Mass Timber Construction Podcast

Special Guest - Marcus van der Hoven - Pioneering Mass Timber in South Africa & Beyond

November 08, 2023 Paul Kremer Season 3 Episode 182
Mass Timber Construction Podcast
Special Guest - Marcus van der Hoven - Pioneering Mass Timber in South Africa & Beyond
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Show Notes Transcript

Prepare yourselves for an eye-opening conversation with our esteemed guest, Marcus van der Hoven, the inspiring mind behind Mass Timber Technologies in Johannesburg, South Africa. As a pioneer of mass timber construction in a region where it was almost unheard of, Marcus brings a wealth of insights. We take a deep dive into his fascinating journey, from the struggles of establishing a CLT facility to successfully developing an 'Africanized' CLT system that is both cost-effective and less labor-intensive.

From sourcing old machines to gathering capital and launching a plant, Marcus pulls back the curtain on the intricacies of building a mass timber plant from scratch. Listen closely as we explore the untapped potential of timber as a sustainable building resource and how Mass Timber Technologies has managed to scale up its output in a significant way. We also delve into the complexities of finding the right material for mass timber structures and the balancing act between form, function, and aesthetics.

As we round off our chat with Marcus, we discuss the promising future of mass timber construction and the challenges that come with it. Marcus offers a glimpse of their journey of advocacy for mass timber usage and the importance of strategic partnerships in ensuring project success. Hear about their experiences and lessons learned from handling projects of varying scales, and how these experiences have shaped the evolution of mass Timber Technologies. Join us in this engaging conversation and gain invaluable insights from one of the industry's most innovative pioneers.

Production by Deeelicious Beats
Music "Game Play" by Quality Quest
Podcast is a Mass Timber Construction Journal Production
www.masstimberconstruction.com


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Bruce:

Ladies and gentlemen, we are live. This is the moment you all have been waiting for. It's time for the Global Sensation, the one, the only, the undisputed heavyweight podcast in the world the Mass Timber Construction Podcast. And now here's Paul Kramer, your host.

Paul:

Good morning, good afternoon, all good evening. We're everywhere in the world today. My name is Paul Kramer, back with another special guest episode on the Mass Timber Construction Podcast. This time we're coming from a little known region, a little known place in the world that's starting to ascend quite rapidly and quite strong, and so I have a wonderful guest today. We're actually taking time out on our weekend to chat, which is really great. So thank you, Marcus. Please introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you're up to, and specifically give everyone a little bit of a preview as to which part of the world you're actually in.

Marcus:

Cool, all right. Well, thanks, Paul. Thanks for having me on the podcast. I'm Marcus van der Hoven. I'm the manager, director and co-founder of Mass Timber Technologies, which is a small mass timber fabrication company based in Johannesburg in South Africa. So, yeah, it's a pretty unusual spot for the sort of mass timber conversation to be had. Usually, you know, the conversation is focused more on Europe and the US, but we've been running for about two years now with around 18 or 19 months of proper fabrication behind our belt.

Marcus:

Yeah, I mean, the story basically started a number of years ago. Around five or six years ago I completed my Masters in architecture in Pretoria and which a lot of my work really focused around the development of timber construction in general, you know, to kind of change the landscape of how construction works in South Africa. After that I sort of doubled in a number of different industries you know, having been mentored in the steel fabrication industry as well as the furniture industry and throughout those different industries, and kind of just getting a good understanding of how contracting and construction you know works inside of the South African construction environment, specifically the commercial environment. You know I thought it would be pertinent for us to try and put together a system that I could start really enabling mass timber or just generally timber construction to happen in a more real sense. You know, typically timber construction has been a very lightweight addition to the construction industry. You know it's kind of an afterthought or only if it's really a necessity. It's a brick and mortar and concrete based system really that we work in. It's not really a product of the labour market as well that we experienced. But I managed to, around three years ago, something around that region, find a pretty willing group under a construction tech platform called Sustainable. You know they were very kind to sort of co-found the business with me, generate a small sort of seed funding sort of allocation to get to the system working. And you know the rest has really been history from that point.

Marcus:

So yeah, I mean interesting things we've had to kind of work out is, you know, obviously the market in South Africa was pretty much non-existent. I mean there was this one other player in the country, also relatively small compared to what you experienced in the rest of the globe and really focused on either niche projects or architects that are kind of focused on developing specifically with that item in mind. And you know the system could kind of. You know the companies could basically kind of exist on that but our drivers really to start finding ways to make it way more accessible, way more cost effective and really start tackling some more real building problems. So you know the hurdles obviously, the intense amount or cost really attached to putting together a CLT facility. That was the massive thing that we had to kind of work around.

