The efficiency of their timber treatment plant is important to all treatment operators and none more so than Shropshire-based Ransfords which, in addition to manufacturing fencing and gates for contractors working in the domestic, local authority, agricultural and industrial sectors, also has to meet the rigorous requirements of Sector Scheme 4-accredited suppliers to the Highways Agency.

To satisfy its demanding customer base, the company has recently opted for Arch‘s Auto-Treater, a newly developed computer-based management and automation system which gives precise control over all aspects of the treatment operation.

“From one central console, the operator has complete control over all three of our pressure vessels,” said Ransfords’ director Peter Walters. “It’s freed up nearly 50% of his time and the automatic mixing and filling system means there’s no risk of the operator coming into contact with the chemicals. HSE inspectors have visited us and are very impressed – I think they’d like to see all treatment plants working in this way.”

Treatment accuracy

He added that Auto-Treater also ensures much greater accuracy in achieving the correct solution strength, compared with manual methods. This makes it easier for Ransfords to comply with the strict Sector Scheme 4 requirements while at the same time avoiding any over-treatment – which can waste time with the timber remaining in the plant for longer than needed and can incur unnecessary extra cost through using greater quantities of preservative than required.

“Combined with the fact that the system automatically drains and releases the vacuum when the treatment cycle is finished, I estimate we’re able to process an extra three loads per 24 hours,” said Mr Walters.

Tried and tested

Already tested on plants using Arch Timber Protection‘s Tanalith E and Vacsol preservatives throughout Europe, Auto-Treater features a Windows-based PC controller that can be sited adjacent to the treatment tanks or in a remote location.

In addition to enhanced safety and efficiency through reduced operator involvement, Arch maintains that the system provides full control and optimisation of treatment cycles, including treatment solution strength determination and adjustment. Key features include “easy programming, customised treatment cycles, and the ability to set parameters such as treating to fixed costs, solution uptakes, relevant treatment standards or other criteria”.

The Auto-Treater operator monitors the progress of each charge, with the PC screen showing real-time graphical displays of mixing and treatment operations. There’s also built-in fault protection, with alarm notifications that can be interrogated to find and resolve any problems. And an optional modem allows Arch Timber Protection engineers to access the system for remote diagnostics and troubleshooting.

“I’ve never used a computer control system before and I did have some apprehension before Auto-Treater was installed,” said Ransfords’ treatment plant operator Mike Smallman. “However, I found it very easy to master. I can monitor all three plants from the office, where previously I had to walk around and check their individual controls and dials. Mixing is simple and accurate – at the touch of a button I can select any tank, ask the computer to calculate the required product to the appropriate solution strength and press ‘Go’. I know exactly when the cycle is completed and the automatic shutdown means the tank is ready for me to open the door.”

Management information

Auto-Treater also automatically generates and stores customised process records, charge sheets and treatment certificates that can be printed for customers, and extensive management reports including individual customer files.

“In addition to the treatment process itself, the system enables us to accurately monitor stocks of raw materials – another benefit in terms of efficiency and costs,” said Peter Walters. “I believe it is the way of the future for controlling and managing treatment plant.”