Committed to thin panel and to value-adding16 November 2010
Specifically targeting powerful demand for thin board in the domestic market, the new 350,000m3/year Dieffenbacher HDF/MDF line, erected at Eucatex’s Salto site, could operate at full capacity as soon as March 2011. While Brazil has plenty of MDF manufacturers turning out board 10mm and thicker, Eucatex is confident its line is the country’s first to be installed specifically for thin fibreboard.
“You do have other lines that make thin board, but not with the same efficiency that our line will have,declared Eucatex’s ebullient executive vice president Flavio Maluf earlier this year.
In July he told WBPI his thin HDF product would be particularly good quality and high density and that its surface would be substantially better than that of thin MDF board.
“We are very happy, because the Brazilian economy is recovering very sharply this year,said Mr Maluf.
Brazil’s panel market has shown average growth of more than 30% this year over that of 2009, with MDF up 50%, while the thin MDF market has grown by around 25%, according to the Eucatex executive.
In Brazil, thin MDF has benefited from a shortfall in supply of traditional eucalyptus-based hardboard as increasing domestic demand for that product has led to its makers selling out, explained Mr Maluf, whose group is also one of Brazil’s two major wet process hardboard manufacturers.
The company’s latest product will be “perfectfor customers used to using hardboard, which has a density of between 1,050-1,100kg/m3, it argues.
Eucatex intends to manufacture HDF panels with an 850-880kg/m3 density, against the 750kg/m3 of MDF on the market today, said its chief executive.
The main target market for the new line will primarily be applications where high mechanical resistance is paramount. These include doors, flooring, drawers and dividers.
In addition to HDF, the line will offer the innovative company a new substrate for some of its successful coatings and coverings. Thicker panels will be finished by painting or laminating with melamine facing.
For months, Eucatex has been using standard thickness MDF, bought from Brazil’s top panel maker, Duratex SA, to test market additions to its unique, and popular, lacquered high-gloss-finish range. Previously, this was primarily MDP (medium density particleboard) based.
“We have demand for at least 6-7,000m3 of high-gloss MDF board. We have clients waiting for it. We’re testing market demand and it is very high,Mr Maluf told WBPI when we met the Eucatex chief executive at his Sao Paulo headquarters.
It seems hard to believe that it is already almost a decade since old-established Eucatex first introduced its high-gloss finished panel product to the Brazilian market. In 2010 the group, which has long prided itself on being the industry’s most innovative and sophisticated in its range of added-value products, has presented its fifth generation of high-gloss panels.
Last year, Eucatex had expected to launch its new line in the second quarter of 2010, but start-up was delayed somewhat, largely because of the speed and strength of the Brazilian economic recovery. This led to new pressure on equipment and service delivery times, according to Mr Maluf.
At the heart of the new MDF/HDF line, installed at the Salto plant alongside Eucatex’s two big hardboard lines, is its 21mlong Dieffenbacher continuous press, manufacturing a 2.75m-wide master panel. Wood preparation and refining equipment came from Metso, while the glue kitchen and blending units were supplied by Pal Imal of Italy. Saws, transport and raw panel finishing have been supplied by another Italian company, EMG.
Prior to completion of the new panel line, Eucatex carried out a major upgrade of its woodyard operation, which must serve not only the MDF/HDF unit, but also both hardboard lines. One result was that it switched from silos to open air chip storage and the unusual installation of a Metso open stack reclaimer system.
Like other upgraded woodyard facilities at Salto, this system provides the site with ample potential for further growth. The stack reclaimer has a work capacity of up to 120 tonne/hour, dry-basis, of chips, which is 200% greater than Salto’s previous handling system at just 40 tonne/hour. In fact, initially, the stack reclaimer will only have to operate at a rate of 60 tonne/hour, says the firm.
Another innovative feature of the wood supply at Salto is its use of recycled fibre, both for the energy plant and in the production process supplied by the site’s recycling plant. This has a current capacity of 15 tonne/hour or 10,000 tonne/month with three tonne/hour going to hardboard manufacture.
But, with the launch of the MDF/HDF line, more recycled fibre is needed for production – up to eight tonne/hour, while the energy plant requires about 12 tonne/hour, so Eucatex is to invest a further US$5m to double the output of the recycling unit.
By April next year, new equipment will be installed at the Salto site, taking its hourly capacity to 30 tonne/hour. With panel manufacture taking eight tonne/hour, this will represent an overall recycled content of around 30% of production wood consumption, according to Mr Maluf.
