For exhibitors, Futurebuild (the exhibition formerly known as Ecobuild) could probably be summed up as a curate’s egg – good in parts. Visitor numbers are reported as 27,283, slightly up on 2018’s 26,500 but it was still much smaller and quieter than its predecessor in its heyday. However, there were still opportunities for “good conversations” and specifier/supplier engagement.

Engagement – in fact, audience participation – was the name of the game on part of TRADA’s extensive stand. While one section focused on technical consultancy, TRADA publications and membership, the other drew the crowds with a masterclass in steam bending by Charlie Whinney.

“Design is so much more interesting if it is informed by the making and we wanted designers attending the show to have a tactile experience,” said Rupert Scott, TRADA’s membership and marketing manager. “Charlie has been having non-stop conversations with visitors and demonstrating steam bending.”

Mr Whinney, who is an architect by training, used a simple steam chamber set-up comprising a wall paper stripper and an insulated box to demonstrate the technique. Examples of his work on the stand included floor lamps but his main business is in architectural installations.

The TRADA stand also featured designs from this year’s student design competition, University Challenge. Several of the judges – architects and engineers themselves – attended Futurebuild and reiterated their willingness to take part in the competition again, said Tabitha Binding, TRADA’s university engagement manager.

“The judges were given a real insight into how teams have to work together in order to get projects out on time,” said Ms Binding. The Structural Timber Association’s (STA) experience was of a “steady but not massively busy show” but it was “overall very pleased” with what it had achieved over the three days.

The organisation ran a number of wellattended seminars throughout the exhibition and hosted “two very influential lunches”.

“One was with a group including major insurers, where we talked about fire safety and were able to provide confidence in traditional timber frame systems,” said Andrew Carpenter, STA chief executive. “We also discussed changes to building regulations and the impact on CLT. The other lunch focused on STA Assure.”

The STA Assure accreditation scheme is the organisation’s main priority this year, said Mr Carpenter adding that “it’s about raising the bar in terms of compliance, which will result in more confidence in timber”.

“Being here is all about brand awareness and we’ll be back at Futurebuild next year,” said Mr Carpenter.

Structural timber was to the fore on a number of stands, including Cygnum Timber Frame, which over the last 18 months has doubled the size of its manufacturing facility to 80,000ft2. The long-term goal, according to senior estimator John Shaw, is to replicate the Irish factory in the UK, where Cygnum has operated a standalone business for 12 years.

“We’ve taken timber frame to the next level of precision,” said Mr Shaw. “Site skills are decreasing, as highlighted by the Farmer Review, but there is a similar issue with factory skills, so we are investing in technology. Everything is software driven.”

Cygnum’s message and reason for exhibiting was to promote collaboration in offsite construction. “We want to talk to people about visiting our factory, seeing the state-of-the-art technology and then asking them how far they want us to take it. Do they want factory installation of plasterboard and windows, for example?”

The show had been a good experience for Cygnum, added Mr Shaw, with visitors to the stand including architects and contractors and representatives from Home England (a non-departmental public body that funds new affordable housing in England).

Last year Steico’s stand was a modest affair promoting its wood fibre insulation. It was a toe in the water exercise and results were positive enough to encourage the company to take to a much grander stage this year and to showcase a full range of its products. This included the company’s new glulam LVL – GLVL – which is available up to 18m long, 1.2m wide and 400mm deep.

The stand also hosted six other companies which either use or supply Steico products – Passivehaus Homes Ltd (PH15 System); Kithurst Builders; Miller Pattison (insulation services); Lime Green (renders and plasters); MBM Forest Products (wholesaler of Steico structural timber, including I-joists); and Ecomerchant (wholesaler of Steico insulation products).

Rather than promoting their own individual brands, however, they participated under the ‘supporting healthy buildings’ logo. Steico has created “an education portal” on healthy building by launching its ‘Leaf’ campaign at the show (

“We’re encouraging customers to sign up to it and find out more about what constitutes a healthy building,” said Adrian Judd, sales and operations director, adding that the company will publish a newsletter every eight weeks, supported by customers’ case studies.

