A hundred-year-old family business becomes a comprehensive supplier of industrial wood construction product components

Koskisen Oy, which began its sawmill operations almost 110 years ago, has grown into a diversified wood processing company that processes all its procured wood into products ranging from bio-energy to industrial housing elements. Located in Kärkölä in Päijät-Häme, the company has a typical history for a Finnish wood industry company: it started with sawmill operations. The second generation was interested in expanding to new products, and the sawmill operations begun by Kalle Koskinen were soon extended to wood processing for the plywood, chipboard and construction industries. Now in its fourth generation, Koskisen Oy is a Finnish pioneer in the sawmill and wood panel industries, in thin plywood production and the manufacturing of element-based building construction components. The company has more than a thousand employees and turnover was EUR 270 million in 2017.

Design initiatives, industrial manufacturing, innovative products and services have also become a key factor in the competitiveness of the Finnish wood product industry. This article covers Koskisen Oy’s role as a leading supplier of industrial wood construction product components. The company’s comprehensive expertise in wood construction is based on element-based small building production, which began 40 years ago. The expertise gained from traditional element construction was used as a starting point for producing elements for small buildings, the expansion of existing apartment buildings, the construction of new wood apartment buildings, as well as public construction sites such as schools and day-care centres.

Industrial element manufacturing is based on previously gained expertise

Koskisen’s Herrala brand is a four decades old element construction system based on industrial woodframe construction. – We already have expertise and a lengthy tradition in industrial wood construction. Finland has traditionally used wood prefabricated building components in the construction of small buildings and row-houses, says Petri Lento who has led Koskisen Oy’s Housing Industry for a year and a half.

In Lento’s view, the market for wood construction is developing in a good direction in Finland, but he regards the industry as extremely competitive particularly in small and medium-sized construction. – Taken holistically, it is good that there are products based on different timber construction systems and solutions on the market. In my opinion however, there could be more collaboration with different manufacturers as the total demand grows.

– For example, we face competition from other materials in the construction of day-care centres, nursing homes, and schools, and simultaneously, we compete with other systems and wood construction options within the wood construction industry. Our over 100 year old family company represents large element production for traditional wood frame construction, and we compete with the new solid wood solutions that have come to the market.

Koskisen Oy has produced wood elements for numerous wood apartment building sites, such as Vantaa’s Kivistö Housing Fair and Helsinki’s Honkasuo wood apartment buildings and the new Kuninkaantammi site. New, large sites include the two wooden apartment buildings being built in Turku and Finland’s largest wooden school in Imatra.

– The new growth in wooden apartment building construction started eight years ago with the wood apartment building in Vierumäki. This is when we began our collaboration with the Reponen construction company, which is interested in wood construction, and started development aimed at large wood construction sites.

The dry chain is essential in wood construction

According to Lento, Koskisen Oy has delivered cost effective facades, apartment partition walls and ceilings to construction sites at virtually zero energy levels. The structural and acoustic characteristics of wood construction have been improved through continuous practical development. – With the newly launched mass production of intermediate floor slabs, we are now a comprehensive supplier of wood construction components. We are able to deliver all the structural components for wood apartment buildings. The maximum dimensions of large elements made from wood are 14 metres by 4 metres, with a thickness of about 35 cm or 45 cm – depending on the designed energy efficiency level for the site.

– The dry chain is the starting point for wood construction. We assume that all our products are protected from the weather when they are made and installed. Testimonials from builders have been positive when conditions during construction have been under control. For smaller scale sites, careful protective packaging of elements is enough for transportation and storage until the installation stage. At larger sites such as apartment buildings, the tent solutions used by contractors have proven to be effective.

In the opinion of Lento, the dry chain, maximum prefabrication, measurement accuracy, speed of installation and the safety of the end product are key factors affecting the competitiveness of wood construction. – Not to forget the environmental values of wood and the way these values increase the appeal of wood as a way of increasing living comfort. The significance of these factors as sales arguments will grow among consumers. The public sector has already taken a great leap forward by opting for wood construction solutions in an increasing number of day-care centres and school projects.

– The dry chain is a significant factor in the competitiveness of construction. Since concrete structures need to be re-measured and dried for long periods of time as a consequence of wet construction, it is clear that weather protected wood construction saves time. I believe that climate change will lead to further legislation that requires low carbon construction.

More expertise and uniform practices in wood construction

Lento does not expect any special treatment from society for wood construction, but he does hope that all material will be treated equally. – While sprinklers are an additional cost in wood buildings, why aren’t they also in concrete buildings? In a typical fire, gases and heat from burning interior materials can be lethal. Automatic fire extinguishing systems decrease risks and help prevent the spread of fire. The newly issued fire safety regulations allow for a more creative approach to leaving wood visible.

– Although construction technology sets some constraints, wood is a flexible material in industrial construction. It can be made into a diverse array of construction components, and it enables a variety of architectural solutions.

Before joining Koskisen Oy, Lento worked in a design office that mainly designed large sites from concrete and steel. – There are hardly any offices specialising in wood construction design, let alone enough wood construction specialists or design software that are up to par. To achieve any significant increase in the market share of wood construction, we need more design specialists with a focus on wood construction for demanding sites.

– Such expertise will also usher in acceptance for wood construction. We at Koskisen’s Housing Industry have our own design and project management expertise, and we buy services from subcontractors for large sites. We develop our own standard products together with our partners and train our design partners on their use.

In future, Lento hopes to see common design guidelines for the industrial manufacturing of wood structures. – The concrete industry standardised its solutions and deployed them as early as the 1960s. The wood industry has yet to do this, and all the companies in the industry operate on their own systems and guidelines. Although a range of instruction manuals are available for wood construction, there is no uniform practice for frame construction for example.

– An advantage of wood construction is that the manufacturing of components can be customised. Koskisen’s Housing Industry is able to make elements in small series if needed because production is not too automated. This leaves room for flexibility and professional expertise. Our professional specialty is the ability to make basic elements effectively and to make elements that are energy-efficient.

Lento points out that short production runs are the efficiency bottleneck of any prefabricated element production. – Elements often need to be made in so-called individual series. However, efficient industrial production would require longer production runs of the same products.

Wood as part of open market construction sites

Lento is hoping for open-mindedness in the use of construction materials. – One would expect developers in particular to want to keep with the times and experiment with new techniques. It seems that when a company has used an established production technology for a long time, it winds up becoming an obstacle to using other materials.

– Fortunately, construction companies are now asking for wood construction expertise and alternative solutions. A gradual change in attitude has been evident as the interest in wood construction has grown. I no longer see the situation as an old-fashioned confrontation between wood and concrete.

Koskisen Oy is involved in two non-subsidised apartment projects being built in Perno in Turku as a wood component supplier. Lento thinks that it is important for the growth of wood construction that wood construction be included in free market developer sites on its own strengths. – Suppliers need to get involved in the open competition for plots together with a construction company that is taken seriously. In the end, we need to get rid of the notions that wood should get some advantage from city planners and the like or that wood construction projects are only public sector pilot projects.

– Wood construction solutions are increasingly being used to build additional floors on old properties, and we want to be experts involved in these projects. This summer, Finland’s largest project of this kind will be completed in Tampere, with about two thousand square metres added on an old industrial building. We have been involved in adding additional stories at about ten properties in different parts of Finland. We believe that once the extreme pace of new construction wears off, the construction of additional stories will increase as construction companies regain an interest in repair and refurbishment work.

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.