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