Wood-Mizer sawmills steer young Slovakians to roofing business set-ups
Smart investors clean up in on the Danube
On the Hungarian-Slovakian border where languages and traditions mix even within families, the town of Komarno boasts two Wood-Mizer offices –– one each side of the river Danube. Wood-Mizer Hungary is on the south bank, Wood-Mizer Danubia on the north. Both are headed by Viktor Turoczy. He inherited the firm from his father Vojtek whose grandson Viktor junior is also, already involved. It’s all hands to the pump in the two countries as woodworking enjoys good times alongside Slovakia’s recovering economy and Hungary’s building boom. Financial benefits like leasing schemes and EU refunding programmes also play a part in the general modernization of wood processing equipment there.
Oszi Stefan –– the wizard
Typical of this 'renaissance' is a young entrepreneur, Oszi Stefan, 31 who embarked on a woodworking career in a small village 10km from Komarno five years ago.
The village has four Wood-Mizer sawmills owned by separate operations. Oszi Stefan says:
"We bought our first Wood-Mizer sawmill, a model LT20 in 2003 to make pallets for our Austrian customer, Rakuska, which required atypical pallet wood.
"The mill paid for itself in two years and wishing to increase productivity I acquired a second Wood-Mizer mill", he adds. However, one day the pallet business ceased as the local currency unduly strengthened against the then weak euro and exports became unprofitable.
After some thought Oszi Stefan and a new business partner Julius Szaba, 28 acquired the advanced, semi-industrial LT70HD sawmill and threw themselves into roof elements. These now are sold in Slovakia for a 20% margin and elsewhere –– e.g. Hungary, at 80% –– where authentic wooden buildings had become the fashion.
"We had 14-16 personnel operating and supporting the LT20s.
"It was nerve racking. Weddings, funerals, illnesses and other problems led to many absences and naturally I listened, understood and helped.
"Then one day I realized it couldn’t continue and I bought an LT70 mill which one man operates", he reveals.
He now maintains two teams of three and the output of the single mill is the same as that of the two smaller machines. He doubled efficiency, turning out twice as many products.
The bigger mill acts as the pivot to the operation with its 15kW engine, more powerful than the LT20 at 11kW plus improved hydraulics for log handling. It also features computerized PLC-Setworks which sets the cutting head to saw boards to predetermined thicknesses. It saws much faster too.
Qualified electrician, Oszi Stefan himself devised a remote control system, constructed an inclined conveyor to move sawn boards from the mill, a cross transfer table and an edger.
"I worked out how Wood-Mizer devised its LT300 set-up and designed something very similar for my LT70 one.
"The LT70 is crucial, a natural evolution from the LT20s, the right choice five years ago.
"Three basic systems are both essential and are the keys to its profitability: hydraulics, Setworks, debarker," he explains.
The mill is on a leasing scheme, normal in Slovakia and Hungary, where terms are reasonable.
"I acquired three sawmills under lease in five years and the investments repaid themselves –– the LT70 in 18 months", he claims.
His LT20 operator learned to operate the LT70 in a month. Today it runs in two shifts, cutting up to 30 c ubic metres of logs daily from which 70-80% of sawn lumber results from the thin kerf technology. Shavings are converted to pallet woods and wood waste goes to a neighbouring MDF plant.
The LT70 has increased-diameter wheels for 1.4mm thick, 38mm wide ‘DoubleHard’ blades, compared with 1mm x 32mm on the LT20, which increases their longevity and allows more frequent sharpening.
Viktor Turoczy admits:
"Frankly, Oszi Stefan is not my most profitable customer, having bought blades four months ago and ordering none since."
The client admits: "Each of my blades cuts around 170m3 of logs and I sharpen and set them myself."
On the principle that the blade is the sawmill’s heart, there is rarely a mill problem if the blade is looked after.
Oszi Stefan’s reputation has spread around his part of Slovakia –– and Hungary –– and eager visitors come to see for themselves how they might begin a similar set-up.
Geiza Varga –– the engineer
Near the centre of Slovakia an engineer, Geiza Varga has used EU support to improve premises and wood processing kit to boost output and profit.
He lives under the Zobor mountain, near the town of Nitra.
