Weinig Powermat moulders are the key to quality and productivity at Cheshire Mouldings

John Carney isn't a man to mince his words. He's to the point, sharp, intuitive and has an overwhelming appetite for success. Yet, as our interview progresses, while it's clear he is the driving force behind Cheshire Mouldings & Woodturnings Ltd, and he relishes the challenges that come with his position of Managing Director, I get the feeling he really doesn't enjoy the limelight much. He deflects my questions, shifting attention to those who helped him along the route to success and stressing the partnerships he's fostered. While most bosses in John's position might gloat over the company's achievements, he remains remarkably modest, despite conquering the giants of the DIY and independent merchants market, pushing turnover to just shy of £40million, and achieving recognition as one of the London Stock Exchange's 'Top 1,000 Companies To Inspire' no fewer than four times. That's no mean feat for a company that was established in 1988 and didn't even have a workshop to call its own when it started out. Much of that success John attributes to the strong partnership he's developed with the Weinig Group and the advice, expertise and technology he has accessed through them over the years.

'Weinig supplied me with my very first moulder over 30 years ago when I was working out of some old converted sea containers in Warrington,' recalls John proudly. Running alongside his father's merchant business, John's head for business was clear from a young age as he saw a gap in the market and began manufacturing stair spindles, newel posts, dado rails and architectural mouldings for the merchant trade. 'I wanted my business to be a success and I knew that if I was to be taken seriously, I needed to invest in good quality equipment. Weinig's seven-headed Unimat 22 was the perfect fit for my business and our relationship has stood the test of time.'

Company shift

It was winning a Howden's Joinery contract to supply stair parts in 1997 that sparked a shift in the company. 'Back then, Howdens only had 27 branches, they now have over 700, but this was big business for us,' admits John, who still remains one of the original suppliers to the nationwide joinery supplier. Within 10 years, the business had reached a turnover of £980,000 and the decision to move to bigger premises in St Helens meant a substantial additional investment in new machinery.

'From the moment I started using Weinig's machines, I knew it was a brand worth investing in. Their ongoing technical support and service packages are simple and effective and their customer service is second to none. In fact, our original Weinig salesman, David Hill, who has now retired, is still on hand to help us if we need him. You wouldn't get that kind of service anywhere else. As a result, we don't look anywhere else and our manufacturing site is filled with Weinig kit, including five moulders, BK bandsaws, a CNC router and a new finger jointing line.'

As the business continued to grow year on year and multi-million pound contracts were confirmed with well-known DIY chains in 2012 and 2015, Weinig was challenged to put the necessary infrastructure in place to fulfil large-scale contracts that would inevitably see Cheshire Mouldings increase its turnover from £17 million to £26 million in one year alone, an impressive figure for a business owner whose ultimate goal was to reach a turnover of £3 million before retirement age.

The new machines not only needed to offer a continuously high level of accuracy and precision, they also needed to assist in de-skilling the production lines, reduce down-time and increase production. 'In the months after winning one big contract, we invested in two new machines, a finger jointing line and a cross cut line, that we installed in a new, dedicated factory. There was never any doubt that we would use Weinig. By this point, they knew our business well and, more importantly, when dealing with a multi-million pound contract, we knew we could trust them to create a solution that worked. We saw immediate results. The original finger jointing line required four men and produced 2,000m a day. The new line requires three men and produces 20,000m a day. These kind of figures excite me and wouldn't have been achievable without Weinig's help.'

 'We have always looked to the future and Weinig are like-minded in that respect,' says John, who openly admits to favouring innovative companies that are fluid in their response to change. 'We know what we want to achieve but that doesn't mean we always know how to achieve it. Weinig are the experts, we've seen that first hand. They have the knowledge and understanding to make our vision a reality.'

This approach has often seen Cheshire Mouldings taking the lead and becoming the first company to put Weinig's latest technology to the test. They were among the first companies in the UK to install Weinig's clever Power Lock system and the first company to buy a R1000 CNC grinder.

'I still believe the R1000 was the best thing we've ever bought,' says John. 'We make quads and dowels that go from 6-20mm, but thanks to this Weinig grinder, we only need one person working in our tool room, even though they are grinding for five moulders. The accuracy is absolutely superb and the blending is perfect. Yes, it comes with a price tag but modernising our production in this way has helped us to put £20 million onto our turnover in the last five years as well as reducing our labour costs.'

Overhauling manufacturing processes

Automation is a key area of development for the Cheshire-based business and John's constant hunger to push the boundaries of manufacturing and increase turnover is one of the reasons the Cheshire-based company has won a string of industry awards. 'We might be close to reaching a £40 million turnover but how do we get it to £50 million? How do we take our business to the next level?'

John put these question to Weinig UK's MD, Malcolm Cuthbertson, who presented a complete overhaul of the current manufacturing processes. Weinig's 'Blue Sky Thinking' concept involves looking at their customer's complete manufacturing cycle, from raw materials to packaging, and suggesting an improved factory layout that offers a clear and concise end-to-end solution that allows for the more effective use of existing machinery and puts the disciplines in place to expand the facilities at a later date.

'Because we've grown rapidly, our production areas are slightly disjointed, with our stock, cross-cutting, finger jointing, prep, moulding and packaging areas bolted onto each other,' admits John. 'Weinig has looked at our current practices and created a plan that will help us to reach our end goal of becoming a fully-automated factory in the future.'

'We currently run 35-45,000m of inbound board a day and our machines run for no more than 6.5 hours a day.
Now imagine the time and cost saving possibilities if we introduced rollers to move the wood from A to B instead of using forklift trucks, the integration of production planning software and installing intuitive machinery that can manage stock control, handling and optimise machining automatically. Our eyes have been opened to these possibilities and it's an exciting time for us.'

'The industry is constantly evolving and I honestly believe you need to invest in the future if you want to stay ahead. Take the woodturning part of our business as an example: in the last 10 years, we've gone from producing 23,000 stair spindles a day to just 6,000. We're also seeing a trend for primed and wrapped products emerging, so we are having to change elements of our production to respond to this. But if we're looking at the here and now, it's our small section mouldings where we see major growth. We predict a growth of £4million in the next four years and because of this, we will continue to work with Weinig in this area of manufacturing and start to implement their plans into
our factory over the next 12 months.'

John concludes: 'Having strong relationships with suppliers who have the same forward-thinking attitude and flexibility in their approach to business is a must for us. That's what makes Weinig a great fit for Cheshire Mouldings. They've been by our side for over 30 years and with the introduction of new technology, design services and their commitment to maintaining high levels of customer service, Weinig will continue to be an important ally going forward.'

For more information on Weinig, see www.weinig.co.uk, and for more on Cheshire Mouldings & Woodturnings Ltd, visit www.cheshiremouldings.co.uk.