Input Joinery is a bespoke producer, wedded to traditional wood craft values. At the same time it’s every inch the 21st century manufacturer, keen to explore the potential of latest developments in materials and processing technology. Ample evidence of this is the state-of-the-art SCM Accord 40 fx CNC machining centre, which has recently replaced two previous CNCs at Input’s modern Andover site, with capacity to spare.

Production director Martin Ruddick acknowledges that some customers initially struggle with the Input concept.

“With our focus on latest machinery and software systems, we don’t fit some people’s image of the bespoke joinery business,” he said. “But we select technology that enhances our bespoke capabilities. It puts a process behind everything we do; increasing our productivity, giving us the flexibility we need and enhancing consistency. The result is a quality, bespoke product that’s also competitive and value-for-money.”

Managing director Mark Fisher cites one aspect of the business as ample proof the Input formula works.

“We’re always looking to win new customers,” he said. “But most orders are repeat or come to us through recommendation.”

Input was launched in 1979 by Martin Ruddick’s father Gerald.

“He’d learned a lot working for other joinery companies, then decided he could do things differently and better, and find a good market for the product – setting the template for Input ever since,” said Mr Ruddick.

The company initially concentrated on the London market, producing box sashes and a limited range of other joinery.

“It was pretty basic, products weren’t even primed,” said Mr Ruddick. “But Input quickly built a reputation and had to take on more staff, including three joiners who are still with us 40 years later. We won contract work and started developing the range. Soon we outgrew our original premises and in 1985 moved into a factory in central Andover.

That gave us room for a timber store and a workshop for staircases, which were initially sold to the big housebuilders.’’

Although focused primarily on this price sensitive market, Input’s growing reputation led to more bespoke enquiries.

“We had the skilled staff to tackle the work and one project led to another,” said Mr Ruddick. “We started doing curved and cutstring staircases – really high end work. At the same time the window business developed and we put in Window Line technology.”

The early 1990s recession prompted another evolution.

“We started targeting the retail sector and moved into windows supply and fit,” said Mr Ruddick. “That carried the company through the downturn and it continued to develop through the nineties, leading to installation of our first Maka CNC in 1998.”

Today, supply and fit is the lion’s share of Input’s business, with many projects comprising a range of joinery.

“We’ll do everything, from doors, windows and staircases to the orangery at the back,” said Mr Ruddick.

Building a rapport with customers is key in this sector of the market.

“You have to engage with the dream people have for their property” said Mark Fisher.

“Obviously we have to steer some customers if what they want isn’t feasible technically or may not suit the property, but you have to do that sensitively. In one instance though, a client insisted on a curved staircase when we’d advised that straight flights would work better in the space technically and aesthetically. They then asked us to replace it with what we’d recommended.”

Meeting customers’ individual requirements means product styles range from ultramodern to heritage.

“We don’t have a minimum order size either,” said Mr Fisher. “We’ll take on a hundred windows or one piece of skirting.

It’s the nature of bespoke business – and all customers are treated as equally important. You never know when the client who buys the skirting might then order windows for an entire house.”

Input also attributes its success to being an early adopter of latest materials advances.

“We were among the first wave using laminated timber,” said Mr Ruddick. “My father – who still does our timber buying two days a week – saw its potential at the Fensterbau show in Germany and started sourcing it from German producer Münchinger, which remains our main timber supplier.”

“Engineered wood really impacted the business, and today we use laminated redwood, sapele and oak,” added Mr Fisher. “It brought greater predictability, and higher yield, so increased sustainability.

Because it’s so stable, it also means minimal remedial work.”

Input also uses Tricoya modified MDF and Accoya modified timber.

“It’s relatively early days with Accoya, but it machines nicely, the rejection rate is small and staff like using it,” said Mr Ruddick. Input acknowledges that new generation paints and finishes have improved the end product too.

“In terms of application and durability, there’s no comparison between today’s water-based coatings and previous oil-based products,” said Mr Ruddick.

