In March, one of the founding directors, Alan Medlow passed away leaving the staff devastated. Then on 16th July fire broke out in the dust extraction system of the company’s main production facility, Unit 15, Howard Road.
Although the fire brigade was on site within minutes the building, full of wood based panels and machinery, was razed to the ground. Director, Bill Chambers takes up the story, “It was heart-breaking for the team to stand by and watch their life’s work going up in smoke.
“The Cambridgeshire fire brigade was tremendous. Despite the risk to their lives, two members of the team entered the burning unit to remove an 18kg LPG cylinder from a fork-lift truck. The gas container could have exploded at any moment, but their focus was to minimise danger to surrounding people and property. At first it was estimated that the fire would burn for three days, but believe it or not, it burned for an incredible two and a half weeks. For the first six days the fire brigade was on site 24/7 to contain the fire and ensure the safety of our neighbours. By this time, despite what had happened in the previous five months and the challenges that lay ahead, we decided it wasn’t going to beat us.
“So many people rallied around to help, it was just incredible. Special thanks must go to our loyal and highly experienced staff who never once lost faith and knuckled down to keep the business going through what were nine months of hard grind and uncertainty.
“Despite the bad rap the insurance industry often receives, I have to take my hat off to our insurance company, AXA and the loss adjuster GAB Robins who made every effort to keep the cash flowing throughout the rebuilding process.
“One immediate hurdle was the acquisition of suitable premises nearby to get production rolling again. For this we will be eternally grateful to SPG who had vacated a unit located three plots down from us and kindly gave us a 12-month lease on Unit 19, which was just perfect. The next issue was a small matter of machinery. For 20 years we have used the global market leading Homag equipment because of its superb quality, reliability and technical supremacy. When Charles Smith of Homag UK heard of our plight, they responded like the professional company they are, agreeing to supply us with a Holzma HPP 350 beam saw and a Weeke 43M CNC router to get us back on our feet.
“Normally, machinery of this nature takes many months to arrive. Homag, however, pulled out all the stops. Within two months the machines were not only delivered but also installed and running. With Unit 19 operational, we were back in business and the fight back began in earnest.
“During the winter months it was like running three businesses: the insurance claim, the building of the new Unit 15 and keeping our board processing business going. With the support of everyone we managed to make it through this tough period and by March 2013 the new unit was almost built. It was handed over to us the first week of June and since then Homag has been helping install our new machinery.
“Given the unexpected opportunity to get new machinery, we have taken the chance to invest in bigger more powerful equipment that can handle the larger boards being imported these days. True to its word, Homag has taken back the Weeke 43M CNC machine and part-exchanged it for a new Weeke BHP 210 44/22 CNC giving us the ability to process boards up to 4.4m x 2.2m. We have also taken delivery of a new Holzma beam saw, the HPL 430 43/48 which allows us to work with boards 4.3m long. Homag UK has also moved our Holzma HPP 350 beam saw from Unit 19 to the new Unit 15. Later this year we will also be taking delivery of a new Weeke BHX 050 vertical CNC machine which will give us better flexibility for drilling. We can’t speak too highly of the team at Homag and it is thanks to them that we have been able to keep the production process running these last nine months or so.
“July 16th this year was a very special day for us as our new unit officially opened for business just 12 months to the day that fire struck. To mark this auspicious occasion and as a ‘thank you’ to all those who have helped us rebuild the business we decided to hold a celebratory Open Day.
“To make this a day to remember we invited the hundreds of people who have stood by us to join in the celebration – although I must admit there was no way we were going to make it a barbeque!
“As a thank you to the Cambridgeshire Fire Brigade we set up our Weeke CNC machine to produce children’s wooden rocking chairs. Guests could get one of these special chairs by making a contribution to the Cambridge Fire and Rescue Services charity.
“It was a fantastic day and a very emotional one for our team who have worked so hard to get us back on our feet again. To avoid similar catastrophes in the future, we have invested in a state-of-the-art spark detection and fire suppression system and are now looking forward to serving our customers for many trouble free years to come,” concludes Chambers.