The Finnish wood processing industry’s history of more than one hundred years traces back to its international orientation and its knowledge of the needs of the export market. Alongside the main products of pulp and paper, a strong construction-focused industry has emerged to produce particle board and plywood products for industrial construction needs.
This industry manufactures materials for further processing by the wood product industry, and it has no aim to become a supplier of wood components. Rather, it promotes the use of products by offering information and solutions to wood construction designers and builders. Metsä Wood aims to grow the global market for wood construction by publishing the Open Source Wood modular wood construction system and data bank, making it available to designers, architects, construction companies and developers.
The open construction system, which is based on Finnish designs, advice and service have become a key part of the Finnish wood industry. At the same time, the open system creates a medium for harmonising wood construction practices to help wood construction grow from a local to an international level.
The Open Source Wood construction system challenges conventional construction
According to Metsä Wood’s Executive Vice President Esa Kaikkonen, the open system supports the prevailing construction practices of different countries, improves the productivity of industrial wood construction, and introduces new innovations and cost-effective construction to the market. – The Open Source Wood system aims to internationalise timber construction, which is currently fragmented and local. This is the only way we can challenge the prevailing concrete and steel construction that is problematic from the environmental perspective.
– For wood construction to succeed, fundamental reform and re-evaluation is required. We need to develop industrial prefabrication in particular and build more quickly, more cost-effectively, more efficiently and more transparently, says Kaikkonen.
According to Kaikkonen, there is not enough information about modular wood design and construction on the market. – This is a clear obstacle to growing the wood construction market. Although there are many innovations, no one can find them. Now we want to freely share wood construction solutions and use them to promote the growth of the entire wood construction market.
– Since building regulations, inspections, zoning practices and weather conditions vary from one country to another, we want to offer everyone an open system. We now offer know-how and expertise about the best ways to build with wood. We want to bring the world’s most effective walls, ceilings, intermediate floors and floors to the global market and collaborate with local actors such as architects, designers and element manufacturers.
The open system puts customer-orientation and service at the centre of modular wood component production. As a result, the traditional wood product industry is increasingly becoming a service industry that focuses on the customer and transforms the local construction market into a global one.
An open system for internationalising local construction
The Open Source Wood system is based on the use of LVL, which is the most important product in Metsä Wood’s wood construction range. «When we export expertise in addition to materials, we also promote Finnish wood construction exports. Therefore, it is important for us to follow the global construction market and the developments in the business environment and to be where there are favourable conditions for the growth of wood construction.
– We have a lot of technical expertise in wood construction, which we will continue to pass on to operators in the network. We have created an open and growing ecosystem around LVL products that includes designers, element manufacturers and equipment companies, and building companies who use our products and expertise. We are building networks in each country, but we do not compete with local operators. Rather, we collaborate with the local construction value chain.
According to Kaikkonen, the Open Source Wood system is a global, open tool that can be localised. – This allows our system to be included any designer’s toolkit, resulting in products suitable for the local market. While we do not export ready-made elements or modules from Finland to the world, we want to create a further processing network in target countries, says Kaikkonen.
– We have a strong international future in front of us as a supplier of wood construction product components and expertise. The Finnish market is important, but as a manufacturer of product components for construction it is essential for us that the entire wood market grows and that it succeeds in Europe in particular since it is a home market for us.
Kaikkonen estimates that the potential for growth in the market for wood construction is very high. – Growth opportunities are opening up for wood construction as the entire construction market grows. There is a lot of expected value for wood construction in the EUR 1,300 billion construction market across Europe. We also have enormous potential in our European home market.
– On the other hand, it is good to recognise that new construction practices and products have a difficult time breaking onto the market during construction booms. Wood construction should respond to rising construction costs with cost efficiency and improved productivity.
Wood construction challenges traditional construction with better productivity
According to Kaikkonen, construction productivity developments and the emergence of new innovations on the market are lagging behind even though the overall market for construction is growing everywhere. «Our important goal and promise is to improve productivity with new construction systems now that the results of our development work are on the market.
