Everybody loves Milan in the Spring and that was some small consolation for exhibitors who sat and looked at sparsely populated aisles in the panels section of the Xylexpo exhibition for woodworking technology and furniture supplies.

Nobody expected an upbeat or busy show in the current economic climate but few, if any, were prepared for the low visitor turnout, although it was claimed by the organisers, Acimall, to be 43,295.

It was the 23rd biennial edition of the show that began life as Interbimall and which used to be considered by exhibitors and international visitors to be an event definitely not to be missed. Sadly this is unlikely to be the case any more.

Today, with machinery makers having an ever-more watchful eye on costs, most feel that one exhibition in western Europe every two years is sufficient.

The advent of the Technodomus exhibition in direct competition for much of Xylexpo’s market, launched in Rimini in April 2010 and repeated in April 2012, certainly hasn’t helped and while Acimall was talking of resolving this situation for 2014, the opinion which this author received from panel industry exhibitors was "too late – we will not be attending in 2014".

That is very sad, but perhaps inevitable for all the reasons already mentioned.

On a brighter note, most exhibitors reported strong order books for 2012 – some into 2013.

One Italian company with something to celebrate was CMC Texpan.

Managing director Dario Zoppetti is retiring at the end of this year, by which time the remaining shares of his company, not already owned by German complete line supplier Siempelkamp, will be. The triple
celebration in Milan was for the 50th anniversary of Mr Zoppetti’s business, founded by his father; 40 years of his involvement in that company; and 30 years of partnership with Siempelkamp.

Another thing to celebrate was an order book for CMC stretching to June 2013, with orders in China, Russia, Turkey, Brazil, Chile and Italy.

Another Italian firm, Instalmec, reported a better 2012 than 2011 for orders, with a full order book this year for its drying, conveying, dosing, blending, cyclones and wood recycling plants.

One such order was for an insulation board plant in France, where Instalmec will provide up to and including forming, including a new gluing system after the dryer.

Imal-Pal had a large stand on one side of an aisle and a smaller one opposite, helping the organisers to fill some space without resorting to even more street furniture and art displays.

New from Pal was the Plastic Killer to remove all plastic from the flow of recycled wood.

The main focus for Imal was on its complete continuous press lines marketed under the name of Dynapress. Imal also offers the Dynasteam continuous press with steam injection before the press to reduce power consumption – and investment.

The continuous press is made in China by Imal’s partner company Jechen Group (Impa Machinery Co Ltd) of Shanghai. Four Dynapress lines had been sold to date.

Italian paper-impregnation line maker Tocchio’s Emiliano Tocchio, said his company was increasingly involved in automation of lines. This was one exhibitor who was not so disappointed with the show and said he had seen existing and potential customers from Brazil, Russia, Spain and Turkey – as well as from Italy of course.

Representing four main Italian companies, GET srl brought together on one stand sander maker Imeas, wood size-reduction machinery maker Globus, handling machinery maker EMG and conveying system maker Trasmec.

Fabio Paron, owner of Globus, said his was the last remaining fully-independent manufacturer in his market since Siempelkamp took shares in Pallmann in May. He reported particularly good sales in Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina and said he was discussing a large chip plant for Uruguay. India and Siberia are also recent destinations for Globus’ products.

Marco Conzadori of EMG reported having an order to supply Ipan of Alessandria in Italy with after-press handling. His company also has orders from Russia; and from Brazil through its subsidiary EMG do Brasil.

It was just before the show that Siempelkamp of Germany took a 25.1% share in German wood-size-reduction machinery maker Pallmann, thus adding to its complete-line competence.

As well as promoting its continuous presses and those complete production lines, Siempelkamp announced it is building, at its Krefeld headquarters factory, a wide-belt sander to be marketed under the Bison name. The first, eight-feet-wide model, with eight heads, is destined for Russia.

German-headquartered paper impregnation line maker Vits reported a full order book for 2012, with strong markets in South East Asia, the near east, such as Turkey and Iran, as well as in South America, especially Brazil.

