New entrant Asperbras aims high

12 October 2017

A new MDF mill in Mato Grosso marks the beginning of an aspiring Brazilian producer. Our Latin America correspondent Paulo Cesar Amanthéa reports

In the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, in centre-western Brazil, a new mill is rising.

The earthworks and infrastructure are there. The Dieffenbacher continuous presses are on site and undergoing installation. And the ranks upon ranks of eucalyptus that have been planted around it are growing and are not far from maturity. Their first harvesting to feed the mill will come in a year or so.

This will be the first mill to produce MDF mill in the region. It Is not a crude operation either. The MDF it produces will be specialised, a high-added value product, with a range of new fewer than 22 low pressure coatings for demanding consumers to chose from.

Already almost 70% completed it is due to start operation in January. Producing under the brand name of Greenplac, it is owned by Asperbras, a new entrant among Brazilian producers of MDF.

Aspebras is a company, Brazilian in origin, operating mulitnationally and well known in fields ranging from PVC resins and rotomoulding via civil engineering, foodstuff,

mining and power generation to car dealership and real estate. It has not until now been in the Brazilian wood or the panel industry.

But it saw an opportunity – Brazil’s expanding middle class will want both furniture and urban housing, so demand can only increase – and Asperbras clearly thinks big. It is investing not only in its new MDF plant, but also in the 36,000ha of planted eucalyptus forest that will feed it. The total investment is given as R$500m (US$160m).

The mill is situated in Água Clara, in Matto Grosso do Sul, 192 km by road from Campo Grande, the region’s capital, in an area surrounded by planted eucalyptus. Aspebras will be purchasing the raw materials from these plantations until its own plantations come into production around 2019.

The market for the mill’s produce is also nearby. “We are close to Sao Paulo and other strategic regions. In them there is a well-developed and promising furniture market for the consumption of coated MDF” said Mario Gavinho, general director of Greenplac.

The output will be melamine-faced MDF panels, focussed on cut-to-size and the tailor-made sizes that the furniture industry and other customers these days are coming to demand. In the first year Greenplac expects to produce around 250,000m3, to build up the output to 300,000m3 by 2019.

Nor do they intend to stop there. A second MDF line, and perhaps even a third, is under consideration, to more than double the output to over 600,000m3.

The equipment is being supplied by Siempelkamp. The scope of supply could hardly be more comprehensive: all components for the line, from the engineering and the steel construction, the complete fibre preparation technology and forming and press line all the way to the finishing equipment comes from that supplier.

Siempelkamp is also supplying an energy plant and a short-cycle press line as well as an evaporation plant for water treatment.

At the beginning of September the project was on schedule and over 75% complete. ”All the plant machinery is already on site” said Mr Gavinho. Civil and infrastructure facilities have been completed, and mechanical assembly of the equipment was in progress, leaving only the assembly of the electrical, mechanical and automation parts; signingoff tests and operational evaluation are scheduled to begin in November. “From then on, normal operation tests will be performed with gradual increases in performance," explains Mr Gavinho. “We have purchased the most up-to-date equipment and we have hired the very best professionals in the trade,” said Marcelo Temoteo, marketing manager.

The expectation is for inauguration of the first phase in January 2018, with operating capacity reached by April 2018. Production capacity is 250,000m³/year; 200 direct jobs and more than 500 indirect jobs will be created, which will have a very positive impact for the region's economy.

The eucalyptus supply project began in 2013 with 12,000 planted hectares which are expected to start becoming available by 2019. Until then raw material will be bought in from other nearby plantations.

A factor in the planning was is the choice of eucalyptus wood. "We know that eucalyptus has a longer fibre, so it has more resistance, gives better drilling finish, screw attachment and grip, and offers a very good surface" says Mr Temoteo.

The brand name, Greenplac, was chosen for its environmental connotations. “We will be a serious, responsible and ethical player in the marketplace. We will compete with the best commercial practices seeking our market share and meeting the satisfaction of both customers and employees´´ he says.

He and his colleague point with some pride to the company’s training programme for its future staff and employees. It is investing heavily in preparatory courses, in partnership with the Industrial Apprenticeship Service (Senai) and the local prefecture to give skills such as automation, instrumentation, machine maintenance and operation of forklifts and machinery.

"Our 76 students are from Água Clara and are motivated and well prepared for the challenge of operating a high technology plant with safety and high performance. The employees who will work in the production processes have a lot of experience in MDF.

They are professionals who were already in the area and are motivated with this new challenge" says Mr Gavinho.

"We are starting with a state-of-the-art production line, well planned and built industrial facilities, and we have experienced and knowledgeable staff in this segment. “

In the management areas, the Asperbras Group was anxious to obtain professionals with great expertise in the panel market. As Mr Temoteo puts it: "We have in production and technology people who have already been inside the competitors and who were available.” And that includes the commercial representatives of the brand, the marketing men. "We're talking about 20 people. We brought the cream of staff, people highly qualified and with much experience," praises the commercial manager, William A. Jorge. MDF raw, white, and in 22 patterns with four lines of differing textures will be marketed. One of them, called Essential, has already won an award at this year's Interzum.

"We want to have between 40% and 45% of our production as coated panels", says Mr Gavhino.

He points out that all this is only a beginning. The plant was designed to be built with two more production lines, and the second is a definite, to start within 18 to 24 months after the first one becomes operational. "We have already made the structure for this, because the intention to invest in the second line was taken a long time ago," says Mr Gavinho.

The earthworks and infrastructure are ready for future lines. "The third line is a big intention on our part, but absolutely no decision as been made. There is rather a location set aside for it in the the layout and everything designed," he says. The factory has 50ha of land and so far 39,000m2 of constructed area.

“A new plant, new brand, new products, new location, new way of marketing… all that, and the professionals who are in the factory have a lot of experience," says Mr Temoteo.

“For these and other reasons, even knowing the current difficulties of the market we believe that we will reach our goals very quickly," says Mr Gavinho.

"Among other things, we seek to be different and have other options. We arrived with great attention to specialised production and with great attention to the design and quality of the product. So that's what will drive our strategy"explains Mr Temoteo. In addition, he highlights the focus on good customer service, doing something more than customers need. "We are interested in getting a little above the market standard, and improving the service we can give," he says. “That is something that can only get better from January.”  

The plant at Água Clara arises