A Big Evol-Ution

29 August 2018


Established in 1966, wide-belt sander manufacturer Imeas SpA can look back at a long reference list of panel makers worldwide; and forward to a growing order book. Mike Botting visited its headquarters near Milan

Located in Villa Cortese, a small town not far from Milan, Imeas has a large factory and office complex from which it delivers its sanding solutions globally.

Francesco Zenere is the grandson of the company’s founder and is sales director of this 52-year-old company.

Imeas’ expertise is in sanding and grinding machines and the company sits astride two main markets: wood panel production and metal grinding. The latter market also comes under wood based panel manufacture occasionally, as many stainless steel continuous press belts are ground on Imeas machines, as well as press plates for HPL production.

“The mix of those two markets obviously varies from year to year,” said Mr Zenere. “But this year, our orders are much more from the wood panel industry than the metal grinding industry.”

“One main reason for this is the launch, at Ligna 2017, of the EvoL range of sanders. The first model – effectively a prototype if you like – was already sold when it was displayed at Ligna. It has now been running very successfully for a year at the plywood factory of ICTA, in Pioltello, near Milan. It is mainly producing poplar plywood, with some more exotic facing veneers.”

Mr Zenere explained that ICTA, although quite local to Milan, was previously unknown to Imeas and was using a sander from a competitor. A new sander was required as part of an investment programme, because the plywood manufacturer needed to increase its capacity.

“We received an enquiry in July 2016 and went to visit the factory, which is in the middle of a residential area,” said Mr Zenere. “We quoted – and received an order for – the previous model of our sander, which the customer had seen in another plywood factory.”

In the meantime, explained Mr Zenere, Imeas had already started development of the new EvoL machine and decided to make a prototype and to find a local manufacturer to run it.

“So, we contacted ICTA and told them that the new machine would have the four heads and all the features with which they were already familiar, plus the benefits of the EvoL, such as easier maintenance (and therefore reduced downtime), more user-friendly controls and increased production capacity.

“So we built the machine and took it to Ligna, where ICTA came to see it and approved it. We then delivered the new machine to them in July/August 2017 and it is running very well.”

Imeas has since delivered another EvoL machine to a company called E Vigolungo in Italy, again for sanding poplar plywood, but this one has six heads. The company has since delivered three other lines for sanding particleboard and MDF.

“Our machines have gone to China, Spain, Vietnam and Canada,” said the sales director. “The first MDF machine will start up in August in China. This is for Wanhua, which has bought four lines from us.

"This year alone, we are going to deliver EvoL machines with a total of 52 heads between them. These were mostly for MDF and particleboard, but there was also one for OSB. This was delivered to Louisiana Pacific in Canada. And we have other contracts which will be signed shortly.”

In a slight departure from the ‘conventional’ panel industry, Imeas also has six orders for machines to sand cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels.

“These CLT panels are increasingly being used in commercial, as well as domestic, building projects and these tend to be higher-rise buildings,” explained Mr Zenere. “This requires very strong machines because these panels can weigh up to eight or 12 tons each, based on 550kg/m3 with a size of 3.6x16m and 400mm thickness.”

To summarise, Mr Zenere said: “Looking at the period 2017-19, we received firm orders for 70 EvoL sanding units, of which 28 have been delivered and 10 are in operation; and 17 sanding units for CLT, among which there are 12 sanding units that are 3,600mm wide.

We also had orders for another 22 sanding units (either of the older generation or for HPL processing). This totals 109 sanding units. “General speaking, our company is renewing and expanding its internal resources and capacities,” he said.

“From the employment point of view, there is a new technical director and new operations director, as well as several new software engineers and process engineers [these are the ones who do the fine-tuning and commissioning].

“We are increasing our production capacity by adding new CNC lathes, a state-of-the-art balancing machine able to handle rolls up to 5,000mm in length and 5,000kg in weight, and two new CNC milling centres capable of processing parts up to 50,000kg (or 50 metric tonnes) for very large CLT sanders.

“Later this year, we will begin expanding our building with a new assembly shop and next year we will relocate the warehouse to a wider area with modern infrastructure and better material flow.” It seems clear that Imeas not only has a strong past behind it, but also a very successful future ahead of it.

The Imeas CRTB sander heads
Imeas' new EvoL sander is claimed to offer easier maintenance, more user-friendly controls and increased production capacity
The Imeas CRTB sander heads
Imeas' new EvoL sander is claimed to offer easier maintenance, more user-friendly controls and increased production capacity