Quantum leap in timber work: Automated insulation of timber frame constructions

On March 30, 2017, around 100 business people from the (prefabricated) timber construction industry gathered in Donaueschingen, Germany, for a forum on "Blow-in technology 4.0." This was a topic that could lead to extensive changes in their companies: The companies WEINMANN, ISOCELL and GUTEX presented a new technology to enable fully automated insertion of loose insulating materials into timber frame constructions.

The day began with a brief presentation of the three companies who had issued the invitation to the forum: ISOCELL, the specialist for blow-in insulation, WEINMANN as an innovative manufacturer of systems for timber work, and GUTEX, the provider of high-quality ecological wood fiber insulating materials. 

ISOCELL has been present on the market as a provider of cellulose insulating materials since 1992. The company, which has its headquarters in Neumarkt am Wallersee, Austria, is now a service and system provider for blow-in insulation. It offers customers not only complete blow-in technology, but also the relevant accessories, such as air-tight systems, roof and facade panels, including sealing and adhesive technology. Their services include blower door tests, seminars, and training courses.

Ecological insulating materials

Cellulose and wood fiber insulation are natural insulating materials that enable permeable constructions that have a comfortable room temperature and a high heat storage capacity and form an effective moisture buffer in the construction due to their good sorption behavior. They also improve the component safety from a physics perspective and the sound insulation. 

Both insulating materials show a very good energy balance during manufacture, are CO2-neutral, and also bind CO2 from the atmosphere while they are in use. 

Both wood fiber insulation from GUTEX and cellulose insulation from ISOCELL are natureplus-certified and can not only be used thermally and to manufacture new wood fiber products, they can also be composted at the end of their usage cycle. GUTEX, which has its headquarters in Waldshut-Tiengen, Germany, has developed a modified wood fiber by the name of "Thermofibre FQ", which has optimized properties for use in prefabrication, especially for the automatic blow-in operation.

New technology with numerous advantages

For the first time, the combination of the blowing plate and the multifunction bridge offers timber house companies the opportunity to insert loose insulating materials into their timber frame constructions fully automatically, economically, and with a final visual check. 

During the blow-in process, the multifunction bridge positions the blowing plate fully automatically and transfers the data from the work preparation (e.g. the geometry and size of the component, type of insulating material and quantity of insulating material) via a special interface. Based on this data, the blowing plate fills every cavity with insulating material as an autonomous unit; even small cavities and special shapes are no problem.

During the blow-in process, together with a big bale system and a weighing unit, the blowing plate constantly checks how much insulating material has already been blown into the cavity. This ensures that the insulating material, which has been inserted quickly and evenly, is sealed in accordance with the manufacturer's specifications, thereby guaranteeing the timber construction company stability based on the blow-in log. 

The advantages of the new technology include a constantly high and demonstrable insulation quality, increased efficiency, and a high degree of flexibility in the selection of insulating materials. Thanks to ergonomic work processes and a significantly low volume of dust, the new technology also humanizes workstations. The effort required to store and manipulate the insulating material is also significantly reduced as the insulating material is transported directly into the machine via a hose line.

Depending on the capacity required, there are various options for fully automatic blow-in solutions, starting with a WMS 150 blowTEC with integrated blowing plate for the production of 30–50 houses per year, up to larger variants with a separate blowing bridge for capacities of 400 houses per year and above.

Profitable from as few as 30 houses

The participants listened attentively to a profitability calculation for the WMS 150 blowTEC that WEINMANN Managing Director Hansbert Ott showed at the end of his presentation. This calculation showed that the savings made on personnel and material by using this production technology not only compensates for the running costs, but also allow for further savings. When used for wood fiber insulation, profits can be achieved from an annual production of as low as 30 houses. The figures are even better for an investment in a separate insulating bridge for capacities of 100–400 houses, according to Hansbert Ott. 

Remarkable: The potential savings for wood fiber insulating materials are considerably higher than those for mineral wool. The conclusion: Using the new technology is profitable for companies from the trade timber work sector as well as large prefabricated house companies.

Added value at little additional cost

This applies all the more because the businesses could offer their companies sustainable and ecological insulating materials at almost the same price. Civil engineer Walter Meyer (Dipl.-Ing) demonstrated this in his presentation by comparing components filled with conventional insulating materials and components filled with wood fiber with a view to both economic aspects and aspects relating to building physics. Furthermore, Meyer compared the technical data of traditional components with mineral fiber insulation in the cavity and an external insulation made from polystyrene with the data from two eco variants. Variant Eco 1 had external insulation made from wood fiber insulating panels, and variant Eco 2 also had a wood fiber blow-in insulation in the cavity.

In the comparison, the constructions insulated with wood fiber had a somewhat poorer U value but demonstrated a temperature amplitude ratio that was reduced by up to one quarter, sound insulation that was better by up to 3 dB, and also a better phase shift. The latter is not as important today as it was in previous years due to greater insulation thicknesses. On the other hand, according to Meyer, the better values for the wood fiber insulation under the roof still have a significant effect, ensuring temperature reductions by up to two degrees in summer. 

Due to the design, the roof elements of variant Eco 2 cost EUR 1000 more per house; however, the housing company can offer an ecological and sustainable design in addition to better heat protection in the summer. Using the eco variant in external and internal walls does not incur any additional cost. Here, the customer benefits not only from the ecological advantages, but also from the slightly improved sound insulation values. Therefore, for a slightly higher price, the customer receives added value that should make the timber construction company more attractive, particularly in the eyes of target groups with a great interest in ecological issues. 

Blow-in technology 4.0 in practice

The event ended with a visit to Fluck Holzbau GmbH in Blumberg, where the participants were able to inspect the new technology in practice. Founded in 2003, master joiner house manufacturer Fluck currently employs 32 people and builds detached and semi-detached houses, apartment buildings, as well as industrial and commercial buildings. It also undertakes renovations. 

At the end of 2016, Fluck Holzbau moved to new company premises and since then, its element production has been largely automated. The core of their production is the WEINMANN WMS 150 blowTEC; in addition to attaching and processing timber frame planking fully automatically, this machine also insulates constructions fully automatically using a blow-in plate. This means that the carpentry is the first company in Europe and the second worldwide to integrate the new insulating technology in its production process. WEINMANN delivered the first system to be used worldwide to BlueprintRobotics in the USA at the beginning of 2016.

Managing Director Florian Fluck has an overall positive view of the new insulating technology: "We are very happy because the system runs exactly how we imagined it would run. As a small company, it's particularly important for us that the idle times of the multifunction bridge are reduced to almost zero due to the blowing in of the insulation." The great interest from the timber house construction sector indicates that his company will not be the only one to use the new technology.


Source images / Editor: Dr. Joachim Mohr

Back to List