The European Panel Federation (EPF) and the Fraunhofer Institut for Wood Research (WKI) got together once again to organise their fourth symposium in mid-September at  the Maritim Grand Hotel in Hanover. The last event was held on September 12, 2001, the day after the terrorist attacks in the US.
This year’s attendance was impressive, with over 270 delegates filling the conference room to the extent that further registrants had to be disappointed. In fact a waiting list of over 30 was reported. More than 60 delegates came from panel manufacturing companies.
Following the official opening of the symposium by EPF director general Kris Wijnendaele, the president of the federation, Ladislaus Döry, took the podium to give an overview of current challenges and opportunities for the European industry. He also welcomed the FEIC and FEROPA associations, representing the European plywood and fibreboard industries, respectively.
Mr Döry said that MDF had shown robust growth in 2003 and that he expected this to have continued in 2004. He felt that the European MDF market is heading towards a “balanced situation”. He also referred to the strong performance of OSB this year and predicted a return to higher consumption of particleboard in 2005.
Mr Döry also reported on the EPF’s work on behalf of the industry in areas such as biomass use, the issue of VOCs, particularly formaldehyde, CE marking, climate change issues and the CEI-Bois Road Map 2010, as well as the promotion of wood based panels generally.
“If wood, as the oldest building material, is put into question, then it is high time to take action,he concluded.
Arne Janssen of Jaakko Pöyry Consulting (JPC) spoke on ‘Supply chain development in the European wood based panel industry: a competitive assessment’.
The consultancy conducted a survey on supply chain management, and Mr Janssen defined the supply chain as “the delivery channel of a product from sourcing of input materials to its distribution to the end consumer”.
He defined supply chain management (SCM) as organising the efficient flow of materials and said that all companies were engaged in SCM, whether or not they called it by that name.
“The European panel and surfaces cluster has changed profoundly through valueadding strategies and integration/outsourcing by customers, but new opportunities and challenges exist – the supply chain is a key area which will see a lot of activity,said Mr Janssens.
He pointed to the challenges of just-intime delivery and product proliferation leading to small lot sizes and increasing operational complexity.
“The clear message from our study was a lack of formal supply chain performance measurement,concluded the speaker.
Next came professor Arno Frühwald of the University of Hamburg, who spoke of ‘the future potential of wood composites in the building sector’.
He looked at the development of wood based panels’ consumption from 1961 to 2001 and highlighted the dramatic rise in particleboard from around five million m3 to over 30 million m3 in that period. He then said: “The key question is, do we have enough wood?”
He answered this by saying that there was the potential of an additional 150 million m3 a year, or plus 40%, but said that experts predict a price rise of 15-20% by 2020 as increasing removals, and increasing competition, result in higher costs.
Supporting increased use of wood and wood based panels, Dr Frühwald pointed out that wood has the advantage of being a renewable material; requires little energy; is an excellent ‘Kyoto’ material; is easy to process; panels can have optimal properties for every use, including composites with other materials; and there are the superior ecological aspects and image of wood.
The speaker’s consumption forecast for Europe (excluding Russia) for 2020 was for 35 million m3 of particleboard, 25 million m3 of OSB and 20 million m3 of MDF.
He said that experts, among other things, expect some regional shortages of wood, with rising prices, and an increase in use of panels to replace solid lumber.
The second session was devoted to technological developments with presentations by Metso Panelboard, Binos Technologies, Dieffenbacher and natGAS.
Ulrika Backlund of Metso described her company’s system for thin board forming at high speed. She spoke about work on a pilot forming station, which resulted in the development of a full-scale new infeed section to  the dosing bin, giving easy and fast control of crosswise distribution of fibre flow. There was also a new doffing and shredding roller, new infeed section to the former, new forming head and a system for width adjustment without recirculation of fibre.
In the forming head, there are two types of rollers which first level and then even out the mat to reduce density variations and create an even and smooth mat.
Volker Gotsmann of Binos described ‘Latest developments in thin board production’, using a roller-type press to make MDF and particleboard.
He said the advantages of this type of press were: ideal for thin board production; lower production costs; higher availability, no sanding required; and less paint use because of the smooth surface.
Mr Gotsmann also described his company’s new spike-roll former and dry glue blending system, claiming the latter saved glue and reduced emissions and could replace conventional blowline systems.
