A simple decision that made all the difference

Southeast Asia’s wood-based panel manufacturing industry has had one of the best performances in recent years. One of Thailand’s newer MDF lines, Wisewoods, features state-of-the-art equipment, and is set for an exciting future in the export market.   

Thai panel manufacturer Wisewoods has a single-minded focus for its new MDF line: Setting sales targets and meeting them. Simple. But behind the scenes, a lot of thought and details go into the planning process.

One of the first decisions made was investing in automation and modern equipment to improve production quality and efficiency.

Wisewoods features state-of-the-art equipment from Europe and China: the fire detection system, diffensor and lab equipment are from GreCon; sanding machines are supplied by Steinemann; a 28-tonne capacity refiner comes from ANDRITZ; while the debarking machine, chipper, handling equipment, cut-to-size, star cooler and storage system are from Sufoma. More importantly, a 25.5-metre Siempelkamp ContiRoll Generation 8 continuous press is at the centre of the factory, an indispensable hulk of a machine integral to evenly-pressed, good density boards.

Apinut Palarit, manager of Wisewoods

The factory’s customers who visit the factory during an audit also buy with confidence when they see familiar names that represent quality, says Mr Apinut Palarit, manager.

Steinemann, for instance, is known to provide the best sanding expertise in the world. They don’t come cheap compared to other brands. But panels always glide out smooth and spotless, and the Swiss company’s regional engineers are always readily available to provide support.

“These really matter for our customers when they decide to put down an order,” Mr Palarit stresses.

Many of these processes are also automated so that the factory only requires under 200 workers to run the line. The first board has been commissioned, but the engineering team is still calibrating machines to achieve perfection, a process that takes anywhere between four and five months. In total, Wisewoods is capable of producing a daily output of up to 900m3 of MDF, though owners only intend to produce 700m3 at the moment, or an annual capacity of 255,500m3.

Experienced in wood

Wisewoods is no newcomer in Thailand’s wood processing industry. Mr Palarit’s grandfather and father started off as panel board traders and then began manufacturing plywood in 1995. When plywood prices began to decline in the 1990s, they then moved out of Bangkok and settled in Pletchaburi province, about 90 minutes away from the Thai capital.

There, they started the first particleboard line, Green Panel Co., selling most of this to South Korea. Experience and success subsequently led to discussions for producing MDF for furniture and fit-outs for export.

Like the particleboard business, Wisewoods uses 100 percent rubberwood. Thailand is the largest rubber producer in the world and has favourable conditions for panel production thanks to an abundance of rubber trees and an experienced, highly-skilled labour force ready to work in wood processing companies.

Today, 25-year-old Mr Palarit works in the family business alongside his father and uncle. He spent some time working at international e-commerce retailer Lazada upon graduating with a major in International Business in 2014. He eventually joined Wisewoods to help expand the MDF business.

It has been two years, but Mr Palarit still has much to learn, he says. Without an engineering background, the initial days were hard.

Thankfully there was no need to understand all the engineering specifics, just the overall business strategy, because the company is staffed with a good team of in-house engineers. European equipment suppliers on the project have also been very helpful, he adds.

“Business has been stable for the past 20 years so there is nothing to worry about,” Mr Palarit says, responding to the fact that wood-based panel lines seem to be popping up everywhere in Southeast Asia in recent years.

“There are no major concerns about oversupply too as price fluctuations are cyclical, even common, and will recover again soon.”

However he says Wisewoods does need to pick up on how to run a line more efficiently, how to manage delivery, stocking and warehousing. Previously, they have never hired consultants but will now consider it to cope with rising demand from emerging construction markets such as the Middle East. (Currently the domestic market only accounts for 10 percent of its total sales.)

Once these best practices are sorted out, they will also be applied to the old particleboard line.

And if all goes well, the owners will consider starting a HDF line in future. 

 

This article was first published in the May issue of Panels & Furniture Asia.