Originating over 60 years ago in Australia, harvester and chainsaw bar manufacturer GB has moved its sales and engineering centre to Scotland and has plans for production. Forestry Journal met with company president Tom Beerens at his new home in Dunfermline to hear about his latest innovation and his plans to tap into the UK market.

TOM Beerens is a man with a mission. A producer of chainsaw and harvester bars for all of his life, he is the owner of GB Product Development, the driving force behind GB bars, manufactured in Australia and China and sold across the world, with distributors in over 70 countries.

Like GB, Tom was born in Australia, but he’s now putting down roots in Scotland, establishing a new base of operations and planning a manufacturing facility that will produce chains for his harvester bars.

By moving his sales and engineering centre to Scotland, he aims to work with the UK forest industry and develop the highest standard of consumables for timber harvesting. His biggest challenge is that he hardly knows anyone in the UK forest industry.

GB is a company with a lot of history behind it, a good reputation and customers all around the world, but it is not a well-established name in the UK. Which sort of begs the question… why Scotland? That’s kind of a long story.

Griffiths & Beerens was established by Tom’s father and his business partner Jack Griffiths in 1959, manufacturing chainsaw guide bars and associated products. Tom took full ownership of the business in 2005, at which time the factory in Melbourne employed 120 people producing 300,000 bars a year. But in the space of just a couple of years, as Tom puts it, “the wheels fell off”.

“In 2008 we were hounded by the banks,” he said. “The regional company went into receivership. I sued the banks, managed to keep the brand and various bits and pieces so I could continue trading, but it took us seven years to rebuild.”

China, with its reduced costs, offered hope of a way forward, but rather than simply outsource production and risk a drop in quality, Tom decided to move out there himself and establish a new manufacturing facility.

“In 2010 I got a piece of land and built my own factory, from the foundations up,” said Tom. “In 2015 we finally opened for production. It took that to get a decent product.”

That product was the Titanium-XV bar, designed with an ultra-high-strength titanium alloy body and promoted as the hardest bar available in the market. GB’s customers agreed, doubling sales in its first year.

With his manufacturing base now firmly established in China – and reluctant to return to Australia – it was time for Tom to decide where to go next.

Forestry Journal: GB is a well-known and well-respected name in the USA, where it is distributed by Wallingford’s and sold to contractors across the country.GB is a well-known and well-respected name in the USA, where it is distributed by Wallingford’s and sold to contractors across the country.

“Once we released the XV my job became about promoting and selling it to my customers around the world,” he said. “My biggest market is Russia. I’m doing well in America. I’m number one in Canada and number one in Finland. I travel to all these places and go into the forest to provide technical support. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been so successful.

“I knew I couldn’t stay in China forever. I was looking at buying a place in America, because the US market’s huge, but then I realised that if I was really serious about it, I would move to Scotland. If you take a globe and you put your finger right in the centre of my market, where I need to be, it’s Scotland.”

In 2016 he found the ideal location in Rosyth, Dunfermline; a former signal station comprising several buildings which could be converted to home, offices and workshops, with land available for further development and easy access to transport networks.

Forestry Journal: From the window in his workshop, Tom can see down into the field where he plans to build a new manufacturing facility.From the window in his workshop, Tom can see down into the field where he plans to build a new manufacturing facility.

“It’s the perfect choice,” Tom said. “As an Australian I swear quite a lot when I’m speaking, but in Scotland you can get away with it. The Scottish are the only people in the world who speak faster than I do, so people here actually understand me when I speak. There are bread rolls in the shops, jam donuts, meat pies. It’s a wonderful place for an Australian to end up.

“There’s been a lot to figure out, because I don’t know anyone over here. I have no contacts. If I want to get something done in Australia it’s really easy, because I know everyone, so one of my main tasks is to become better known in Scotland.”

Another task he’s set himself is the establishment of a new manufacturing facility. However, while he continues to manufacture bars in Australia and China, he has no intention of producing them here. His new factory, he says, will make chain.

Forestry Journal: GB Product Development in Rosyth, Dunfermline.GB Product Development in Rosyth, Dunfermline.

“In this industry, I’ve always been at a handicap that I make bars, but I don’t make chain,” he said. “I’m an industrial engineer. I was in the factory, drilling holes in chainsaw bars at 10 years old. I spent six months working for an insurance company, but the rest of my working life has been spent making bars. This is what I do. I know how to make things and I know a hell of a lot about bars.

