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Sustainable construction in Latin America: reforested wood and Crosslam’s continued evolution

José Alberto brought Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) to Brazil, creating a digital workflow and sustainable business model that revolutionized the country’s construction industry. 

images of a Club in Itupeva, São Paulo, built using cross-laminated timber
images of a Club in Itupeva, São Paulo, built using cross-laminated timber
images of a Club in Itupeva, São Paulo, built using cross-laminated timber

Club in Itupeva, São Paulo. Photos by Maíra Acayaba, 2021. Swipe to see more images.

José Alberto is a Mechanical Engineer by trade and has a long relationship with reforested wood. Coming from a family with nearly a century of experience molding timber, even as a teenager, he wondered how the family business could evolve to work with reforested wood.

In his early career, he worked outside the family business but eventually found his way back through an opportunity to lead the division that he had always been most passionate about: mass timber. With serious dedication and a lot of learning along the way, Alberto was the first to use Glue-Laminated Timber (GLT) technology in Brazil to manufacture H20 engineered wood beams. A few years later, he founded his company, Crosslam, and brought Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) to Latin America, again pioneering new construction technology in a new territory and carving a niche in sustainable construction using reforested wood.

Stock of CLT panels in a shed built with MLC beams by Crosslam

Stock of CLT panels in a shed built by Crosslam using CLT beams

Unknown territory

Entrepreneurial journeys are rarely easy. We’re often faced with decisions that we need to make alone, working towards unforeseen outcomes. We hope our ambition leads to success, but there’s no guarantee. With a smile on his face, Alberto shares two major turning points from his entrepreneurial experience: bringing CLT to Brazil and adopting SketchUp as Crosslam’s primary technology platform.

image showing CNC Machine producing a CLT part based on a SketchUp model.

CNC machine producing a CLT slab based on a SketchUp model

These two decisions were made alongside the arrival of Crosslam’s first customers in 2012. Given his engineering background and aptitude for mechanical software, it made sense that Alberto would incorporate the latest technology into the design and manufacture of timber parts. In the ongoing search for technology that would meet his needs, he was introduced to SketchUp by his first-ever client. It didn’t take long to realize that SketchUp was both easy to work with and powerful enough to communicate complex ideas. Alberto adopted SketchUp as the company’s primary communication and design platform, eventually developing all of his manufacturing processes around the program’s capabilities. 

Innovation through DFMA

As the company grew, Alberto met Gabriela Lotufo, a young architect who was finishing her CLT-focused graduate work. Gabriela was fascinated by the idea of developing an all-digital strategy to produce CLT using SketchUp. Her excitement gave rise to the company's project department, a team dedicated to developing techniques to optimize the manufacture of CLT while keeping Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA) top of mind.

image showing Crosslam CLT SketchUp Model

SketchUp model by Crosslam of a house built using CLT on the coast of Brazil

DFMA combines two methodologies: design for manufacture and design for assembly, which aims at efficiently developing processes and designing the models to facilitate the manufacture and assembly of product components, respectively. Crosslam undertakes both design and manufacture in its own factory. The slightest difference between the two can cause massive headaches — project delays and financial losses — later in the assembly phase at the construction site. DFMA has been integral to optimizing the construction supply chain, as it identifies, quantifies, and eliminates waste and inefficiency in the design, manufacture, and assembly processes.

Integration of design and construction using SketchUp
assembling a CLT house on a paperless construction site

Integration of design and construction using SketchUp — assembling a CLT house on a paperless construction site. Swipe to see more images.

A connected company

Reaching this level of optimization and material efficiency didn’t come easily. As with implementing any new methodology, there were question marks around the output Crosslam envisioned and whether SketchUp was the right tool to target digital design, fabrication, and assembly. Any doubts Alberto had were cleared when he discovered the Volkerwessels case study. He thought, “if Volkerwessels is using SketchUp and Trimble, why not Crosslam?”

Alberto found the evidence he needed and was able to continue evolving the company's process. With the addition of Trimble Connect, the technology that connects the entire company from design to manufacturing to assembly, Alberto accelerated Crosslam’s momentum. Working with a cloud-based, connected platform like Trimble Connect has been a critical driver in enabling Crosslam’s results.