With more than 8% of the UK population suffering from asthma, Steico is keen to address the issue of indoor air quality and, said Mr Judd, Futurebuild had shown there were “architects and specifiers out there who are more concerned about the way we build”.

“We believe wood-based products are the best in class,” he added. “They are everything that is good – recyclable, carbon storage, vapour permeable, durable, high specific heat capacity, relatively high density and relatively good thermal conductivity. They will regulate the internal climate and assist in keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

“And with the price of petrochemicals rising, the price gap is closing,” he said. French manufacturer Piveteaubois also has a multi-product timber portfolio, including structural components and garden products. At last year’s Futurebuild its new CLT factory was under construction and following a successful launch of the product in September last year – “on time” – the company was promoting Hexapli CLT at this year’s show.

Hexapli is available in spruce, pine or Douglas fir and as France is the biggest producer of Douglas fir in Europe and the second biggest in the world, it is this species that the company is keen to promote. That and the fact that “as a structural component it is fantastic”, said Elisabeth Piveteau, UK export manager.

The 10,000m2, €15m CLT facility at Sainte-Florence has one hydraulic press and annual capacity of 50,000m3 per year, much of which is targeted at the UK market. When capacity is reached there is scope to add another press and hike output to 100,000m3, said Ms Piveteau.

She added that the CLT factory had led to the need to invest in the sawmill and that “the whole saw line is something to see now”. Piveteaubois’s stand also included glulam, decking and cladding products.

Decking and cladding were well represented in other quarters, too. Silva Timber promoted its western red cedar, Siberian larch and ThermoWood species, along with its NEOLIFE wood-plastic composite (WPC), for example, while Millworks Timber also showed off its full range.

“This is our first time exhibiting at the event and we’ve had a great response from B2B clients who have responded well to our product range,” said Steven Newman. “We’ve got lots of leads on interesting and innovative projects we’d like to get involved with. We’ve rebooked for next year based on the feedback so far and our vision is to bring more products to the event.”

Wood composite was on display at Ecodek’s stand and, said Felicity Hodgkinson, marketing manager, was resulting in some good conversations with architects, specifiers, engineers and contractors.

“They are surprised to discover there is a UK-made WPC and it does set us apart,” she said, adding that Ecodek is a Travis Perkins preferred supplier.

The North Wales-based company was established in 2002, began manufacturing in 2004 and has seen WPC momentum gather pace over recent years.

“People can see the benefits of WPC, said Ms Hodgkinson. “Not just the maintenance aspect but also the fact that its production is carbon negative – it’s recyclable and is made from recycled materials in the UK. That engenders trust.”

She added that the company is very proactive on the R&D front and has a full-scale laboratory on site. It is currently involved in three Horizon 2020 projects and carries out testing for the Timber Decking & Cladding Association.

Last year Hoppings Softwood Products’ stand was all about its Smartboard composite decking but this year there was a refocus on the company’s portfolio of value added products, including its Q-Shades range.

“Smartboard has become a major part of the business but we’re a timber company at heart, so we’re displaying other products,” said the company’s Dave Bryan.

The mix on the stand reflected the variety of exhibitors and visitors. “I like the wide range of innovation on show here,” said Adam Pulfer, Hoppings’ marketing, development and technical director.

Vastern Timber’s managing director Tom Barnes reported plenty of interest in its Brimstone thermally modified British hardwoods from the architects’ community.

“Builders like it because it’s similar in price to western red cedar but architects buy into the whole concept,” he said. “The story behind it really chimes with them – there is innovation with the modification but there is also the fact that it is all British grown and bought and sold within a 100 mile radius.”

Brimstone is available in three species: Brimstone ash is suitable for cladding, decking and joinery; Brimstone sycamore is suitable for cladding and joinery; and Brimstone poplar is suitable for cladding. Vastern produced 500m3 of the product in 2018 and is aiming for 700m3 this year.

“When we reach 1,000m3 it will be a healthy part of the business,” said Mr Barnes.

The company as a whole had “a cracking year” in 2018 across all products, with turnover up 15%, he said.