European industry listens and learns

13 December 2006

The 5th European Wood Based Panel Symposium took place in the Maritim Airport Hotel, a short covered walk from the arrivals/departures area. The symposium organisers, the European Panel Federation (EPF) and the Wilhelm-Klauditz-Institut (WKI) crammed in 32 presentations in two days for an audience of around 320 delegates from 30 countries in the panel manufacturing, machinery making and resin producing sectors. Simultaneous translation was supplied in German, English, French and Italian (though many slides were still in the speaker's native language). Sessions were: Market trends, challenges and opportunities for wood based panels; advanced production technologies; products and quality control; new products and technologies; adhesives and gluing technologies; and ecological challenges and credentials.

President of the EPF Laszlo Döry started the symposium by presenting the EPF view of the current situation, challenges and opportunities for the panel industry. Mr Döry pointed out that the European industry's most aggressive competitor is China. He also said that the EPF is seeking the support of all branches of the woodworking industry in Europe on the issue of biomass and the threat to wood supplies imposed by subsidised energy generators. "The future for our industry is continuous investment in improving production techniques, enhanced panel properties and new products and applications. This involves scientists, producers and suppliers and is one of the aims of this symposium," said the president. Next, Martin Greimel, of the European Commission DG research advised of new research opportunities for the wood industry through the FP7, although funding was not yet finalised. He said that the EC is co-financing research on a collaborating basis to bring researchers together, as many are scattered with consequent duplication of work. The wood products sector is just one part of this programme, one aim of which is to 'Establish wood as the material of first choice in many industrial sectors'. Hubert Röder of Pöyry Forest Industry Consulting looked at the raw material supply of the wood based industries in Europe and forecast a huge leap in demand for wood in the next 20 years. "The sawmilling industry in Europe has developed very favourably over recent years and the production increase will continue but will shift to a faster increase in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union," said Dr Röder. "Pulp and paper are also very important and will see an increase in demand for wood. MDF and OSB are very dynamic and particleboard will also increase but differently within different regions," he said. "We have tried to quantify the demand for wood based panels and could project an increase of 25 million tonnes to 2015 by extrapolation, but expect a bigger increase, with a different raw material mix. "An increasing amount of wood will be unavailable to the wood products industry in the next 20-30 years - competition will intensify," warned Dr Röder, citing pellet production from fresh wood as an additional threat to supplies. Karl Schukt-Bornemann of ExxonMobil's paper was titled 'The outlook for energy - a view to 2000'. He forecast over 50% increase in energy consumption by 2030 but suggested that there is enough oil for the next 2-300 years, if one does not consider the price. Ms Claudia Krapf of Seeger Engineering, Germany, looked at the economy of biomass power stations (using wood and other fuels) in different European countries, saying that it was not just a threat but an opportunity to panel producers, as they also have a high energy demand. Achim Offermann of Idemitsu presented a high-performance lubricant for continuous presses, outlining the demands made on a lubricant by these complex machines for high lubricity and temperature stability with low consumption, evaporation and sludge formation. Fabio Chiara, sales manager of Pal srl of Italy presented the Quadradyn screen for primary screening of OSB strands. As a green or a dry screen, Quadradyn removes fines and classifies the core and face material, and avoids strand breakage, said Mr Chiara. Tim Schäfer of HFHN Wood Engineering, Germany, offered a new generation of knife ring flakers for OSB. The flaker has an internal diameter of 2,500mm - the world's largest said Mr Schäfer - and a knife depth of 725mm so it is a big machine. "Large volumes in a single machine means low cutting speeds and therefore high quality flakes," claimed the speaker. Still on the subject of size reduction, Robert Loth of B Maier, Germany, presented his two-stage process for utilising recycled wood in the production of particleboard and MDF. He said that 40% of this material could also be used for producing OSB strands. Metso Panelboard can trace its history in refiners for the production of wood fibre back to 1931 when Sunds produced its first refiner, said Anders Mattsson. In 2005, Metso produced the Evo-Series, having developed a new bearing set up, and a