“You must be on the leading edge of technology, maintain high quality standards with an efficient cost structure”

Samiron Mondal, Managing Director, Siempelkamp. He is in charge of the wood-based business in Asia Pacific and production facilities in China. He also looks after the metal-forming and composite divisions within the company.

PFA: You have been with Siempelkamp for 12 years. In your experience, what are some of the most significant changes in the wood-based panel industry you have seen?

SM: What is really unique now is that panel plant owners want local suppliers and local staff to support their production, enhance their efficiency and service their plants. This has been quite a major change and the direction the market has been moving these past few years. We have become more aggressive in our China and India initiatives in order to meet these customer demands. For this reason, we have also invested heavily in Asia. Today we are in a position to manufacture and deliver major equipment from our local manufacturing facilities at a very high standard. I don’t just mean producing a frame, hot plate or cylinder; our pre-testing assessments and project management are also done in a way that is efficient and of quality. There is a lot of integration and end-to-end service here. When our customer orders something, he can pay in his local currency, he gets local engineers to help him with building and servicing his machines… All this is done with the same high standards he would get from Germany. We also have partners who help us supply some parts of the line. We assess them strictly before offering them to our customers.

PFA: For that matter, panel manufacturing doesn’t come across as very exciting or innovative. The boards that we used 30 years ago are still the same boards being produced today. What is your view on this?

SM: We are actually seeing a demand for thinner boards, and less of the regular 16mm MDF boards. There are also signs of increasing demand for OSB and lightweight boards. This is particularly true in China and India where we have a presence. These are developing markets and the growth of these economies means a consumer class in need of furniture and other wood-based products. In Europe, the demand for innovative technology is still strong, so we need to supply these needs as well. Whatever you saw at LIGNA, these products are available for Asia as well as worldwide. They are for our customers to be more productive and efficient to improve their lines and create new products.

PFA: There is a lot of talk about digitalisation and Industry 4.0. There are new innovations in software, service applications and Big Data to control production and enhance productivity. In your opinion, does this mean the line now needs more capable people or reduces the need for them?

SM: If we are talking about Industry 4.0, the line may need more highly-educated people, but in total, fewer number of workers to operate the whole factory. If you are an expert in a certain field, digitalisation and the availability of data now helps you to concentrate and control within your field of expertise. We also have partners who help us supply some parts of the line. We assess them strictly before offering them to our customers.

As a panel producer, you want to come up with new products and do so efficiently. To achieve this, you need to be supported by the people who are supplying you with the equipment. It should be automated in a way such that the line operator doesn’t have to go through the hassle of aggregating or manipulating the data. This is one aspect of digitalisation. The other aspect is the information flow: The right information at the right time in order to make well-informed decisions as well as optimise the production process. This is what the line should be capable of. All this should be covered by the people who are designing the line. It’s like the aerospace industry where each and every part is traceable to its original maker.

PFA: You are in charge of operations in China and India. What is the market in India like right now? SM: I am in charge of the wood-based business in Asia Pacific and production facilities in China. I also look after the metal-forming and composite divisions within Siempelkamp. India has been picking up the past four years and there are more and more companies investing in wood-based panel production. The country was previously lacking raw material but now this problem seems to be solved. There are a couple of projects and orders that have been commissioned by us and our competitors. We are seeing about three to four brand new lines per year. 10 years ago, this figure was almost zero. You can say the demand for panels is increasing but of course it remains to be seen if this demand is stable.

PFA: Southeast Asia, especially Thailand and Vietnam, is heating up as a hotspot for wood-based panel manufacturing. What would your advice to them be should they wish to be successful?

SM: The investment in good and reliable machines is a cornerstone to success. If you want to set up a factory, you must have a competent and reliable supplier. You also need a partner to provide you with quick, highly responsive and efficient service. You must be on the leading edge of technology and maintain high quality standards with an efficient cost structure.

PFA: Is this how you differentiate yourself from competitors?

SM: It is one of the many ways. First of all, we are the world’s technology leader in the wood business. You will find few that can match what we offer in terms of efficiency, reliability and durability. We are now also looking to improve efficiency in our processes. Asia is not only a potential market, it is also a great resource for us to achieve this. We are not only using our assets in China or India for manufacturing, sourcing, commissioning and programming for the local markets, we are also delivering them to our clients worldwide.

PFA: What are your expectations for LIGNA and your outlook for Asia in 2017?

SM: Our booth at LIGNA is great, isn’t it? What Siempelkamp is presenting here is the newest technology. On another note, we are looking to achieve a 30 per cent market share in China, India and Southeast Asia. There are a lot of projects under discussion; I would say five to six new lines for 2017… I think it will be a good year. ℗

*This article first appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Panels & Furniture Asia.