Timber Imagineering designs and fabricates timber structures using sustainable engineered wood products. Their success is based on a unique set of skills, partnered with their new Biesse 5-axis Rover A machine and intuitive bSolid software.
Tim and Rob are both structural engineers and have designed many timber structures. Fifteen years ago these structures would be sent to builders who would overprice them because they didn’t really understand what they were building or it was too challenging. It was time to start fabricating themselves and Timber Imagineering was created ten years ago. Initially the fabrication was done manually but increasing orders soon led to the purchase of a used Biesse CNC machining centre. Before Timber Imagineering, Tim lectured to design students at Swinburne University and invited Dan Jepson, a Danish timber engineer to speak about large European timber structures. Dan was involved in the design of structural elements for the Lillehammer Winter Olympic ice skating venue known as Vikingskipet (The Viking Ship). He commented that the entire production of laminated timber production in Australia was less than a small mill would produce in Denmark. Tim’s eyes were opened to the possibilities of timber design in construction. Here then was the perfect opportunity to develop a niche market. The bread and butter for Timber Imagineering is their patented ProRafter system and this produces a steady cash flow. It’s an engineered wood product combining plywood and LVL to form “C” section beams. They don’t compete with the cutthroat gang-nail truss companies; they do the work others can’t like the heavier architectural trusses. ProRafter is 20% of the business and 2-3 days machining keeps their staff working for up to two weeks, leaving plenty of time for new and often unusual projects. Tim and Rob promote different systems and shapes that architects might be interested in.
We love to challenge the machine and the Biesse has lived up to every task we’ve thrown at it.
Over the last four years the business has really taken off with the resurgence of timber for structures so it was time to start looking for a machine that would meet the new demand; generate additional business opportunities and fully realise the potential to create modern, innovative structures. The result was the purchase of a Biesse Rover A 5-axis machining centre but it was the bSolid software that really appealed to Tim and Rob. “The bSolid software is fantastic and turns these complex projects around quickly” says Rob. “A setup and test that once took several hours can now be done in minutes, it’s that good”.
As engineers, Tim and Rob look at the machine differently than a wood worker and come up with new ways of working that surprise even other manufacturers. At least one day a month is spent researching new products and testing these on the machine. They take an architects vision and then make it work structurally. They look for construction work designed not just in timber but also in steel and speak to the architects about how timber can be used to create a more economical solution. An amazing example of taking a concept structure designed originally for steel fabrication and turning it into an engineered wooden framed and clad structure is the “Dome”. Located in the Future Manufacturing Lab of the Advanced Technologies Centre at Swinburne University, the project took three months to complete and this included installation by Imagineering. Nicknamed Pac-Man; Timber Imagineering worked with the architect to create an award-winning piece that seems to defy gravity.
Swinburne’s Factory of the Future is a dedicated space for research and teaching in manufacturing and design-led innovation. As the focal point of innovative design and technology at the University, the dome represents the future of construction through its complex and detailed design.
Timber Imagineering worked with the architects to see the concept through to an engineered structure. Professor Geoff Brooks, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Future Manufacturing said inside the dome “It feels as though anything is possible”.
The Dome was an interesting project in that the architect didn’t want the spherical shape to be faceted, but smooth and curved. Think of the Dome surface as being like an orange peel and they had to create the orange peel shapes so that they all bent and fit together to form the dome shape. Rob said: “In practical terms you can’t turn a flat wooden surface into a sphere. We mathematically worked out how to do this but there was a certain amount of fine tuning to get the program right. There is software that can do this but we didn’t have it at the time the job was required”.
This work was all cut on the Biesse along with the frame members. Timber Imagineering rely heavily on the CNC machine for almost all of their machining. “The Biesse needs to be reliable and it has never let us down” says both Rob and Tim. “We have a very good relationship; they (Biesse) understand what we need and presented us with the right machine at the right time. Rob says “We love to challenge the machine and the Biesse has lived up to every task we’ve thrown at it”. Rob goes on to say “The Biesse for us means labour saving and accuracy; but also the ability to do things others can’t. The ability to look into the future and match our timber engineering skills to the machine smarts to create ongoing and interesting work is the core of our business. We’re not chasing the top end of the market; it’s the geometrically challenging work that we want to look at and we know the Biesse is up to the task”. Tim says: “New markets exist in architectural structures. Architects want to have part of their building envelope with green star accreditation so there’s plenty of work to tender for”.
Imagineering recently signed a contract to manufacture and construct the largest timber “shed” in the Southern Hemisphere that comes in cheaper than the same shed in steel. “Wood is vastly under-utilised and machines such as Biesse that can transfer design ideas into product are great” says Tim. “Our software includes AutoCad and Revit. CAD drawings representing the structural design are sent to the bSolid software that converts the CAD drawing into shop drawings and then, CNC machine programs. In Europe now, designs are more free-flowing and architects are seeing this and looking at doing similar work in Australia. Architects go to Timber Imagineering to find out what’s achievable before going to the market with it. Whatever the structure, Tim and Rob can often offer a more cost-effective solution in timber that achieves the same end result. A conforming tender is often submitted with an alternate tender that takes into consideration the smarts of the Biesse where they can save some of the costs. Well-known Australian industry analyst Phil Ruthven AM said “Play to your strengths, develop niche markets and be the best at what you do”.
Timber Imagineering is a clever company with a very clever name. They don’t have many competitors but what does set them apart is their ability to provide the complete engineering, fabrication and install solution. Their Biesse machine is also different to what their competitors use and offers an advantage in performance, capacity and software. Tim says “We’ve got ourselves a name so we’re doing very well at the moment and with Biesse, the future is looking very good”.