When Ms Amporn Kanjanakumnerd, managing director of MP Particleboard, set about taking over the former STA panel production lines in 2002, she began a journey that was long and arduous, but which resulted in the resurrection of two particleboard lines. At first, they went under the name of Hat Yai Panel, but this was later changed to Panel Plus Co Ltd (WBPI issue 1, 2005, p38).

At the time of our last visit in December 2004, one of the two Siempelkamp ContiRoll lines was running, while the other was undergoing extensive refurbishment. When I visited again almost exactly two years later, both particleboard lines were running and several other changes had been made at this continually evolving site. Line 1 (6ftx18m) was originally rated at 310m3/day but was well on its way to achieving a consistent 400m3 in December. It started production under Panel Plus in June 2005 after standing idle for 10 years and being ‘robbed’ of many of its parts by the previous management to keep line 2 going. Particleboard line 2 (8ftx28m) was rated at 630m3 a day but is targeting 800m3 and started up again in August 2004. This was the line which was running when Panel Plus (or MP Particleboard at the time) bought the site but was subsequently the subject of an arson attack as we reported in that last story two years ago. The rebuild of that line included the addition of two double-deck Pal Superscreens, extra chippers (by Klöckner and moved from the former plywood factory on the site) and a Pallmann double-stream refiner. An Imal glue metering system was also added. The opportunity was also taken to modify the press infeed with a flexible section. “Also very importantly, the electronics were all upgraded to the latest standards,” said Dr Kitti Treana-sthiarphan, technical development executive with Panel Plus, who has been involved with this project since day one over 10 years ago. “We are not quite at those higher capacities yet but the chipping capacity is there and it would be possible for us even to go above those 400m3 and 800m3 daily target figures,” said Dr Kitti. In 2006, further refinements were made with the addition of an Imal mat water spray before the press and the addition of blow detectors from the same Italian firm. “These have all worked well to increase the capacity of the line,” said Dr Kitti. And the company has not finished modifying the lines yet. Line 1 was in the process of changing over from oil to biomass as the fuel source for energy generation for heating the press and refining system, with commissioning due in early December. Meanwhile line 2 was in the process of undergoing renovation of the Vyncke energy plant from the closed STA plywood factory (it only ran for one year over 10 years ago) and this was also being converted to biomass and getting new electronic controls. The original ABS dust/oil burner was also being replaced with a Körting 100% wood dust burner. Because the Hat Yai site was originally designed as a massive wood processing complex, the layout of the buildings was not ideal once the operation was split into two separate businesses, with Panel Plus operating the two particleboard lines, Siam Fibreboard (a division of Evergreen Fibreboard of Malaysia) the two MDF lines, and other parts being closed. Thus the offices of the original factory were too far from the action and these have now been demolished and new offices created closer to the two particleboard factories, inside the renovated former veneer factory. On the site of the original offices, Panel Plus is constructing residential accommodation for the management. This 11-family complex was due to be completed in January 2007. Security at the site has also been improved by bringing the operations closer together. However Panel Plus is not just about updating or replacing existing facilities, as our factory tour soon revealed. In a completely new building, of 42x102m with a wide glass frontage, being erected on the Hat Yai site, a decor paper impregnation line was under installation. The line, from Vits Systems of Germany, was delivered in October and was expected to start running in January. Total capacity of the line will be 24 million m2/year although the company aims to produce just half that figure initially, all for its own consumption. Staff for the line were being trained in Germany, with this technology transfer being arranged by Vits. The impregnation business will be called Panel Decor Co Ltd. Of course an impregnation line would be of little use without short-cycle pressing capabilities and Panel Plus has the four Siempelkamp lines supplied to the original STA factory. There are two 6x8ft semi-automatic lines dating from 1993/4 and two 6x16ft fully automatic units installed in 1995. They have the capacity to surface 50% of the Hat Yai particleboard output. Panel Plus also has one short-cycle press line in Bangkok. This is a 6x8ft Wemhöner line with manual paper feed. That company is known as Furnish Board Co Ltd and was set up to supply the MP Particleboard bagasse-based line nearby. The particleboard produced at Hat Yai is in 9-37mm thicknesses and mainly 6x8ft, though panels of 4x8ft are also made. Super E0, E0, high-moisture resistant melamine urea formaldehyde-glued board and E1 and E2 grades are all produced here. Resin supplies come from the neighbouring resin plant which is operated by Dynea. Normal wood raw material for the two particleboard lines is sawmill slabs, small logs and sawdust, all being from rubberwood, which is plentiful in this part of southern Thailand. The rainy season, normally at about the time of my visit, can cause disruption to wood supplies and the company is looking at using plantation species such as mixed fruit trees and acacia if necessary during a wet rainy season. November 2006 was in fact unusually dry in the south, while the north of the country experienced heavy flooding. “The wood supply is plentiful, but the price has risen a lot,” said Dr Kitti. “From 1993 to 2004 or so it fluctuated up to a maximum of 1,000 baht (US$28) per ton but rarely exceeded 800 baht. Recently the maximum price has been nearer 1,300 baht/ton but now [December] it is around 1,000 baht. “This increased cost is partly due to the increased world oil price leading to factories around Bangkok burning wood for energy production.” That sounds like a familiar story all over the world these days. However, another major contributory factor has been the increasing price of latex – the primary product of rubberwood trees. That has almost doubled in the last two years, going from around 40-50 baht/kg to around 90 baht, although it has since fallen to around 60 baht. Increased oil prices may have contributed in part at least to a resurgence of rubber over plastic to account for part of this increase, but in southern Thailand terrorist activity has also made rubber tapping an increasingly dangerous occupation. The Panel Plus operation has come a long way since February 2004, with a lot of improvements to the production process, so where will it go from here? “We are looking at other areas like the training of our people and we are implementing a lot of training programmes,” said Dr Kitti. “We are working towards a TPM (total production management) system over the next three years to continue improving quality and productivity. This is part of a group-wide strategy for the Mitr Phol Sugar [MP] group.” The veneer slicing equipment of the former STA company has been sold to China and the peeling line for plywood veneer has been sold to Russia. This will free up yet more space at Hat Yai for future developments or for storage. We will have to wait and see what develops but judging from the last two years’ investments, Panel Plus seems unlikely to stand still for long.