Timber Transformation: Enhancing Sustainability and Efficiency with DfMA Principles

The timber industry is experiencing a welcomed shift towards the use of timber in multi-rise residential and office buildings. The sector is rethinking their processes, updating their knowledge base, and revising supply chains for the implementation of timber construction in their standard portfolio, at scales not seen before.

The timber industry has already demonstrated its ability to deliver economically competitive, sustainable, high-quality, and large-scale projects. However, the challenges seem to appear when it comes to expanding and reproducing projects – each new project is approached as if it was the first of its kind.

To tackle that, it would be worth establishing a shared understanding in the early stages of the project about achieving a practical and efficient low carbon design that would lead to smarter decisions by design teams and other stakeholders. These choices would align with wood as a material, match manufacturing capabilities, and enhance assembly efficiency while lowering overall carbon emissions.

Read the article in Finnish here.

Study to find optimized solution

This is where Stora Enso and Ramboll decided to find an answer to a question: Can we outline principles and initial design decisions suitable for implementation within the Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) methodology?

DfMA methodology optimises product and structure design for manufacturing ease and efficient assembly. It streamlines building component design for off-site manufacturing and on-site assembly, potentially reducing costs, and improving construction speed and quality.

The methodology we used took a holistic approach to building design and construction, considering the interplay between architectural typologies, technological solutions, and the application of DfMA principles. By combining these elements, the methodology provides a comprehensive approach to the design and construction of timber buildings optimised for using DfMA principles.

Our study iterated the usual design process of a timber structure for a typical project three times. We used standard residential and office building projects. Aftereach iteration, the designs were evaluated on their suitability for manufacturing and assembly from specific suppliers in the value chain. Every new iteration went back to the early project decisions to improve them. We used SylvaTM by Stora Enso timber components as the specific modular kit-of-parts as the set of parameters. Sylva is Stora Enso’s range of prefabricated wood-based products for low-carbon buildings.

Practical outcome resulted in new concepts

In this pursuit, our focus was not solely on technological or architectural expertise; we also prioritised commercial viability. We can conclude that the DfMA methodology will be successful if a project is conceived from the early beginning with a determined platform or kit-of-parts, which is used during the project to create its form. In addition, the application of the DfMA principles is not possible, or not effective, for designs that are not created considering it from the beginning.

So, the main challenge is to include kit-of-parts from the very start of the project, and that it remains stable during the design process. Previous research outcomes highlight that opting for a specific kit-of-parts or platform isn’t always feasible due to constraints posed by competition regulations or the desire of investors to remain impartial towards supplier selection. These factors continue to impede the widespread adoption of DfMA in present-day implementation.

We are convinced that the foundation of success lies in applying DfMA principles, ensuring that the solutions not only meet demanding technical and architectural standards but are also practical and economically sustainable.

The practical outcome of this study resulted in two new Stora Enso building concepts. The most recent additions include an office concept type, which is optimised for flexible working spaces and uses a central stiffening core with wide open floor space around it. And an updated multi-storey residential building concept combining the benefits of a mass-timber load-bearing structure with prefabricated non-load bearing envelopes. All of them have been shortlisted for the UK Structural timber pioneer awards for their groundbreaking advancements to the industry.

You can view the building concepts at www.buildingconcepts.storaenso.com.

Sebastián Hernández-Maetschl, Stora Enso and Emil Jansson, Ramboll Finland