Stuga-The First Thirty Years

The Stuga story starts with the founder Tom Green who served a full five year apprenticeship as a toolmaker after leaving school before working in the general engineering businesses around Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

Following a family tradition of being self employed Tom decided to start his own business in 1974 and set up as toolmaker and designer in a lock-up garage. This business was called ‘Thomas Engineering’. After purchasing a Colchester lathe and Bridgeport milling machine, Tom soon started to get precision machining work from large local manufacturing companies.

After several years of good business the company moved to old railway buildings in Station Road, Great Yarmouth, where it carried on growing until moving to Harfreys Industrial estate in 1988.

After the move to Station Road, Tom started to get work from Anglian Windows and Zenith Windows. The early work was for press tools to produce aluminium windows and doors. From this first involvement Tom got to know the production staff and supervision well and was soon involved in problem solving solutions for both companies. This involvement taught him much about the window industry which was to stand him in good stead for the future.

After learning quite a lot about locks for aluminium doors Tom developed a new mortise lock system with a well known company that was to become the forerunner of modern designs. The new system included a double throw bolt with shootbolt system. He also designed the tooling for making the locks. A tooling system was also developed to punch lock preps into patio door sections without ‘crazing’ the aluminium anodising. This system utilised expanding mandrels and quite a few of these were made for Monarch Aluminium.

Next came thermal break aluminium systems and these products could not have the lock preps punched due to the brittle nature of the thermal break material, which lead to a significant development in Tom’s business because it gave him the idea to create the first automatic CNC routing machine in the market place. It was also obvious that the ever growing popularity of uPVC windows and doors would lead to the need for routing of these systems, as punching would not work with them either. By this time Tom was talking to Monarch (who were using a number of manual routing machines for their lock prepping) about automating the prepping process. Punch tools were still being designed and built for Anglian and Zenith during this period.

When Tom set about designing an automatic routing machine it was decided that it must have three cutters working at right angles to each other, the design that exists today. The main problem was programming and for this Tom utilised the skills of his oldest son Stuart, who was at Sixth Form College at the time. Stuart had already developed obvious computer programming skills after being given a Sinclair ZX81 computer as a Christmas present a couple of years before. Using a BBC computer Stuart programmed the first automatic CNC routing machine the industry had seen and this machine is still very successful even to this day. The programme was written in ‘assembler code’ as this was compatible with the BBC computer and it was designed to run three ‘stepping motors’ to move the router heads in three different directions.

Much to Tom’s surprise the router ran well from the first time it was fired up and the machine was immediately put into exhaustive tests. The next move was to actually sell the machine and to this end Tom contacted a company called ‘Elmhove’ who were making door kits for Duraflex at the time, using Moog auto turret mills (single spindle). Elmhove came to Great Yarmouth to see the new router working and were so impressed they placed an order right away. As a result of this order a new machine was built from scratch with some modifications and improvements learned from the prototype and this was duly delivered two months later, complete with multi-programming done by Stuart for the different profiles and configurations required. This was in 1986.

After delivery of the router to Elmhove nothing was heard for two weeks and then Tom phoned to see how it was going. The answer came back that apart from a simple bearing problem which they had sorted themselves the machine worked perfectly and was flat out every day.
On one of Tom’s regular visits to Monarch he mentioned the router to them and they showed an interest. By a stroke of luck Elmhove ordered a second machine and Tom offered Monarch a demonstration if they would give him the drawings to programme the machine. Eight weeks later he was able to demonstrate the new Elmhove router to Monarch en route to delivering it. The demonstration took place in the back of a van and resulted in an order from Monarch a few days later. On the back of these first three sales many more demos and sales followed.

During the early days of the router launch Tom began to think that Thomas Engineering did not conjure up the excitement he felt for the new machine and tried to think of a new name for both the machine and the company. With a stroke of genius Tom combined the names of his two sons Stuart and Gareth to invent the name ‘Stuga’. This name has proved to stand the test of time and not many in the window industry can claim not to know it. The machine was called the ‘Routermaster’. The Stuga Routermaster has been exported all over the world since soon after it was launched and can be found in Australia, Japan, China, Europe and all over North America.

As orders for the router exploded, the tool making business had to give way to a production line. It started to make inroads into the uPVC door market and this extra work created a move to a factory unit at Harfreys Industrial Estate in 1988. This factory unit forms a small part of the current set up even today.

After the move Tom entered into an agreement with Kombimatec to build Corner Cleaners for them and around seventy of these were built. Later the dealer agreement was switched to Elumatec with Tom designing and building automatic espag and shootbolt routers for this company.

During this period Stuart departed for University where he had a highly successful career, leaving a bit of a vacuum that was later to be filled by younger son Gareth. Gareth also went to university learning everything he could about software and electronic engineering. During this time he helped Tom to design the first rotary tooled automatic waterslot machine and doing all of the programming for it. The first one was sold to Radway in Redditch and it was later to lead to the development of a very successful range of new machines.

