4 Dec 2012, 8:36 PM
Manufacturers are being sought to take forward a pioneering project to develop a new flooring system that converts low value, sustainable Welsh hardwood and softwood into high value endgrain floor tiles.
Endgrain project manager Dylan Jones (second from left), Coed Cymru’s director David Jenkins, woodland officer Mike Richards and project assessor Ian Widdrington with some of the specialist machinery.
A three-year project, which has looked at the complete supply chain from Powys woodlands to retail outlets, is nearing completion and has shown that the endgrain tile manufacturing process is viable.
The project is the brainchild of Coed Cymru, which has received funding from the Welsh Government and European Union under the Supply Chain Efficiency Scheme, which is part of the Rural Development Plan for Wales.
Coed Cymru, an all Wales initiative to promote the management of broadleaf woodlands and the use of locally grown timber, chose the endgrain project to add value to small diameter Welsh timber – less than 30cms – which is typically used as firewood.
During an open morning at Coed Cymru in Tregynon, near Newtown, project manager Dylan Jones revealed the results of his pioneering research to a group of invited guests from the timber industry. He said Coed Cymru had now developed specialist machinery and innovative systems to produce competitively priced endgrain flooring on an industrial scale in a cost-effective way to support Welsh woodlands.
Endgrain tiles are created by slicing a tree across the grain to reveal the annual rings inside. Apart from looking good, they also use the toughest, most hardwearing part of the tree, which makes them ideal for areas with a high footfall.
The tiles can be made from most species of softwood, which provide a variety of colours, as well as making them suitable for a range of climates and conditions.
“What this project has demonstrated is that if you have the time and money to invest in research and development then it is possible to overcome engineering and supply chain problems,” said Mr Jones. “In this country, we have the engineering know how and capability, we have the small, innovative businesses who are looking to diversify and we have the raw material that we know how to work and add value to.
“The next stage is to get manufacturers on board to take this forward because we know the demand is out there. It has been a privilege to be allowed to work with the Welsh timber supply chain and an eye opener to see the wealth of talent that we have within the business community in Wales. The project has renewed my belief in sustainable design through the use of Welsh timber.”
Coed Cymru has attracted widespread interest in its endgrain project from interior designers and specifiers to leading British architects. The company has also produced a test floor for BRE House in London and supplier, David Manuel from Heartwood Timber, Caersws, has produced endgrain cobbles for a scupltural park at the Tate Modern Gallery by artists Ivan and Heather Morrison.
Ian Widdrington, an assessor with the Welsh Government’s Supply Chain Efficiency Scheme, said there were opportunities for everybody in the supply chain to benefit from the project but it was critical that they worked together in partnership.
Coed Cymru’s director David Jenkins said: “What Dylan has done is a remarkable job in rationalising the manufacturing process and dealing with the weak links in the supply chain. We have the potential, which does not exist anywhere else in the world to my knowledge, to take a relatively low level material and convert it with simple technology into a high value product. It would be very disappointing if we missed the opportunity to turn this into money and jobs here in Wales.”
Local flooring manufacturer Kenton Jones said a massive domestic market would open up if the end grain tiles could be produced for between £40 and £50 a square metre. He also believes that adding value to small diameter timber will improve woodland management within Wales.