helical disc housing which optimises flow to reduce energy consumption. Mr Mattsson said a customer had achieved 25-40% reduction in specific steam, depending on the product being produced. Günter Natus of Dieffenbacher presented mat steam pre-heating as a way to increase the capacity of continuous presses. He said that steam pre-heating increases mat temperatures and thus reduces pressing times and enables the production of thick boards and products such as laminated strand lumber (LSL) economically. He claimed increased capacities of 10-30% for MDI-bonded boards, and 10-20% for those bonded with MUF resins. The first presentation in the session on product and quality control was given by Joris Van Acker of the University of Ghent, Belgium, who looked at the service life performance of plywood in view of CE marking for biological durability. As a fifth framework European research project, Dr Van Acker and his team evaluated 25 plywood types - both commercially available ones and those developed specifically for the project - for durability and performance. The project started from the point that most European plywood is made from species with low durability. He concluded that for integrated CE marking, it is essential to establish quality requirements for plywood related to specific end-uses. The work is ongoing. Hauke Kleinschmidt of Electronic Wood Systems (EWS) presented the company's Conti-Scale as a new solution to measuring cross-density profile and panel weight continuously on the line, employing a low-dose radiation source. Turning to the subject of resins, Panagiotis Nakos of Chimar Hellas in Greece described a 'Novel process control for the resin and panel industries based on FT-NIR spectroscopy'. This allows simultaneous determination of solids content and molar ratio of resins and determination of the exact reaction path. Connection to a remote monitor in the control room allows corresponding control of the reaction. The system can also be used on paper impregnation lines to quantify volatile content and to identify usable and unusable papers, he said. For the actual decor paper production line, Matthias Rump of paper maker Technocell reported on 'High-speed online visualisation for improved quality and process productivity on paper making machines'. This employed a high-speed video camera system and online visualisation unit. Cutting panels to smaller sizes for furniture and other end-users requires careful control of waste and efficiency and that is the business of Altanis of Germany. Managing director Roland Schramme described his pCUT computer program to optimise cutting and reduce waste in his cost-based production process. Returning to quality control on the panel production line, Kai Greten of GreCon, Germany, described its online X-ray inspection system 'Dieffensor' for protection of the steel belts of a continuous press. "New niche products have been developed and this is why this research was needed into the structure of OSB," said Xavier le Fur of WKI. Mr le Fur's presentation concerned online image analysis in two areas: strand geometry and size distribution; and strand orientation. "These properties all affect porosity with regard to gluing and to panel density," said Mr le Fur. They also affect panel properties such as bending strength and Mr le Fur concluded that panel properties could be optimised by using his technique to control strand geometry, combined with a suitable layer composite structure. The next session, 'new products and technologies' was opened by professor Andreas Michanickl of the University of Applied Sciences, Rosenheim, Germany. He described his ongoing work developing a new lightweight panel which can be produced with existing technology. It is based on a very light wood based core layer with a density of 350kg/m3 made of large softwood chips and with very thin surfaces of MDF or other materials bonded with UF or isocyanate binder. Core and surface layer are produced separately in order to obtain light weight and good properties. Jochen Aderhold of WKI looked afresh at 'Plywood made of large diameter timber'. "Many people think plywood is in retreat globally, but it is in fact number two in the world after particleboard," said Dr Aderhold. He also pointed out that German plywood consumption is increasing, while production is falling. He said that Germany has a large resource of large diameter logs available and discussed spindle-less peeling to deal with rot problems and various other methods to utilise veneer from these logs to the full, with the objective of ultimately building such a plywood mill in Germany. Didier Goesaert, Schenkmann & Piel Engineering, presented 'High capacity dryers for particleboard and OSB'. The seven metre diameter drum has the internals pre-assembled on 'omega support discs' which can then be inserted into the drum rather than welding all internals in situ. The dryer is claimed to air-classify the strands to produce more even drying and minimise heat damage and strand breaking. Marie-Lise