Eucatex first launched its waste wood recycling plant four years ago in response to the company’s limited forest plantation resources and the alarming rise in the price of wood in Brazil. Already claimed to be South America’s largest unit of its type, it is reckoned to have saved the firm more than US$50m – even more with the price of land still escalating.
The group has benefited in the past two years from Brazil’s tightening environmental regulations. With the cost of landfill rising, more and more companies are now eager to dispose of their heavy-duty packaging waste through a recycling deal.
In addition, the strong economic recovery has stimulated business activity and the use of more packaging, resulting in still more waste for companies like Eucatex.
“We have more [potential] clients than we have the [recycling] capacity to handle,admitted the chief executive.
In a bid to lower its production costs, Eucatex is drawing on its years of experience in producing hardboard to reduce its use of resin in the new fibreboard; its new MDF/HDF line was designed to include equipment aimed at saving resin in the process.
Although Eucatex is still guarding details of this ‘secret weapon’ with care, its executive president believes it can achieve a saving of as much as a third in its use of costly resin. This would mean the line ultimately consuming as little as 6% resin in the board as opposed to the norm in the market of between 9 and 10%, Mr Maluf told WBPI.
He has admitted that his group’s dry process fibreboard project, with its distinctive innovations, is still something of an experiment. Eucatex will need some months of operating the MDF/HDF line before it can decide on its next big development.
“If we don’t make any mistakes in our calculations and the line’s ramp-up goes without any problem, then we think the plant should be sold out within six months,said the chief executive.
Virtually all the line’s output will be directed at Brazil’s flourishing domestic market, although Eucatex has attracted export demand – despite an unfavourable currency exchange position and lingering recession in much of the world. Even so, the firm means to allocate 10% of the line’s production to export sales.
Last year, Mr Maluf made clear he was seriously considering following the Salto line with a new project to build a larger MDF plant of around 500,000m3/year, perhaps in the neighbouring forest-rich state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
However, a year on, the concept has changed somewhat. Eucatex is now mulling over the prospects for developing not just a larger MDF plant, but a broader wood products complex elsewhere in Brazil. Instead of looking to Mato Grosso do Sul, Mr Maluf is now considering locating such a venture maybe in another state in the south or, more likely, in the promising regions of northern Brazil.
The north eastern Brazilian states with their big, fast developing population, are rapidly joining the formal economy and becoming first-time consumers of products such as furniture and household goods.
Today, Mr Maluf reckons, the region already represents about 6% of the national market.
While Eucatex has not ruled out locating any complex in the important central state of Minas Gerais, it may still opt to stay on familiar territory in São Paulo state, he said. The complex may include a bigger MDF line, together with products aimed at the construction sector.
After all, today, 50% of overall group sales are in that market, including wall panelling, doors, paints and flooring products.
Any decision on the future of such an idea will not come next year, but, depending on the success of the Salto line, it could be taken as soon as 2012, suggests Mr Maluf.
Meanwhile, there is still work to be done to improve Eucatex’s traditional products. In the case of hardboard, it has already rebuilt both its two big Washington Iron Works presses and raised their capacity from 25 to 31 daylights in recent years. The conveyor transport plate system has been modified on line II and the plant now uses less energy.
Further work is scheduled for line II, with the installation of new equipment during a shutdown of up to four months late next year or in early 2012 and other projects for hardboard are still at the study stage, according to the chief executive.
Eucatex is never a company to stand still. A visit to one of its two panel manufacturing plants confirms its constant quest for new and improved finished products. At its Botucatu MDP plant, the firm has modified its remarkably efficient Bison Hydro-Dyn continuous calender line, which now has more than double its original capacity, at 440,000m3/year.
“There, we have got what is probably the most productive line in the world. We have a press factor of 3.1 seconds per millimetre, which is 30% lower than the average,claimed Flavio Maluf. What’s more, he believes, the capacity could eventually be wound up further to top 500,000m3/year.
However, adding value is really the name of the Eucatex game. With the arrival of the new MDF/HDF line in mind, the company has boosted its panel finishing capacity with a new 40 million m2/year Tocchio paper impregnation line, installed this February in Botucatu. The plant already runs two Vits impregnation lines there.
Then, in August 2010, Eucatex also installed a modified Dieffenbacher melamine press line with a 700,000m2/month capacity at the Botucatu site. This was intended to laminate the firm’s flooring products.
One thing is for sure, the future of Eucatex relies heavily on its reputation as the producer of a steady stream of innovative finished panel products and on the flow of fresh ideas from its creative executive president.