Günter Natus, technical director of Dieffenbacher’s panel division, looked at ‘new trends and developments in OSB technology’. His paper concerned the strand lengths used in OSB and LSL and he said that forming of longer strands needed to be more effective, and the machines need to be able to distribute different length strands.
Dieffenbacher has developed a longer forming bin which Mr Natus said leads to less variation at the outfeed, while an integrated scale in the bin allows correction of deviations in density before forming actually occurs.
“Controlled air flow in the former improves accuracy just as it does for MDF,he said, “and we now have a suction system that calms the air flow in the bin and forming heads.The bin walls are also adjustable to ensure good edges.
He also described the production of improved longitudinal strand lumber (LSL). Steam pre-heating of the mat before pressing improves the density profile of LSL, he added.
Udo Jürgens of German company natGAS looked at optimisation of natural gas use in the wood based industry. He suggested that natural gas prices will rise throughout 2005 and that a fixed price contract now could save a lot of money.
Siempelkamp took the podium for the next presentation, with Marco Krüzner speaking on ‘Resination of MDF in the dry blow line’. “The traditional blowline has disadvantages such as high resin consumption, comparatively long press cure, formaldehyde  contamination in the dryer exhaust and extremely large exhaust gas volumes to be treated, while the blender carries increased risk of glue spots,he said.
Siempelkamp thus developed its fibre resination tower to resinate fibre after drying. The system was developed in the company’s Krefeld pilot plant and a full-scale plant with a 16 tonne per hour capacity has recently started up at a Spanish customer’s MDF mill.
This uses two resinating towers.
The system employs uniform distribution of the fibres and resin at the top of the tower and a high vertical chute to avoid build-up of fibre on the walls. Mr Krüzner said a low drop speed facilitated long dwelltime on the way down to resinate the fibre, which is then collected on a screen belt.
He claimed that, in 16mm furniture board, savings of up to 40% were achievable compared with conventional blowline blending, while press cycles could also be reduced and dryer temperatures increased.
The next speaker, Detlef Krug of ihd, Dresden, continued the theme with comparative studies on blowline and blender resination of MDF. He concluded that the blowline will remain the most important procedure but that combination gluing, and the Siempelkamp system just presented, were interesting alternatives.
‘Sawdust – an attractive raw material source for MDF’ was presented by Clemens Seidl of Andritz, who began by pointing out that sawdust is one third the price of hack chips. He said that a different digester was required for sawdust, with steam fed up the centre as well as the sides, but that the refiner was the same, albeit with a more powerful motor.
The use of sawdust involves higher energy consumption and higher wear, said the speaker, but it does enable the mill to use a cheaper source of raw material. A mix of hack chips and sawdust can be used, provided the refiner is optimised for this.
Robert Loth is the owner of B Maier of Germany which makes size reduction equipment for the panel industry’s raw material, and he spoke on ‘High-speed flaking – higher board properties, lower production costs’. Maier makes equipment for chipping and flaking for the range of composite panels, but this presentation concentrated on particleboard.
“Screening and cleaning is very important to flaking,said Mr Loth. “Each stream should be processed separately for contaminants such as non-ferrous items, which improves the life of the flaker ring considerably.”
He went on to describe the detailed design of the Maier flaker to reduce wear and prevent damage to the flakes, while saving up to 30% of energy consumption.
The final session of day one was on Testing and Simulation and began with two presentations by French speakers on structural floor decking. Francois Ravasse of UIPP in France spoke on test under concentrated point load, then Jean-Marie Gaillard of the CTBA gave a graphic presentation of structural floor decking.
Two members of the Greten family, Ernst and Kai, then outlined the ‘Current and future prospects for online measuring technology for the wood based panel industry’ using the equipment made by their company, GreCon.
“The benefits of this measuring technology are the ability to produce more volume of good quality panels, reduce material consumption and diagnose problems early,said Ernst Greten, who outlined the history of GreCon’s involvement in these products.
Kai Greten spoke about the company’s blister detection equipment, as well as the Superscan surface inspection and Dieffensor systems. “Testing equipment saves money  in bad quality production – or indeed toogood quality production,he said.
Presentations on ‘The virtual hot press’ (Heiko Thömen, University of Hamburg) and ‘The ultrasonic method of hardboard testing’ (Vygantas Augutis of Kaunas University, Lithuania) brought day one to a close.
