Headquartered in St Johann in Austria’s Tyrol region, family-owned company Egger has panel manufacturing facilities in Austria, France, Germany, Romania, Russia and the UK. These factories variously produce MDF, particleboard and OSB, as well as a wide range of value-added products.

Egger has long been established as a particleboard maker in the UK, with factories in Hexham in north east England and Barony in Scotland. It is the former site which has been the subject of considerable recent investment with the installation of a brand new continuous line which first went into production on April 17, 2007, with full production three weeks later.

Egger (UK) in Hexham had two existing single-opening discontinuous lines – one with a 30m long Dieffenbacher press installed in 1985 and the other with a massive 52m press by the same manufacturer, installed in 1988. Between them, these two lines churned out around 450,000m3/year.

Apart from the company’s Russian factory, these were the only two such lines left in the Egger group.

“As a group, we appreciate the benefits of continuous presses and our single-opening lines here were getting towards the end of their economic lives,” said Bob Livesey, joint managing director (commercial) at Hexham. “It is group policy to renew and reinvest in existing sites – the company completely overhauled the particleboard press at the Rambervilliers site in France last year – so they decided to invest in a Siempelkamp ContiRoll continuous line here, replacing the two old lines with new capacity of around 650,000m3.”

Mr Livesey also pointed out that Egger’s particleboard line at Rion des Landes, also in France, is replacing its old ContiRoll press with a new one this year.

But it is not only existing sites that are receiving attention; the group’s greenfield site in Radauti, Romania, produced its first particleboard in December 2007 on its new continuous press. Expected annual capacity here is around 650,000m3.

I asked Mr Livesey why Egger decided on a major investment in its English facility.

“Egger (UK) has been manufacturing since 1985, having acted as an importer since 1972, and has a major share of the UK market with just-in-time local supply. The company also has a commitment to its workforce,” said the managing director.

Wood raw material supply is not a problem for the Egger sites, which can obtain round wood from the nearby Kielder Forest – and others within a 100 mile radius of both UK factories.

“The Barony site, just south of Glasgow in the west of Scotland, gives us flexibility on raw material supply as we can divert it between the two sites as necessary,” said Mr Livesey.

Not all the Hexham wood supply is from virgin wood, however – about 40% is recycled wood.

“We feel that is about the right balance for our quality requirements and the production process,” said Mr Livesey. “We have been at that level for about five years now for our 450,000m3 capacity but we also invested in a brand new second recycling operation for our bigger capacity, as well as upgrading the existing one.

“We have a company in Leeds, Yorkshire, called Timberpak and that has around 150 skips collecting waste wood, mainly in the form of pallets. It breaks up and cleans the wood and we collect the chips in back-loads when delivering our particleboard.”

Chips are screened and cleaned at Hexham and the fines go to the energy plant to provide heat energy for dryers and press.

Of course, as is common today in the EU countries, there is some stiff competition for wood supply.

“A new power station at Lockerbie in Scotland was built in 2007 to run on virgin wood and the excess heat just goes to waste. They, and some others in England, get government grants and so on so wood prices generally are under pressure,” said Mr Livesey ruefully.

Egger Forestry helps to address these problems, harvesting 0.5 to 0.75 million tons of wood annually to supply its two panel operations and some sawmills.

The other main ingredient – resin – is also produced on site at Hexham by Campact, which makes resins for panel manufacture and decor paper impregnation for Hexham and Barony.

Apart from that refurbishment of the existing recycling operation, everything at Hexham was new-build, with a total investment of £110m (e143m). This included the purchase of an additional 30 acres of land adjacent to the existing 50-acre site and diverting a road and services around the new, enlarged property.

Construction work commenced in May 2006 on the newly acquired site and the first board was produced in mid-April 2007 – no mean achievement it would seem.

The 52m single-opening press line stopped production in May 2007 (there was insufficient electricity to run that and the new continuous line anyway) and the 30m line stopped in October of that year.

A condition of planning approval for the new line was that all sawdust had to be contained under cover.

Other environmental considerations meant the company constructed a reservoir under the site into which all roof rainwater is piped for use in the production process, and as a fire reserve, while all site water drains via a peripheral gully to a biological water treatment plant.

A new office building was also constructed on the site to house goods-inwards monitoring and quality control and the wood purchasing department. Additional new buildings include the new maintenance stores and canteen as well as training workshops for the company’s apprentices, of which there are currently 12.

