Last month, we took the opportunity to visit the Barbas factory in Bladel, near Eindhoven, for an informative day learning more about their wood burning stoves and gas fires.
The state-of-the-art factory employs more than a hundred on the shop floor, and each appliance is created by a combination of hi-tech laser-cutting and metal-folding and welding machines with assembly and painting carried out by hand.
Every stove is made to order, and the wood burning appliances are all cut from 8mm steel – thicker than required by any measure – but offering an unparalleled robustness and a reassuringly solid feel. The standard box template for the wood burning stove, whether inset or free-standing – is programmed by computer and created by robots (gas stoves and fires are still welded by hand due to the huge variety of models available and the challenge to programming: this manual welding takes about 90 minutes, compared to 8 minutes for the automated process for the woodburners). A rail system then carries each stove around the factory, on which its components are hung piece by piece for assembly until the final product arrives at the finish line for quality control, where it is individually inspected before being signed off. The whole process takes about six hours, and the methodological process, as well as the air of calm professionalism on the shop floor, attest to the rigour and seriousness with which Barbas take production.
Of course, Barbas were at pains to explain that the time on the production line is only one phase in the order process; time from ordering to scheduling production, shipping to the UK and onward distribution mean that lead times are usually 3-4 weeks, but it is extremely impressive and a testament to their organisation, automation and logistics that this schedule is largely maintained even in the hectic winter months.
The factory tour was followed by a series of presentations on new and existing Barbas and Bellfire products, gas-fire remote controls and accessories, and a new system for the rapid building of sturdy and non-combustible false chimney breasts for inset stoves by Danish partner Skamol.
Of special interest to us as retailers primarily of wood burners was the opportunity to see the whole Barbas product range, and especially the models that less frequently cross the Channel, such as the Falcon, or the variants of the Box, such as the wall-hung version, that are more unusual.
Since Barbas refined their offering for the UK market, we have only really marketed the free-standing Box and inset Unilux stoves. The Unilux was re-modelled some years ago to fit traditional British chimney breasts more easily, thanks to a shallower firebox than the traditional continental model, and the new design was so successful than it was then spun out across the range as the new paradigm.
The Falcon is a bigger appliance all round, deeper than the Unilux, and taller, and is ideally suited to the creation of a new fireplace or false chimney breast rather than retro-fitting to an existing fireplace. This allows some significant differences in internal design. The firebed is sunk deeper in the stove, and the firebox is taller too, allowing the flames to really fill the window. The firebox is also lined with reeded cast-iron panels instead of the ceramic bricks of the Unilux. The black backdrop highlights the lividity of the flame, air is injected through the grooves in the panels for an efficient burn and to create a lively flame pattern and the whole conflagration is perfectly encapsulated by the fully-glazed door. The Falcon is also an entirely room-sealed appliance, an essential for modern airtight house construction.
Where it is possible for customers to install a larger appliance, we can certainly recommend the Falcon with confidence for a really impressive installation.
We were also given some teasers on models that should be appearing in the next year or so, including a 3-sided lift-door model, proving that a brilliant existing line-up is no barrier to constant innovation.
If you think a Barbas stove or Bellfire gas fire could be the home-addition for you, please give us a call or drop us an email, and we would be delighted to answer your questions.
Many thanks to Barbas for warm and excellent hospitality and for such an informative trip.