Prefabricated wood panel systems are emerging as a critical area of growth in timber related construction and are increasingly being used in smaller apartment and commercial buildings, the organisation behind one of the largest timber industry events in Australia says.

As it prepares to host the Prefab Timber and Engineered Wood in Building Construction conference in Melbourne on May 19, Frame Australia says a trend toward increasing use of engineered timber products has taken hold in Europe and North America. The trend started in Australia with the construction of the 10-storey Forté apartment complex in Melbourne’s Docklands by Lend Lease last year.

Frame Australia also notes that while pre-fabricated trusses and frames remain the most common timber building system, use of complete floor cassettes and panelised walls is growing.

Australand, for example, is using prefabricated timber walls and roof, with complete cassette timber floors craned into place on each building level to build a five-storey apartment project in the inner Melbourne suburb of Parkville.

“Prefabricated wood panel systems are now becoming the preferred building material in residential construction, and in Australia we started to follow the trend last year with the construction of the all timber 10 storey Forté by developer Lend Lease in Melbourne’s Docklands,” Frame Australia said in a statement.

A number of vendors are moving to take advantage of this trend.  Melbourne-based Tilling SmartStruct, for example, has developed a cassette system it says has similar spanning capabilities to reinforced concrete but has a lighter construction weight which allows the cassettes to be installed using mobile cranes. The company says this has allowed an installation rate of 400 square metres per working day on the Australand project and allows four levels to be built within six weeks.

Also emerging with a floor cassette system is Melbourne-based connector and software company Pryda Australia, with a design utilising floor trusses that can be produced by timber truss and frame fabricators and which the company says can be detailed or engineered to suit the specific project.

Following completion of its Forte building, Lend Lease indicated it intended to make greater use of cross-laminated timber on its multi-residential projects.

In an address to a Property Council industry event last year, company business manager for cross laminated timber development Andrew Nieland described engineered timbers as being what the 21st century was all about and said use of CLT on Forté had cut construction time by up to four months, reduced projected CO2 emissions on the building by around 1,400 tonnes and most importantly, had delivered a cleaner and safer work site.