Marcus:

So we like to call our system kind of an Africanized CLT system. So you know, predominantly focusing around introducing a slightly more labor intensive component, less automation involved, but aspiring to create a product that kind of fights on the same level as the European and US based materials. So yeah, it took a couple of months for us to sort of develop our own press, which we kind of retrofitted out of an existing callous machine that we then kind of retrofitted and rebuilt and kind of. You know it's a bit of a Mad Max machine but ultimately it worked. You know we developed a robotic CNC system using a KUKA robot arm on a linear positioner, all the spindles and sort of cutting attachments attached to that. You know all the I guess what we would say it's the back end of our like fabrication system. So our building information, modeling all the way through the fabrication, sort of layouts, cnc work, being able to cut out pretty complex geometries out of CLT, and then, yeah, we kind of just built it all together under one roof and it's been quite a big journey.

Paul:

Oh, that's fantastic. I think the most amazing part about all of that was definitely the Mad Max invention of your press. I think anyone in Australia that's listening to this will be very pleased to hear Mad Max reference thrown into a massive construction podcast. It sounds like an amazing journey and I've got a question for you, given that you were indoctrinated into this traditional materials area and look, you know timbers not part necessarily of the big two, it's starting to get that prominence what was the thing that transformed you to go? You know what I respect. You know concrete and steel, bricks and mortar of having a place, but I've got this affinity to timber and I'm just really interested in what the genesis was for you when you looked at that through your sort of you know apprenticeship.

Marcus:

Look, I mean it certainly is. You know, having been sort of trained in understanding the full building system as an architect, you know you kind of have an opportunity to really interrogate individual components of the building system and where there might be opportunities for us to really make the system better. You know it's so often that we find in construction in South Africa that there's so many points of contention. You know, how long does concrete take to dry? Why is this not working in relation to other materials? How do we make the system actually work in a more healthy, more sustainable, functional way? So the original sort of sort of direction for us was to kind of look at mass timber not really as a okay, well, let's go out and build five story buildings from scratch, mass timber all the way and try and fight that up your battle, because that would never have made any sense. So it was really more about trying to identify certain areas of building where we could really make it work in a more functional way. So we're saying, okay, we're going to focus really primarily on floor slab systems that can interrogate, you know, really interact with other building systems quite easily. You know we don't have to reinvent the wheel for the construction industry, which is a very conservative industry in South Africa. You know developers, insurance companies, contractors themselves are very nervous when it comes to new technology. So to try and limit our impact by saying, okay, well, we're only really going to attack 15 or 20% of the building question and that way find a little bit more acceptance into the market.

Marcus:

It's also really about what timber can do.

Marcus:

You know, part of my immediate manifesto why I really care a lot about it is that from a resource perspective, we often find that we're mining a lot of soil and sand and ground and iron ore and developing massive amounts of earth based material, shipping them out to China to get turned into steel or Mozambique or Egypt to cement or whatever, and then we import all that material back and that creates a massive problem when it comes to a country which, you know, the currency fluctuates up and down, left, right and center and making building again really complex.

Marcus:

So timber offers a really cool opportunity where you can actually contain the entire value chain inside of one system. You know we're growing the trees. You know, 300 or 400 kilometers away from our facility, it gets processed and it gets run through the whole system and it doesn't really have to touch anymore. You know, nobody know not that many hands do you need to touch that material. So there is an opportunity for us here to really find a way to scale up, you know, turn into a more rapid building system, find a way to actually create a bit of system to build way more sustainable way to build. And it's sitting on our doorstep. So it was a bit of a no-brainer really, for me at least, to find a way to create more value on the material that we have.

Paul:

Brilliant and just in terms of your plant and in particularly a Mad Max press, when did you, when did you get the sort of the capital to raise for the investment in the equipment and did you just have, like some callouso equipment lying around one day and you said I'll take that. Thanks very much, or did you have to bring it in?

Marcus:

I guess that's kind of you know, that's kind of the spark that you need to kind of build a system like this, you know, from scratch is spending pretty much every day on the phone with every sawmill in the country looking for old machines, looking at opportunities, really find a way to to like make it work, you know. So the story really started. I mean, I was still running another business before this and I was actually looking for a finger-jointing plant for that business and the guy who was supplying the machinery to me let me know, because we were having a discussion about, you know, my dreams of building master systems in the country and he said, oh man, you know, there's this old hot press, that kind of so built a number of years ago and whatever, and sitting outside the sawmill in Cusadunatol and they kind of want to just scrap it or throw it away, whatever, and they'll take you know X amount of money for it, which was really it was an absolute steal to get it. And we then basically said, okay, well, cool, we've got enough capital in our own pockets to maybe just, you know, get this thing rolling. And that was really the sort of inception of really building a foundation for us to then go look for some more serious funding. So our partners at the sustainable group I mean they were looking for systems for one of their own sort of prefab building systems that they were, they were putting together they were struggling to find a consistent source of CLT and I said, well, look, I'm on this journey and they, they were quite happy to kind of throw a little bit of cash at us to just kind of get the ball rolling.

