Rain and wind, snow and wind, UV radiation from the sun, temperatures below freezing and storms; this is an effective combination for rapidly destroying untreated wood. And even wood treated by traditional means soon shows signs of reduced protection over time. For property owners the solution has been to treat facades with rot-resisting products. Not a very inspiring task, and one that normally has to be performed every few years.
Impregnation is a common way of protecting wood that is sold as weather-boarding. In Norway alone around 400,000 m3 of impregnated timber is sold annually for this purpose. This is a figure that Terje Smistad, CEO of MøreTre AS, is well aware of. And for good reason as protecting weather-boarding is a large part of their business. Sixty percent of the company’s turnover of approximately 13 million Euro is due to MøreRoyal, the weather-board protectant that the company has developed.
"At the moment we produce approximately 15,000 m3 of timber that is impregnated using our own method. In other words we see great potential for increasing our production," he adds, with a smile. But it hasn’t always been like that. When the company was founded in 1954 it was in the form of an association, owned by around 2,000 forest owners, who sought to increase their income through starting their own timber processing so as to obtain a larger share of the money for the final product. Over time sawmills were joined by planing mills, then the production of building units and an impregnation line.
However, in the mid 1990s the association found itself in financial difficulties and in autumn 1997, just after Smistad had taken over as CEO, it went bankrupt. "But I was convinced that the operation basically had good potential," he continues, "so we carried on working in the hope of a compromise with our creditors."
But bankruptcy proved unavoidable. However, help was at hand and the company was bought out. The new owners were Talgø Invest AS, which bought the major part of the operations, while the Allskog BA forestry owners association now owned a smaller part. Smistad, who has worked as an economist and machine technician in a number of industrial companies, including Volvo, rapidly pushed through wide-reaching rationalization measures, made cutbacks in the administration and focused on the products he considered to have the greatest potential.
"We have invested approximately five million Euro so that we can operate as a modern and effective processing industry," he explains. Witnesses to the success of the measures are both the growing sales and turnover statistics, approximately 5–10 percent annually since 1997, and the company’s highest possible credit rating, AAA.
The key to this success is the product that MøreTre AS has developed: MøreRoyal. Smistad explains: "It is a mixture of linseed oil, Nynas mineral oil and pigment in certain determined, and secret, proportions. We did try mineral oils from other suppliers, but we didn't get the same high quality as we do with Nynas oil." In order for MøreRoyal to function as intended it is necessary to have a mineral oil with very high solvency, which can penetrate into the wood and, in addition, mix well with the pigment to "carry" the pigment into the timber. Both the mineral and linseed oil, moreover, contribute to protecting the wood.
MøreRoyal is a registered design and as far as Smistad knows there are only four other companies in Europe that produce similar products, and these are in smaller volumes. "We are the world's biggest manufacturer of Royal impregnation," laughs Smistad. "Since we are in fact the only company that manufactures this particular product."
But MøreTre AS special mixture is not the entire secret. For the treatment to function to its full potential the wood has to be impregnated in two steps. The first is a traditional pressure impregnation which uses, among other things, copper. In the second impregnation a tank is filled with MøreRoyal. The pressure is reduced so that the liquid boils at 65°C. This boils out any water that was contained in the wood and replaces it with the oil and pigment mixture. The result of this special treatment is a combination of long-lasting protection and a surface that many find aesthetically appealing.
"By impregnating with a transparent paint we preserve the surface structure and pattern of the timber," explains Smistad. "This is something that is greatly appreciated by many customers, from architects to builders." Smistad adds that all their systems are closed and strictly controlled so that the fluid can be reused. Around 25 litres of MøreRoyal is needed to impregnate 1 m3 of wood. This mean the company currently purchases around 110 tons oil from Nynas annually.
Nowadays MøreTre AS has four impregnation chambers. By the end of the summer there will be another and Smistad is already thinking about where the sixth one can be constructed. Needless to say, demand is growing rapidly. "We have a product that really works well," he says. "In one test we compared ten-year-old noise-reducing planks that had been treated with MøreRoyal with the same type of planks treated by other methods. The planks we had treated were neither split, warped nor rotten but the others were."
"We can promise that the timber will last for at least 50 years," says Smistad. "For anyone responsible for a budget for property maintenance this is of course very positive. But also for the younger generation of home owners, who perhaps are not as keen to spend time on house maintenance as their parents were, then this is a very welcome feature."
Another strong sales argument that Smistad likes to emphasize is that MøreRoyal has a very low environmental impact. "We no longer use any heavy metals, apart from copper in such small volumes that leaching is almost non-existent. All the ingoing components, linseed oil, Nynas oil and pigment are very pure and free from harmful substances. This is something highly sought-after nowadays, and it is going to be even more important in the future."
MøreRoyal is currently available in yellow, red and brown. It is also available without pigment, and then results in a colour that can be described as "weathered grey that tones in with nature", as Smistad expresses it. But since there has been a large demand for a permanent grey nuance they have now developed a grey stain which will be available soon. Wood that has been treated with MøreRoyal products basically doesn't need any follow-up treatment, but weather and UV rays will naturally bleach the surface.
"So if you want to retain the same appearance of the wood as when it was new you need to apply MøreRoyal again after perhaps six to ten years." MøreTre AS's biggest customers when it comes to impregnated wood are major building entrepreneurs and one of Norway’s biggest building supplies stores geared at professional builders. Around 95 percent of production is sold in Norway. But there are also regular sales to Denmark, Iceland and Sweden, and somewhat more sporadically to countries such as France and Germany.
Smistad continues: "Bearing in mind that we only have approximately three percent of the Norwegian market, then our strategy initially is to grow domestically. But of course we also deliver abroad when there is demand for it." Noise-reducing fencing is a large and important product for MøreTre AS. The company also focuses on agricultural buildings such as storage facilities, buildings for pig breeding and poultry, and panelling and roofs for both domestic housing and public buildings. Outdoor flooring is also a growing market. Another area where Smistad believes there is good scope for selling large volumes of MøreRoyal is impregnated garden furniture.
The company is very active in gearing its marketing to architects and builders. This has resulted in many large buildings, such as arts centres, sports centres and an amphitheatre being built of timber treated with MøreRoyal. "I am totally convinced that we have such a good product that we will continue to grow rapidly in the future too," says Smistad. "We are going to have welcome problems such as buying in more high quality sawn timber when we reach the limits of our own capacity, and extending our impregnation capacity."
Company: MøreTre AS
Head Office: Surnadal, Norway.
CEO: Terje Smistad
Owners: Talgø Invest, 82%, Allskog forest owners association, 18%.
Products: MøreRoyal for impregnated weather boarding, sawn and planed timber, pre-production of wooden buildings.
Market: Primarily Norway.
Turnover: 13 million Euro (2007).
Income: 1.2 million Euro (2007).
Nynas customer since: 2005.