– If the last great innovation in traditional construction is the hollow-core slab, which was developed in the 1970s, industrial construction has a great need for new developments and efficiency. The share of industrial prefabrication is growing in wood construction, and construction in general, as new production facilities and machine tools produce products with more accuracy and better quality, while simultaneously being more efficient.
According to Kaikkonen, the industrial fabrication that improves wood construction productivity is based on digital integration, which starts from the design table and transfers from there to production, construction and, over time, to smart house solutions.
– Thanks to digitalisation, design can be integrated with production, which brings greater accuracy, better quality and more cost-effectiveness to production and, later, to life cycle management of buildings as a whole. The high quality of the elements and modules is then protected by shielding them from the weather to ensure the good properties of wood such as good indoor air quality and healthy living.
Prefabrication, lightness and speed in the construction market
According to Kaikkonen, construction companies in Finland still need to overcome their attitudes towards using wood, which is why the threshold for using wood elements and modules in standard developer construction is still so high. «When we organise events across Europe and North America, we meet with construction operators from designers to developers. For example, it is interesting to see that construction companies in Central Europe are very interested in hearing about wood construction solutions, which is not the case in Finland.
– Our goal is that wood will play a prominent role in normal everyday construction and not just in specialty projects. Nor does wood need to be seen everywhere, it can be hidden in structures as it most often is. We are not changing the urban construction landscape. Rather, we are offering a fast, light and cost-effective system based on prefabrication to the construction market.
Kaikkonen points out the emergence of new construction companies that strongly believe in increased prefabrication and are willing to make acquisitions that support this development.
Metsä Wood focuses on manufacturing the material
Metsä Wood’s decision to sell its roof element production in Pälkäne to Lapwall Oy was also related to operational restructuring. – With this sale, we transferred the manufacturing technology to a new manufacturer. The solution clarified our role as a manufacturer of wood construction materials.
Metsä Wood’s main products in wood construction are LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber) and plywood. These products are manufactured in Punkaharju, Suolahti and Lohja. With the expansion at Punkaharju, the company produces nearly 300,000 cubic metres of LVL for construction applications annually.
– We try to produce the raw materials as close as possible to the dimensions used by the producers of roof, floor and wall elements. When the material can be used in the most optimal manner, the least waste possible is generated. The aim is to use resources as efficiently as possible in construction.
According to Kaikkonen, growth in the industrial processing of wood construction products in Finland requires a supportive entrepreneurial atmosphere and increased demand. – Fortunately, the younger generations are no longer scarred by experiences from the early 90s recession and approach entrepreneurship with fresh eyes.
– New businesses will emerge once demand grows. Wood construction product component production currently focuses on industrial prefabrication and digitalisation. Manufacturing is seeing the arrival of standardised solutions and is being smart about leveraging subcontracting chains to improve productivity and the competitiveness of wood construction.
According to Kaikkonen, an increased appreciation of environmental values has resulted in a more positive attitude towards wood. Kaikkonen points to Central Europe as an example, where environmentally friendly, low carbon construction is a big topic, unlike in Finland.
– Even though the environmentally friendly characteristics of wood such as low carbon are known, no one will pay for that. Rather, wood construction must be competitive from the beginning. The other positive aspects of wood construction are merely an added bonus. However, I believe that the construction industry will bear its share of the burden in future once carbon footprints considerations begin to play a stronger role in construction and its products.
This article is part of a series by Markku Laukkanen and Mikko Viljakainen. The series presents a variety of best practices and trends in the Finnish wood industry. The aim is to spread information about best practices and solutions in the Finnish wood industry to increase its competitiveness and make Finnish expertise more widely known. The articles will be published in Finnish and in English. They will be made freely available for use as source material and for publication as they are. The articles will be distributed as Puuinfo newsletters and will also be published on the puuinfo.fi and woodproducts.fi websites. The article series is funded by the Ministry of the Environment’s Wood Construction Operational Program.