Marcus:

That then started to snowball and as, as sort of investment processes worked, we found more people interested. We managed to get a further sort of investment through some you know, external parties, which really allowed us to get enough capital together to really build this press, get all of our machining and material sort of processing sorted out and get what we're calling really our feasibility plant in place, you know. So right now we're it's not really mega quantities that we're putting out at this point I mean we're running probably between you know, 180 and 300 cubes of material per month and that really created a really strong foundation for us to then go to really more forestry based investment companies and say, look, you know, we've proved it, we built the market. This was coming down the pipeline. We've managed to get these few jobs.

Marcus:

You know we got interest in East Africa, all the way up to the Middle East and even into Australia to start supplying this material, and they were thought, okay, cool, well, if you guys can 10x this output or 5x this output I think it is to, you know, 1000 cubes a month and, you know, trying to aim for around a 10,000 cubic meter facility per annum then we can really start chatting. So we then developed the system to say, well, cool, we'll integrate these two things, we'll build another press here and we'll get another sort of material move in line in place.

Paul:

And and that managed to you, that managed to get us where we are right now, looking to kind of 5x within the next year, our capability, yeah Well it sounds exactly like our journey in New Zealand with the X-Lamb plant in New Zealand, with you know highly manual labour intensive plant, a Wyman bridge, a vacuum press. You know an old finger joining system, with you know people putting and milling boards that are finger jointed through a manual planer. You know using a hitman to sonically grade and read the moisture for each of the boards. It sounds exactly like that journey. And then you contrast that with the monolithic you know, 25 million dollar investment in the big automated plant we did in Australia and you know the rest is history. But everything you've spoken about is I think it's the entrepreneurial spirit in trying to get a mass timber plant up and running.

Marcus:

Right, yeah, yeah yeah, and it's a complete chicken in X situation.

Marcus:

You know, I mean initially we kind of put the framework together to go, you know, import a plant out of Finland or or we're out of Italy or something, and the numbers are just astronomical.

Marcus:

And for us to go and put a system like that and even if we could raise the funds I mean, you know it's fundraising is fairly simple really when you put it together, but the risk, the risk associated to putting a plant that puts out that much volume the market isn't there yet we're not really, you know, really to actually execute what we need to it just doesn't really make sense. So our model works slightly differently from that we're saying, you know, yeah, like we don't really like the concept of decentralization. You know it's difficult to manage multiple sites, but ultimately it's about being able to address the question, you know, of our geographical composition as an African how far our cities are away from each other, how does transport work, where are the trees and how do you build the system. Is a mega plant the right answer? And we don't think so. We think it comes down to having sort of more micro plants that can, that can access and service so slightly more direct markets, where they where they actually are.

Paul:

Yeah, and that's kind of the route that we're exploring. They go with the plantations, right. They go with your material source and where the populace is, and I think yeah, you've hit on a chord there that centralizing and bringing everything to Mecca and then producing these amazing panels to build the cities might not be the best way to go. So it's an interesting concept. And what material are you using, and are you using a homogeneous layup in your lamella all the way through your panels, or are you using a heterogeneous layup like we did?

Marcus:

so, yeah, we, we play around with a couple of different options. I mean, look, initially and predominantly we use our SA pine. You know it's a blend of multiple different species, as it happens all over the world. But from a cost perspective we see that pretty much 95% of our work is conducted in that pine material. We also have, much like you guys, in in Australia, new Zealand, a huge resource of eucalyptus which I think if for those guys listening, I think that's going to be the next sort of massive milestone in in mass timbers, hardwood, hardwood clt, and how we can actually develop that system.

Marcus:

So we're playing around with some of the, the sort of different layup, layup methods.

Marcus:

You know, eucalyptus on the external layers, the primary sort of strength direction, and filling up the rest of the panel with with your sort of like slightly less dense pine.

Marcus:

And yeah, we've got some really strong ties with a number of universities in the country who are doing sort of continuous testing for us now and within a few months I expect to to hopefully release another design guide which is really focused on on sort of the hardwood clt as well. But yeah, the the pine is is is what we use in, you know, as a majority of our work is a big sort of like strange sort of feeling around pine in South Africa as people sort of feeling is that it's not that great quality. But our feeling after doing some really sort of really intensive testing is that that's not really the you know the case and we're managing to. I mean, maybe not quite as dense and strong as a spruce sort of out of Europe, but yeah, it's definitely up there with those materials. You know, our best of it competes quite strongly with what we're seeing coming out of the derisible.

