Operating two of the most modern and efficient sawmills in the world at Enniskeane and Lissarda in West Cork, GP Wood is one of Ireland’s largest suppliers of sawn softwood products. Building Ireland touched base with sales manager Michael O’Regan to get an update on this innovative, efficient and sustainable timber processing operation, which supplies Irish construction with a range of essential, high-quality, value-added products.
Supplying a wide range of construction, pallet, packaging and fencing products, GP Wood is Ireland’s busiest and most technologically advanced sawmill operation, with state-of-the-art sawmills located just 14 miles apart at Enniskeane and Lissarda, County Cork.
The company was established in 2013 as the result of a merger between two long-established family enterprises – the Grainger Group (Enniskeane) and the Palfab Group (Lissarda). Combining the experience and expertise of these two initial companies and investing substantially in both sawmills, GP Wood has quickly taken its place at the forefront of Ireland’s vital timber processing sector, manufacturing a diverse range of exceptional products focused on the construction, fencing, garden leisure and packaging markets.
“Approximately 50% of our sales are into the domestic Irish market, around 50% goes to the UK and a small amount would go to long standing customers in Europe,” notes general manager Michael O’Regan. “In Ireland, we supply all the main builders providers chains with structural timber and we also supply the pallet / crate markets here. In the UK, meanwhile, our biggest market is the fencing market while we also cater for the fencing and pallet markets there.”
Thus far, Brexit has not impacted adversely on GP Wood’s significant export business: “The changeover went relatively smoothly and, apart from extra paperwork and additional customs clearance requirements, we haven’t encountered any major issues thus far, thankfully,” Michael reveals. “Whether more obstacles appear down the line remains to be seen. Brexit is slow-moving and has gone under the radar with everything else that’s taking place in the world right now. I’m anticipating that there could be an increase in the cost of transport to the UK as a knock-on effect of the reduction in imports coming this way, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
GP Wood has state-of-the art facilities for kiln drying, machining and timber treatment. They constructed Ireland’s first largescale commercial biomass CHP plant which was designed around the Enniskeane sawmill’s energy requirements. Using by-products from the sawmilling process, the plant produces 2.5 MW of electricity, which is sold to the national grid, and 6 MW of thermal energy.
Employing a professional, experienced forestry team, GP Wood purchase logs from Coillte and private growers and also import some from abroad. They buy and harvest standing timber – both thinnings and clearfells – and pay competitive prices for well managed lots, using the most modern harvesting equipment and techniques. All operations are carried out to the highest standards of Health & Safety, environmental awareness and sustainable forest management practice.
Committed to supplying consistently high quality products on time and at a fair price, GP Wood are continually looking at ways to improve product availability and customer service. To meet this commitment, they are constantly improving processes using the latest technological advances in both engineering and automated systems. To this end, both facilities utilise some of the most modern wood processing techniques found in Europe today.
Ireland’s draconian forestry licensing system and the severe backlog in the issuing of licences is understandably having a detrimental effect on the company’s ability to either satisfy demand or to further increase capacity, not to mention a worrying direct impact on the price of timber and therefore the cost of construction…
“Even though the solution is in play, the licensing situation remains unresolved,” says Michael. “The backlog with logs pushes up prices instead of us having access to a steady flow of product to mills. There doesn’t seem to be any real urgency to get these licences processed quickly enough.
“We believe there is enough timber standing in forests in Ireland to satisfy demand but the owners can’t secure licences to get it to the sawmills. It’s a frustrating situation and we are forced to import more expensive logs from Scotland to keep production moving. It makes no sense whatsoever when there are better quality logs standing here. With the well-documented shortage of housing that exists in Ireland at the moment, it makes sense that the Government should be doing more to make sure that mills are not starved of timber. This artificial scarcity of timber is only driving up prices even further and making the housing crisis worse instead of alleviating it.”
