Katerra To Make Ultra-Strong Wood Panels at New Factory in WA

[Updated 9/23/19, 6:29 pm. See below.]  Construction tech firm Katerra, a 4-year-old Bay area startup with a big fundraising total, a big backer, and big ambitions, officially opened a big factory today in eastern Washington state.

Katerra’s activities in the construction field range from project management software and design to the manufacture of pre-fabricated structural materials—all resources that contribute to the buildings Katerra constructs itself. With the goal of transforming the construction industry end-to-end through cutting-edge software and materials technology, Katerra has raised a total of $1.1 billion. That includes an $865 million funding round led last year by the SoftBank Vision Fund.

The Menlo Park, CA-based company, which already operates a factory in Phoenix, AZ, and has another under construction in Tracy, CA, is now taking orders at its new 29-acre Spokane Valley, WA, plant for cross-laminated timber (CLT). CLT is a wood-based material that Katerra describes as strong enough to replace steel and concrete in buildings as high as 18 stories.

Katerra’s CEO and co-founder Michael Marks says in the company’s announcement that the 270,000-square-foot plant has the largest capacity of any CLT factory in North America. Once fully operating, the $150 million plant will employ 105 workers. The factory processes logs only from small-diameter trees grown in well-managed forests, to ensure a renewable supply of raw materials, the company says in a news release. [Cost of the new plant has been added.]

The environmental benefits ascribed to the CLT material have drawn plaudits for Katerra’s factory from Washington’s governor Jay Inslee, until recently a candidate in the 2020 US presidential race, who ran on a platform focused on combating climate change.

“This is just one example of how we can create jobs, transition to a cleaner economy, and build new infrastructure with a lower carbon footprint through innovation,’’ Inslee says in a written statement.

Katerra’s cross-laminated timber is made by gluing 2-foot by 6-foot lumber boards together in multiple layers with formaldehyde-free adhesive. Each layer is stacked with its wood grain at a 90-degree angle to the grain of the layers above and below it. The stack is bonded together with a high-pressure press, completing a process designed to give the material strength and durability. Katerra says it uses advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and biometric scanning of raw materials to boost product quality and reduce waste at the factory.

The Wall Street Journal reported that revenues reached $850 million in 2018 for Katerra, a privately held company. Last month, Katerra announced it had hired a new chief operating officer, Paal Kibsgaard, to supervise the company’s US operations, its continued international expansion, and its development of new construction technologies. On Sept. 17, Katerra announced another change in top leadership, appointing Matthew Marsh as its new chief financial officer.

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