Paul:

Yeah, well, we had the same problems. Pineas radiata not very aesthetic pleasing, you know very much goes golden brown pretty quickly once it's exposed to the UV light and lots of knots that are very large, which is very contrasting to European spruce, which is very tight knots but more of them beautiful blonde material. And then when you bring the eucalyptus in, you know that material has this beautiful blondness, but you can go all the way through to dark browns and pinks as well.

Paul:

So, it's just depends on what you're actually looking for aesthetically. And then, are you expressing the material? Are you exposing the material or are you going to cover it all up? And I think it's about form, function, aesthetics. And we, we tussled with trying to do an overlay board for the aesthetic visual bit. We worked on pressing in a digital lamella on top with a vacuum press that then had that aesthetic layer embedded in it. And then you've got the challenge of well, once you put that wall in place in a building, it's almost like furniture. You get a scuff mark from an electrician, yeah, yeah, and you've lost. Yeah, it's a disaster here. So you've got all these balances that need to happen right.

Marcus:

Yeah it's, it's a. It was a big departure as far as somebody trying to get contracted to that kind of understand the you got to protect the materials. It's got to be sort of covered when it gets decided to a certain degree. I mean, you know, guys are worried that things get rained on and we say it's not a problem so long as it dries up.

Marcus:

But but you can't have 16 builders running around. They were scaffolding and you know you got to make sure that you've got something on the on the panel to make sure that it's that it's coming. You know, and we've got a pretty cool argument going on in our office right now where you know my, my sort of feeling and my direction is that we need to cover the material. You know, I don't really want to see the pile. I want, you know, I'm all for like like high speed, high volume, get it out there, build this, let's go build big, cover it, let it be a, clad it and just make sure that everything runs where it needs to. And so I'm not too bothered about what it looks like.

Marcus:

I mean, it's strange that a guy who's so into wood doesn't want wood. If I own a, I find it a bit like it, like it tends to have suddenly walls and your roof and everything would. But that's kind of definitely see the opportunity and having that finish. You know we do work on certain finishes, like if we do like a slight tint of white in the material and kind of floor sealants on it and just make sure that it doesn't go that yellow or orange sort of color too quickly, you know, trying to limit that oxidization, oxidization on site. So yeah, there's a thousand ways to skin that cap. But you know, for us we're seeing the use of floor slabs, you know, guys trying to preserve the ceilings, and then it's not so difficult to handle, you know, it's just pretty cool.

Paul:

And are you using a brand adhesive and do you need a primer for your? You'll probably need it for your eucalyptus, but might not need it for your pine, and but would I be right in that?

Marcus:

No, I mean we're using the sort of typical Henkel PUR system. We find like we're not trying to reinvent the wheel on all fronts. So we found that that's a very popular adhesive that's being used worldwide. You know, I don't really have to go and explain to people why we're using this adhesive. It's pretty well proven. We're in discussion with a couple of local producers simply because you know polyurethane is expensive. It's really, when it comes down to, we need this stock and it's sitting in Germany, we have to fly it and it becomes a bit difficult to manage it. So we've got some local manufacturers trying to develop different systems for us, but that's going to be a long way off, I think. Still so, running the polyurethane is probably going to be a set for for quite some time.

Paul:

And have you spoken to them about HBS versus HBX with the higher heat resistance, pur, yet, or are you still sitting with HBS, not at?

Marcus:

this point, the HBS at this stage is what we're using. Again, when it comes down to the fire requirement and sort of the heat, the heat capability of that material, you know the conversation is ultimately comes down to the charring rates that we have and we almost don't even get to the adhesive. It's simply down to half the cost of the panel need to be to just get over the line firstly. So I mean we've had some pretty interesting examples of panel designs, floor slab designs we've done, that can yield a two hour fire rating inside of a sort of a commercial structure. We have very strict building codes in South Africa, so we have to make sure that. You know we've got all of our things worked out, lots of testing for around fires being done and you know it's becoming less of a question inside of our projects now, which is quite cool.

Paul:

And you've released a design guide. There's an impressive website. You've effectively arrived to the world. What are the sort of things that you're getting involved with now? Are you having your teams engage with development and construction and architectural and industrial engineering teams to progress projects, or are you coming in at the back end offering a substitution as an alternative design, or are you doing a combination of both?

Marcus:

It's a mad combination of both, so it's quite fun. I've got a really young team. I think the sort of average age in our team is probably 30. So we're a very high energy focused team. You know, we've got everything from sort of like your technical side a lot of engineering background, a lot of architecture and then certainly to manage the production system as well. So our next year is going to really be around making a slightly more consistent output of material, not a lot of pipelines developed the way it needs to.

