World-leading New Zealand timber drying technology is poised to open new global markets for its Wellington developers after independent endorsement of recently completed trials in Italy. The high speed kilns, designed and manufactured by Windsor Engineering, dry about 80% of all timber dried in New Zealand and Australia.
The company had identified significant potential for uptake in Europe for drying plantation softwoods, such as Sitka spruce. The biggest limitation facing European companies is that their combination of unpressurised hot water boilers and low specification kilns cannot produce the correct controllable environment for faster, high quality drying like Windsor’s can.
Recognising that potential customers need to see evidence of results, Windsor undertook drying trials in the research laboratory of Italian company, Nardi, which specialises in drying hardwoods. The two businesses have a marketing partnership which sees them provide contacts, introductions and support for their complementary technologies.
Half of the Sitka spruce trial timber was sent to Italy for drying with Windsor’s revolutionary methods, with the other half dried using conventional technology in Scotland. Britain’s Building Research Establishment (with functions comparable to those of BRANZ, Forest Research and the Department of Building and Housing) independently assessed the trial outcomes.
Windsor Engineering sales manager Stephen Carr says the results were impressive, showing that Windsor’s system can reduce current drying times in Britain by between 70% and 80% while maintaining quality levels.
“The trials show that our technology can significantly cut drying times without the risk of stresses that can warp the timber. This represents a dramatic time saving, and opens many possibilities for new product development,” he says. Windsor is now negotiating the sale of its kilns and its computer-based control technology in Britain, with anticipated revenue from the contracts of NZ$4 million.
“There is a race on between British companies to be the first to install our kilns and our technology,” Mr Carr says. Search for the Holy Grail “Finding a way of drying British timber faster, without compromising quality, has been something like the search for the Holy Grail.
It has been a market hungry for a solution which we have been able to provide.” New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) supported the drying trials with a grant through its Growth Services Fund. NZTE specialised manufacturing sector manager Ken Gardiner says Windsor Engineering’s success is a great example of how New Zealand companies can think innovatively to break into lucrative overseas markets.
“Windsor recognised that it had to prove the viability of its technology in the British market using a British testing authority, and went about that in a planned and strategic way, which is really paying off for the company,” Mr Gardiner says. Mr Carr says the company intends to use Britain as a springboard for developing markets in the European Union, which produces around 87 million cu m of sawn softwood each year.
In contrast, New Zealand production is around 4.5 million cu m annually. Sophisticated computer control technology “There are a lot of kiln manufacturers in Europe, but none have high performance kilns coupled to sophisticated computer control technology like ours that allow you to monitor the different variables and strictly control what is happening to the wood during the drying process,” Mr Carr says.
“Like other sectors in New Zealand, the timber industry is constantly innovating and looking for new ways of doing things. This gives us a unique advantage and means we do lead the world in some areas.” Windsor Engineering was founded in 1975, originally making a range of fans and dust collectors for the wood working industry, but later specialising in the design and production of timber drying kilns.