In its particular market, having the right people with the right skills and attitude is also key – and the company now has a 55-strong workforce.

“We send trainees on external courses, and put them through in-house training,” said Mr Ruddick. “While they’re working with some advanced technology, we also stress the continuing importance of learning classical joinery and woodworking skills, which we still see as an essential foundation for delivering a quality product.”

“In this respect it’s a huge benefit to have our long-serving team members,” added Mr Fisher. “They not only pass on their skills, knowledge and experience, but also the company ethos.”

Then there’s the technology. The impact of Input’s first Maka CNC machine led to it installing a second when it moved to its current purpose-built, 28,000ft2 plant in 2002. It also now operates a modern window processing centre and latest moulders.

Its automated flow coating and drying line was installed in 2016, an investment of £350,000 requiring a 3,000ft2 extension, and it’s about to replace its old wood-fuelled boiler to make the plant still more cost effective.

The recent installation of its mobile gantry SCM Accord 40 fx underlines both what Input is looking for in new technology and the exhaustive process it undertakes to get it. The company’s two Maka CNCs were still performing, but falling behind other technology in terms of efficiency and productivity.

“They were bullet proof kit, but were slow and didn’t give us the versatility we needed,” said Mr Ruddick.

They evaluated all options and did have another make of machine in mind, but a visit to the SCM stand at Fensterbau prompted a rethink.

“We were impressed with their knowledge of our requirements and they had answers to all our questions,” said Mr Fisher.

“They also had a similar CNC on the stand, which we examined closely,” said Mr Ruddick. “I always look at the components when judging technology and I was very impressed with the quality.”

But that wasn’t the end of the story. “We also visited SCM’s Rimini headquarters to see machines being built and to get to know the business,” said Mr Fisher. “That was a great help and SCM were very open.”

Input was impressed too at the level of technology, including the integrated software, incorporated in the Accord 40 fx package for the price.

“From some suppliers, those elements would have been bolt-ons at an extra cost,” said Mr Ruddick.

Due to Input’s scale and the market it serves, it’s also vital new technology integrates seamlessly and it described the Accord 40 fx installation process as “fantastic”.

“SCM provided two weeks’ in-house machine training and three days’ software training at its Nottingham site,” said Mr Ruddick.

“The operators were keen to get a new CNC and were really engaged and Mark and I took part so we could support them.”

Eighteen months on and Input estimates that the Accord 40 fx is processing over £1m-worth of joinery annually.

“We transferred the whole range of manual processes to the machine to see what it could do,” said Mr Ruddick. “It’s coped with nearly everything we’ve thrown at it. In fact, we’re still exploring its potential – it’s only limited by our imagination.”

Using Oertli tooling and Maestro joinery software – which was part of the package – plus Staircom software, the machine’s throughput includes standard and special staircase and window components, special glazing beads, handrails, door profiling and lathe jig elements.

“It’s hugely versatile and easy to set up so we can change products quickly and, if required, interrupt long runs to produce a one-off piece, then switch back,” said Mr Ruddick. “It’s also a major benefit to have controls and programming on the machine.

Previously operators were constantly walking back and forth between the office and the old CNCs. Now they can do everything then and there.”

The flexibility of the clamping system is also a step up, said Mr Fisher.

“The choice and possible configurations of clamps and suction cups give you a lot of ways of achieving your end machining goal,” he said.

Input also rates SCM’s after-sales service, even though it’s hardly needed it.

“The machine has been very reliable,” said Mr Ruddick. “We called on their remote access technical support once, but that was to help with a Microsoft update.”

Asked to sum up what the Accord 40 fx has delivered and they list consistent quality, flexibility, control and efficiency.

“It’s doing the work of our two previous CNCs running 30 hours a week, so effectively we have another 15 hours of dormant time to fill,” said Mr Ruddick.

Overall, concludes the company, the Accord 40 fx has further consolidated Input’s status as a truly 21st century bespoke joiner.