After an enjoyable evening reception sponsored by Sasol Wax, delegates settled down for day two of the symposium with the first session on new products and developments.
This was opened by Andreas Michanickl of the University of Applied Sciences, Rosenheim, Germany, on ‘Light wood based panels: state of the art and trends’.
He pointed out that saving material costs was not generally the reason for specifying light weight panels, but reduction of transport costs, ease of handling and assembly of RTA furniture, and the need to save weight in areas such as ships and aircraft, were more important drivers.
He looked at honeycomb cored panels, light MDF, drilled panels and straw boards and concluded that waste paper honeycomb cores will be a focus in the near future and that very lightweight composites will have a bigger market share, while materials other than wood will be increasingly used in furniture making.
Michael Müller of panel maker Glunz AG, Meppen, Germany, reported on his company’s success with coloured-throughout MDF panels, developed in cooperation with resin maker BASF.
A black board was produced in 2000 and by July 2003, the company had successfully produced yellow, red, green, blue and orange panels. It hopes to develop a white one, too.
The next two presentations were a little off the beaten track for panels, being concerned with wood polymer composites and injection moulding of wood chip and plastics. They were presented by Volker Thole of the WKI and Hans-Dieter Hullmann of Lödige Process Technology, respectively.
This theme was continued after the coffee break by Uwe Müller of Kompetenzzentrum Holz of Austria, who talked about extrudable wood/melamine resin composites.
One reason that phenolic resins are not chosen is often the dark colour which they impart to the finished panel.Wolfgang Kantner of Dynea, Austria described the use of resol emulsions to overcome this.
These emulsions impart a white colour tohe resin, and Dynea had put a lot of research into the selection of appropriate emulsifiers and stabilisers to produce them, he said, including reducing the pH to below pH9 and preferably to neutrality. The result, he said, was resol emulsions with good storagestability, although additives such as I are advantageous in reducing press times. Phenol-based emulsions also offer low formaldehyde emissions, he said.
Continuing the theme of resins and additives, professor Edmone Roffael of the University of Göttingen in Germany reported on his work on paraffin sizing. Paraffin is used as a hydrophobing agent, reducing the rate of water absorption and thickness swelling. He concluded that nparaffins are more effective sizing agents for particle- and fibreboards than isoparaffins with equivalent chain length, especially in the range between C20 and C36.
After lunch, the final session of the symposium was on ‘Ecological challenges’ and was opened by Professor Rainer Marutzky of conference co-organiser WKI.
He outlined the volatile organic compound (VOC) and formaldehyde regulations for wood based panels in various regions, with particular reference to the current challenge of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) reclassification of formaldehyde with regard to its carcinogenic risk.
Dr Marutzky’s recommendations on formaldehyde were: the establishment of E1 levels for all wood based panels produced in Europe, with the abolition of E2; a critical review of E1 emission levels and the WHO value; entering a dialogue with the scientific and regulatory communities; and the integration of all manufacturers and users of formaldehyde-emitting products,including non-wood products.
“There has been much progress in reduction of formaldehyde emissions of woodbased panels and other wood products. The average formaldehyde release of most panels has been reduced by a factor of more than 30 during the last two decades. Also, wood products usually have a negligible emission of synthetic VOCs,said the professor.
“An unattainable aim would be to reduce the emissions of natural VOCs. Softwoods dominate the European forests and technical measures to reduce the emissions of these natural VOCs are very limited. Therefore, the natural VOC emissions as well as the typical odour of wood based panels and other wood products have to be considered in context with the wealth of ecological benefits of wood.”
Christoph Yrieix of the CTBA in France reported on ‘determination of VOC emissions from French wood products, while Kohta Miyamoto of the FFPRI in Japan reported on the small chamber method for measuring VOC emissions.
The final presentation by Sandro Ciroi was on the correlations between European and Japanese test methods for formaldehyde testing of panels.
This very well-attended conference covered a good mixture of subjects from the very scientific to some inevitably slightly ‘advertising-biased’ machinery presentations to coverage of current hot topics such as formaldehyde and VOC emissions.
Excellent simultaneous translation services in English, French and German were provided although some speakers seemed to forget that if their spoken language was unintelligible to a large part of the audience, so would their presentations slides be if presented in the same, written, language.
The next symposium is set for 2006.