If the situation was resolved and better access to native timber was secured, there exists real scope for further growth at GP Wood: “Let’s just say we are futureproofed for further growth,” Michael notes. “We have the two newest sawmills in Ireland, as they were effectively rebuilt in 2017 and 2020 respectively and have benefited from regular investment every year. At present, both mills are operating on a single shift five days a week. We could obviously increase that but at the moment we can’t get the logs.
“As part of the supply chain to construction, we need to have material out there to help the industry and ultimately to help the individual who is trying to build a house or get an affordable mortgage.”
GP Wood offers a wide range of construction timber from CLS to floor joists, manufactured from both Irish and imported timber, in a full range of widths and thicknesses and in lengths up to 8.4 metres. Construction timber is kiln dried, planed and graded in accordance with EN 14081-1:2005 + A1:2011. All these operations are CE certified. They also offer machine studding and tiling battens in lengths from 2.4 metres to 5.4 metres, again in a range of widths and thicknesses.
A full range of ISPM-15 certified pallet and packing material is available, manufactured to ISPM-15 standard and GP Wood produce a complete range of quality fencing timbers for all requirements. These products include feather edge boards, arris and cant rails, gravel boards and fence posts. Post and rail fencing and shed components are also offered and all these products can be supplied kiln dried and, if required, pressure treated with a range of environmentally respectful chemicals to suit the timber’s end use. Treated timber can be supplied in a choice of green or brown.
In addition to producing their own sawn products, they also import part-processed timber from Scandinavia, Russia, the Baltic States and mainland Europe. The company has also diversified into added value markets through their joint venture investment in Eirebloc – a local business which manufactures pallet blocks from recycled timber.
When the Covid-19 crisis arrived in Ireland in the Spring of 2020, GP Wood temporarily suspended operations at their construction timber mill in Lissarda while activities at the Enniskeane facility – which services the pallet, packaging and fencing markets – were unaffected. “In hindsight, stopping for the pandemic was a mistake,” Michael O’Regan points out. “Since then we have managed to increase production in both sawmills, even with turbulent prices and worldwide interruptions to the timber supply chain.”
GP Wood is of enormous importance to the local economy, not just because of the vital products produced but also in terms of employment and revenue generated. Direct employment is created for 160 people as well as another 250 indirectly, including haulage, forestry, etc.
“The quality of our products is a given at this stage but the proof of this is more clearly seen during quieter times. It’s a seller’s market at the moment but when you can sell your products in a buyer’s market – which we have been able to do – that’s when you know you are delivering quality products and service. We focus on customer service and on maintaining long-term relationships. Between 90-95% of our business is repeat business with customers who know they will get quality products from us within the agreed timeframe.
“Irish mills now supply up to 65% of timber used in the Irish construction market – apart from timber frame, which is primarily imported and that’s something that needs to be addressed,” Michael continues. “It would have been just 15-20% 30 years ago but there has been huge growth in domestic supply and a huge change in attitude, largely down to investment in better facilities and machinery as well as increased expertise and knowhow.”
GP Wood understands the importance of softwood as a valuable renewable resource and are committed to promoting its use in an expanding range of new sustainable applications. They are wholly committed to excellence in environmental management by conducting business in a manner which safeguards the environment and the health and safety of employees, customers and the public. They use only raw materials from sustainably managed forests and encourage the wise use of energy, waste minimisation and recycling.
“We have a zero waste policy and use bark and sawdust to generate both electricity and heat in our Combined Heat & Power (CHP) plant, which we built in 2004 and was the first one in the British Isles,” Michael concludes. “We generate all our own heat for the kilns to dry the timber and extra heat drives the turbines to generate the electricity which we sell to the grid. Chips go for export for paper manufacture or into MDF for heat generation.
“From the second sawmill in Lissarda, the sawdust goes into the production of composite blocks for Eirebloc, which we own 50% of, and the bark goes to a heat generator to dry and air the blocks, which are composed of 70% recycled wood diverted from landfill and 30% virgin sawdust. All of this means we have zero waste with a continuous cycle of recycled materials going around and around.”
Tel: 023 8822500
Fax: 023 8847698
Email: [email protected]
This article was published in Building Ireland Magazine, August, Vol 7 No 8