The UK economic outlook may be uncertain, but leading moulder suppliers report a strong last 12 months. And looking ahead they see the orders continuing to come in, driven by product innovation and timber processors’ ever sharper focus in the current environment on pushing up productivity.

“We saw a large number of high value investments in mechanised lines to improve productivity in 2023, as well as excellent activity in the single machine business,” said Weinig UK managing director Malcolm Cuthbertson. “The Powermat 1500 was a [particularly] strong performer, with its tangible benefits including HSK tool technology, high feed rates, high quality levels and unbeatable fast setting times.”

Daltons Wadkin reports growth over the year “both in the number of planer moulders sold, as well as the turnover for the product”.

Leadermac UK is dealing with enquiries from an oak frame building company and a canal trust for its upgraded Planermac, which has width capacity from 450mm to 1300 mm wide

“This is true for joinery specification as well as higher production mill spec machines,” said director Alex Dalton. “In addition, a number of college installations shows that educational establishments are investing more in this type of machinery, with the SCM Profiset proving particularly popular.”

Leadermac UK reports a marked increase in demand for high-speed moulders, especially for MDF mouldings.

“This is something Leadermac specialises in; with extra high-speed tooling – HSK if requested – increased spindle speeds and extra dust collection points throughout the machine, along with a range of suitable tooling,” said general manager Martyn Cotterill.

The business end of the Weinig Powermat 1500

SCM said business was little changed in 2023 over 2022, with demand for the range of machines, from entry-level SCM Profisets to six, seven and eight-head Supersets.

Despite more demanding market conditions recently, moulder suppliers say customers still clearly recognise the need for latest technology to increase competitiveness.

“Customers need a rock-solid reason for making an investment in the current economic climate,” said Mr Cuthbertson. “However, when there is the solid case of productivity increase, in particular to overcome the shortage of skilled labour, purchasing decisions tend to be quick.”

After Covid, Leadermac experienced a slowdown in enquiries, but they picked up in 2023, with its reputation for value for money, it maintains, being one factor. “From customer feedback, we remain price competitive across the range, but especially on the bigger high-speed machines,” said Mr Cotterill.

Mr Dalton said moulder suppliers were also responding to cost increases.

“The industry trend is a mix of [companies] absorbing costs where possible, with some necessary price adjustments to offset increased expenses,” he said.

Mr Cotterill took a similar line. “Like all machine manufacturers, we’ve had to increase [prices] due to significant increases in transport and raw materials costs,” he said. “But we’ve kept these to a minimum to maintain our competitive edge.”

Weinig, said Mr Cuthbertson, had absorbed higher costs in general terms, but those for certain outsourced components, especially electrical items, had resulted in small price increases.

SCM’s new version of its Maestro active 4-side software system is now available in all its moulders

Gabriele de Col, managing director of SCM UK, said prices increased from 2021-2023, but were being held so far in 2024. “It’s a big commitment as all SCM products are built in Italy, while most competitors have large parts, if not all production coming from the Far East,” he said. “We’re committed to supplying authentically made in Italy machines, even if we need to make sacrifices.”

The constant through the ebbs and flows of the market, say suppliers, is product development. If anything, more challenging economic conditions heighten the need for it, both to increase market differentiation and help customers become more cost competitive.

“SCM invests 7% of turnover in R&D, and last year in moulders we focused on the development of new software functions and new HMI interfaces capable of facilitating use of the machine and simpler maintenance,” said Mr de Col. “We’ve also introduced IoT Maestro connect, allowing monitoring of operating and productivity data, reducing down time and guaranteeing performance [levels].”

SCM is also developing a new moulder “with additional features and new functionalities”.

“Our focus on developing our ‘bigger machine’ follows our development path, which has already seen the launch of a totally revised small/medium Superset nt,” said Mr de Col.

At the last Ligna exhibition in Hannover, Weinig launched the Hydromat 4000 series, a machine targeted at the sawmilling sector with feedspeeds from 200m/min to 400m/min.

“It offers an excellent blend of strength, reliability and high performance to customers in this niche sector,” said Mr Cuthbertson, while stressing that Weinig was not just focused on top end innovation.

“We’re always looking at all market sectors, from the small craftsman, to large industrial concerns,” he said. “The mid-range Powermat 1500 is constantly being refined, and the Powermat 3000 is able to accommodate virtually every possible application scenario due to a massive range of options and features.”

