06 September 2021

SPOTLIGHT ON THESEN

Thesen is a specialist supplier of structural timber and custom cut component solutions based in George in the Western Cape. It is part of the PG Bison Southern Cape Cluster, along with Woodline, which produces timber poles.

By making use of slow grown pine from the southern Cape (the preferred Pinus Radiata species), Thesen’s lumber is of a higher density, with exceptional strength, durability and quality that surpasses the SABS minimum standards. Combining timber quality with an advanced sawmill facility, Thesen’s timber range caters for exceptional structural lumber, furniture components and moulding solutions.

The company has a long history and was first started by brothers Arnt Leonard and Mathias Thesen, who arrived in South Africa from Norway in 1869. They settled in Knysna, establishing Thesen & Co. in 1870. Today, the company is part of PG Bison, a proudly South African company and a division of KAP Industrial Holdings (Pty) Ltd, a Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) listed company. Both Thesen and Woodline fall into KAP’s PG Bison Integrated Timber division, which harnesses the benefits of an integrated model by owning and managing its own resin, forestry and timber operations with primary manufacturing and value-adding facilities.

Thesen runs various learnership and apprenticeship programmes to create opportunities for skills development. Rivonia Adonis is an example of the opportunities the learnership programme creates. She was one of the 28 learners who joined the work-based learnership programme on lumber milling in January 2016 (along with 15 other young women and 12 young men). She completed all of the levels of the programme (NQF levels 1 to 4) over the four-year period and in July 2020 was employed permanently as a general worker. She excelled in her Opti-cut department and was promoted to Supervisor on 1 June 2021.

Community involvement

Thesen strives to be a good corporate citizen and to support worthwhile community initiatives within the George region. For example, the company has been supporting Life Community Services, an NPO, with various projects.

This has included a mask-making initiative that created work opportunities for women in the community and helped to meet local COVID-19 requirements for PPE supply, as well as the NPO’s feeding schemes, which ensure 1 000 children receive a nutritious meal every day. Thesen has committed a substantial sum over the lockdown period, and will be supporting Life Community Services’ drive to build two new classrooms to accommodate 50 additional learners at Life Christian Academy (LCA) primary school. This will enable the school to grow from 175 to 225 learners, creating much-needed schooling capacity in the community.

Sustainability focus

Thesen prioritises environmental stewardship and consistently works towards a zero-waste goal. To ensure maximum utilisation of raw material resources, it seeks to re-purpose all by-products. This includes sending wood chips to PG Bison in Ugie for particleboard manufacturing, supplying shavings for use on the chicken and horse farms, supplying bark into the nursery market. Furthermore, Thesen utilises all its sawdust and non-saleable wood offcuts as boiler fuel, which generates heat for the kiln drying of all its timber.

Thesen is working towards carbon neutrality and has implemented burning of fibre fuel in its boilers, as opposed to fossil fuels.

It has also installed a reverse osmosis plant on the premises using both rainwater and borehole water in the cutting process in an effort to save local water resources.

Company evolution

Deon Kok, Sales & Marketing Manager at Thesen, says the plan has always been for the company to evolve, but the timeline was accelerated in the wake of the plantation fires experiences in the region in 2017/18.

“Our plantations suffered massive damage, with 4 456 hectares damaged,” says Kok. “In our recovery plan, we knew we needed to speed up our plans, which has resulted in a serious change in our processing capabilities. We now have flexibility to process logs that we couldn’t previously.”

Major investments have included the mills bandsaw line (for primary cutting of the smaller dimension of log), the dual optimizing crosscut line (extracting the maximum value from each board) and the high-speed finger joint line (which has the capability to process specific lengths that are in line with market demand).

Furthermore, Deon Kok says, the automated Opti-cut line, which was purchased in 2017, scans and optimises the length of each output board to its exact required length and by doing so, it also attains the greatest optimal value from all products required. “Traditionally, when manually optimising the length of raw lumber, the challenging decision remains how to accurately cut up a board so as to meet the strict length criteria, meet all the product minimum specifications and at the same time, make the overall best value decision when combining all the output products. The Opti-cut plant consists of an advanced X-ray, shape and colour scanner, that records and analyses the density, knot sizes, colour and any other identifiable defect of each board. At the same time, it applies the desired length pattern to the best overall value that can be attained.  Boards are processed at high speed, being automatically graded and crosscut to various products within a very high length and grade tolerance that provides a customer with a graded length component that can be directly utilised in their final manufacturing process. This further deepens Thesen’s commitment to provide its customers with a solution, rather than them having to prepare their components at their production plants.”

Furthermore, a new bandsaw wetmill line was installed after the 2017 and 2018 fires that swept through the Southern Cape plantations, with the primary aim of efficiently processing the burnt small diameter and short length logs. “This equipment was imported from Brazil and uses thin kerf bandsaw technology that reduces the volume of waste, given a comparatively higher wetmill recovery, this being critical when cutting large volumes of small diameter logs,” explains Kok.

The small log line enables Thesen to process short length structural timber, and due to the short length, it has limited market applications. “The new high-speed finger-joint line was purchased and commissioned to convert the short length lumber to the high demand lengths,” he says. “What is remarkable about this project is that it was initially planned to be commissioned by the supplier based in Germany, however the plant arrived in the midst of hard lockdown in May 2020.  It was subsequently fully installed and commissioned using our own inhouse technicians along with local contractors as the German technicians have not yet been able to travel to South Africa.”

Kok says the total value of these projects has surpassed R100 million in investment, and the combined plants proved employment for 75 employees. “These developments give us the ability to process raw material dimensions previously not possible, the ability to offer custom cut component solutions to the furniture, pallet, fruit bin and shelving markets, and the flexibility to manufacture to market demands. There’s also the opportunity to migrate into moulding products, such as decking, skirting and picket fencing.”

Future outlook

Thesen is focused on leveraging its significant investments into new technologies and capital equipment to ensure that it builds on its proud heritage of providing customer-centric solutions.

It is through this ongoing commitment to finding industry relevant solutions that it is becoming a force to be reckoned with within the markets that it services. The company is very well positioned to serve existing and new markets and is looking forward to an exciting future of continued growth.