“I’ve always wanted to do to make a chain and I’ve tried lots of different ways. I tried to revolutionise it completely and failed. This has been a total change in direction, but this one’s going to work.”

In setting out to develop his own chain, Tom has had one mission in mind: eliminate the risk of chain shot.

A term which has become familiar to forestry workers the world over in recent years, ‘chain shot’ refers to pieces of shrapnel spat from the end of a harvesting chain when it breaks. Moving at the speed of a bullet, these pieces of metal pose a risk of serious injury to machine operators and bystanders alike and have claimed the lives of a number of forestry workers.

To reduce the risk, contractors are advised to frequently and thoroughly inspect their chains for signs of damage, discard them after the second break, maintain proper chain tension and install chain-shot guards, among other measures.

However, Tom feels the heart of the problem is still not being addressed.

“In my travels, almost every operator I’ve spoken to has had a close call with chain shot or has a friend who had a close call,” he said. “The biggest issue in timber harvesting is the chain itself. It takes a lot of maintenance, which is rarely done well. As well as costing a lot of money, a poorly repaired chain leads to a risk of chain shot which, in turn, risks the lives of operators and bystanders.

“How many contractors sharpen their chain well, maintain the depth gauge to the correct height, monitor how many times the chain has been sharpened or monitor how often the chain has been repaired after being broken?”

Forestry Journal: The Titanium-XV is the latest in a long line of harvester bars from GB.The Titanium-XV is the latest in a long line of harvester bars from GB.

Tom’s patented new chain, developed in Scotland, has five key features to reduce risk of chain shot:

  1. It has a cutting edge that lasts up to four times longer than average.
  2. It cannot be repaired or sharpened.
  3. The materials in the chain are much tougher than average.
  4. It will only be sold in loops.
  5. The cutter has been designed to resist bogging down in the cut and therefore reduce the maximum tension on the chains. 

Tom explained: “It’s a single-use chain. You put it on, operate for eight hours or sixteen hours and then throw it away. A lot of people treat chains as single-use anyway, because it costs a third of what the chain is worth to sharpen it. It’s not worth it.

“I’m making it in loops, rather than lengths. That means there will always be an even number of left and right cutters for much smoother cutting and less likelihood of breaking.

“It’s not designed to be repaired so I don’t need soft sections. As the chain’s not expected to be used for an indefinite period, the chain materials can be tougher. I’ve got the strongest rivet in the world. I’ve made it in a special way so it doesn’t have the compromise that a normal rivet has.

“If you break it, you won’t repair it. I won’t have repair kits for it. If you hit a rock, you’ve just got to take it off and throw it away. A lot of people won’t like that. People who are used to getting repair after repair after repair won’t like it much.

“But you know what? Tough luck. I’ve seen some bloody silly things in the woods. I’ve seen short lengths of chain that have been repaired six times. People try to make things last as long as they possibly can. That attitude, in our industry, is deadly. And it’s everywhere.”

Forestry Journal: The GB Titanium -XV boasts an ultra-high-strength Titanium alloy steel bar body, reducing bending. It comes with a patented 15-tooth nose sprocket and unique old-feeder grooves.The GB Titanium -XV boasts an ultra-high-strength Titanium alloy steel bar body, reducing bending. It comes with a patented 15-tooth nose sprocket and unique old-feeder grooves.

Although modern harvesting machines keep an accurate record of the amount and type of timber cut, it is difficult to monitor the life of an individual loop of saw chain. The saw chain may be removed from the harvester machine and taken to a workshop on many occasions during its service life for sharpening and repairing.

While it is currently recommended that a chain be discarded if it has been broken twice, if there is no serial number on the chain it cannot be traced, and knowledge is lost if the chain had been broken previously.

By contrast, GB’s new chain will have full traceability, by virtue of the fact it is single use. And Tom argues the elimination of maintenance/sharpening costs and reduction in downtime will boost profitability and productivity of harvester operations.

There’s a lot more Tom has to say about his chain and he’ll be sharing the details soon, once his new manufacturing hub is up and running.

“My aim is to get the chain tested over winter, get decent feedback and set up production properly for next winter,” he said. “I intend to build a capacity to make bars here, not for production but for development. There’s still a lot of development work to be done on chainsaw bars, believe it or not. That’s why I named this place GB Product Development, to actually do the development work, employ a number of engineers and get better relationships with people in the field.

“I would like to find UK distribution for my harvester bars and some more customers in the UK, and I believe having a chain is critical to achieving that, as is being able to say it’s designed, developed and made in Scotland, which it will be.”



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