World-renowned NPIL celebrates 21st

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One of New Zealand’s — and the world’s — biggest wood processors celebrated two major milestones recently — Nelson Pine Industries Ltd’s 21st birthday coincided with a visit from one of the company’s major European plant suppliers. 

Four senior executives from the Austrian company Berndorf Band, a world-renowned supplier of steel belts for continuous presses, visited Nelson to mark the purchase of NPIL’s 50th steel press belt. “We now have four continuous presses on site, three for medium density fibreboard and one for laminated veneer lumber,” NPIL managing director Murray Sturgeon says. “Each press has a set of two belts that carry the product through the press. 

Each set costs us over half a million dollars to replace every three or four years, and over the 21 years since we set up here we have now used 50 belts.” The delegation from Berndorf arrived for meetings and a site tour, as well as a fishing trip to the Marlborough Sounds. 

Berndorf Band president Franz Viehboeck is a business leader in Austria, and in 1991 was selected as an Austrian representative on a voyage to the Russian space station Mir. He says the trip was a once in a lifetime experience and his memories of the space voyage are kept alive. 

“I am still Austria’s only space traveller so the media always ask me for comment — as with the space shuttle voyage earlier this year,” he says. From small beginnings 160 years ago as a cutlery manufacturer, Berndorf has been through its ups and downs, but since the 1980s has flourished in niche markets, producing specialised steel products such as drills for oil wells and industrial steel belts. Nelson Pine is one of Berndorf’s biggest and “most appreciated” customers. 

“Nelson Pine is the first name to be mentioned in regard to high quality production of forest products,” Mr Viehboeck. Nelson Pine Industries was established on October 2, 1984, with the signing of a joint venture agreement between the original partners, Newmans Group Ltd, Nelson, C A Odlins Ltd, Wellington, and Sumitomo Forestry Co Ltd, Tokyo, Japan. 

The aim was to add value to the Nelson region’s radiata pine resource with a medium density fibreboard plant sited near the existing chipmill owned by the two New Zealand shareholders. 

Landmarks of expansion since that date include: 

• May 1986: The first MDF line is commissioned, and was opened on October 1 by Prime Minister David Lange. Development of domestic markets and export to Australia, Japan and Asia begins. 

• March 25, 1991: Line 2 is commissioned to meet the growing global demand for MDF, and was officially opened on September 4 by Prime Minister Jim Bolger. 

• January 1993: NPIL becames a 100% owned subsidiary of Sumitomo Forestry Co Ltd, Tokyo, Japan. 

• October 1997: Line 3 positions NPIL as one of the world’s largest manufacturers on one site. 

• 2000: NPIL announces plans for an $80 million laminated veneer lumber plant at its Richmond site, and is officially opened by Prime Minister Helen Clark in November 2002. NPIL now employs close to 300 staff, and is recognised worldwide for the quality and consistency of its product range in MDF and LVL.