Finland targeting growth in the wooden bridge market through type approval

Finland targeting growth in the wooden bridge market through type approval

Versowood Oy, Finland’s leading wooden bridge manufacturer, has managed to get the authorities to grant type approval for a glued laminated timber (gluelam) bridge for both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Managing Director, Ville Kopra, is satisfied with the end result of the approval process which has lasted for years, and expects it to open up new markets for wooden bridge construction.

- Hopefully, this decision will reduce prejudice against wooden bridges. Now customers will be able to trust that the bridges are well designed and technically efficient.

In wooden bridge construction, Versowood Oy combines expertise in gluelam and its production, the marketing of which the company will in future direct at the municipal sector and infrastructure construction. - The customer can learn in advance about a type-approved bridge and its features, state aid can be applied for for its construction, it can be built in the factory ready to assemble and a ready-made bridge solution significantly reduces design costs, says Kopra, listing the benefits of type-approved bridges.

In bridge construction, wood is a renewable, eco-efficient natural resource and a domestic material that absorbs carbon and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Wooden structures have a fast construction time, are easy to work with, no casts are required in the construction of the bridge and, correctly protected, they will last for centuries and can then be recycled.

A bridge that has been technically type-approved and conforms to Eurocodes is the cross-tensioned gluelam beam bridge, with a width of 4-9 metres and a length of 6-32 metres with span lengths two metres apart. The bridges are delivered ready to assemble, usually with railings already fitted.

- If a municipality wants to profile itself with a new look for its infrastructure and townscape, a locally-made Finnish wooden bridge is a good way of doing it, says Kopra.

More time for the use of protective agents

In Kopra’s opinion, bridges made of solid gluelam are durable and fire-safe. - In type-approved bridges, the speed of construction with wood is key. The customer builds the bridge's foundations ready to install, and we deliver and install the bridge. The image of high maintenance costs for wooden bridges is wrong. You have to compare investment and maintenance costs and the bridge's operating costs based on a life-cycle comparison.

The long-term durability of wood in bridges can be improved with salt impregnation and creosote, the use of which EU regulations are threatening to end by 2018. - We have to get an extension on this, because in reality the load on the environment is minor. Wood protected using current methods has good durability in deserts, wind, sunlight and against attacks by insects. Here there is a common European interest in the supervision of interests and seeking an extension to the use of protective agents, says Kopra.

The protection of bridges against UV radiation from the sun can be improved by pigment finishing and the fitting of special surface boards, which are easy to renew. - In order to dispel all prejudice concerning the maintenance of wooden bridges, our intention is to sell a maintenance package on top of the bridge delivery, through which we take responsibility for its long-term durability. Future bridge construction will include bridge care and maintenance, explains Kopra.

Wood for public procurements

In Kopra’s opinion, it is important for wood to be considered as comparable to other materials and not to exclude it as early as the competitive bidding stage, as is presently happening. - Instead of new factors, we need investments that will increase demand. The problem for wooden bridges is not price competition but the attitudes of customers. It is also a question of whether we can give wooden bridges added value in comparisons of ecology, speed of construction and visual attraction.

In Kopra’s opinion, in its procurements the public sector should focus not only on price but also on the ecology, renewability, domestic content and low carbon properties of products. - These should become criteria in legislation on public procurements that are currently being prepared. In many European countries, wood is favoured in public procurements. This is a matter concerning the supervision of interests, which is important to the wood product industry, and does not mean putting wood against other materials, says Kopra.

Changing attitudes

Kopra considers Sweden and Norway as good examples of countries where overall economic advantage is being sought in bridge construction through a great emphasis on domestic content, which in turn strengthens the national economy.                  

- Since Finland is facing major work in the maintenance of its secondary road network, a good opportunity exists to introduce wooden bridges into infrastructure construction.

- For example, Norway intends to build a wooden railway bridge using up to 1,200 m³ of gluelam. We first have to sort out attitudes here. We must begin to carry out projects, gain additional experience and introduce wooden bridges into this country of wood, since everybody recognises the benefits of wood construction.

Versowood has delivered a 200 metre-long wooden bridge for a shopping centre at Kalmar in Sweden. - In Russia, we recognise export opportunities, both in bridge construction in local areas and more extensively for hall construction projects based on gluelam. We have delivered a gluelam tennis hall to Moscow and we believe that the Russian Ministry of Sport intends to build more sports halls.


Article service/Markku Laukkanen