WBPI’s Focus on Italy moved on to the Imal-Pal Group, a leader in complete systems and upgrading equipment for the wood-based panels manufacturing industry.

Speaking from the company’s base in Modena, managing director Loris Zanasi was glad to report that none of the group’s employees or their immediate family members had caught Covid-19.

“The situation in Italy is quite good at the moment and things are under control because the population is following the rules,” he said.

“We follow the requirements of the government. At the start we did smart working for three weeks and Imal was empty for that period. It is still compulsory to wear a mask and you don’t see anyone at our sites without one. We do not have big meetings together and are socially distanced.”

Mr Zanasi described 2019 as an excellent year for the group, achieving annual sales of more than €200m.

New orders received in 2019 have helped the group get through a very bad start to 2020 due to the Covid-19 virus. But he also highlighted that there were some instances of late payments for projects and the company was having to start court proceedings against one customer to rectify this.

This issue of late payment is of course not unique to the global wood-based panels sector, but Mr Zanasi emphasised that the company was prepared to take action to assert its rights.

New Buildings

When WBPI visited Imal’s Modena site in 2019, construction work was under way on a factory and office expansion. This work has almost been completed and is something Mr Zanasi is very excited about because it will increase work efficiency.

“We are expecting to move into the new offices in October,” he said. “It is a very nice, large office, very modern and represents a huge investment. The electrics, software and PLC departments, currently situated off site, will relocate into the old offices when the current office staff move to the new building.

“Between the two buildings there will be a large corridor with stairs to connect the buildings. We will be able to walk from the software engineers up to technical and commercial offices so everyone will be integrated in the same main area on the upper floor, with space extending to 4,500m2.”

And the situation at the moment with the business was “very busy”, with Mr Zanasi adding “we are still full of orders”, some of them not in the panel baord business. Consequently, manufacturing and delivery time has increased.

Imal’s equal focus on new lines and upgrading work, allied to its vast product range and experience, gives it a diversified business which helps to even out any fluctuations in demand and poor economic cycles.

Probably the two big pieces of news at the IMAL-PAL Group currently are its new development of technology for making pallets from recycled wood chips, plus a new foray into the wood insulation board sector.

New “Panel” Pallet Development

Imal is making a significant investment in a new innovative development in the wood pallet sector. It has installed a pilot pallet manufacturing plant at the Modena site which can produce complete pallets “similar to Europallets” but manufactured from recycled wood chips without any nails.

“Here at Imal this is a business we have been following for many years and we have supplied more than 100 press lines for making pallet blocks for standard wood pallets,” added Mr Zanasi.

“But now we have designed an innovative single opening press including forming and gluing, which we have built to produce pallets completely from woodchips.”

The pallets are a standard 1.2m x 0.8m size and made as one piece in a mould.

“The press uses steam to cook the mat very fast on the press and then when the press opens, it comes out as a complete moulded pallet.

Mr Zanasi said using recycled wood is being ever more appreciated because it can be used time and time again, whereas plastic can be a problem.

“The problem of all towns all around the world is how to use recycled wood, that is the main target. In the year 2050 the world is obliged to reuse 100% of its waste and not put it into landfill.”

In terms of strength, Imal believes the new pallet should be able to carry loads of up to 6,000kg, similar to the Europallet specification.

The fact that the new woodchip pallet has exactly the same dimensions as standard pallets and can run on a roller conveyor means it would be able to seamlessly fit into the pallet production chain.

“I think we will need a couple more months and after that we will start to distribute a few hundred pallets around the world for prospective customers to look at.

Then we will start to look at international certification. Our target is to use our pilot plant to show the technology to potential customers. We already have very interested parties.”

Insulation Board Project

Another new project is in the insulation board arena.

Imal has won a greenfield turnkey project to supply a wood insulation board factory in Italy.

The company has designed some new technology for the production of wood insulation board, which now gives it the ability to service much of the wall, floor and roof board market for prefabricated timber housing.

The project will involve the supply of equipment from chip preparation to end product, assembly of the line and construction of the building.

Mr Zanasi said there was increasing interest in wood insulation board products, which is typically a thick, very low density product.

“In Europe there are other companies looking to set up a new factory and that’s why we are so involved in this new project for the new insulation board.

“Our technology looks like an MDF line, but with a different pre-press and forming station. The press is actually not a pre-press it is a kind of continuous press but holds the thickness, not pressing because it is very soft board and very light.”

The project will be the first wood insulation board plant in Italy and follows the Imal Pal Group’s other first for Italy eight years ago – the supply of the country’s first OSB line to Ipan.

The group is planning to supply equipment by the end of 2020 and then installation during 2021, with completion expected by the end of next year.

Small Capacity

The plant will have a small capacity of four tonnes per hour.

“When the plants are too big they are not interesting,” Mr Zanasi said. “The material cannot travel too far, so it is much more convenient to build three small factories than one big one because otherwise you would be forced to transfer the material long distances. This particular product should travel a maximum of 500km from the factory – anything over that and it becomes too expensive”.

Project News

Elsewhere, the group has received orders for two other greenfield projects – both for pallet block plants.

In both cases the orders involve complete pallet block lines – from the wood yard right through to end product. These are in Russia and Holland.

In addition, the group is expecting to receive an order for a new complete OSB line in Russia.

Recently the company supplied a significant part of Vanachai’s new 250,000m3 annual capacity OSB project in Thailand.

This plant, operational since March this year, involved the group supplying all equipment up to the forming station – including the dryer, outfeed, screening silos, conveyors, gluing system and full MCC & PLC automation.

“It is the first OSB line in operation there and it looks like they are very successful and selling all the board they are producing,” added Mr Zanasi.

Imal has also just completed installation of a Dynasteam (mat pre-heating system) and Hi-Jet resination system in an existing continuous MDF line at ZRK in Peshawar, Pakistan.

“We have managed to reduce resin use by approximately 11% and we have increased production speed by about 15%.

“Another important news is Imal has started to produce belt dryers as a standard product in Modena. We have already supplied nine complete belt dryers throughout Europe and now it is part of the standard production of Imal.

“We have three projects in France, and one in Dubai that has already been shipped.” The dryers can be made in different sizes.

The group also continues to improve its quality control equipment – which ranges from X-ray units for measuring density profiles on MDF lines, thickness gauges and blister control.

Its Millimetre Wave Gauge (MMW) technology for transversal surface density and moisture measurement is based on wave scanning technology, typically used in the military for radar and in airport security for full bodyscan.

Imal sees great potential in this technology and now has its first contract to supply Frati in Italy. This will be installed in the coming months and will provide valuable data as it is tested in real production for the first time – tests thus far have been at Imal.