The whole site is screened from view by banking and 15,000 trees were also planted – not for raw material for particleboard, I was assured!

The new production line

The factory buildings are constructed of prefabricated concrete sections supplied from Germany, while massive glue-lam beams, also from Germany, support the roofs, which are set with large translucent acrylic panels to allow maximum daylight into the works.

A Hombak chipper with a capacity of 50 tons/hour deals end-on with the logs. There are three Pallmann flakers which are serviced by a fully-automatic knife sharpening robot. Pallmann also supplied the two ring flakers. Screening is by Pal of Italy.

Chips are transported to five wet silos of 80 tonnes capacity each, while there is also a 2,000 tonne sawdust silo.

The two Büttner drum dryers each have a capacity of 40 tons/hour. A wet electrostatic precipitator (WESP) system by Scheuch of Austria cleans the dryer and press emissions.

Four Pal screens grade the dry chips to surface and core layer material and there are three large hurriclones, said to reduce fire risk and noise.

The Imal glue kitchen is followed by CMC Texpan four-head forming, with two Texpan weigh-scales – necessary to deal with the volumes involved on this large line.

The ContiRoll press is 48.5m long and 2.6m nominal width, producing a maximum board length of 5.61m and maximum width of 2.62m.

The line is equipped with GreCon quality control devices and an Imal mat spray before the press.

The control room offers access to, as well as supervision of, the green end and the production line and employs a Siempelkamp SPOC predictive software system to optimise production parameters.

There is a laboratory off the control room and each shift is responsible for its own quality monitoring. There is also the main lab for longer-term tests.

The three star coolers are served by robot transfer truck in a fully computerised stock control system to move panels to the intermediate storage area and the warehouse, which holds up to 30,000m3 of stock.

A Steinemann Satos eight-head sander with sia abrasive belts and a Schelling saw deal with the panel processing.

There is also a Homag system to tongue-and-groove (T&G) the particleboard for the all-important flooring grade particleboard market of the UK.

For value-adding, there are three Siempelkamp and one Wemhöner short cycle presses, all 5.6mx2.07m and all fully automatic in their operation.

Two decor paper impregnation lines from the 1980s, supplied by Vits of Germany, have a combined capacity of

80 million m2/year, reflecting the importance of surfaced panels to the Egger product portfolio.

The markets

Egger divides its markets into three main areas: furniture manufacturing; decorative panel distribution; and building products such as normal flooring, including T&G ‘Weyroc’, as well as mezzanine and access flooring.

Egger’s premium product in the building products area is ‘Weyroc Protect’ (the Weyroc name comes from the former name of the company before Egger took it over). This panel is surfaced both sides with a permanent thermoplastic film which protects the floor after installation, especially when wet trades such as plastering take over.

“You can leave a properly-installed Weyroc Protect floor exposed to the elements for 42 days during construction as tested to BBA standards,” said marketing manager Nick McClughin.

“It also has the benefits of being a permanent, slip-resistant surface and as it is faced on both sides it protects against moisture ingress and it can be covered with tiles or any other floor surfacing medium.

“We have some further new product developments on the way which will create extra perceived value in a new-build property when the developer is trying to sell it.

“We also offer the ‘Rapid Deck’ flooring system which is glued, not screwed, to joists – we supply the glue and the laying system know-how,” said Mr McClughin.

Egger also offers builders a high-density P5 grade panel.

For the furniture market, Egger offers its furniture grade particleboard, branded ‘Eurospan’.

In its decorative panels, the company offers the ‘ZOOM’ decorative system, with its ‘Eurodekor’ range available in melamine faced particleboard or MDF (it buys in the MDF and surfaces it with the same decors as its particleboard for a complete match). ‘Euroform’ offers the same decors in laminate sheets.

ZOOM offers 78 decors in the UK and Egger offers around 100 in its standard range, including matt, gloss and textured panels such as woodgrains.

An innovative product is also offered in the form of ‘Euroform ProAcoustic’, a sound-insulating panel drilled with myriad tiny holes and available with any of Egger’s range of decorative surfaces.

All Egger (UK)’s products are displayed in a purpose-built design centre at Hexham.

Some people suggest that particleboard is a ‘mature’ product and see only MDF as the way forward. But Egger (UK) is certainly dispelling that myth with its new state-of-the-art line at Hexham, clearly demonstrating its ongoing commitment to particleboard manufacturing in the UK.