New lines of vision

17 May 2017


The UK government plans to increase housebuilding activity and Egger UK’s two new state-of-the-art lines mean it’s ready to meet construction industry demand. Keren Fallwell reports

Two out of three new houses in the UK have Egger structural flooring and, with the need to build more houses welldocumented, Egger UK has geared up to meet demand with an £11m investment at its Hexham headquarters.

A new £5m tongue and grooving (T&G) line and £6m lamination line at the Northumberland plant boost productivity and strengthen Egger’s commitment to the UK construction industry.

“The UK building industry is growing and we have to be able to grow with our customer base,” said Rodney Brown, director of sales (building). “It’s a big thing for the market; there’s nobody else investing in particleboard flooring.”

Commissioning of the new lines, and the added capacity and flexibility they provide, is timely.

“Our new investments come at a time when the UK needs housebuilding to increase dramatically” said Dan Soulsby, category manager (building). “It is high on the government’s agenda, as detailed in the recent White Paper, Fixing our broken housing market. Since the 1970s, the UK has averaged around 160,000 homes per year and we now need 250-275,000 annually to catch up and keep up with demand.”

This commitment to the construction industry is reflected in Egger’s greater focus on value-added particleboard in recent years. “We’ve seen a change in demand from basic raw P5 flooring to either Egger Peel Clean or Egger Protect. The change is driven by housebuilders,” said commercial director Bob Livesey.

“In 2010, the majority of our T&G structural flooring sales were traditional raw P5 boards. Since then the combined sales of Egger Peel Clean Xtra and Egger Protect have grown year-on-year, so much so that our T&G boards now make up the majority of sales. There’s no doubt that this has been helped by the introduction of our Advanced Structural Flooring System and growth in the UK housebuilding industry.”

Of the top 25 UK housebuilders, 13 deal solely with Egger and another seven do so on a regional basis. Last year Egger UK sold 199,824m3 of flooring, of which 34% was P5 raw structural flooring and 66% was valueadded flooring Protect and Peel Clean Xtra.

The Advanced Structural Flooring System comprises P5, Peel Clean Xtra and Protect. Peel Clean Xtra has an easy-to-peel, anti-slip foil, which is removed at the end of the build, while Egger Protect has a permanent, fully sealed protection layer on both sides, ensuring no moisture ingress on the underside. It is the premium product of the range, but has proved the most popular with housebuilders, accounting for 58% of Egger UK’s value-added flooring sales volume. Another product in the flooring portfolio is Decorative Protect, a structural board finished with an oak foil. It was developed as a more cost-effective alternative for the Athletes’ Village for the 2012 Olympic Games – an example of Egger working with housebuilders to provide solutions. The developer planned to install P5 particleboard flooring, cover it, and then remove the cover after the Olympics. Egger came up with Decorative Protect and saved the developer £200,000 on flooring costs.

The factory in Barony, Scotland, produces only raw particleboard; while small volumes are sold direct to customers, the majority is sent to Hexham for further processing. In addition, the UK operation sells OSB produced by Egger in Germany – OSB2 in imperial measurements and OSB HDX T&G flooring for commercial and industrial applications. The latter, which is now sanded in response to market demand, is only 30mm thick but outperforms 38mm mezzanine particleboard.

Egger’s flooring range is a no-nails system and when installed in accordance with the company’s six-stage fitting process and adhesive it carries a lifetime guarantee. This system saves time on site and has helped Egger to penetrate the housebuilding industry, said Mr Soulsby, adding that a bottle of glue is sold for every 10 boards that leave the Hexham factory.

“Our joint and joist D4 adhesive is stronger than a nail fixing and it eliminates squeaky flooring,” he said.

The most recent investment at Hexham also includes the installation of a new Peel Clean surfacing facility to bring production of Egger’s Peel Clean Xtra boards inhouse, making the company the first panel producer in the UK to apply its own peel foil.

“We sell 50,000m3 of Peel Clean a year – five artics a day – so we wanted to be in charge of our own destiny,” said Mr Soulsby. The move required the company to develop a tear-free, anti-slip foil that was moisture resistant for the industry-standard 42 days.

