Behind the company which supplies just about everything for the panel production line – Siempelkamp Maschinenund Anlagenbau (machinery and plant) – are five other divisions of the Siempelkamp GmbH & Co KG Group in diverse fields of activity.
What could justifiably be called the bedrock company of the Group is the foundry division.
“Our Krefeld foundry is the largest in Europe, and possibly the world, for large castings of up to 300 tonnes,says Dr Hans W Fechner, ceo of the Group, who joined Siempelkamp in 2001 and took over from Dieter Siempelkamp on his retirement in November 2003.
“And it is profitable because of ‘shared engineering’ in which we have developed the ideal product through the calculation of stresses and so on, with the customer, to develop parts which are both stable and as light as possible,he says.
Another important branch of the Siempelkamp Group’s business is in nuclear technology. This is linked back to that foundry through the manufacture of containers (castors) for the transport of fuel rods between energy plants and reprocessing facilities. Other highly specific parts for nuclear energy plants are also manufactured, as well as parts for wind farms.
“This is a worldwide business and we are the number one in specialist parts for nuclear power plants, supplying every new plant,says Dr Fechner, whose own background and qualifications are in that sector.
The Group also includes specialist companies such as Strothmann, which supplies automation and robots for the automotive industry, and another specialist Ferrocontrol, which supplies electronic automation devices for specific customers.
There cannot be anyone in the panel industry who does not know that Siempelkamp makes presses for this industry, but they may not know that the company also makes forging and other presses for the metal industry as well.
“There are only two companies worldwide which can produce these massive presses and we are currently supplying one with a 40,000 tonne pressing force for a supplier to the European Airbus A380,says Dr Fechner.
All these group activities made up a total turnover of €570m in 2003, employing 2,600 people. Of that total, €350m came from the panel business. Dr Fechner stresses that business has been profitable. And the company is still privately owned, and controlled from the Krefeld headquarters, where currently the vast majority of fabrication is carried out.
“Up to now, our philosophy has been to manufacture everything in Germany, but we have to face the fact that other countries have lower costs,says Dr Fechner. “The ContiRoll continuous press, for example, is very labour-intensive to make and the  intention is to use other countries for some smaller parts, while investing in the machine shop in Krefeld for heavy milling. We could find ways to do more man-power-intensive parts at lower cost in China or eastern Europe, for example.”
Siempelkamp does have a subsidiary in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada which supplied the electrical controls and other equipment for the Huber and Slocan/Louisiana-Pacific plants there. American-designed handling equipment from Siempelkamp’s works in Charlotte, North Carolina, US, was also supplied, together with the automation.
“Our intention is to be profitable and have a good market share and for a relatively small family business that is only possible with good technology, good ideas and the right people,says the ceo.
Dr Fechner also values the synergies of the different sides of the business: “There is a lot of interdisciplinary exchange. For example, we can build a press using a combination of foundry technology and press design.A good example of this is the monster OSB press for the Slocan/Louisiana Pacific project mentioned earlier and under manufacture at the time of my visit in late September.
This is a 12ft x 34ft (3.65m x 10.515m) 12-opening press – the biggest ever built – in which the standard welded design of the press frame structure has been replaced by a mixture of modular cast iron yokes and frame plates linked to the press tables.
Each table weighs about 200 tonnes, but the press is designed as a simple, quick- to-assemble set of modules that can be easily transported. Total weight of the press is 3,250 tonnes and it is the height of an eight-storey building.
The press platens themselves – 34ft length, 70 tonnes weight – presented a new challenge for drilling for the thermal oil passages (a technique pioneered by Dieter Siempelkamp’s grandfather many years ago).
The press cylinders are over one metre in diameter and machined to exacting tolerances on the company’s Krefeld lathes.
Siempelkamp has also been carrying out development work in the forming of OSB mats involving a complete revision of the system. Fine and coarse strands are now separately resinated, which is said to save glue and improve the strand orientation, while optimising the use of raw material.
Heinz Classen is vice president responsible for the wood panel industry side of Siempelkamp’s business, which has suffered a downturn in recent years.
“Like everybody else, we have had three years in a difficult market, but we have made use of this time,he says. “We have perfected our processes, for example, with the Unilin ll turnkey MDF project in Belgium, which started up perfectly. Also in China with a newcomer to the industry, Dare Group, and in Turkey we have demonstrated that we can do this and repeat it all over the world.
“Another recent example is the Huber OSB project with its 60.3m ContiRoll continuous press line. Our customers are investing a lot of money and need a quick, efficient start-up.”
Another important side of the press business, short-cycle lines, has also undergone a major organisational and engineering reconstruction in the last three years. The presses have been modernised, with new designs and the introduction of multi-piston presses to the market. These are claimed to give major advantages, especially where frequent format changes are required.
“We have also greatly improved the handling systems for paper and panels so that we are now approaching 200 cycles per hour,says Mr Classen. The company has sold seven of these multi-piston lines in six months, with five going to Spain, one to Germany and one to Turkey.