Marcus:

I'm running on advocacy left, right and center, where it's just about going to conference after conference after conference, speaking to architects, engaging with quantity surveyors, engaging with developers, and that's really our next step. The first move for next year is about saying, hey, we've really spoiled the architects and engineers now with this design guide. It's about getting into the conversation, or into the room rather, with developers, quantity surveyors, making sure that people understand the system of costing or how the insurance environment works in this country and why we shouldn't worry so much about fire. And it's really about trying to get our foot into slightly larger developments, making sure that you know we really get engaged with the project timeline right from the start. I mean, it's a massive time lag period really, from the start of the project conversation all the way to its conception. You know, we see, on smaller projects you take up to six or seven months for a project to really materialize. And on some of the larger projects, you know, we've got things that are like five years down the line that we need to kind of figure out. But yeah, advocacy is first, you know, driving the sales as hard as we can to just sort of get the material more understood and more into environment.

Marcus:

And yeah, in terms of our sort of technical development work, you know, I think the design guide offered such a huge, it was such a good resource really for people to kind of just not have to phone us and have a six hour conversation to understand the material and say, oh, you know, please, you know, help me figure this out. You know, it was a way, more successful way, of saying here are your values, here are your spans. You know, get the idea on paper and then we can help you work through that system. So so, providing documentation that helps do that is is what we kind of strive for.

Marcus:

It's about converting details, because all we have access to is what guys in Sweden are detailing, you know, and it's completely different context, completely different environments, and trying to convert our work and our context and our building technologies and requirements into something that an architect can say well, it's how I dress a window, it's how I dress waterproofing, it's how I dress a floor snap. That's really what we need to carry on working on. So you know, we'll release something for, like, staircases and how we might do a staircase to your GLT. You know, like Luland, which we also supply at MTT, you know there's so little information locally about, like how spans work and how deep your beams go, and engineers panic and then they make the beams too big and they become too expensive. So being able to be able to put information together that just gets just gets the basic information on the project team's sort of desks is what we're after for the next few months.

Paul:

Oh, look, I think you've got the right attitude and that is just hit on all fronts. And look, I did the analysis when we first started and it was six months on average for a 50 cubic meter job, and if you were looking at a thousand cubic meter job, which is the equivalent to a 10 story building roughly depending on how you structure it you're looking at, you know, 18 months for inception, up to three years for delivery, and so that was sort of the time span. So when you're looking at your pipelines and you're going, what's that opportunity and what's that opportunity, you'll be able to see that you need, you know, 10 fold the 50 cubic meter jobs to make up for one of the medium jobs you've got. Coming through your pipeline, the big one falls over. You could have tried and fill that pipeline somewhere, right.

Marcus:

Absolutely. I mean, yeah, from a business perspective. I mean, I think it's something that people don't really understand about CLT is that it's not a commodity. You can't trade CLT like as a bunch of slabs and send it out of okay, cool, we can make 10 slabs a month and sell them to the hardware store. It doesn't really work like that. It's a very bespoke product that focuses on addressing a very specific building problem and we're addressing that by integrating a little bit of GLULAM manufacturer, which can in certain instances be a slightly more commoditized product that tends to sort of just level up the cash flow a little bit and it's a bit more consistent. There's a lot of opportunities in GLULAM that just kind of help us develop it, but it also opens up a door for us to start working on systems that we can get out, that work together, you know, and and just find a way to get more timber into the building industry.

Paul:

Yeah, Well, when you have longer span requirements, you can use your GLT to support systems right and I think this is one of the things that is the next evolution for our mass timber construction global market. I think probably store Enzo is probably the first one to virtue signal where we're going. But it's actually about solutions. You know, it's the lift core solution, it's the stair solution, it's the floor solution, it's the adaptive reuse solution, it's the wall panel hybrid solution, it's the you know whatever comes next prefabricated solution.

Paul:

And I think when we think 2D, flat pack, panelized mass timber, we don't often think 3D, volumetric. But I actually think it's going to be these hybrids of kits, of parts, panels, you know, these 2D slash, 3d assemblies and then volumetrics, and so I think our design guides will change over time to offer a catalogue of things that people can tap into. But we're still infantile. I think we're still trying to work out how do we sell the panel and the concept of this panel fitting with insider building project. Once it gets that, I think we're going to get this next genesis, exactly Because that's where the cost argument comes in.