He started work in building in 1992 until the local collective farm failed in 1994 when he acquired a joinery business and engaged three employees to help produce windows, doors, frames and similar wooden products. He sawed with two Czech bench saws and in 1996 invested one million Slovakian korunas (? 28.000) in new facilities, from which he now operates.
Slovakia’s entry into the EU created opportunities such as more financing which Geiza Varga used to acquire two more buildings for ? 50.000 in 2004. Two years later he gained another ? 25.000 to bring in new technologies.
Today he has a workforce of 22. Half his output consists of euro-windows and doors, the other half of boards for building contractors. Local pine is brought in from a state forest in the Banska Bystirca region 150km from Nitra. In effect, he runs two businesses: selling finished boards and purchasing laminated beech panels for windows and doors.
"A carpenter’s end product has considerable added-value and consequently 15 of my personnel work in this area." With that in mind he sought to improve his sawing, recently watched a Wood-Mizer band sawmill operating at a Nitra trade fair and bought one.
"My facility has a modest timber requirement of about 200m3 per month. I opted for the semi-industrial Wood-Mizer LT70 which has a relatively small 15Kw engine and a very narrow band blade which produces less sawdus t and more boards per log." One of his sawbenches remained at the plant, the other was sold.
According to Geiza Varga:
"The Wood-Mizer mill can cut a log 9,5m long and quite big in diameter – almost a metre. But the power-saw bench is limited to 50cm diameter logs. On the other hand, it can cut long logs up to 12m so I suppose that both technologies will benefit my facility.
"Output from the Wood-Mizer is expected to be 65% against 55% from the sawbench and man hours will be halved. I look forward to that.
"Furthermore, compared with the old technology, the Wood-Mizer sawmill will present me with additional profit of $ 115.000.
"Three people are now trained to operate the LT70 but they need a little more practice, right now.
"Even so, it is clear to me that the Wood-Mizer is considerably easier to operate if only because the sawbench requires manual fence adjustment. And productivity demonstrably increased almost immediately.
"Timber cost will probably rise 5% because board quality is better. Even so, the sawbench turned out a lot of thin un-sellable boards", concludes a delighted Geiza Varga.
Sabo Denes –– the industrial scale woodworker
Across the Danube Sabo Denes lives 50km from his Slovakian business where he has replaced outside contractors with an industrial scale set-up based on an a Wood-Mizer LT300.
He dealt in wood for 13 years, originally buying sawn timber in Slovakia and selling it in Hungary. This made him dependent on sawing contractors whose doubtful cutting accuracy claims made him consider sawing his own wood instead. He explains:
"I watched a video on the LT300 and later witnessed one in action at Dunajska Strada, wherein operates the first of these mills in Slovakia.
"I was impressed by its cutting spread, ease of operation and minimal labour requirement." Indeed, the machine is generally regarded as representing a technological breakthrough in narrow blade sawmilling. It combines traditional benefits –– a narrow cut and more output –– with a new factor: productivity formerly only achieved with wide blades.
However, the cost is a fraction of any wide blade mill.
As well as the mill, his line includes a hydraulic log loader and inclined conveyor that automatically removes sawn boards from the sawmill bed. One operator controls all stages remotely. When he acquired them in 2006 he also leased a Wood-Mizer LT15, one of the smallest versions for producing roofing elements for Hungary.
Today, Bauholtz s.r.o of which he owns 85% has a workforce of 18. Two, father and son, are LT300 operators and work in turn to create two shifts of eight hours each.
Sawdust goes to heating the workshop and shavings to a local MDF plant. Sabo Denes concludes:
"Comparing my two Wood-Mizer sawmills isn’t possible. The difference is too great.
"It seems to me that a man can buy an LT15, build a house and sell-on the mill with minimal loss, whereas the LT300 is an industrial machine for reliable long term manufacture."
Of his two sons, the eldest eight-year-old is destined to be a chemist but the family hope – the younger will inherit the father’s passion for woodworking.
Slovakian young bloods shrug off fickle markets with state-of-the-art wood cutting
Wood products –– always marketable
These new sawing technologies make such enterprises impervious to market imbalances. There will always be a market for woodworking products but the question is what, when and at what price.
"We’ll identify the trends", Oszi Stefan says assuredly.
He is confident about the future. With his sawmill he has the ability to shrug off any fickle market changes and offer the right product at the right price.
"I think mine was a smart investment", he concludes.
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