After a long history making presses, USNR entered the cross-laminated timber (CLT) press business in 2015. Since that foray into this emerging market in North America, the growth in interest has taken off at a break-neck pace. Thanks to stakeholders, the progression has been orderly while the enthusiasm remains fervent.
Getting into this business isn’t straightforward. There are rules and regulations that need to be met ahead of gluing the first commercial panel. Read on to learn about the process, and the experience of others who have taken the plunge.
USNR’s Progression to CLT
Though USNR’s design for its CLT press is quite new, its roots stem from its vast experience with the Washington Iron Works and Mann-Russell lines. For many decades these brands operated under the Coe name (now USNR), producing equipment for engineered wood products like LVL and OSB panels, and beam and finger-joint stock. USNR’s CLT press design is a natural extension of that technology.
In addition to the press, USNR provides complete lay-up and material handling lines, as well as radio-frequency generators for press applications. USNR’s systems produce dimensional lumber, plywood and panels, finger-jointed components and engineered wood products worldwide.
In 2015 USNR designed, manufactured and installed its first CLT press for Riddle Laminators at Riddle, Oregon. Owned and operated by D.R. Johnson Lumber, the plant was the first in North America that was certified to manufacture CLT panels under a new standard approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and its products were tested and certified by the Engineered Wood Association (APA).
The standard for certification developed by the APA and ANSI provides dimensions and tolerances, performance requirements, testing methods, quality assurance, and trademarking. Detailed information about the standards (ANSI/APA PRG 320) can be obtained at www.apawood.org.
Certification paved the way for the company to market its 3-lam, 5-lam, and 7-lam CLT panels to the U.S. wood construction market. At initial installation, the maximum panel size produced was 10’ x 24’ in three, five, or seven layers. Since then the plant has installed three 6’ extensions to the press.
USNR offers both pneumatic and hydraulic presses in a variety of sizes. In addition to the vertical forces placed on the panels, these presses also apply side and end forces. USNR’s design is unique in that its press is modular, with the capability to be easily expanded to manufacture longer panels. After its successful installation of the CLT press design at Riddle, USNR has fielded many inquiries and is in the process of delivering a new CLT press line near Spokane, Wash. for Katerra. In addition to the press, USNR will also supply a complete planer mill and all the material handling equipment to complement the press line for the Katerra complex.
Katerra Inc. is a forward-thinking company headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif. with global operations, including U.S. facilities in Arizona, California, Georgia and Washington. As an end-to-end construction and technology services company, Katerra applies systems approaches to remove unnecessary time and costs from building development, design, and construction. That concept led it to complement its existing business with CLT panel manufacture.
Oregon State University
The Department of Wood Science and Engineering at Oregon State University (OSU) provided research and testing in conjunction with D.R. Johnson Lumber for the CLT press they purchased from USNR. This work subsequently led to its certification. Since then, the OSU College of Forestry, OSU College of Engineering, and University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts collaboratively opened the TallWood Design Institute to further the research and education, and to promote CLT as it relates to tall wood building design.
USNR is taking an active role in the promotion of CLT and mass timber building initiatives. Account Manager Allan Czinger, an OSU alumnus, is on the Educational Advisory Board working to develop a new degree focus on renewable resources, to be called Advanced Manufacturing. Allan says, “The graduates of this new program will be the people our customers will want to hire, with a degree that combines wood science and business management.”
Washington State University
About a year ago Katerra approached a group at Washington State University (WSU) to undertake research and testing for a new CLT panel processing plant the company planned for Spokane Valley, Washington state. USNR Account Manager Eric Ortquist, an alumnus of WSU, has been involved with the Katerra project and WSU’s research. He explained, “Katerra ordered a press with ten 6’ sections for production (60’), and an additional 6’ section for research and development. The 6’ R&D section was shipped to WSU for the testing. That section will produce a 6’ x 12’ panel. Katerra also ordered a layup table (rollcase for laying up the material) and then a glue system that were delivered to WSU, because they started out gluing them by hand.”
Associate Research Professor at WSU, Karl Englund heads up the research and testing team. He explained the purpose of the WSU involvement, “It is based upon utilizing the expertise of our group to facilitate the production of CLT through Katerra. WSU has a long history of working with wood, and testing and evaluating the manufacturing processes. With the Katerra project we are determining how their manufacturing process will go together.”
He went on to explain that WSU works with the resins, glues, species, and all facets of the materials, to understand how they behave collectively. Then they look at how the panels are fastened together, and how they go together in a building’s design. “We bridge several technology gaps, from the processing side to the implementation side.”
One of the goals of the testing, on behalf of Katerra, is to achieve certification for both the process and the panel products. Karl explained, “A lot of these initial processing parameters need to be ascertained before Katerra gets its production plant up and running. We’re doing a lot of that work, as well as qualification for the panels. Our goal is to get further down that pathway to certification before the press is commissioned. Understandably, Katerra’s goal is to start selling product as soon as possible. The work we are doing is laying the groundwork for that to happen.”
Karl went on to explain, “Some of the parameters that are included in the panel testing is how well the adhesive sticks, and then how the panels perform within a building.” He said that other tests include how the panels perform with a wind load, seismic load, or just a dead load.
Karl explained his role at WSU, and how it relates to the Katerra project. “A lot of my work has been focused on industrial outreach. I work with industries in the field of wood science for forest products. My strength is on the processing and material science, and I’ve been heading up that work. We also have faculty that are working on the larger scale systems like testing for the building and structural design, as well as meeting building codes.”
As the Katerra project progresses, USNR is not only working on the designs and manufacturing of the equipment for this new facility but is also collaborating with all parties to ensure a successful outcome.
In 2017 USNR received the Innovation of the Year Award from EWTA (APA affiliate). The award recognizes a company providing a new technology, product or service that has been shown to reduce production costs, increase productivity, improve product quality, or in some other way provide a bottom-line benefit to APA members.
USNR’s new modular press for the manufacture of cross-laminated timber panels features the use of compressed air instead of hydraulics, which sets it apart from other CLT presses. Once the CLT panel is fed into the press, a set of pneumatic cylinders applies pressure from the sides to ensure minimal gaps between core materials within a given layer. Meanwhile, a set of channels carrying eight, large-diameter pneumatic hoses is lowered to rest atop the CLT panel. Once the panel is configured correctly, the hoses are brought to pressure. The method is a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly one than the hydraulic alternative.