The fact that the major upgrade of Cover’s Chichester mill has doubled its capacity is only part of the story.

Its newly installed state-of the art Weinig planer moulders, bespoke Britishmade handling equipment and streamlined layout make it more efficient, flexible and market-responsive. In short the timber and builders merchant is better able to service both the needs of its 13-strong network of branches across the southeast and third party customers.

That was the message from chairman Rupert Green and mill manager Peter Openshaw, who oversaw the seamless transition to the new facility, talking to TTJ at the customer launch in September.

The investment, said Mr Green, formed part of a renewal of the wider timber operation on the 13-acre Chichester site.

“It’s the culmination of about £1.25m to £1.5 million of spending, representing our continuing commitment to grow and develop our timber business, which is where we began in 1846 and still forms around 40-45% of sales,” said Mr Green.

“We’ve built a new hardwood shed nearer the mill, enabling us to expand our range and improve efficiency. We also extended and improved our treatment facilities to the requirements of latest environmental regulations, including both Tanalith green and Protim clear plant, with the Protim tank renewed as we did the Tanalith in 2007.”

The hardwood shed, he added, is paying its way in another ways too, with solar PVs on the roof contributing to the site’s overall solar generation of 400 megawatt hours of electricity, representing an annual 250-tonne CO2 emission saving.

The mill development was the last and biggest part of the upgrade and expansion programme. Despite the scale of the work, however, which included the building being extended by about 25% around them, Mr Openshaw and his 14-strong mill team achieved it with no break in output.

The existing machines comprised two long-serving Weinig planer moulders.

“We did everything to keep them going and they still did a good job, but they were previous generation and showing their age,” said Mr Openshaw. “We needed to change.” The centrepiece of the new set-up is clearly the 20-tonne Waco Hydromat 30XL, which runs up to 120m/min with timber up to 12in wide.

“Since installation, we’ve gone up to 100,000 metres a week with it,” said Mr Openshaw. “But we could reach 150,000 metres.”

The scale of the Hydromat and its appetite for timber also demanded a new feed system to link it direct to the VHT 105 Stenner twin resaw.

“Previously the Stenner was stand-alone and it took three people to operate; feeding, stacking and forklifting the timber away,” said Mr Openshaw. “We had to devise a whole new layout and workflow.”

“We approached Cranfield University and they sent down a professor specialised in factory planning who gave us some input and reassurance for what we were planning to do,” said Mr Green.

The Stenner now connects automatically to the Hydromat via the conveyor and stacking system, built by UK sawmill and materials handling specialists H Armstrong.

Meanwhile, the Weinig Powermat 2000 adds the flexibility to the Hydromat’s output muscle.

“Its PowerLock tooling facilitates very fast set up times and the combination of machines, and our team’s skills, mean we can fulfill virtually any requirement very quickly,” said Mr Green.

“The Powermat can handle long runs, but also the orders in hundreds of metres,” said Mr Openshaw.

Further boosting efficiency, the machines are also linked to the tool room to ensure cutting heads stay in prime condition. A new Weinig grinder has been installed too.

Most of the mill’s output will continue to go to other Covers outlets and their customers via its 60-strong delivery fleet. But as well as enhancing their timber service, it is also a potentially significant development for its other business.

“It gives us added capacity to support trade customers, both with larger orders and flexible, just-in-time delivery,” said Mr Green.