Italy-based fixings and fasteners supplier Rotho Blaas has seen significant demand for its products during the past two years.

Stefano Muscoloni, UK areas sales manager and field engineer, told TTJ that the UK business’ turnover – in the specific fixings segment – doubled during the period.

“It has been an incredible year for every line of fixings products; we had more than 60% increase in every line,” he said.

“This is thanks to a lot of new mass timber projects in the UK, using cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glulam.”

Since starting trading in the UK in 2014, Rotho Blaas has expanded beyond its engineered timber related business into further applications, including more recently the timber frame sector.

“We have seen a huge increase in modular companies, so we are dealing with most of the large modular housing companies in the UK, as well as SIPs, hybrid systems and steel frame companies.

“More and more the market is going to hybrid construction systems, so we developed particular screws for steel to timber applications. The market is also asking for demountable products [so buildings can be moved and materials reused].”

The subject of fire performance is another focus of attention, with Rotho Blaas undertaking testing and research of hidden connections in glulam and CLT. “The engineers are asking more about the behaviour of the fixings/connection in this hidden situation.”

Rotho Blaas has been in expansion mode, with its main Italian warehouse doubled in size last year to give extra capacity to stock products. It also has plans to open large warehouses in Germany and in the France/ Spain region.

“In the UK we are going to open our own 600m2 capacity warehouse in the middle of this year in Manchester,” Mr Muscoloni added.

The growth here led to the UK business becoming an official subsidiary company at the end of 2020 – Rotho Blaas UK Ltd.

“Our plan is to double turnover over the next three years and double staff numbers to 15 people by 2025.”

The business expects to have nine staff by the end of 2022, taking on sales, administration and warehouse personnel.

The Rotho ‘school’ will also be on tour targeting engineers, designers and architects on the subject of mass timber construction. One of the events will be held in tandem with the Institute of Structural Engineers in London during March.

Rotho Blaas reports huge demand increases in fixings for outdoor structures and decking due to the working from home trend, as well as big demand worldwide for mass timber solutions.

“There is customer demand for high performance, multi-storey timber-to-timber and timber-to-steel applications.

“For us the most innovative product is the SPIDER connector to fix the timber pillar to the CLT slab, so it achieves high building heights.”

The SPIDER connectors are proving popular in various London projects.

Rotho Blaas is working with all the companies in the UK working with mass timber, such as Eurban, KLH, Stora Enso and Binderholz. A lot of mass timber producers are approaching the UK market – additional suppliers from Spain, France, the Baltics and Nordic countries are targeting the UK with their CLT, glulam and LVL.

Rotho Blaas is also noticing increasing demand for structural timber screws over nails, due to the former’s superior mechanical performance and the fact that structural screws mean fewer fixings, speeding up the job.

“The screw is more expensive but you save hours of the carpenters’ work so in the end you save money,” said Mr Muscoloni.

He also reported high demand for outdoor coated carbon steel screws in place of stainless steel for deck structures and oak framing, due to the former’s strength superiority and cheaper price, yet still managing to achieve good corrosion resistance.

Stainless steel is used, however, for chemically modified wood, due to its class-leading corrosion resistance.

Like many companies, the supply side has been one of the challenges facing Rotho Blaas during the pandemic.

Brexit bureaucracy has led to longer lead times for stock clearing customs, while material shortages in some production regions, such as Taiwan, has led to a global fight to secure products and rising prices.

Mr Muscoloni said this was mirrored in wood raw material dynamics – with glulam prices reaching £1,000 per m3 at one stage, though this has now eased back.