Pinewood Structures drives quality with Elecosoft’s Framing software
Pinewood Structures is one of the largest UK providers of timber frame homes and modern sustainable structural solutions. Its success depends on assuring customers of the highest quality outputs every single time. To help it deliver this it uses Framing software from Elecosoft to support precision design, management control and production excellence.
The software not only delivers business benefits but is helping ensure the company is fully ready to support its customers’ growing BIM requirements and use of modern construction methods.
Production precision and consistencyPinewood Structures has been operating at the heart of the growing UK timber frame manufacturing market since 1981. It has experienced ongoing transformation which has already seen it grow significantly, embrace automation and digitise many traditional processes.
Its use of software has been a fundamental part of this change. Framing software from Elecosoft has played an increasing role in helping the company achieve the quality production for which the company is renowned.
Nick Worboys is Quality Manager at Pinewood. He outlined his role as “to make us the best we can possibly be, and link all processes and systems together,” something he believes is underpinned by software. He has been involved throughout the company’s digitisation of its scheduling process: “it was a journey that began by us developing a piece of software to cut panels, but then we realised there were other systems that could do that, and possibly more. We found Framing, and have worked with Elecosoft to help evolve the software over time, to the point we are at today. Now, if you want to design for us you have to use the Framing application. It controls our design quality because we can give them templates and materials databases. Software controls the quality, instead of people. It gives us a standardised input to our factory – and, if you have that, you get a standardised output.”
Pinewood uses Framing software to manage all the scheduling of its timber frame wall outputs, and drive the manufacturing process. The software controls the generation of design drawings, delivery tickets, bills of materials and files for the cutting saws. The use of software enables Pinewood to deliver a completely consistent and standardised product, including their proprietary Quantum™ high performance timber frame, since everything is built in a controlled environment. “This is where Framing comes in” said Nick “Framing affects how we run our factory. The software gives us control, so we can deliver that completely consistent product to site.”
Framing software supports the production process from initial design through to production, helping to turn architects’ design ideas into fully calculated, actionable designs that can drive production. “Architects often deliver everything in 2D initially, and you then have to imagine what it would look like in three dimensions in the real world. We use Framing to produce all the drawings required to actually build a timber frame.”
Nick outlined the role that software plays in the process: “Framing from Elecosoft is the design platform that enables us to standardise our input to the factory. Everything is object-based, so if we put a window in a wall the software can automatically cut all the studs back, and put in every element you need to form that window. We don’t have to make any manual changes to the wall, because the system already knows how.”
The system plays a significant role in helping Nick manage both quality and information associated with the design and production process, as he outlined: “The Framing software is not just for designing; it’s a database-driven system so I can draw in costings for materials, cost labour in, which helps create the job costing that we are now importing into our financial systems. The benefit it brings is not just using that data itself but linking it everywhere in the business. What comes out is not just
a drawing – it’s all the information we need to run our business. It can help us order, track costs, and be so much more than people imagine a drawing can be.”
Unlocking business benefits
Today’s standards for precision production quality, as well as design and production speed, could not be achieved without software support. Framing software plays a key role in automating what used to be an intensely manual process requiring numerous highly trained people. Having been with Pinewood since 1999, Nick recalls the old days very well: “I started at this company aged 18, and I had to write every single cutting list up by hand, for every piece of wood. We had a team of 13 people doing that. Now we have twice the turnover and have two people doing these schedules. I feel the benefits Framing software gives us keenly, because of how time consuming it used to be, how error ridden, and how useless the information was after you wrote it.”
As well as using fewer employees to service this key stage of the design and production process, the software can significantly accelerate the time it takes and level of productivity, as Nick stated: “The Framing software gives us a massive speed benefit between getting the drawing signed off to getting the information to the shop floor.”
He continued: “With this software you simply don’t need as much experience and skill to be able to produce high quality work – that’s key for any modern business. It helps you flex up and down depending on demand.”
In tune with construction trends
The UK market has been slowly increasing its use of timber frame for many years, while offsite manufacturing in general has been growing rapidly of late. The benefits that offsite offers to contractors are numerous. Alongside pin-point precision in terms of exact dimensions, timber framing brings a valuable element of predictability to aspects of the construction timeline.
The sector is also increasingly concerned about the labour markets and shortage of key skills. Nick explained: “Many of our customers are suffering with skills shortages – there’s a general lack of builders, bricklayers and several other trades. But, they still need to produce on schedule. Timber frame and other offsite manufacturers help them with that: we take some of the skills out of the mix on site, and into our factory, where we also have a more controlled environment which can give them a higher quality product than making it
Lowering the cost of quality
Timber frame offers real opportunity for construction customers to lower the cost of quality, as well as assure the quality of key elements of their builds. Nick believes that the fact timber frame experts are sometimes brought in after the design stage means customers
may be missing a trick: “In my opinion, especially with BIM, you need to get all the stakeholders in place before you start designing – yet we often get brought in to review completed designs that have assumed brickwork or other method apart from timber frame. You could get the timber frame provider to design the timber frame elements. We measure our quality carefully – and the information transaction between the customer and ourselves is where much of the cost of quality lies. It is reduced even more once it actually gets committed to the shop floor.”
Digital construction change
BIM is an increasingly common process across UK construction, so it is important to Pinewood that it is ready to support the needs of customers. The Framing software enables Pinewood to deliver BIM-ready data objects in a format that can be easily integrated into an IFC model. Nick said that “The challenge for our customers is the performance of wall structures, and ensuring everything is the exact size they need it to be. BIM will help connect what architects and manufacturers do, see the materials used, click on elements and see the exact sizes of everything.”
As BIM emerged, the company never considered changing their design software. Nick told us: “We already work in an object-based world of design, and have seen the benefit that gives us.
It should be an easy transition for us. The Framing software is fundamental to our manufacturing process because it creates the files that drive our saws. Changing design software would mean building our processes all over again. Elecosoft has written the software for us, so that any drawing we create now we can already output in IFC. We don’t have to revolutionise our manufacturing and design process and are ready to communicate with the BIM world when it arrives.”
Looking to the future
Pinewood is now looking to extend the benefits of the Framing software into the production of flooring. He said: “Elecosoft have just released a new floor software module, so now we’re looking to automate our floor scheduling process to get the same benefits of speed and quality as we have with walls.” He sees few challenges in doing so, and concluded: “I haven’t scheduled a floor for at least 10 years – but with this I’ll be able to schedule a job at the same quality as the best floor scheduler. The software controls the quality, not the person.”
He is hoping that introducing the flooring modules will be a smooth process, but is confident enough in the relationship with Elecosoft to anticipate a strong level of support: “We did a lot of work to fine-tune exactly how we wanted to present information to the shop floor. Elecosoft have been very helpful in adding pieces of software for us to produce that, and it’s now embedded in our manufacturing process. It does our job costing, works out our labour rates, produces the files our saws read, and does everything we need with a press of about 20 buttons.”
Pinewood Structures has become accustomed to running at full production capacity. As the demand for offsite manufacturing in the UK construction market grows, it is now hoping timber frame will become even more popular to achieve speedier house- building. Accelerated Construction has been proactively supported by government funding and policy for house-building in 2017, and timber frame is likely to become an essential choice on some contracts.