To produce Peel Clean Xtra, two P5 boards are joined by the long edge and heated before an adhesive is applied to the entire board surface. The Peel Clean Xtra foil is then rolled onto the board and adhered. A new testing rig, also part of the recent investment, enables Egger to run real-time tests on all its structural flooring products and it plans to test Egger Protect way beyond the current 42-day standard. The new lamination line – one of five at Hexham – and T&G line both replace predecessors installed in the mid-1980s. The old lamination line was installed in 1986 and had pressed more than 19 million boards, or around 200 million m2 – 28,500 football pitches of board or, if laid end to end, enough boards to go around the world two-and-a-half times.

The new line, manufactured by Wemhöner, is 125m long, applies pressure of 400N/cm2 and is capable of 180 cycles per hour. The T&G line is a bespoke piece of kit designed specifically for Egger. It was manufactured by Kontra and includes diamond-tipped profiling equipment from Schwabedissen which ensures a clean cut and a tightly-fitting T&G joint. It can T&G on all four sides of the board, or combinations, including two short-edge or two long-edge. These new, state-of-the-art, set-ups will provide greater efficiency and flexibility, as well as security for the market, said Mr Soulsby.

The T&G machinery brings benefits for raw board production, too. At present it is producing stock panels of 2400x600mm but it has the capacity to process a larger master panel, using the full press width and providing extra flexibility to produce additional products.

“We will be able to make large T&G panels for caravan makers and the off-site construction industry, which want fewer joints,” said Mr Soulsby.

This latest spend is part of Egger’s continuing investment in its UK plants. Since 2007 the company has invested more than £250m in its two sites at Hexham and Barony. This is over and above the £150m spent at Hexham in 2007 to replace two multi-opening presses with a continuous press, creating “one of the most technologically advanced particleboard plants in Europe”.

Since 2010, Egger has spent around £85.7m in growth investments – and that’s in addition to the £28.4m put into maintenance investment.

“Egger is a family-owned company with no shareholders to pay dividends to, so we benefit from reinvestment,” said Mr Soulsby. Previous investments at Hexham have included a biomass plant and resin manufacturing facility.

The biomass plant, which is fuelled by waste and wood dust, heats the oil for the presses and heats the dryers. Its output could heat 25,000 homes a year.

All Egger UK’s resin is manufactured on-site at Hexham by a subsidiary, Campact Ltd. The resin plant, which cost around £40m, keeps Egger out of the competitive market of buying resin. Although buying the resin ingredients may still be at the mercy of the current weaker pound, Mr Soulsby said the plant did offer financial benefits and gave Egger control over development.

Egger Forestry also provides some control and guarantee over the raw material supply for the two UK mills. The company manages forests and organises harvesting and works with sawmills to obtain residues.

Egger UK also uses recycled material in its particleboard, up to a limit of 35%, and 98% of its recycled material is supplied by Egger Timberpak. The recycling business has four sites – in Scotland, Yorkshire, northeast England and southeast England. “Although recycled material is the cheapest to buy, it’s the most expensive to prepare because it needs cleaning, but using recycled wood adds to our raw material supply security,” said Mr Soulsby.

The continuing investment programme has also included construction of a £4m engineering facility and apprentice training academy. The four-year apprenticeship involves one year working at Rolls Royce; once the apprentices are qualified they can “fix anything on site”, said Mr Soulsby. With around 715 employees at Hexham, Egger is Northumberland’s largest manufacturing employer. More than 9% of the workforce is, or has been, an Egger apprentice and 85 employees have completed the programme since 2004. In March, Egger’s training programme was recognised when it received the Apprenticeship Award at the Northumberland and Tyneside Business Awards. The company now goes on to the regional finals in April.

Recently, Egger has also invested in strengthening its flood defences at Hexham. Since the River Tyne broke its banks in December 2015, the company has spent wo milion pounds on flood work, including installing flood gates at the main entrance and a wall around the power plant. The two UK sites are not the only Egger operations to benefit from investment. As part of its vision to be “Europe’s leading brand for wood based solutions” Egger has a track record of ongoing development. Since 2009 the company has invested €1.274bn across its 17 facilities, in addition to the €362m spent on maintenance.

The new T&G line was designed specifically for Egger
A board on the new lamination line
The impregnation line
Egger is the first UK panel producer to apply its own peel-off foil for chipboard flooring
Testing particleboard for moisture resistance in the quality laboratory at Hexham
Egger Peel Clean Xtra is tested for slip resistance