Marcus:

On a project team, I mean, what are we comparing CLT to? And it's oftentimes concrete that's poured on site to institute, and that's really where we're what we're fighting against, you know. So, until we find a way to deliver a system that's like okay, well, we're not even speaking about floor slabs and concrete and comparing the two. We're talking about delivering a system that does X, Y and Z, you know like, this is where we're thinking, this is where we're pushing it. That's that's really the. That's the good, that's a good fight that we need to be fighting. I agree, yeah.

Paul:

And if you can give me a bit of a taster right, because at the moment I'm talking to people in other countries around the world that are saying, look, there's a huge desirability between a fundamental core of architects, engineers and constructors to do mass timber, but we're hitting some barriers and the big barrier is how do we get it in to validate it as being something that's evidentiary and supported? So, you know, the concepts that we've come up with are like doing demos in, like the city square, through a place that might be related to, you know, the local council or the government. What was the Genesis journey for you and for the others in Africa at large? What was the Genesis for you? To get it across the line, because that's really the hardest part, right, to overcome the inertia.

Marcus:

Yeah, I think a really big step that was made. And I mean I've got to do a quick shout out to Jamie Smiley. He runs Xlam in Cape Town and he was one of the sort of big pioneers in getting our construction code, the CLT performance rated, cross-laminated to the code over the line with the university of Stalingbosch and then their structural lab there. That was a big step in terms of us again just being able to move the material into a construction environment without having to really fight too many or put out too many fires in terms of the industry pushing back on it. So without that I think it's going to be nearly impossible for a system to really grow inside of a context. The other thing is, obviously, is the regulations of being able to compare your material to the rest of the world. I mean, where is the opportunity really? Is it? Can master really be a massively exportable product? And I do think so. I mean, one of our larger projects has been sent off to Zanzibar. We've got a really well-positioned, at least in the TTC service, africa projects being developed in Africa and finding ways to design for your material to really just become an efficient product.

Marcus:

The novelty I think is pretty much over this hype of CLT going to LinkedIn and everybody's talking oh, clt is the future. I think that novelty is probably going to fade away after a while and we need to work really hard in the next few years to make sure that we're actually positioned well to make sure this works. So Hemp Creek comes and starts getting all the praise and ultimately they're coming after us. But it's about using this hype right now to make sure that we're developing as fast as we can and it's about positioning ourselves to work pretty well. So the code worked really well. It's about finding the right material.

Marcus:

I know how much work it takes and I'm sure a lot of other producers will attest to just being able to manage your volumes, ensuring that the quality of your material is where it needs to be, and how you address your supply chain.

Marcus:

I mean, the forestry industry is going through so many fluctuations, ups and downs. The last three years in the timber industry has just been absolutely mad in terms of trying to work out what your timber actually costs. So being able to partner up with guys and build an environment that really creates surety that the material is going to do what it needs to do, and it's about producers taking care of each other, pushing each other to say if one of these buildings fails, what's that going to do to the whole industry? And how do we keep each other accountable to make sure that this thing is really where it needs to be? And my feeling comes back then to saying that standardization and having those standards and building codes in place and us being able to conform to them to the highest level is where this material really starts to make the difference.

Paul:

Yeah, I think you're right.

Paul:

The evidence is there that where there's been a code development, code in action, there is this dynamic that says where there isn't a presence of the code, change, the industry is quite fallible and can be very fragile.

Paul:

But where you develop this code, you create this strength of core and the core then delivers on the value proposition because people have this confidence that somebody else has looked at this, verified it and gone. This is a plausible system. And now we've got this thing called critical mass globally right that when we look back 12 years ago, you could count on one hand, two hands maybe how many plants were producing commercial mass timber for the global market, absolutely. And now that's completely transformed. And so we've seen this genesis and this change happen and I think that's what's really spurring on and supporting others. So people that are looking to do this, I agree with your story. Your story is very similar to everyone else's story that where the markets are held is get involved with the regulatory bodies through the university, start to test the technology, import the material if you need to start to verify and validate what it means to be in your specific sector and spur it on, which is exactly the advice we give.

Marcus:

Yeah, and it's an interesting thought as well to just consider how construction works, and I find that a lot of different industries are very nervous to be opportunistic in terms of how the material interacts with the world. I mean how steel is developing. I mean, if you think about the process of development of detailing and steel, or how the material itself has developed, I mean it's not developing. It's a completely saturated market 10,000 people making steel components and where is that product really going to go over the next few years and how is it going to be perceived in terms of its footprint on the earth and how effectively it works? So what's really cool with the mass timber space as well is that people tend to find really good examples of systems that work. I mean, built by nature is releasing these really cool resources around, how they approach multifamily housing, which ultimately just makes 100% sense, and that is going to help spur on how this material works.