The trend towards embossed-in-register (EIR) decor surfaces for furniture and flooring has also brought new demands for the short-cycle press makers and Siempelkamp has recently developed a new loading device with camera positioning system to accommodate the demands of EIR.
The company has an extensive research & development (R&D) centre where it can  generate these new ideas, often in cooperation with a customer, and carry out feasibility tests. A semi-industrial plant is then built at Krefeld and tested before scaling up to a full size plant.
The technology of MDF production is one area in which Siempelkamp has concentrated a lot of this kind of research.
One of the latest developments is a new resination system for the fibre in which dried fibre is resinated in a tower, rather than in the conventional blowline before drying.
The fibre/resin mix falls down inside a conical-shaped tower and is mixed in the process, falling onto a belt at the base of the tower and proceeding to forming. A fullscale plant is currently under test at a cus-tomer’s mill in Spain, employing two such towers.
Siempelkamp has also developed a preheating system, first marketed for OSB and called the ContiTherm, for MDF mats before the press, and the first installation was made in Turkey a year ago. Three further orders have been received so far for this system, for Yildiz Entegre in Turkey, Kronospan, Chirk in the UK and Kronospan Sanem in Luxembourg.
Ultra-thin MDF is a current ‘hot topic’ as a base for the new furniture design gaining momentum in Europe. It involves making lightweight panels with honeycomb cores. By ‘ultra-thin’, Mr Classen means 0.4mm to 2mm thickness which, he says, was previously too dangerous to produce. “Speed is the key – anyone can produce thin board 1.8mm and thicker and we have already supplied 24 plants running at 1200mm to 1500mm a second, but our development aim is to go beyond this.
“We are at the semi-industrial testing stage now and our goal is to build an industrial standard line in the next year in Europe or Asia.”
Considering the general impression of the market, Siempelkamp appears to be doing very well. “We are very busy and our engineering department is full,confirms Mr Classen. “We are working seven days a week, four shifts, and have orders for eight new panel plants to date and have started up nine this year. Also, there is one new short-cycle line leaving the plant every month.”
The eight plants ordered are from Canada (Slocan/L-P), Iran (Arian Chemie), Spain (Tableros Talsa), Turkey (Kastamonu), Poland (OSB, Slubice), Brazil (Fibraplac), China (Fenglin) and another from Turkey (Yildiz Entegre). Start-ups included three in Thailand, three in Turkey – where Siempelkamp has supplied 10 lines to date – and one each in the US, China and Russia.
Also due to start up this year are Rayong (Thailand) and Dare lll (China). Ten years ago, when the South East Asian market was in full swing, turnkey contracts for companies such as Siempelkamp were common. There was then a move towards experienced panel mills putting together their own specification from different suppliers. That is changing again, according to Mr Classen.
“There is a tendency back towards complete packages, driven by factors such as efficient and quick start-up,he claims. “The financial backers want to know that the plant will  start up in a guaranteed time frame and start making a return on investment and this supports the complete plant approach. Assembling a line from different parts generally costs more and takes longer.”
Siempelkamp has a number of companies which it either owns as subsidiaries, or in whom it has shares, whose expertise it can call on when putting together a complete panel production line.
These include Dr E Schnitzler engineering, Sicoplan engineering, Büttner dryers, CMC Texpan forming lines, Imal gluing and quality control systems, PAL wood processing and cleaning systems, ATR controls and SHS (Siempelkamp Handling Systems). The company also cooperates frequently with other independent specialist suppliers.
An important part of integrating a line and ensuring it runs smoothly is the electronic control, a specialism of ATR Industrie-Elektronic, with whom Siempelkamp has had a long collaboration.
On October 1, it took over all activities of ATR in the woodworking sector, including all  that company’s software solutions for process control technology and trending and moved it to Krefeld from Viersen. This brings in-house not only ATR’s expertise in controls for new lines, but also its competence in retro-fitting existing lines to increase quality and/or output.
China has been the major talking point of the panel industry for some time now and many new European-made lines have been installed there – several of them from Siempelkamp. Indeed it recently gained a contract from Fenglin Fibreboard Co Ltd of Guangxi for a new MDF plant in Baise.
Fenglin already operates a number of MDF lines and will add a ContiRoll of 8.5ft x 37.1m, top speed 1300mm/second, planned annual capacity 230,000m3 (10mm basis).
But things are changing in China, as Mr Fechner affirms: “At present the Chinese government is pursuing a restrictive policy to decelerate the growth in the national economy. This might last for about 18 months and will certainly be forgotten soon afterwards.”
He is similarly sanguine about worries over the lack of raw material. “There is sufficient waste wood available for particleboard production and we will remain present in China and continue to sell the products of our group of companies. The wood market is seemingly increasing its market share and the demand has been clearly identified and projected.”
Dr Fechner also expects investment in OSB production in North America, as long as prices remain firm, and he sees further investment in South America and Russia.