Carl Benscheidt founded his business in Alfeld near Hannover in northern Germany making shoe lasts (the wooden ‘moulds’ used to make shoes) and in 1911, commissioned a young unknown architect called Walter Gropius to build him a factory.
Walter Gropius, who went on to become world famous for his ‘Bauhaus’ school of architecture and design, produced factory and office buildings at Alfeld which still look modern today and which are the subject of an application to UNESCO to be listed as a world heritage site.
The shoe last company was known as Fagus (the Latin name for the beech wood out of which the lasts were made). It continues to design shoes and to make shoe lasts today, although plastic has replaced wood and the scale of production is much smaller due to world market trends.
Part of the buildings now house a museum on both their architecture and shoes, which is open to the public.
In 1974, Ernst Greten, great-grandson of Carl Benscheidt, decided on an additional, completely different, business path and founded GreCon as a manufacturer of measurement and safety equipment, mainly for the woodworking industries.
GreCon’s fame in the wood based panel industry today is as a global supplier of inline measurement devices, spark detection and extinguishing equipment, steel belt protection sensors, cyclone blockage detectors, panel surface inspection devices and laboratory testing equipment.
It is also in a joint venture with woodworking machinery maker Weinig in GreCon-Weinig which makes finger jointing lines in a newer building on the Alfeld factory site.
This year saw the complete updating of the whole line of measuring equipment supplied by GreCon and this range, designated 5000 and replacing the 3000 series, was first presented at Ligna in Hannover in May 2009.
This updating/upgrading process involved the complete redesign of some equipment, such as the DAX 5000 laboratory density profile analyser – which received software and hardware upgrades and a new cabinet design – while for others there was just a software upgrade or improvements in calibration.
“We introduced the 5000 series because we had developed a lot of new systems of benefit to our customers. We have had eight orders since Ligna for the DAX 5000 alone,explained Kai Greten, joint managing director of GreCon.
Obviously, as with any electronic/ computer systems, upgrading of software is a continuous process and has been ongoing since the 3000 series was announced in the 1990s, said Mr Greten. “However, we decided that we had got to the point where we could make big enough changes to justify the launch of a new generation – the 5000.”
Products in the 5000 range include the UPU 5000, which detects and maps blisters and delamination in panels on the line after the press, using non-contact ultrasonic systems.
The UPU 4000 is also offered as a less sophisticated, and therefore lower-priced, alternative.
The DML 5000 is a thickness gauge with laser heads or transducers for use with softer materials, while the DMR 5000 inline thickness gauge is intended for use on panel production lines. It is available with the CT frame to enable it to be withdrawn sideways from the line for calibration or maintenance without interrupting production.
For moisture content measurement inline, GreCon offers the IR 5000 non-contact infra-red sensor for mats before the press and the MWF 5000 for the pressed panel product.   This latter device employs microwave technology and records surface and core moisture content of the panel. Both systems can be used in all process steps of panel production, says GreCon.
Supplementing the inline technology is the MWF 5000 LM laboratory microwave moisture measurement system.
For board weight measurement inline, there is the brand new HPS 5000 with high resolution, measuring each square millimetre of board. “This calculation of weight is based on detecting 100% of the processed wood,said Mr Greten.
The CS 5000 is aimed at high-speed lines and can have up to10 non-contact heads across the width of the running line. The GS 5000, meanwhile, is a more conventional board scale to measure individual panels or stacks of panels, employing load cells placed under the conveyor.
For surface inspection of panels inline, there is Superscan for laminated panels and this is installed directly after the laminating press.
Just as important as measuring finished board quality is controlling mat quality before it even enters the press.
The Dieffensor was launched at Ligna 2003 as a system to detect foreign bodies or glue lumps in the mat before a continuous press in order to protect the valuable stainless steel belts from damage.
However, developments on this device since its launch have extended its applications considerably, as Mr Greten explained.
“The add-on function of the Dieffensor is weight measurement of 100% of the raw material going towards the press. This is a key feature because it gives measurement in both length and width directions and allows optimization of forming and saving of resinated wood raw material.”
Development of this machine has been carried out jointly with machinery maker Dieffenbacher, which started with the idea of press belt protection.
“Over 30 Dieffensors have now been delivered and development is continuously ongoing,said Uwe Kahmann, joint managing director with Kai Greten. “We have six people dedicated to the development of this product in our research and development department and have achieved an accuracy of 5g/m2 recently. We are also diversifying into other markets with the Dieffensor, thus further justifying expenditure on its development.”
Research and development (R&D) is an important department for GreCon and employs a total of 20 staff for measurement applications.
In the currently quieter market, the R&D department has used the opportunity to carry out ‘internal research’ on new products, while the company as a whole has taken the opportunity to improve some of its internal systems and procedures.
Another important area of business for the company is in spark detection and GreCon has developed its software version 1.7 this year.
“Large mills have may be 150 detection zones around their factory and they wanted a system to better coordinate those zones – and to cater for add-ons after start-up,explained Mr Kahmann. The latest generation came to the market in July 2009.
The Alfeld works assembles 8,000 spark sensors a year and these can record incidents to one thousandth of a second for later analysis by control units which come in three ‘sizes’, from four-zone to 16-zone to 150-zone units.
Press fire protection is an increasingly important area too and GreCon has carried out 12 installations since it launched its programme 30 months ago. “Our sensors are more accurate than those of our competitors and can, for instance, distinguish between a spark and a camera flash,said Mr Greten.
That is good news for a journalist/ photographer who lives in fear of setting off an extinguishing system while gathering a story for these pages!
Recognising that panel mills, like everybody, are having to economise as much as possible, GreCon also offers a consulting service to assist its customers, as well as making its products available on lease or rental programmes to reduce customers’ capital outlay.
“Perhaps the customer likes our equipment but he wants to know the saving potential in his particular factory,said Mr Greten. “So we will go to the plant, analyse his process, and present a report showing the savings potential we have identified; a fresh look from someone outside the business can often be helpful. We can also provide specialist knowledge to evaluate the databases of our installed equipment and sometimes we can help the production people to make a case to the financial management to get buying decisions made. We call this whole process ‘potential analysis’.”
While the company is headquartered in Germany and all R&D and production is carried out there, it is represented around the world by its own offices.
The latest to open was in Moscow earlier this year (2009). The long estestablished office is Grecon Inc in Tigard, Oregon in the US, which has been going for 20 years.
There is also GreCon Ltd in Newcastle, UK; GreCon China in Shanghai; and sales offices in France, Thailand and southern Germany. Independent representing companies are also to be found in 35 other countries.
Although shoe last manufacture only accounts for around 15% of the group’s business today, GreCon certainly has not lost its roots. Indeed it has proudly maintained and preserved its historic architectural heritage while pushing at technological boundaries with its products for the panel industry.