31 October 2019

WTTA: Who teaches the teachers? – Interview with Andy Thomson

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This is a follow-up interview about the WTTA: Who teaches the teachers? educational tour. For our full round-up article, please click here 


The Western Timber Trade Association’s (WTTA) first ‘Who teaches the teachers?’ educational tour saw five key lecturers from Wales and the West of England travel to Austria in September in order to update their knowledge of today’s timber production and products. Hosted by Binderholz, the visit was arranged by WTTA as part of the TTF’s new regional engagement programme


TRADA's Tabitha Binding interviews Andy Thomson, University of Bristol, one of the lecturers invited along.


What was your timber knowledge like before the ’Who teaches the teacher?’ trip to Austria?

For the last two years I have led the timber engineering teaching at the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering at the University of Bath.


Previously I worked on large CLT and glulam projects as a structural engineer and had also visited glulam manufacturing facilities in the UK and Austria around 7-8 years ago. Therefore, I would say that I had a solid working knowledge of timber engineering and glulam manufacture. However, I am well aware that the timber construction industry is going through a period of rapid change, particularly in the engineered timber sector. This trip therefore offered me the opportunity to reconnect with the cutting edge of structural timber manufacture and design, which is essential to keep my teaching up to date.


What did you learn?

A sense of scale! Four days before heading to Austria, I visited a UK sawmill in SW England. At the time I was amazed at the amount of timber being stored and processed. However, what we saw in Austria was on a completely different scale again. The innovation, efficiency and scale of the Binderholz operation was very impressive. In particular, the glulam factory provided a real insight into our automated future. The level of automation was incredible. I also learnt about cable logging on Austria’s steep slopes, timber education in Austria, bio-energy production and zero waste manufacture.


What surprised you?

The level of automation being achieved in manufacture and the glulam swimming pool! The other thing that really struck me was the sense of rapid change and growth within the industry.


How will you use and disseminate this knowledge?

Primarily to inform my timber teaching at the University of Bath. Specifically, I will be updating my glulam and CLT content to reflect the latest innovations we saw on the trip. I will also use photos and findings from the trip in my first year lecture on vernacular timber construction and how automation and technology could influence this in the future. I am also co-authoring [TRADA's forthcoming] textbook, which is aimed at timber engineering students. Photos and findings from the trip will definitely be making an appearance.


What else would you have liked to have seen?

I would have loved to have seen the CLT production plant. I’ve never seen CLT being produced so this would have been really interesting.


How could TRADA, TTF and WTTA further help you include timber in your teaching?

More initiatives like this! One of the striking things about the visit to the Holz Technikum Kuchl (College of Wood Technology) was the strength of the link between industry and education. Clearly the HTK is a bit of a unique case but perhaps the WTTA, TTF and TRADA can continue to help establish and strengthen links between the structural timber industry and education through promoting opportunities such as site, factory and mill visits.



Interested in hearing about these opportunities? Contact TRADA’s University Engagement Manager Tabitha Binding on tbinding@trada.co.uk for more information.