Two key construction market trends have led to the launch of a joint venture between UK structural engineer, building intelligence and engineered wood product software specialist C4Ci and leading German timber building CAD/CAM software business SEMA.

One inspiration for the new business, SEMA4c Ltd, is the more demanding design and engineering parameters of today’s increasingly technical prefabricated timber construction methods and the widening range of products they use. The second is the accelerating adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) to drive construction sector supply chain efficiency and building performance, with the ultimate goal of improving all-round sustainability.

The C4Ci consultancy has arguably made its biggest splash in the timber construction market to date with its universal iPro 3D engineered wood products floor layout and design software system. This enables users to work with any I-joist brand, and in its updated Xpress version, to cope with sizing single members, whether they’re I-joists, solid timber or other engineered beam type products.

This is not the only string to the company’s bow. It also claims to be the leading UK player in timber and residential construction physical performance structural analysis.

"We’ve worked with every residential building system and media, from open panel timber frame, through closed panel and crosslaminated timber, to straw bales, cold rolled steel, brick and block and Hemcrete," said C4Ci co-founder James Sweet.

C4Ci’s conclusion from this wide-ranging experience, said Mr Sweet, was that "software will become the core foundation of delivering building projects" and, equally critical, that this software must be able to work in the wider BIM environment.

BIM is effectively a digital forum or hub into which all key players in a construction project, from design, through to materials supply, and even post-occupancy performance evaluation, plug their systems before ground is even broken. The aim is collaboration, to maximise efficiency, cut error, ensure compliance with building codes and regulations, reduce waste and improve overall performance, most notably the sustainability of the finished building. As each step in design, engineering and materials specification is taken, all the project participants see it in real time. They can analyse how it impacts on their input, then feed that information back into the pot, advising on what changes might be needed to ensure the best final outcome from all angles.

"Ultimately it’s a tool for efficiently delivering sustainably-built, low-carbon structures," said Mr Sweet.

As part of its sustainable construction drive, the government is also insisting all its projects use BIM by 2016.

This revolution in construction is a challenge for all building methods and materials sectors, but for the timber building sector and components suppliers has the added interest of coming at a time when their own approach is undergoing fundamental evolution.

"Timber frame in the UK is heading towards more complex, prefabricated solutions, with emerging technologies in the form of structural insulated panels, cross-laminated timber and closed panel and a migration to panellised roofing systems," said Mr Sweet. "This in turn is driving demand for software that underpins drawing design, off-site manufacturing, compliance and carbon monitoring."

Against this backdrop C4Ci decided that what was called for was an operation that could meet the timber construction and timberbased building components sectors’ current and future CAD and engineering software needs and enable it to participate in and capitalise on BIM, all in one package. The result is the tie-up with SEMA in SEMA4c.

"For the last year we’ve been looking for a company with a broad range of software CAD solutions that we could work with to enhance an excellent drawing package with building intelligence – and one that shares our vision for future timber frame solutions," said Mr Sweet, who now transfers from C4Ci to become SEMA4c’s managing director. "We found that partner in SEMA."

The latter is based in Munich and bills itself as a market leader in CAD/CAM construction and component software. It has 48 timberrelated design packages, with turnover of €9m, 90 employees, 9,000 software licensees worldwide with 14,000 licences issued, and subsidiaries in seven countries.

By combining C4Ci’s engineering and building intelligence know-how, with SEMA’s "tried and tested CAD packages", Sevenoaks- based SEMA4c says it will "develop software solutions that help timber frame and component customers work with greater visibility and enable to them to prove with clarity the cost savings they can offer right through a project".

With its own software demonstrator, and headed by Mr Sweet, the new company expects to deliver its first products – new timber frame CAD software with engineering capacity – in 2014. Meanwhile, it will introduce the UK to existing SEMA products.

SEMA managing director Thomas Pfluger sees the joint venture as an exciting development. "It will fast track our access to new markets with our software and add engineering and building physics elements, which will be in increasing demand," he said. "It is a perfect combination of skillset and global and regional network knowledge in the timber frame sector. The timing is perfect."

Ultimately, said Mr Sweet, SEMA4c’s aim was products to help the timber frame industry maintain and grow market share.

"Timber frame faces many challenges to hold its own and competing head on with the perceived lower costs of brick and block is futile," he said. "Instead it must be seen as the intelligent building solution and we’re looking forward to developing the customised solutions that will help achieve that and put it at the forefront of volume residential construction. The goal is intelligent software that is technically advanced and BIM empowered; capable of delivering high-performance timber frame and hard proof of that performance from the early stages to completion of a building project."

For more information contact James Sweet at