Jilin Forest Industry Co Ltd has always specialised in particleboard, with only one of its seven mills making MDF.

The company bearing this name was not in fact started until September 1998, when it was established as a private limited company in order to buy its first three mills from the local forestry bureau in Jilin province.

The oldest of those lines began construction in 1984 and went into production in 1986 with a multi-opening line supplied by Bison of Germany; Linjiang Particleboard has an annual capacity of 50,000m3.

Lushuihe Particleboard, another Bison line but this time with a single-opening press, has the same 50,000m3 annual capacity.

The third line was built in Baihe in 1988, with another single-opening Bison press line and the same capacity as the first two.

With those three acquisitions under its belt, Jilin Forest Industry spent the next few years consolidating its position before launching into expansion in December 2000 when it started up its fourth and fifth particleboard lines. One was at Sanchazi, also in Jilin province (WBPI April/May 2002, p26), while the other was located in Lishuihe, Jilin, alongside line two.

These lines were purchased simultaneously from Metso Panelboard, who had by then taken over Kvaerner which had previously bought Bison out of bankruptcy. A single-opening press was again chosen but a higher capacity was achieved, with the lines rated at 78,000m3 a year each.

Line six went into production in October 2005, again with a Metso single-opening press line, but with a capacity of 100,000m3.

Something else that was different about this line was its location. For the first time, Jilin Forest moved outside Jilin province and built number six in Fengxian, two hours’ drive from Xuzhou in Jiangsu province.

Thus Jilin Forestry had now achieved a total annual particleboard production of around 420,000m3.

However, the company took a small diversion on the way to this figure and built an MDF line in Hongshi, Jilin province, using a Sichuan Donghua multi-opening press and a Metso refiner. This line went into production at the end of 2000 with a capacity of 60,000m3.

The company also has a resin plant in Tonghua, Jilin, which is the location of the head office for the Jilin operations, and another plant in Fengxian.

There are a further two companies in the Beijing area. One is a panel processing centre equipped with a Vits paper impregnation line and Wemhöner short-cycle press for producing melamine faced boards and laminate flooring. There is also a Homag line for machining the laminate flooring panels.

The second Beijing factory manufactures doors, with Jilin Forest’s particleboard as the core material and MDF skins from Hongshi.

Jilin Forest also owns Hongshi Forestry Bureau in Jilin province.

“This is the best province for growing wood as very special wood grows here,” said Mr Yu Yong Jiang, general manager of the Fengxian company. And he is not talking about plantation wood for panel production.

“We grow oak, pine, willow, walnut and birch there, producing 220,000m3 of wood a year and the price is the highest in China. We have two sawmills in the area and they cut the solid wood for domestic and export markets. The residues from the sawmills go to the MDF factory.”

The sales operation for Jilin Forest is headquartered in Changchun, Jilin, and there are six sales offices scattered around the country in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi’An, Shenyang and Chengdu.

I asked Mr Yu why the company had decided to build its most recent line outside Jilin province.

“There are four reasons for that decision,” he explained.

“Firstly, the panel market is generally in the coastal regions so by building the line here, we are close to our customers.

“Secondly, the central government wants to reduce logging in the northeast of China because there is not enough wood there.

“Thirdly, we selected this location because there is a lot of fast-growing plantation poplar around here and fourthly, around Fengxian there are a lot of small, family run veneer producers we can buy residues from.”

On the drive from Xuzhou airport to the factory there were many small, home businesses, with racks of veneer standing on end to dry, visible from the road. These residues are chipped before arrival at Mr Yu’s factory.

“Fourthly,” continued Mr Yu, “we are quite near Lianyungang sea port for the export of our panel products.”

The target for Jilin this year is to produce 30% of its output in value-added material and 70% in raw board. The target for 2008 is 50/50 and, ambitiously, for 2009 it is 100% value added.

“There are still a lot of third-party panel processors and we intend to deal directly with the furniture producers in future,” explained Mr Yu. “Our target, though, is to export melamine faced board and not to compete in the domestic market because our board quality is very high because we are using Metso technology.”

Vice general manager and senior engineer at Fengxian, Mr Wu Shao Chun, has a lot of experience in constructing and running short-cycle lines and the target for this year, said Mr Yu, is to add a further three lines under Mr Wu’s guidance.

Obviously the trend in recent years with imported lines in China has been towards continuous pressing, but you will no doubt have noticed that Jilin has chosen single-opening discontinuous presses for all its lines (except the MDF which is multi-opening). I asked Mr Yu the reason for this decision.

“It is not good to have a big-volume mill in one location because of the wood raw material availability and the high cost of transporting the wood,” he said. “Also in China, we find a lot of customers still believe single-opening pressing is the best technology for particleboard for furniture.

“A third consideration is the total investment for the project because the cost of a continuous line is very high and too much for our company at the present time.”

Mr Yu pointed out that, in his opinion, the continuous particleboard lines that there are in China are not running at full capacity because of raw material supply difficulties.

“Nowadays China is a free market and factories are approved in locations that are too close to one another – this would not have been allowed before,” he said.

Mr Yu went on to explain how the particleboard production in China is divided into three quality levels: That produced on imported lines (continuous or daylight); that produced on Chinese-made machinery; and that produced more or less by hand in family-run operations. “China’s total capacity of particleboard is about seven million m3 but only about one million is of good quality.

“Our brand name is ‘Lishuehi’ and it is the number one in China and has the highest price,” said the general manager, who credits the technology and the good quality wood supply for this. “I had a visit from a customer from Brazil yesterday and he placed a large order today. A number of buyers from Europe have also been very impressed with our quality.”

Although that is a common boast of mill managers, the board I saw produced at the Fengxian factory certainly had an excellent tight core and smooth faces.

The market has not been consistently good for particleboard or MDF according to Mr Yu: “In mid-2006 a lot of MDF lines were struggling, but then thin board for flooring and for export picked up and so MDF production took off again – at least in 8mm thickness”.

“It is my personal opinion,” stressed the general manager, “that the market for all the producers of MDF and particleboard is furniture and I believe if in future we can develop packaging products for instance, there will be a big market for particleboard, although it would need a different resin. Maybe another big market for the future is interior decoration panels.

“Another area for development is in E zero panels and moisture resistant (MR) resin in particleboard – especially for that packaging market. We produce about 30-50% of our production in MR grade, using melamine urea formaldehyde resin, in thicknesses of 8 to 40mm.”

The future plans of the company could be easily accommodated at Fengxian as Mr Yu pointed out that there is room on the site for another 200,000m3/year particleboard line on part of the very large logyard.

“But this year we are concentrating on planting for raw material. We are buying land locally for fast-growing poplar which we can utilise in five years when it will have reached 16cm diameter. Obtaining our own wood supply is important for the future.”

“Maybe we will also build a plant overseas – there is one division in our headquarters to oversee this kind of project. It could be anywhere – wherever there is wood.”