Moelven Limtre continues to champion glulam as a viable building material, acting as a key supplier to Norway’s construction industry as the country embraces sustainable infrastructure
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Ryan Gray
Lillehammer, February 1994 – the sporting eyes of the world watch over what is commonly touted the greatest ever Winter Olympics.
Having missed out to French commune Albertville in hosting the games two years earlier, the ski resort town nestled in Oppland County in southern Norway served up one of the nation’s proudest moments in recent history over 17 days of memorable competition and story making.
More than 1,700 athletes from 67 nations attended, notable landmarks being the former Soviet countries competing as separate teams and the participation of post-apartheid South Africa following a 34-year absence.
Behind the scenes, the 17th Winter Olympics also marked a crucial turning point in Norway’s building industry.
For Rune Abrahamsen, attending the event as an engineering student was a real eye opener. “I was fascinated by the enormous and spectacular timber structures that were built for the arenas,” he says. “It inspired me to pursue a career in the construction trade and in particular the timber subsector.
“The idea of using timber was quite controversial and unconventional at the time. Traditionally, large arenas used for sports like ice hockey and speed skating used materials such as concrete and steel, but the Norwegian government strongly believed in using what we have here in our own country.
“The use of timber materials in 1994 has carried great importance for Norway’s construction industry, and it has been a tremendous journey since then, full of innovation.”
Having spent two decades as an engineering consultant at various firms, Abrahamsen joined Moelven Limtre as CEO in 2015 to pursue his desire to explore what he describes as the other side, how things are made.
Indeed, Moelven Limtre has remained an industry leader ever since it opened what was then the first facility of its kind in 1959, its operations revolving around a central product – glulam.
A type of glued laminated timber, this structural engineered wood product is made up of layers of dimensional lumber bonded together with durable, moisture-resistant structural adhesives, produced by Moelven Limtre as whole structures or smaller components in all shapes and sizes.
“Glulam is strong, precise and can serve as a standalone structure,” says Abrahamsen. “It is also extremely flexible, in that we can produce it in straight and curved forms, or any shape a customer would like.
“Glulam is a prefabricated material that is made off site and transported to where it is needed, whereas concrete is poured and set on site, which is more expensive and time consuming. I compare using glulam to building a large LEGO house.”
It is also a sustainable alternative to other commonly used products, not least because the company sources its raw material from sustainably certified sawmills which are no further than 150 kilometres from its head office and production facility in Moelv, around 100 kilometres north of Oslo.
Further, and perhaps contrary to some opinion, is the fact that glulam resists fire better than many other construction materials, making it a safe alternative as well as a sustainable one.
Reaching new heights
Although the company’s staple activity is the supply of various types of beams to clients around Norway, the potential for glulam to transform both national and international approaches to construction is best showcased through examples of complete buildings.
This is no better demonstrated than by Mjøstårnet, the world’s tallest timber building which opened in March 2019.
Covering 11,300 square metres, the mixed-use development comprises 18 storeys that include apartments, a hotel, offices, a restaurant, a rooftop terrace and common areas. Next to Mjøstårnet there is a swimming pool building measuring 4,700 square metres in size, also built in wood.
“This is a hugely important development not only for our company but for the timber industry locally, nationally and globally,” Abrahamsen explains. “Timber, or glulam, is used to carry all horizontal and vertical loads, and has never been achieved at this height before. Wood is the sole stabiliser of the building.”
The construct based in Brumunddal, around 140 kilometres’ drive north of Oslo, stands at 85.4 metres and is classified as a skyscraper by definition of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, an international skyscraper organisation.
“It has attracted a lot of interest since opening,” Abrahamsen continues. “We’ve had several thousand building industry professionals from all over the world travel to see the construction, people who have been encouraged to do similar things in their own countries.
“We have shown that it is possible to build tall structures out of timber, and I would like to see this as a source of inspiration for future projects, even if they are smaller and only a few storeys high. This is a landmark for Norway, and we are proud to have played such a big part in the project.”
Away from the highs of Mjøstårnet, an important line of business for Moelven Limtre lies far closer to the ground in the form of bridges.
In what is another legacy of Lillehammer 1994, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration has turned its attention to timber as a viable building material from which to construct important flyovers on key roads.
“Bridges support similar loads to a large roof, and so this has been a key part of our portfolio,” Abrahamsen says.
“In 2019, for example, we are handing over around 15 timber bridges that span 50 to 100 metres in length and can carry busy road traffic. These are located on main roads and have a service life of 100 years.”
Central to the ability to supply these projects is Moelven Limtre’s own network of suppliers, a group of companies which Abrahamsen describes as crucial to the firm’s ongoing success story.
“Professional collaboration with our partners is absolutely crucial to us,” he says. “We have regular meetings with most of our partners and hold quality control checks to ensure we are meeting the highest standards for our clients.
“This also involves visiting our suppliers at their factories to get to know them better, and the aim here is to find ways of growing together.”
Such a prosperous future is also dependent on Moelven Limtre’s own team of dedicated employees.
A large proportion of the firm’s 140 staff are long serving stalwarts, whose skills are honed regularly through detailed training exercises, with new recruits able to gain valuable knowledge from these experienced and talented experts.
In terms of recruitment, today’s manufacturing dynamics warrant a different approach to when the company first set up in 1959, not least because of the role of automation.
“Over time the industry will become more and more automated,” explains Abrahamsen. “We are using robots, or what we call CNC machines, to process and finish elements and that means we need skilled operators to use this equipment.
“State-of-the-art machinery is critical to Moelven Limtre remaining competitive and is the reason we have been able to grow and remain a leader for 60 years.”
Completing projects with an exemplary health and safety record will also stand Moelven Limtre in strong stead as it moves into its next chapter, the CEO outlining his plans to strengthen ties within Norway’s building industry by successfully handing over developments and picking up new projects.
Buoyant about the future and continuing to raise the profile of timber in the construction industry, Abrahamsen concludes in an upbeat manner.
“We believe that sustainable building will only continue to gain an increased focus, both in our home market and also globally. Timber, without doubt, is a part of that equation.”