Marcus:

So I think there's a lot of development still inside of the mass timber space. Some questions that we're asking ourselves is is CLT even the right product? And I think if you're not in the space right now, in the 2023 construction environment, if you're not asking yourself the question is my material correct and working? Is this the most efficient way to do it? Is this the right way to address the problem? Then I think you're going to have a tough time, sort of evolving into the fourth industrial revolution which is on our doorstep.

Paul:

Yeah, and it's not just the material, right. We're talking about a material that's renewable. We can regrow the material that we use. There's a benefit to regrowing as well to the environment from a carbon sink perspective. But on top of that, there's actually this process, right, and this process is driven by a change and challenge to our thinking and construction, which is what you're talking about, and it's how do we bring these people and teams together to think about problems in a different way, as a collective, as a collaborative, to resolve them and solve them, and it's this process that wraps around. There's a digital element to that as well. We don't have true digital fabrication where an architect one day deraille, draws something and rather impresses a button that spins out in your cuckoo plant. It's not going to happen yet. The intelligence between those two points is so vastly complex and different, based on the specifics of your plant and the material type. But that's the ideal, right? The ideal is to try and get to this level of having this synergistic thinking between design, conceptualization and supply chain.

Marcus:

Absolutely yeah. Yeah, I mean you're seeing that evolution happen in the trade, every single trade inside of the building profession. I mean the scope of works for architects has changed, the engineers scope has changed. The quantity surveyor or the cost controllers I mean their scope has changed. It's becoming a way more digital environment before seeing that the efficiency works really well with a well-coordinated BIM model and people being able to actually address problems inside of a digital space, and then how that translates to a building site is actually it's very impressive.

Marcus:

But to write there are massive steps that still need to be made and that evolution is very much in process. So yeah, it's again. How do you sort of blend in or kind of start molding your facility and your offering to the larger environment? I mean, master of the technologies, we don't actually do any installation. I mean it's a very difficult world to contract, it's a very stressful thing to do that side work. So we kind of focus on people doing that for us. But that opens up a massive amount of time and capability for us to address the design question, which is what we're seeing.

Marcus:

The evolution is it's like the producer is becoming a part designer, part engineer, a part cost controller to ensure that things are done efficiently, and that's been very interesting to see happen. And you don't really see that with, like, you don't have a concrete contractor sitting inside of a project development meeting. That's kind of like a last minute thought. Let's get them to just kind of pour some concrete right at the end. But we're starting to say, guys, maybe it's more efficient to start addressing this like this, and your floor steps can look like this and beams can go like that, and that's way more efficient. Turn your grid like this, and that's yielding really positive steps for us in terms of the product being accepted.

Paul:

Yeah, and I think the key concept to add on to that analogy about the concrete are not being part of that team. But yet the concrete and the concrete industry get asked to deliver a superstructure system, right. They say, please go and deliver this shell for me so I can actually go and fill it, infill it. And so at some point we probably want to get to the point where we're trusted to deliver just a superstructure, right. And they say, here's what I want, this is what I need and this is my grid spacing. Go away, go and create this thing for me. And to me that would be the greatest and most humbling moment, because you now know that we've arrived, the same as concrete and steel as a structural material, that people can just request the superstructure to be assembled in a location you know. Yeah.

Marcus:

Yeah, I think one of the opportunities there would probably be inside of industrial industrial work. I mean it's one thing that we haven't had much luck with it yet but we're pushing it quite hard is to start looking at, you know, warehousing systems. I mean, why aren't we making big warehouses out of timber? I mean, certainly there's some fire requirements but they're all addressable. You know, hybrid construction inside of that space I think it could be. You know, timber again offers itself to be that McConnell said that she just sort of sent aside. Put it together, you don't really have to think much more about it and it should work out quite cost-comparative, especially with steel still going through its price increases the way it is. So yeah, I think yeah, there's quite a lot of opportunities for us to get that happening. You know sort of that. You know that happened.

Paul:

What about some of the projects that you've done, whether they be big or small, showcases or things that have been delivered? Tell me about a couple or one, or a significant one that you've got, that you've been involved with.