After this, Tom and Gareth were asked by Kombimatec to look into automatic sawing machines which they did and this lead to the development of the first automatic saw centre in the British window and door market, for which Gareth did all of the programming. This saw became known as the ‘Autocut’ and since being launched in 1994 has enjoyed considerable success right up to this day.

Following the early success of the first rotary tooled waterslot machine Tom and Gareth developed a machining centre with three tools on it for waterslotting and routing preparations on windows and doors and the first one was built with the help of a DTI development grant. This prototype was used to demonstrate the machine which led to the first sale to a company in Birmingham by Elumatec. The machine was a success and as a result another one was sold to a company in Northern Ireland. These machines were delivered in the late 1990’s and are still in full production to this day.

Early in 1999 Stuga entered into a business arrangement with Steve Haines who had run two successful dealerships in the UK offering machines predominantly from German and Italian companies and who was looking for a British engineering company to work with in the future. Steve had always felt that British machines could be successfully sold in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland markets and wanted to find the right company to work with them to build and sell highly innovative automatic products for producing uPVC windows and doors.

Steve quickly identified the need for producing a combined cutting and prepping machine as there were few available and all were German, over engineered and very expensive. Tom and Gareth pointed out that they had designed their ‘Multihead’ machining centre to work closely with the Autocut saw and could develop this into a unique design for the British market. The design was laid out and costed with a plan to find a customer not too far away where the prototype could be installed and fully tested. Eventually Steve did a deal with a company called Astraframe in Norwich and the new machine was born.

The prototype was completed by the end of November 1999 and numerous visits of potential customer were arranged for most of December. This resulted in orders for six machines. Prior to these visits Steve had the idea to call the machine by an easily recognisable name that identified with what it does and hence the Stuga ‘Flowline’ was borne. The prototype and the next five machines took some time to get to the right level of accuracy and reliability but were successful enough to help build a full order book for the rest of the year. The machines grew in performance and reliability from there and sales passed the sixty five mark at the end of December 2005, a truly phenomenal success for a British Engineering company. In the early days the competition did all possible to kill this exciting new product by rubbishing the company in every way possible, but through total dedication and strong marketing Gareth Green and Steve Haines created a powerful force that eventually became accepted for what it was and the rubbishing gradually faded away. These days only a very small number of misguided salesman try to knock Stuga as a company because the success speaks for itself.

An early decision was to create a strong service department as this was what the competition lacked the most and throughout the last five years this has proved to be one of Stuga’s greatest strengths. Although not perfect Stuga are sure that their customers enjoy a considerably better service and back-up experience than any of their competitors. Stuga are constantly monitoring their service performance in an attempt to learn and improve. They also have the considerable advantage of being the actual manufacturer and being based in the United Kingdom as well.

During the five years since 2000 Stuga, as the company had become known in the market place, also developed the Highflow range of high output prepping centres for companies like Speedframe, Everest and Abbott Joinery who need machines dedicated to high volumes of one product rather than a huge variety of products with lower volumes. These designs are extremely flexible and can be tailored to many special circumstances.

In 2002 Stuga launched the ‘Ecoline’ stand-alone prepping centre. Based on the concept of the original multihead rotary tooled CNC prepping machine the Ecoline was launched as an alternative to the Flowline for smaller fabricators or larger ones that wanted to dedicate the machine to one product. It also makes a particularly good high volume door production machine for the larger fabricator. Utilising the latest in barcode technology the Ecoline is an almost foolproof prepping centre that will produce all window and door preps including ‘V’ and ‘Y’ notching. Sales of the Ecoline have now passed the thirty mark.

During this five year period from 2000 to 2005 the company has grown to five factory units with a staff of nearly sixty. The company has dedicated design engineers, software engineers, quality engineers and all the necessary skills and resources of an innovative go-ahead machine tool manufacturer.

The original machine shop is still maintained but these days it has many more machines some of which are the latest CNC machine tools for automatic production of parts. The company’s philosophy is that they will produce as many parts themselves as is practical and others will be purchased within the United Kingdom wherever possible. Nearly all stuga parts are in fact actually resourced the U.K. and are readily available, meaning they are not as expensive as foreign parts and are easier to get hold of.

Just over two years ago the company restructured to become a limited company under the name of Stuga Limited with Gareth Green becoming the Managing Director. Founder Tom is still working with the design team but hopes to be able to hand over the reigns by the end of 2005 to take a well earned retirement after nearly fifty years of hard work in engineering. Toolmaking has now completely disappeared from the company’s workload as machine tool manufacture has taken over.

Gareth is putting in place a structure he hopes will see the company through the next stage of development with more new product designs in the pipeline. It is also hoped in the future that the company may move further into exporting and eventually perhaps into products for other industries.

The Stuga name is now firmly established throughout the window industry in the United Kingdom and the name has also become known worldwide even before the company gets seriously into exporting its full range of products