Another German company, GreCon, was focusing at Xylexpo on its spark detection/extinguishing systems and used the occasion to introduce its touch display, its network to combine several consoles and its high-speed valve which reduces pipework and saves money as well, explained managing director Uwe Kahmann.

The company’s Superscan surface inspection system, now developed for raw panels and fibre analysis, was another key focus for the Milan show, said sales director Matthias Fischer.

Press and digital printing line maker Wemhöner was, like everybody, finding things quiet at the show, but not in general.

"We have some business in Italy, but our strongest markets at present are Turkey, China and Latin America," said managing director Uwe Berghahn. Of course Wemhöner has its own factory in China making presses.

Mr Berghahn said the company had a good order book for 2012 and that he was "conservatively optimistic" for 2013. "Melamine [surfacing] is still seeing growing demand and there is increasing demand for membrane pressing for deep profiles and we have developed more-automated systems for this."

German saw maker Anthon offers complete sawing/handling/optmisation systems for panel size-reduction at the end of the production line, together with robotic-supported packing lines.

German complete-line maker Dieffenbacher of Eppingen announced at the show that it had sold its second continuous OSB line to a company in eastern China. This of course is also only the second OSB line of any significance in that country. It is scheduled to produce its first board in April 2013, with a designed capacity of 228,000m3.

Dieffenbacher also promoted its ‘Colorizer’ direct digital printing line for MDF/HDF and particleboard. It was launched in January 2011 and the company had sold over 30 units at the time of the exhibition. It is claimed to be unique in using water-based inks.

Another machine featured was the ClassiSizer wood-size-reduction machine, said Volker Kitzelmann, CFO and sales director for Dieffenbacher: "We also have a serious number of projects in South and North America, and in Russia, for our pellet press lines".

German angular panel saw system maker Holzma offered its well-known systems with ever-increasing levels of automation demanded by today’s panel makers.

From Austria came K-Service. Its core business is engineering and consulting for panel lines, including purchasing complete particleboard and MDF lines secondhand and refurbishing them for its customers around the world.

Also from Austria, Schelling promoted its panel sawing systems and high-speed panel storage system with optimisation software.

Biele of Spain exhibited with the slogan ‘Synchronised Technology’, promoting its handling and pressing systems and highlighting its low-density panel technology with its Particle Light Panel, or PLP. It also promoted its door assembly machines.

In partnership with Norwegian-based company Argos Solutions, Biele also featured its panel repair lines for plywood.

Argos had its own stand featuring its surface-quality scanners for both raw board and decorative panels and that panel repair system.

"I am optimistic about the coming years – things seems a lot better now," said managing director Tor Gustavsen. His company was currently installing a full grading system at PT Sumatera in Indonesia on a new Siempelkamp-supplied MDF production line.

Two companies came from Brazil, both offering their latest systems for the plywood and veneer manufacturing sector.

Fezer offers peelers, slicers and drying lines and presses and had hoped to see more Russian customers, but Roman Iliin of Fezer pointed out that the show coincided with a four-day Russian public holiday…..

Omeco, also specialising in plywood and veneer lines, said its main market is Russia these days, although it has had some success in selling short-cycle melamine press lines in recent years, especially in Brazil.

China was represented by China Foma Machinery Group, which has been exhibiting at the Milan show since 1994.

"We have supplied laminating machinery to Poland, Hungary and the Ukraine and this year we supplied a complete multi-opening MDF line to Russia," said Mr Wang.

Tantalisingly, he added: "Our first continuous press line will perhaps be supplied next year, also to Russia".

Foma’s target markets at Xylexpo were Africa, Russia, Turkey, the Middle East and South and South East Asia.

From the feedback from the exhibitors interviewed for this report, Xylexpo 2012 cannot be rated a success and it seems unlikely that many will return in 2014.

If Acimall can resolve its differences with rival Technodomus, there may be some chance, but at this point in time, it seems, unfortunately, to be very unlikely that we will be reporting from Milan in two years’ time.