Marcus:

I think what's going to be really cool to see going up now. I mean we completed it a number of months ago. It's been shipped to Zanzibar as a four-story high structure, full mass timber structure, the concrete there's three concrete cores for their stairwells that kind of represent really the only sort of concrete work besides the foundation. But yeah, it's all the beams, all the posts, all the floor slabs, wall slabs and the roof structure which is, I think, going to be quite a flagship project in Africa as it goes up for the first probably truly multi-level building, you know multi-five family house structure which was produced in Africa with African material for an African project which I think is pretty incredible. And I mean it represented, I think, about 250 or 300 cubic metres of timber, which I think for us was a pretty big project. And other than that, we're running quite a few really interesting examples which will hopefully be going up in Cape Town, sort of to middle or middle to end of next year, where we're really focusing on the idea of densification inside of a city which has got quite a tight footprint but a huge requirement for development happening. And mass timber again offers a really cool problem-solving capability of saying, well, we can actually put another three or four stories on top of your building without it impacting your foundation work. And, again, nice floor slab systems, concrete or sort of lightweight concrete, sort of hybrid timber slabs. So, yeah, we've got a project now which is going to be about 1,000 cubes as a nine-story addition to an existing building in Cape Town, which I think is going to be a pretty incredible project if it comes off at the end of next year.

Marcus:

And then, yeah, there's a lot of the works Now that we've kind of opened the flood gates. You know, it's everything from your sort of multifamily housing projects, a lot of residential work, a lot of densification projects. Again, guys putting another story of building on top of their house. You know, they take their roof off and they add another building on top of that, and people have found that to be, you know, both cost-effective, really really quick to do and it's very sort of uninvasive. What we, when you build with mass timber, so you're not taking ceilings out, you're not sort of ripping people's whole house off there's three guys on site and you basically just drop in the walls and your roof. So, yeah, there's quite a lot of that. But, yeah, projects that range between 50, 60 cubes. You know we've got a number of those currently going into Q1. We're probably going to be quite full up till about June and then you know we're looking very forward to some of these larger projects kicking off yeah.

Paul:

Well, that's a great segue into promoting. You know the business Again. Just you know. Give people an overview of what the business is called. How do people get in contact with you, and you know how do you work, because one of the things that people don't necessarily understand is they'll bring you up and go hey, marcus, I'd love to get involved with the project, but I don't know where to start. So what's your process and how do people get in touch?

Marcus:

Yeah. So I mean, I think the first thing is obviously go take a look at our website, mastinthetechnologiescoza. We've got a design guide. It's free, you can just download it, you know, at your leisure, you know you can really run through that document. It gives you everything from our service offering material capabilities. Some thoughts and questions you might have to ask yourself about the appropriate business material in your project.

Marcus:

At MTT we really focus on kind of the front end of the project. So you can come to us with a basic 3D model, a sketch on a piece of toilet paper, whatever. You have a nice dream that you might have dreamed up the night before and we'll happily walk you through how that product project works. You know we don't typically charge upfront to get a project off of the ground, probably to our detriment. Ultimately we kind of build in some of those design and supply fees into the project itself at very reasonable rates because in South Africa we don't really earn much.

Marcus:

So ultimately, you know it's really anything from a full design supply question all the way to just doing the basic supply or manufacture fabrication of the material. So if an engineer or a project team comes to us with a set of shop drawings. We'll happily manufacture that for them too. But yeah, mastermur CLT, glue, land products as well, posts and Beams we handle that quite well and then a lot of the machining and fabrication that's required. So if you need to do any of your services, your cutouts, your joinery or connections, that might be a bit difficult. We do all of that work in our facility. So, yeah, that's more or less what we do.

Paul:

Brilliant, brilliant work.

Marcus:

Thanks, thanks a lot, paul.

Paul:

Yeah, the project in Zanzibar. I remember putting up a post on it. Oh, would it be well over 18 months two years ago. Great to see the project coming through to completion now, because it was this sort of you know, Oracle project of Mastermur arriving in your region. I'm so pleased to hear that that's going to be delivered very, very soon.

Marcus:

Yeah, and it's a big step. I mean, we've got one. There's another project on the island there which was delivered by Benderholtz and quite successful as well, and I think it's really cool to be kind of in the same ring as Benderholtz and starting to give them some gas. So we'll see how we cop up to them next door. But yeah, I think it's going to be an interesting boxing match in the next few months.

Paul:

Yeah, shout out to Helmut as well. If you're listening to this one, helmut Marcus only means it in a friendly way, it's okay, competition's good for you, Competition's great. Well, thank you so much for being on the podcast and I'm not sure if you're following the World Cup, but yeah, probably the second best team in the world right now. Don't come in with that now.

Marcus:

And I don't mean Australia being…. The whole country is glowing at the moment.

Paul:

I don't think Australia is the best team, I think it's India, but you're a very, very close second and we're probably fourth near New Zealand. So now look, we look forward to seeing the progress for you, and thanks for coming on the podcast, and if there's other projects that come up in the future, please do reach out. Let's jump back on here and have a chat about projects. Absolutely, and yeah, good, best of luck with everything and thanks for coming on, cool.

Marcus:

Thanks, paul, thanks for your time and I appreciate you having me. And, yeah, have a good rest of your weekend.

Paul:

Beautiful, thank you.