With so much talk about Brexit and the need for UK manufacturing to make the most of the global market after coming out of Europe, TTJ went in search of a successful British timber sector company with a global reach. Stephen Powney talks to Stenner Ltd

See below the full article from May 2017 Edition of TTJ

With so much talk about Brexit and the need for UK manufacturing to make the most of the global market after coming out of Europe, TTJ went in search of a successful British timber sector company with a global reach. Stephen Powney talks to Stenner Ltd

A lot has been made of the state of British manufacturing in the past decade.

Across a host of manufacturing industries – be it steel or shipbuilding – there has been an undeniable decline since the 1950s and a shift onto other sectors such as nance and business services.

Countries like Germany, we often hear, have nurtured their manufacturing industries and seen them as a badge of honour, producing high quality products and brands known the world over.

But there are still good examples of successful UK British manufacturers with a thriving export business, including those  within the timber industry. And if business analysts are to be believed, global export opportunities following Brexit may be enhanced further.

TTJ took the train from London to Devon recently to hear rst hand from one of the UK’s timber sector manufacturing success stories – Stenner Ltd, the long-established manufacturer of sawmill equipment.

Looking at its orders book is a bit like listing membership of the UN with its machinery in operation in over 125 countries.

Here at its Lowman Works in Tiverton, Stenner has operated since 1875, rstly as a general engineering company during Queen Victoria’s reign. Around the 1920s, it moved into woodworking machinery, with the rst log saws being circular saws, before later moving into bandsaws.

It is the wide bandsaw technology that has given Stenner a global reputation. Solutions cater for sawmilling applications in primary, secondary and value-added production of softwoods and hardwoods.

Stenner produces a full range of single and twin saw vertical radial arm resaws (ST & VHT ranges), a full range of single and twin centre cutting resaws and multi-head horizontal resaws (MHS range).

The range includes ‘wide mouth’ horizontal resaws for cutting thin boards from large laminated beams, and high-speed resaws for installation in canter lines or behind a moulder to double output by allowing thicker material to be machined and then split.

The list of applications include carcassing, fencing, pallets and packaging, joinery, mouldings, laminated beams, canter lines and log breakdown.

The two men at the helm of operations are managing director Syd Mather and sales director Fred Harding. They formed part of a consortium led by Mr Mather that acquired the business from administrators in 2009 following the financial crisis. Since then, the business has been steadily re-growing.

Global exporter

To emphasise the point of its truly global business, Stenner’s managing director Syd Mather was in Australia and New Zealand meeting customers during our visit.

Mr Harding explained that Australian and New Zealand markets were currently “buzzing” due to timber product demand in the Australasia/south east Asia region, as well as a growth in exports from New Zealand to the US.

One of its current orders for New Zealand was for a twin head vertical machine. Its business in that region included an ST130 resaw for an unusual project in Tasmania last year. Wynwood Sawmill bought the machine to process underwater timber – converting logs harvested from a sunken forest that was flooded to create a dam for the Tasmanian Hydro Electric Industry – into furnished boards.

Stenner has a forward order book extending to about seven months. Projects going through the factory during our visit included an MHS-9 with six saw units for a North American customer who will use it to cut hardwood lamellas for flooring. A five-head horizontal resaw for a customer in Ireland and a machine destined for New Zealand were also being worked on, while an MHS-10 was being loaded up for delivery to a customer in France.

The horizontal resaws represent an important core range for Stenner – more than 900 have been supplied worldwide – and are typically employed by companies producing fencing, pallet material and thin boards, as well as slab recovery and precision resawing of timber including hardwood.

“We have had a high number of the bigger machines going through the factory recently,” said Mr Harding.

This included, last year, the largest ever line shipped from the factory. Ten MHS10 horizontal resaws were shipped to Poland for a garden products manufacturer for producing fencing components for the UK and other European markets. In-line MHS10 machines are capable of producing finished components at speeds of up to 60m/min (200ft/min).
“One of the biggest markets has been Poland over recent years. We have made already made further shipments to other customers in Poland this year and there is future work in the pipeline as well.

“We see good enquiry levels from the UK at the moment and France and the Benelux are traditional markets which have been good to us for many years. We are also currently finding interest from Spain and also good enquiry levels from North America.” Machines have also recently been supplied to Israel and emerging markets such as the Ukraine.

“The positive side for us in the UK is the currency exchange has gone in our favour for exports,” added Mr Harding. “I do not think there is a market sector which we are not really active in.”

In the fencing/ pallet timber sector Stenner has noticed a move away from traditional lap board fencing to the featheredged product, with the horizontal resaws having established a reputation as a standard solution for such applications.

Production of lamellas for hardwood flooring has proved to be a good market, with two machines supplied to a Slovakian producer of engineered wood flooring last year. And demand has also come from the continental European glulam beam market for cut to size solutions.

Global distribution partnerships

In order to supply complete sawmill lines and a range of technology, Stenner also represents several continental European machinery producers – including Paul of Germany, Primultini of Italy and Lithuania- based MPM Group, which specialises in conveyors, stackers and infeeders.

Stenner regularly takes UK and Ireland customers over to Germany for Paul’s wood optimising days, where it shows its range of circular saw solutions, including cross- cut systems, edging/ripping systems and complete automated lines.

The German manufacturer’s machines are relevant for a range of sectors, including the timber frame and trussed rafter sectors.

Log bandmill manufacturer Primultini’s base near Venice is also a regular destination for Stenner and UK sawmillers.

“Their equipment is perfectly suited to the oversized logs within the UK log supply,” said Mr Harding.

Hand in hand with its advances in machinery, Stenner has also developed a comprehensive support package for servicing, repairing, spare parts and maintaining all machinery in the customer’s mill.

“We have recently supplied spare parts for a machine that’s nearly 60 years-old,” said Mr Harding.

He knows of a first generation Stenner resaw dating from 1959 which is still running.

Other services include a successful express pulley exchange service for 36in and 42in pulleys, enabling customers to minimise downtime.

Apprenticeships are something Stenner also puts a lot of focus in as it seeks to invest in the future of its business. Training young people in woodworking technology
production helps ensure the company has the right skills for the future.

“Syd and I have a philosophy of bringing through apprentices,” said Mr Harding. “That’s something we feel strongly about.”

Stenner has recently guided four apprentices (two mechanical and two electrical) through a training programme and a further one is just starting.

Responding to markets

One of the characteristics of Stenner’s business is also a focus on the requirements of customers and to respond quickly and effectively to market developments.

Talking to customers of all sizes about ideas to solve problems, developing machines further and helping customers optimise their production keeps the business “interesting”, the directors say. “We are always finding new ways to evolve our equipment to deal with these challenges,” said Mr Harding.

“Everybody is driving towards a thinner saw kerf to reduce the amount of dust created.”

He also highlighted the move away from mineral oils to biodegradable oils.

Improvements to technology mainly revolve around tensioning, guide systems and dust extraction.

Increased levels of automation, remote machine interrogation facilities and touchscreen interface controls are some of the changes Stenner has witnessed in recent years.
“As for the future, the company is optimistic. “We don’t see an alternative method to cutting wood,” it said. Laser and water cutting technology may be making inroads in some industries but Stenner says they aren’t currently realistic alternatives to traditional timber cutting equipment.

As TTJ went to press, Stenner was joining a handful of other UK woodworking machinery producers in flying the flag for British machinery at the Ligna exhibition
in Hanover, which is attended by timber processors from all over the world. A horizontal resaw will once again take pride of place on the Stenner stand.