“I am pleasantly surprised to find such excellent benefits, not only financially, but also sustainably, as digital models make it possible for Crosslam to work with very little paper.”
-José Alberto

Gabriela highlights that adopting technology is a matter of changing mindsets. Often, it is necessary to step outside the conventional approach to deliver the best experience for the customer. Trimble introduced the tools that Crosslam needed to successfully consolidate the DFMA process — something that other software and other platforms had not enabled in the past.

image showing logistical study for a timber house in Brazil made with SketchUp

Logistical study for a timber house in Brazil made with SketchUp

Digital-first workflow

SketchUp became a critical tool in the adoption of DFMA, enabling an almost paperless process. Crosslam receives projects in varied file formats (DWG, RVT, PDF, SKP, etc.) and from various architects, many of whom do not have the same advanced knowledge of timber and engineered wood products. Designs often need to be adapted to make manufacturing possible. The Crosslam team brings designs into SketchUp, carries out optimization studies, coordinates any needed adaptations, and generates a budget for the project.

Assembly of a CLT house in São Paulo
SketchUp model used for CLT design and manufacturing

Assembly of a CLT house in São Paulo and the SketchUp model used for design and manufacturing. Swipe to see more images.

After client approval, the project moves to the engineering team for final structural calculations. Any necessary edits based on the final calculations are made in SketchUp, and production documentation is sent to the factory for manufacturing. They often use information directly from SketchUp to automate CNC cutting machines, then take manufactured parts to be assembled in the field. The process — design to estimating to manufacture to assembly — is grounded in the SketchUp platform. As Crosslam has continued to grow and evolve, they’ve been able to scale the entire process due to the ease with which they could train the team and share platform knowledge.

image showing completed CLT house, showcasing the variety of shapes that can be incorporated using CLT
image showing completed CLT house, showcasing the variety of shapes that can be incorporated using CLT
image showing a SketchUp model of a CLT house, highlight custom shapes in the design

CLT house in São Paulo — completed project, assembly, and SketchUp model — showcasing the variety of shapes that can be incorporated using CLT. Swipe to see more images.

Communication breeds credibility

In the construction and timber industry, reputation is important. With the design competency and effective communication of Crosslam’s team, they’ve begun marketing to new customers, and their proven credibility makes a big difference in monetizing projects. Crosslam makes a great first impression, and customers immediately understand the company's proven process. 

Harnessing the power of data helped Crosslam develop a robust DFMA process, but communicating and presenting their project ideas were essential factors in the company’s success. The sales team also uses SketchUp to present proposals and quickly generate realistic project images. Using SketchUp as a sales tool to visualize and share proposal ideas with stakeholders helped win proposals and bring on new clients. 

digital interface showing clash detection and coordination that's possible with Trimble Connect

Trimble Connect improves coordination and helps avoid potential problems in the field.

Delivering the right amount of information on time and to different stakeholders is a challenge, especially when adjustments need to be made to assemble CLT parts on the site. With the use of Trimble Connect, Crosslam has become a critical BIM coordination stakeholder. By generating clash reports, distributing tasks, and communicating between the factory and the field, they’re able to ensure precision in construction and avoid potential interference problems before they happen.

streamlined assembly of residential CLT project
SketchUp model used to plan the assembly of a residential CLT project

Trimble Solutions enable precise integration of design, manufacturing, and assembly. Swipe to see more images.

Alberto highlights that the customer's experience ultimately determines project and company success. With SketchUp, Crosslam creates a positive experience using collaborative technology. He continues by saying that investing in professional development is key for any business that wants to remain competitive. In his words, “Good professionals generate good projects, and good projects bring good experiences.” 

“You have to show the client that good projects make all the difference. Good projects will provide clients with both value and quality. ”
-José Alberto

image showing lean construction powered by Crosslam’s DFMA process

Lean construction powered by Crosslam’s DFMA process

A sustainable vision

Crosslam specializes in communicating ideas clearly. The generation, consumption, and extraction of information enable DFMA and open the company's doors to BIM. Digital modeling, fabrication, and assembly work make paperless construction possible. With positive results and a vision for a sustainable future, Crosslam was born in Brazil and is now manufacturing and assembling for the world.

Test drive SketchUp for your next project, big or small, with a free trial. Combine it with Trimble Connect, included in your SketchUp subscription, to unlock new levels of efficiency and collaboration.

Want to learn more about Crosslam and see where their focus on innovation has taken them? Find them on LinkedIn or visit the Crosslam website

About the Author

Architect, backpacker, researcher, and professional sports watcher, Tiago has a deep interest in evolving the client experience with technology and sharing their journeys. In his free time, he is studying, planning new trips around the world, and surrounded by family and friends.

Profile Photo of Tiago Ricotta