The Portuguese city of Porto, on the banks of the River Douro in the nor th of the country, has been a hub of trade for centuries.

A Phoenician trading settlement in the 8th century BC; an outpost of the Roman Empire; and then economic growth and wealth following the Treaty of Methuen in 1703.

The arrival of English entrepreneurs investing in local vineyards to supply the British wine market provided a great boost to the city. Today, the names of port wine makers like Sandeman, established by Scotsman George Sandeman in the early 19th century, light up the banks of the Douro.

Though the city’s industrial past has partly given way to service industries, there are still successful manufacturing businesses with expansive growth strategies – including in the timber products trade – which are targeting the British market.

Finsa, the international wood based panels producer, is hatching plans here to greatly expand one of its most versatile products – Superpan.

Superpan, a multi-layer panel consisting of thin MDF faces and a particleboard core, has been in production in Porto since 2000, when Jomar established a factory with a Siempelkamp ContiRoll continuous press.

The message was simple – Superpan was a product with all the benefits of a smooth MDF surface for postforming and finishing, as well as good fixing ability and high physicalmechanical performance, but at a reduced cost due to the particleboard core.

Jomar’s intention then was to serve the Portuguese and Spanish markets in the furniture, shopfitting and exhibition contracting markets.

That vision has steadily become more international – and has been accelerated in the years following Finsa’s acquisition of the operation in 2005.

Now with production at the Perafita plant nearing its 350,000m3/year capacity, Finsa has decided it is time to build a second Superpan line.

Superpan product manager, Daniel Rocha, said construction work on this second line was already underway at Finsa’s existing Nelas plant, where Iberpan thick MDF is produced.

"We’re close to our maximum capacity now, so that is why we need to invest in a second factory," said Mr Rocha. "We are already closing the doors to some markets because we do not have enough capacity." The plan is to start up the new factory in February/March 2015, with an initial capacity of 150-200,000m3/year.

A second stage of investment could take capacity beyond that of the existing factory. "We are not reaching the full potential [for Superpan] at the moment," said Rafael Willisch, Finsa UK managing director.

"With the new capacity, we can fulfill the potential for these other markets."

Finsa’s launch of an international Superpan marketing strategy in 2011 has brought the product to the attention of wider markets, together with an ever-increasing range of applications.

A fire-retardant (FR) version of Superpan will be launched very soon, with Finsa planning to have Class B fire certification, while the ‘Tech’ range of products for structural applications is being promoted heavily.

"The structural and building sectors are becoming more and more important for us," said Mr Rocha. "We have been doing more promotional campaigns and partnerships with technical bodies."

The Tech load-bearing boards come in P4, P5 (moisture-resistant) and P6 (heavyduty) formats, with applications including mezzanine floors, technical floors, roof sarking and wall sheathing (Tech P5), formwork (P5 Encoform), industrial packaging (STD, P4 and P5) and light commercial vehicle fitting (H Deck).

Edinburgh Napier University in the UK has tested Superpan for mezzanine floors, showing that the board can be used in reduced thickness when compared with other boards. "It performs better than similar boards of the same thickness of particleboard," said Mr Rocha.

A slight increase in the spanning ability between supporting metal joists also represents a saving of steel for mezzanine floor manufacturers, he pointed out.

Mezzanine projects in the UK using Superpan Tech – supplied by UK distributor Arnold Laver – have involved large retailers Marks & Spencer and DFS. Lavers is the exclusive UK distributor for Tech P6.

Other structural uses include Superpan Tech P5 being used as roof sarking, and for partitions and wall sheathing, in Italy, France and Germany – often as a replacement for OSB3. A large European prefabricated house manufacturer has decided to use Superpan Tech P5 panels instead of OSB3.

The wide price fluctuation of OSB means that, much of the time, Superpan will be more expensive than OSB3. Consequently, the companies specifying Superpan in these applications are typically the ones who appreciate the product’s quoted benefits, such as acoustic and thermal properties.

Finsa also says that there are Superpan strength advantages, with the product’s performance being consistent when used as sheathing in both directions – horizontally and vertically – unlike OSB, which has a major strength axis.

Another structural application is in concrete formwork, with Finsa saying that the product gives a good surface finish and allows customers to avoid purchasing an expensive specialist plywood. Its availability in long sections also helps to avoid seams. Some important formwork projects have been completed in Germany.

One of the most recent developments at the Perafita factory has been the launch of Superpan Star – a composite Superpan panel utilising BASF’s Kaurit Light technology. Basically, a foamed polymer is combined with wood chips to form the Superpan core layer, reducing the wood content, resulting in a panel which is about 25% lighter than a standard Superpan panel. A combination of heat and pressure is used to expand the polymer before it is mixed with the chips.

Finsa says that the advantage of using the foamed polymer in Superpan – rather than particleboard – is that the MDF faces prevent the polymer rising to the surface, so no compromise is made in surface quality.

Superpan Star is the first lightweight board to get P2 classification and applications include interior doors.

UK-based Lawcris Panel Products, Finsa’s preferred supplier of Superpan Star veneered board, has been experiencing success selling the product in the contract furniture and hotel furniture sectors. But it believes more customer awareness is needed of the product’s benefits.

"We just need to promote the product and convince people it’s not [particleboard]," said Mark Smith, Lawcris’ head of procurement. The UK is an important market for Finsa; Superpan was first shipped to the UK in 2002, with the easy logistics making large volume export possible from La Coruña to Liverpool.

Of course, applications for furniture and interior design are numerous – kitchen & office furniture, doors, worktops, displays and shopfitting, to name just a few.

The quality of the fibre surface is very important for manufacturers serving these markets, particularly if they are applying a highgloss or laminate finish. Thin film applications and coatings are possible with Superpan.

Finsa says the product’s surface quality means no barrier paper is required for postforming. Lacquering is becoming an important market for Superpan, with the product having good dimensional stability for this process.

Finsa is predicting an expansion of high gloss varnishing on melamine-faced panels, with the Decor range available in three options. The Superpan Plus range is aimed at the lacquering, printing, painting and high-gloss coatings market.

Two melamine lines operate at the Superpan factory, using Dieffenbacher and Siempelkamp technology.

Superpan is also suitable for making curved panels by cutting grooves on its back face, while the Top range has thicker, 4mm, MDF layers to allow for routing of the surface for products such as special doors.

The Perafita factory has seen many improvements since Finsa acquired Jomar – one of the first tasks was upgrading the machinery, including new forming stations, to improve the core and surface quality.

The whole site extends to 30,000m2, comprising a wood yard, chip and fibre production, the press line, quality control laboratory, sanding line, melamine lines and warehousing. Veneering operations no longer take place at the factory – these are done at Finsa’s Santiago facilities.

In theory, the plant could produce MDF and particleboard, as well as Superpan. But in reality Superpan and particleboard are the products manufactured.

Maritime pine is the most important species used, with the mill receiving both logs and falling boards from sawmills.

Equipment used in Superpan production includes a Dieffenbacher ClassiFormer, Kvaerner mechanical fibre formers, Siempelkamp pre-press, Cassel metal detector, Siempelkamp ContiRoll continuous press, Ferrocontrol saw, Steinemann sanding technology and an SHS handling system.

The Dieffenbacher and Siempelkamp melamine lines have an MFC (melamine facing) annual capacity of eight million m2. Overall, Finsa’s Superpan capacity will ultimately double from the current 350,000m3/ year, after both phases of the new factory in Nelas are completed.

Other Finsa product capacities are currently 700,000m3 for particleboard and 1.3 million m3 for MDF, with group turnover in 2013 hitting €735m.