The end of this month sees the conclusion of the Wood Products Innovation Gateway (WPIG), a three-year project designed to develop at least 20 new products or construction systems manufactured from Scottish-grown timber, engage with 600+ SMEs and establish 20+ new R&D networks.

In many ways this £1.468m initiative – supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) with match finance from Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Confor and Wood for Good – has not only delivered on its initial ambitions, it has established a model for successful co-operation between industry and academia in which good ideas can be developed and tested with a view to instituting commercial production of new, value-added products that make best use of our home-grown resource.

The results have embraced the fabrication and testing of several different engineered structural timber panel products intended to lead to large-scale, industrial manufacture of cross-laminated timber, with the possibility of more localised manufacture of dowelled laminated timber and nailed stack plank systems. All of these products have been installed in actual buildings and are now undergoing ongoing monitoring and testing, as are floor trusses, acetylated ground beams and innovative closed panel systems.

These and other areas of R&D – such as the offsite manufacture of charred external timber cladding – have originated either from market demand or from technical enquiries from architects, engineers and other construction professionals, but it is the combination of these initiatives with extensive investigative work carried out at Edinburgh Napier University on the characteristics and properties of the available forest resource that has carried the project into new and productive relationships with SMEs in the forest, timber and construction industries.

Many of these collaborations have significant potential to continue into the future and on a widened range of products, while the project’s extensive programme of Continuing Professional Development for architects and engineers has opened the eyes of many to the environmental and efficiency benefits inherent in the use of new engineered and modified timber products. Through this latter, WPIG has considerably exceeded its initial target number of SMEs of which nearly 500 have benefited from more than three hours each of direct engagement in the form of technical advice or product and project development support.

The Wood Products Innovation Gateway team has worked from the outset to ensure that new products conform to European and British Standards, an example of which is its lead role in the development of EN BS 8605-1 and EN BS 8605-2 – new codes of practice for External Timber Cladding that cover Product Manufacture and Design.

The timescale for completion of this work extends beyond the three-year term of ERDF funding but the possible decision by the Scottish Funding Council to commit around £7.5m to the establishment of a Scottish Construction Innovation Centre will enable this and other important projects to continue within a wider academic and industry context and allow Edinburgh Napier University’s Institute for Sustainable Construction to push the frontiers of timber design and construction in the UK still further.