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Case studies

 Russia discovers the prefabricated house 


WEINMANN Holzbausystemtechnik GmbH is supplying a St. Petersburg-based prefabricated timber construction company with a complete production system and their expertise.

In Russia, the prefabricated housing industry is still relatively young and is to a certain extent still in its infancy. Up until recently timber construction in Russia, as in many other states of the former Soviet Union, had a poor reputation, similar to that in Germany just after the war. The preconception was that timber houses are cold and drafty huts that do not have a long life span. Over the last three years this bad image has changed. The government in particular is starting to realize that prefabricated timber houses can become part of the short-term solution for Russia's housing problem.


1400 prefabricated houses in two layers

This took a lot of convincing. As well as Russian forest and timber trade associations, several foreign companies were able to convince the government of the potential of the prefabricated timber house. WEINMANN Holzbausystemtechnik GmbH, based in the Swabian town of St. Johann-Lonsingen in Germany, was one of the companies that definitely played a leading role in developing the Russian and CIS timber construction market. It is partly thanks to their initiative that the Russian government has launched a variety of prefabricated timber housing programs to confront the housing shortage which the two Russian metropoles, Moscow (with 10.5 million inhabitants) and St. Petersburg (with nearly 5 million inhabitants) are facing. 


The housing construction plans set out by Putin's government are ambitious. They include, amongst other things, the development of a construction area with roughly 2800 timber frame constructed houses south of St. Petersburg, by 2010. The first houses that will be placed on the free market have already been completed. They were produced in the new prefabricated plant - DSK Slavyansky - on the southern outskirts of St. Petersburg from May 2007. WEINMANN not only delivered all the system parts but also provided the expert knowledge on the exact production and assembly of the prefabricated house components. The St. Petersburg-based construction project is not the only one in Russia. Further construction areas and housing developments are currently being planned or have already been completed.
The DSK Slavyansky plant is currently constructing 550 to 650 standard houses per year in a two-shift operation. The company currently has 250 employees and is a subsidiary of Baltros Holding, which is also based in St. Petersburg. In the coming year an expansion phase is expected to double the maximum output. In future, approximately 1200 houses are to be produced per year. The construction components will also be delivered by WEINMANN. The timber construction machine manufacturer was and still is aware that the Russian buyers need considerably more service and support than customers in Germany.
"The training we are providing at DSK Slavyansky is absolutely necessary to produce a high-quality house," emphasized CEO Hansbert Ott, who established the CIS market for WEINMANN. "The Russians hardly have any experience of constructing prefabricated timber houses. We are planning appropriate training and services in areas such as "statics", "construction" and "assembly", to ensure competent production and professional finish of the final assembly. We definitely wish to avoid the new prefabricated house construction industry being portrayed in a bad light as a result of faulty constructions and subsequent damages. Only long-term acceptance of the modern Russian timber house will help our customers and therefore help us."

Passive houses are a thing of the future

A glance at both of the show houses on the factory premises highlights the fact that the building standard, including the design details and features, are above average Russian standards. From a German perspective, the thermal insulation standard used is equivalent to that in place in the 1990s. The high level of standardization is also a feature of the new St. Petersburg prefabricated houses. In a conversation with the Russian plant management, it becomes apparent that when it comes to prefabricated timber house construction, the government and the investors are predominantly interested in a quick construction time.
"Unfortunately, a higher thermal insulation standard is not yet important in Russia," reckons Ott. "We have explained this technology to our customers many times and have illustrated it in German show homes. The prices of gas and electricity are obviously still too low for there to be an interest in passive or low-energy housing. Solar energy, photovoltaics, heat recovery and geothermal power are also still dreams of the future in Russia.

Production system from one single source

A glance into the modern production hall at DSK Slavyansky shows that from a technical view this future is within reach. The entire WEINMANN plant has a turnover of approximately 3.5 million euros, practically offering the timber construction specialist's entire product range, including beam processing, framing station construction, panel processing (with a multi-function bridge) as well as magazining and loading of the components.
Ingo Krieg, a project manager for WEINMANN explains the technical possibilities. "It basically comprises an entire plant, where all components of a standard prefabricated house can be manufactured. This means that there is a wall and ceiling panel line, as well as a roofing truss production line. The result is a detached house, which, bar the structural render, only needs to be painted on the outside and decorated on the inside."
All the timber, whether it is solid wood, solid construction timber or laminated timber is bought from North and West Russia and shaped into the required measurements and chamber dried. The same process is followed for the window components. The wall, roof and ceiling panelling components made from OSB and gypsum plaster board are rough-cut with a Holzma panel saw. The actual wall panelling starts in the framing station, where the timber framework is erected with NC technology using a CAD/CAM data connection. An automatic feed system supplies the different timber components to the station. A specially designed processing table enables the installation of special components such as static steel girders within the framing station.

A large variety of panel processing methods

At the DSK Slavyansky plant, the first internal plasterboard panels are then fitted and are automatically attached with a multi-function bridge according to the data from CAD/CAM. These bridges are fitted with an automatic tool changer that can have a selection of up to 12 different tools on standby. The processing unit also has five axes of movement, which considerably increases the ways in which it can be used.
Once a polyethylene sheeting has been fitted as a seal, a second layer of plasterboard panelling is attached. Alongside the bracketing, the multi-function bridge also cuts the installation openings, including sockets and fitting apertures. The half finished wall is placed on the reverse, unfinished side with a reversible table. The electrics and the insulating mineral cotton are fitted manually. The outer OSB panelling is then fitted automatically and is attached with the multi-function bridge.
The inner walls are then transported to the wall magazine, where they are stored on small rolling trucks. The plaster base panelling is manually attached to the outer walls, while the base plastering and rendering are also completed manually. Depending on the plaster's drying time of roughly 48 hours, the wall magazine must guarantee a wall production capacity buffer of nearly 2 days. Here the final work on the walls can be completed including finishing the facades, installing windows and the special order preparations for when the truck is loaded.
The final touches to the roof and ceiling components are predominantly completed in the same way as the wall production, i.e. mainly automatically. The multi-function bridge is also used to install formwork and battens, as well as process and attach the asphalt covering on the roof components. Once the production order is completed, the insulated components are batched per order and packaged to protect them against the rain, ready for delivery. 

Planning services included

Project manager Krieg explains clearly what is important to companies in Russia. "With our partner companies, we offer a variety of services to enable inexperienced customers to gain a reliable start in timber construction. This comprises planning the first houses including the static's, wall design, heating systems and parts lists. In addition, this includes the creation of CAD drawings and the complete machine data for the first houses, as well as production training on the initial build and assembly."
The CAD data and the resulting machine data are often very extensive. The logistics cannot be learnt and implemented in a day. Klieg adds that this is the reason why initially material quantities such as wood, windows, mineral cotton and plasterboard are sometimes not calculated correctly. On top of that, the Russian customers have to often deal with the fact that the building materials are not even available. Therefore, it is still sometimes the case that production has to temporarily be reduced.
Given time and with the continuous help from their German partners most of the teething problems of the Russian prefabricated housing industry will be eliminated. Consequently more and more Russians will discover the advantages of a prefabricated timber house.


Holzbausystemtechnik GmbH

Forchenstr. 50
72813 St. Johann

Tel.: +49 7122 8294 0
Fax: +49 7122 8294 52066

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