August 8, 2010 was a very significant day for Mr Cai Weijin, chairman of the board of Hubei Boayuan Group Co Ltd and general manager of its Hubei Baoyuan Wood Industry Co Ltd Jingmen panel manufacturing complex.

It was the day that the first continuous OSB line in China produced its first board. This brought to a climax several years of market research – and resource research – led by Mr Cai, whose company already had three operational MDF lines with a total capacity of 230,000m3/year on the site. The first went into production in 2002.

The next step for the new line – commercial production of OSB – came on November 24 last year and at the time of my visit in March 2011, Mr Cai expected to produce 70% of capacity, or about 160,000m3, during this year.

“We plan to reach at least the full capacity of 220,000m3/year in 2012,said Mr Cai.

So what were the main challenges faced by him and his team in producing this ‘new ’ product?

“In the beginning I was concerned about whether the workers could operate this line and produce good quality boards,admitted the general manager. “But now we are already running well on our own, without the assistance of Dieffenbacher any more, and I am full of courage about our products. We have good machinery which we are operating very well to produce very good quality board.

“I was also worried early on about the supply of wood raw material but I am not now,added Mr Cai. “Since 2002 we have already spent RMB25m (US$4m) on tree plantations and we now have 250,000mu (16,670ha) of our own poplar plantations, while around Jingmen there is 1.85 million mu of poplar on farmland etcetera so we have no problem with wood supply.”

The general manager also put forward his view that his use of poplar is a positive, environmentally, as he feels that pine and mixed hardwood, as slower-growing species, are more damaging to the environment than faster-grown plantation poplar.

Baoyuan did not enter into the use of poplar blindly, either.

“We asked [German strander maker] Pallmann to come here to our factory and test our raw material before we decided on this project,said Mr Cai. “Pallmann and Dieffenbacher specialists tested our poplar and both said it was suitable for OSB production.

“After Pallmann had tested the raw material, they designed a machine and it produced very good quality flakes [strands] compared to pine.”

In fact, only two contracts were placed for the whole OSB line: one with Dieffenbacher and its subsidiaries, to include the outsourced Pallmann machines; and one with GTS Energy of Shanghai for the energy plant.

Total investment in the project was RMB530m (US$82m).

Another early concern for a pioneer in OSB must have been the market, but Mr Cai is also relaxed about that.

“It can be used in construction, packaging, furniture and many other industries, but anyway we are only talking 220,000m3 and, compared to the [potential] market, that is still a very low capacity, therefore I am not concerned about the market. We just need some time to get market acceptance, but I am not concerned.”

We came back to the question of why Baoyuan went for OSB instead of adding to its existing MDF capacity.

“We have a wood raw material advantage and a good management team,said Mr Cai. “If Chinese plants want a good future, they must have value-adding or expand their range.

“The MDF market is getting more and more tough and expansion of our capacity would only lead to lower profit.”

Grades of OSB produced at Jingmen include the whole range from OSB2 to OSB4 and Mr Cai said the factory is ready to produce whatever the market requires.

“At the moment, North America and Brazil use OSB3&4 for construction. For Baoyuan it is very easy to produce 3&4 and we want to expand the applications to building and to making furniture, home decoration and flooring board. It can also be used in container flooring and in automotive manufacture.

Normal OSB production employs 100% MDI resin from Huntsman, but Baoyuan can also offer phenol formaldehyde face layers with MDI core if required, as Dieffenbacher supplied two alternative gluing systems and all blenders and bins.

Mr Cai added an extra feature of his own design to the production line in the form of edge presses on either side of the line immediately before the CPS, in addition to the standard full-width compression roller supplied by Dieffenbacher.

These two narrow rollers compress the edges of the board before edge-trimming by the saws, to make a cleaner edge to the mat.

Mat surfaces are sprayed with release agent from Würtz, applied by equipment supplied by Spray company and the rate of application of release agent is controlled by a computer linked to the speed of the press.

On-the-line quality control is handled by GreCon UPU 2000 and DMR 4000 sensor units.

The clinically-clean laboratory tests the panels to European standards, including boiling samples in water at 100oC for two hours and freezing them to -20oC and oven-testing to 73oC.

The attention to detail in manufacturing and handling extends to an area all too often overlooked in panel factories worldwide – the stacking of panels in neat packs, properly supported on aligned bearers to avoid distortion during storage and transport.

Investment in the product
“We plan to spend RMB30m on a research centre for OSB on this site. The main goal of that centre will be to expand the applications for OSB, but first I want to build a laminating line this year to laminate OSB with decorative paper – whatever the market wants – that is what we want to find out,said Mr Cai enthusiastically.

Baoyuan has already produced OSB panels faced with wood veneer on a line with a capacity of 4,000 pieces per day.

Mr Cai also plans to build a UV-coating line for furniture products and a line to build cabinets for washrooms etc.

“All these projects are under discussion right now in the next room,said Mr Cai as we talked in his meeting room in early March.

By the end of this year, he said he aims to have about 30 companies on the Baoyuan Forest Industry Park on which his MDF and OSB factories sit. He has already built the door factory mentioned in our article last year, as one of 10 factories already running on the site.

This integrated wood products manufacturing complex was always the key part of his plans for the future.

Perhaps the most striking example of Baoyuan’s commitment to promoting enduses for its OSB takes pride of place between the massive log yard and the production line building. It is a showhouse which stands on a blockwork plinth on concrete foundations.

Designed and built by a US company, the two-storey house and double garage covers 337m2 and features three bedrooms, with a dressing room/study off one of them, upstairs, and washroom, kitchen and lounge downstairs. It is built entirely of wood and the vast majority of that is OSB.

Mr Cai has already received orders for houses to be built in Wuhan City and said he has received a lot of interest from others as well.

While I am anxious to maintain the impartiality of WBPI as its editor, I have to admit that, having seen the finished product at Baoyuan’s factory, and looking at it now in use in a picture frame in my office, I have to admit it is probably the best quality OSB I have seen anywhere, with an exceptionally smooth surface. Perhaps too good? Some would say so.

Now Mr Cai plans to change the name of his OSB product to Baoyuan Delicate Board, or “Jing Muto indicate, he said, its technical nature and the care put into the board’s production.

“I told Mr Dieffenbacher at the outset that we wanted to build the best OSB line; and we have,concluded Mr Cai proudly.

I see no reason to argue with that.