IMAL-PAL: All the world in his hands

From a small garage business, the IMAL-PAL Group today has much to celebrate with a renown international reputation among one of its many successes.

It is tough to get hold of Mr Loris Zanasi. The busy 60-year-old helms IMAL-PAL Group as CEO and managing director, and looks after the firm’s broad strategic goals. He also zips around the world to visit panel board lines, peering into every detail so that his clients who run them are assured of great Italian hospitality and service promised at the beginning of the sale.

The IMAL-PAL Group is unique in that it is able to supply a wide range of equipment for wood-based panel manufacturing, covering almost everything from lab testing equipment to continuous press lines. The number of machines supplied by the Group in operation today number more than 15,000.

Another distinctive advantage is that all equipment are designed in-house, which means their customers can give direct feedback and contact any of their engineers whenever an issue arises.

It is probably why Mr Zanasi expects 2017 to be busier. Already, 65 percent of its portfolio is full of orders. Across the globe, the IMAL-PAL Group is involved in line installations in Japan, Chile, Canada, South Africa, Brazil and Europe.

Worldwide acclaim

Perhaps the company is reaping the most success from Southeast Asia where Mr Zanasi says he has an enviable market share in the region. In fact the panel board business here is flourishing. Like many industry observers, he foresees that Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos—after Vietnam and Thailand—will next come up as places for panel manufacturing. Indonesia is moving along slowly now but production will eventually catch up when demand booms from a burgeoning middle class population.

In Vietnam, Mr Zanasi’s team is discussing complete MDF and particleboard lines.

“The country is growing so quickly, it is unbelievable,” he comments. “The economy is on an upward trajectory and the people there have very strong business acumen.”

In Thailand, IMAL has supplied the screening system, silos, extractors, conveyors and gluing system for new particleboard lines owned by Green River and Metro-Ply. The new Metro-Ply line is expected to be commissioned in February 2017.

Another Thai panels manufacturer, Vanachai, has also bought gluing equipment. All of its five MDF lines have installed IMAL’s hi-jet resination system, a new development rolled out two years ago.

The system reduces glue consumption and is also suitable for particleboard and OSB production. It has kept most of IMAL’s engineers busy for many years but the hard work and ingenuity has paid off—worldwide, there are 100 of these Hi-Jet High Pressure Gluing Systems installed.

In fact, 12 systems are currently installed in 12 MDF lines in Thailand. In Malaysia, four; and in the USA, three.

South Korean company Donghwa has five of these in all of its locations – Malaysia, Vietnam and New Zealand.

“Feedback from our customer has been very positive,” says Mr Zanasi. “For us, the best compliment is not the total number of systems sold worldwide, but the number of repeat orders we get from the same customer.”

A culture of innovation

Mr Zanasi was just 20 years old when he joined Mr Paolo Benedetti, the person who actually founded IMAL in 1977.

As an electronics engineer, his practical skills complemented his partner’s experience in a particleboard factory at that time. It was thus natural for them to be equipment suppliers for panel board production.

The past 40 years have been roller coaster kind of exciting, he chuckles.

Today the start-up has grown into a strength of 360 employees with an estimated turnover of EUR120 million in 2016.

When asked the reason for this success, Mr Zanasi suggests that it is their culture of innovation.

He shares another successful development, the Dynasteam. The mat steam injection system increases productivity at the end line so that it produces more cubic metres of boards per day. It also improves the quality and density profile of the board, as well as reduces wear on the steel belt.

There are now 85 Dynasteam units installed around the world. Thailand and Malaysia alone have seven.

Their team’s flexibility has also brought them this far, “unlike our German counterparts who can be very rigid when it comes to fixing or making changes to the project specifications,” he says.

“We like to listen to our competitors and follow up on their requirements. We like to be precise in delivery and commissioning times.”

All of the founders’ children are now working in the company. Marco Zanasi, for example, is responsible for the department that supplies pallet block and pressed pallet factories. Mr Benedetti’s children, Stefano and Alessandra, are also helping out, no doubt swinging the business onwards to better things. 

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