Leadermac has made further improvements to its Super Planermac, the highest capacity machine in its range. “It offers a max width planing capacity of 450mm, with options to 1300mm, and a thickness capacity of 200mm, with options to 350mm,” said Mr Cotterill. “We’re currently dealing with enquiries for it from oak frame building manufacturers and a canal trust.”

He added that there have been updates too to the 300m/min Super Thundermac, with associated handling technology, and improvements for “optimal production” to the smaller Smartmac and Compact machines.

Mr Dalton reports developments across its moulder range, which includes Ledinek, Kuper and SCM machines. “From high-productivity models to compact machines, [it’s being] driven by demand for versatility, precision and customisation.”

Moulder software has also continued to evolve.

The new Weinig Machine Control (WMC) system, the successor to PowerCom, is now available across the company’s range of performance moulders. It is fully integrated with Weinig’s Moulder Master to provide a “seamless paper-free management and setting system for an entire mouldings production company”.

“From drawing a profile in the CAD system, to producing a template, to grinding knives, through to setting data for the moulder, the data flow is electronic and efficient, with almost no scope for error,” said Mr Cuthbertson.

SCM’s new version of its Maestro active 4-side software system is now available in all its moulders.

“It further improves ease of use of the operator interface for more immediate and effective dialogue between machine and user,” said Mr de Col.

Environmental performance has been another focus of moulder development.

“Leadermac’s technical improvements have also centred around improved energy efficiency, achieved through use of Siemens IE motors, improved dust extraction, and lower energy usage of both PLC operating systems and the Siemens inverter,” said Mr Cotterill.

Weinig has worked on efficiency of dust extraction by refining the detail design of hoods and understanding air and chip flow in confined spaces.

“The result is machines that require lower air volumes and hence less energy consumption in the extraction system,” said Mr Cuthbertson.

SCM has introduced low-energy consumption motors across its range.

“New features on our superset also enable the machine to communicate with the vacuum extraction system and activate a standby function when processing is interrupted,” said Mr de Col.

Suppliers also report advances in their machine fault diagnosis and machine maintenance services.

“The first step in fault diagnosis is now nearly always remote,” said Mr Cuthbertson. “More can now be diagnosed by simple error messages and online investigation. In addition to this, Weinig’s new WMC system can offer a service monitoring package that, like many modern cars, tells you when maintenance is required.”

SCM says its Maestro connect digital platform, with its Smart Maintenance function, provides the tools for operators to plan maintenance and prevent downtime “through the whole life cycle of the equipment”.

“Through intuitive smart documents, Maestro connect guides operators step by step through maintenance procedures and for additional support they can open a ticket in one click to get [assistance] from our experts,” said Mr de Col.

Leadermac has also seen an increase in requests for remote diagnostics to be fitted to new machines. It is increasing its team of maintenance engineers and has expanded services to include both machine and associated handling equipment relocation for any make of machinery. “We’ve also significantly expanded our spares department to offer in many cases next day delivery,” said Mr Cotterill.

Daltons Wadkin reports demand for its Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) contracts continuing to grow.

“We are seeing a general decline in the ability of wood processing companies to maintain and support production equipment in-house,” said Mr Dalton. “We’ve grown our Support Services department over the past 12 months, with several new engineers joining the team, some specific to the support of planer moulders.”

Even more evident, he said, was an “exponential increase in demand for certificated operator training”.

 “The Daltons Wadkin ‘Red Team’ of dedicated trainers is now five strong,” he said. “They cover the UK and Ireland, carrying out practical, hands-on training and assessment on a range of woodworking machinery, not least planer moulders.”

And while the business environment may continue to be challenging through 2024, moulder suppliers continue to invest and are broadly upbeat about their prospects.

Evidence of this at SCM was the opening last year of its new 4,000m2 Technology Centre at its Rimini site.

“This offers customers the possibility of testing SCM moulders and other machines and also experiencing how development of our Maestro software suite is revolutionising solid timber processing,” said Mr de Col.

Weinig has also made a “very significant investment” to expand production facilities at its factories in Germany and Austria and a multi-million [euro] new production and warehouse facility is set for completion at the main Tauberbischofscheim plant in 2024.

“A tough year is on the cards,” said Mr Cuthbertson. “However, companies needing to make productivity improvements will gravitate to suppliers who have the in-depth knowledge of the market and fully understand application sales, so we don’t have negative outlook on potential for order inflow.”

Leadermac is also optimistic, having just extended its Taiwan factory to increase spindle building and machine production.

“Our outlook is very positive,” said Mr Cotterill. “We’re currently dealing with several large-scale enquiries and plan to develop our upward trajectory in high-speed machines.”