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EP_19.jpg Sept/Oct 2005
Cover Story
Oregon Timber
Lafarge Group

Located in Jedburgh, Oregon Timber Frame Ltd designs, manufactures and erects structural timber frames for various residential structures.


03.jpg Oregon Timber Frame’s company ethos is to promote the principles of The Egan Report ‘Rethinking Construction’, encouraging house builders to specify sustainable and environmentally friendly construction methods and reduce accident frequency rates by utilising off-site construction methods, while increasing overall efficiency and quality.

Oregon’s main mission is to become the leading timber frame supplier to the major house builders in the UK, through innovation in design and the quality and efficiency of its manufacture and on-site performance. Therefore, Oregon purses the philosophy of partnering both up and down the supply chain and is proud to supply major national house builders such as George Wimpey, Miller Homes, Countryside Properties, Cruden Group, CALA Homes, Persimmon, Mansell, Redrow and Bellway, amongst other national house builders.

“Contracting has been a volatile sector,” explains John Merry, Oregon’s managing director, “but we believe that price is not everything. Our system provides clients with value and it is value that we sell. For that reason, we try to enter into partnerships at an early stage, and offer customers value engineering so that both parties can benefit from the timber frame system.” Creating sustainable housing comes high on the government’s agenda and the need to provide innovative solutions to housing demands in both rural and urban environments is a challenge to housing providers across the UK. Oregon in particular is committed to providing solutions that address these issues, prompting John to comment: “Changes in building regulations are envisaged for 2006/08 and as timber frame is manufactured from a renewable resource, we believe it is the right medium to address many of the current construction issues.”

Off-Site Manufacturing
He continues: “The construction industry has not attracted skilled-workers over the last 20 years, so we now need off-site manufacturing. Off-site is the answer to addressing the shortfall in housing that exists in England today.” Indeed in 2003 the number of legal completions was the lowest on record, excluding the war years, since 1926, yet John argues: “You read in the financial press that the market is depressed but I think that is down to specific geographical areas where perhaps the market had become overheated. Generally, there is a huge demand for housing in the UK and I don’t see that abating in the foreseeable future.”

In order to meet these increasing demands for new housing and off-site construction, John has grown the business from just 11 employees, into a company with an annual turnover of around £14.5 million. “We acquired the company in 1998 and catered for the bespoke housing market. Over the following three years we focused the business on national house builders such as Miller Homes and George Wimpey, adding increasingly to this list over time,” he adds. “My role is a welcome challenge, and I see the huge potential and benefits that our system offers both customers and the construction sector generally.”

From its relatively small beginnings, the company has grown 35 per cent year on year. This sustained, closely-controlled growth has been achieved by the dedication and endeavours of all its employees and suppliers, and Oregon’s willingness to respond to modern lean manufacturing processes of Just in Time production, positive attitudes, trust and good relationships.

Additionally, communication has played an important role within the organisation and this is supported through its own works council meetings and the total involvement by its human resources management in all employment issues. Its management systems monitor, on a monthly basis, company performance in terms of revenue, quality control, process improvement measures, manufacturing output and innovation through research and development.

“Proper research and development is essential as it is our belief that automation in the manufacturing process is not appropriate at this particular juncture,” states John. “Customers have different requirements; it is not like manufacturing a car where you have the same shell but different accessories. There is a huge range of house types on the market, and for this reason we use optimiser saws and some very modern machinery. We don’t use frame makers, as at this particular point it is not appropriate for our business.”

In order to measure and monitor its service levels, Oregon participates with most of its long-term customers in quarterly benchmarking and key performance indicator reporting, addressing issues such as on-time delivery, design matters, lead times and on-site performance. John adds: “It is part of the company ethos that we benchmark, not only against people in our own industry but in other sectors as well.” Consequently, Oregon was awarded the Contractor of the Year award by Miller Homes in Scotland, acknowledging the contribution that Oregon made to its business in 2004.

A Mature Market
In Scotland, “timber frame is a mature market” comments John, “but in the rest of the UK, it is an emerging market with exceptional potential for growth.” In terms of production output, Oregon is currently the sixth largest manufacturer in the UK with five per cent market share, and is working to capacity in its present location. Having identified increased market demand, Oregon has recently secured premises in Selkirk from Scottish Enterprise Borders, which will enable it to triple capacity. This relocation will be phased-in over the next few months and will be completed by 2006.

John says: “Our current manufacturing facility is just under 20,000 square feet and is constrained by a river and a trunk road. Consequently, we identified alternative and additional sites and selected the Selkirk facility. This will stand us in good stead for the coming years and help us service the expanding UK timber frame housing market.”

The Scottish Borders economy has suffered from previous business failures and the effect of the relocation of businesses to other areas of the UK. It is therefore heartening that ventures within the area, such as Oregon Timber Frame, are becoming more successful. Oregon’s manufacturing facility is ideally situated in the Borders, and enables the company to provide a truly nationwide service, which spans from Aberdeen in the north to Basingstoke in the south.

John tells Construction Today more about the history of the Scottish Borders economy: “In the past the Borders economy was very much textiles-driven and focused. Textiles manufacturing has subsequently gone through a difficult period and many redundancies were the result. The Borders economy receives some very negative press due to the huge number of failed ventures. For example, the plant we have recently acquired in Selkirk was, I believe, a circuit board manufacturer which withdrew at the expense of 1500 jobs.”

John Merry believes that Oregon’s success has been achieved through the dedication and determination of all employees to offer a quality service, which is sustainable, fast, efficient, innovative and technically sound. “Our success can be attributed to the positive attitude of all our personnel,” he remarks, “I am a great believer in getting the right people for the right tasks. The market has been favourable to our particular approach as we are committed to delivering each task on time, on budget and with superior quality. We could not offer such things unless we had the right staff, who showed the correct levels of commitment to each and every project.”

People are the number one asset of Oregon, and John believes in developing his staff to create a company culture which is responsive to customer demands. Staff development initiatives include the adoption of annualised hours for factory staff, and a range of flexible working practices including part-time working, working from home, time off in lieu and shift swapping.

Into the future the company must continue to be flexible, if Oregon is to remain a flourishing and innovative venture. “We are only as good as our suppliers,” comments John, “and we must remain flexible enough to deal with sector changes. Without our suppliers we would not succeed and it is a matter of building trusting relationships in order to offer the very best products to customers. If the service offered by Oregon provides a solution to some of the industry’s leading issues, then this will enable Oregon to go from strength to strength.”  CT-E

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