Roux of CTBA, France, looked at powder coating panels for furniture and the influence of the substrates. This work has some way to go but shows promise for MDF, she said. Work on a new panel made from a sandwich of 20mm high-density polystyrene core and 10mm particleboard faces was reported by Stephane Garcia of AIDIMA, Spain. He found that dimensional stability in humid conditions was superior to either particleboard or MDF and that its very low density lead to new applications such as interior doors. Professor Rainer Marutzky of the WKI opened the session on adhesives and gluing technologies with a presentation on 'Ecological and technological developments and their influence on the European wood based panel industry'. He said that aminopolast resins are used in around 90% of panels, phenoplasts in 4% (mainly plywood), pMDI in 3% and "others" in around 1%. "Any alternative resins need to be available in large amounts, homogeneous quality and at an acceptable price," said Dr Marutzky. "At present, alternative resins are only suitable for niche products." He recommended continuing with existing resins for now with a commitment to produce E1 boards but to work towards a lower (formaldehyde) emitting class of maybe E0.3. Foam gluing for plywood was discussed by Jouni Rainio of Hexion Speciality Chemicals. He said it had been around since the 1960s but earlier systems had limitations. His company has developed a system suitable for different kinds of plywood plants by selecting the appropriate extenders and foaming agents and optimising the glue mixing station, he said. Detlef Krug, IHD Dresden, reported on a protein-modified phenol formaldehyde resin with low formaldehyde emissions for the manufacture of moisture resistant panels. The first speaker from a panel manufacturer was Francesco Balducci of Falco (Gruppo Trombini), Italy and COSMOB. His subject was 'Developing trends in Italian particleboard production'. This was part of an ongoing European project to develop the use of recycled raw materials to produce particleboard panels with lighter weight and improved performance. Mark Irle of Ecole Supérieure du Bois, Nantes, France, looked at quality and contamination control in recycled wood in Europe, particularly in relation to the European toy safety standards. He said that metal contamination in recycled wood is very variable and this can distort results, thus a median value is required rather than a mean value. "We need a clear protocol on processing of samples in the laboratory rather than the current 'guidelines', said Dr Irle. Formaldehyde is a hot topic in the industry and Detlev Clajus of FormaCare, an association mainly of chemical companies involved in the formaldehyde industry, updated delegates on the current status. Dr Clajus announced that the Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits of the EU (SCOEL) would publish a recommendation for an Occupational Exposure Limit of 0.2ppm (eight-hour time-weighted average) and a Short Term Exposure Limit of 0.4ppm; the formaldehyde content in human blood is 3ppm. The EPF has its own formaldehyde testing project and Kris Wijnendaele (EPF) and Rainer Marutzky (WKI) reported the first results. Mr Wijnendaele stressed that all panel producers with EPF and FEIC membership have committed to produce only boards of at least E1 quality and that the emission of these panels is much lower than any regulatory limit in Europe. Dr Marutzky reported that the first results indicate that the gas analysis, flask method and desiccator methods are suitable for evaluating the formaldehyde emission and classification in factory production control. Alpha Barry of Forintek, Canada, spoke on 'Correlations between formaldehyde emissions testing methods. Dr Barry concluded that there was excellent correlation between ASTM E-1333 and ISO 12460-2 for MDF and hardwood plywood and that a mixture of data from particleboard, MDF and hardwood plywood showed an interesting correlation between the two methods. Professor Edmone Roffael of the University of Göttingen rounded off the conference with his presentation on 'VOC emission from wood based panels: state of the art and measures for reduction'. He said The VOC-emissions depend on many interacting factors such as the wood species used, the adhesives applied and the pressing conditions selected, while storage decreases the VOC emissions of panels. Dr Roffael said it is possible to reduce the VOC emission of particleboards through treatment with alkaline reagents without negatively affecting the strength properties of the panels significantly. This was certainly a fact-packed symposium and maybe the organisers tried to fit too many presentations into the time available; time for questions of each speaker at the end of a presentation (none was allowed) often draws out additional illuminating information. However, much was learned by the delegates to take back to their daily working lives. Any enquiries for further information about this symposium should be addressed to: