This biennial exhibition is, of course, an essential tool for anyone wishing to sell machinery, chemicals or services to the woodworking industry, globally.

Visitors came from Europe east and west, Asia, China, Latin America and North America to see what is new on the market. They were not disappointed, with plenty of innovations to see.

Meanwhile, all the panel industry-related exhibitors to whom I spoke said it had been the best Ligna in years. Yes, visitor numbers were universally seen as being down, but the quality of the discussions held during the show was very good. This suggests that, because budgets are tight, only senior members of staff – the decision makers – were sent to visit the show.

My first call happened to be at the stand of Chimar (Chimar Hellas SA), which was promoting its resin technology. The company moved into new premises late last year and now has everything under one roof.

Charles Markessini, son of founders Effi and Andrew Markessini, is responsible for third party R&D projects and was the initiator of the Durabind product range, offering noor zero-added formaldehyde (NAF) resins.

BioPiva is a lignin phenol formaldehyde resin for plywood. Chimar said it has successfully replaced phenol content at levels of up to 80%. The company is also concentrating on pMDI accelerators.

Stela of Germany was exhibiting its lowtemperature 'RecuDry' belt dryer for panel lines, claiming 35-55% energy savings.

Plywood specialist Plytec of Finland offers complete lines for veneer scarfing and patching, as well as grading, lay-up and stacking lines. Vice-president Tomi Virolainen said he had signed a very big contract on the first day of the show with a Russian birch plywood manufacturer.

Sharing Plytec's stand was Elliott Bay, which is well-known as a specialist in the measurement of veneer moisture content on-the-line.

The former Sandvik Process Systems is now known as IPCO (standing for Industrial Processing Company), following its acquisition by the Swedish Wallenberg Group two years ago.

IPCO continues the former company's concentration on stainless steel continuous belts for panel production, but also has a new line in steel belts for digital printing lines. Global product manager Sascha Porst said that these belts can cope with the high speeds required in this application, without vibration, which textile/rubber belts cannot.

Kleiberit, a trading name of Klebchemie, was promoting its hot coating technology for mirror-finish to super-matte surfaces on coated panels.

The company had three lines on its stand showing hot coating; hot coating on panels up to 1.5m wide; a laminating machine using decorative foil with a very thin clear film to produce a very high-gloss surface.

Embossed-in-register can also be achieved, using a textured roller after lacquering and while the lacquer is still in a plastic state, explained managing director Dr Achim Hübener.

"One of our main messages is that we offer micro-emission PUR hot-melt adhesives to meet the highest standards," added marketing manager Peter Mansky.

Fagus GreCon offered an all-new version of its Superscan board surface inspection system.

This has new software which can tell whether it is dust on the panel surface, or a defect in that surface, explained Stefan Rehr-Zimmerman. This is achieved by better camera and illumination systems and the system will even highlight fingerprints on the surface of a decorative-surface panel; or if EIR is out of sync with the print.

GreCon was also demonstrating its new spark extinguishing system 'DLD19', which offers another acronym: ADT, or Adaptive Detection Technology, which can operate in light or dark and at high temperatures. The system will also detect hot particles (demonstrated using an extinguished match) and automatically varies its sensitivity if the sensor gets covered by fibre or dust.

Sunds Fibertech displayed its slogan: "Make fibre, think board".

The company, owned by brothers Lars and Kenth Ecklund since they bought the assets in 2015, announced its full front-end for MDF lines, 'OptiLine'. "The front-end accounts for about 30% of the cost of a complete panel line, but 70% of its running costs," said Lars Ecklund. "We concentrate on keeping those costs down."

The steam recovery system 'Evofuge' (patented) comes after the refiner and means that there is no requirement for fresh steam to be supplied to the refiner, he explained.

The new 'OptiZifter' is for sifting out glue lumps and other unwanted matter in the fibre stream.

Sunds Fibertech has also developed a new chain for the Küsters continuous press and offers upgrades to these long-lasting machines.

Jeff Beaulieu, a director of strander manufacturer Kadant Carmanah Design, or KADANT, said that North American markets are getting quieter for them, but that in South America and eastern Europe, things are picking up for the company.

"There is still enthusiasm for capital developments and the focus is on new technologies," he said. "Customers want more data in order to increase production. Kadant also offers the 'Argus' system of sensors: FMS is the fines measurement system; LPO is the Load Pocket Optimiser; and LDO is the Load Deck Optimiser.

The Imal-Pal Group had a large stand with all its subsidiaries/associated companies in one place, including Globus, of course.

On the laboratory equipment side, Imal was promoting two new pieces of equipment: the MMW (for Millimetre Waves), which is installed over the mat before the press to measure its moisture content, area weight and thickness, without the use of X-rays.

The SMC100 (for Sand, Mark, Cut) is a device for automatically producing laboratory samples and each small sample is marked with a QR code holding all the information about that sample.

Also on show was the UM3000, the latest iteration of the Imal laboratory moisture meter, with touch-screen control and the ability to send the data direct to the general database; and a laboratory forming machine.

Globus was featuring its knife ring flaker knife-sharpening robot, while Pal had its DynaPelletPress and a model of its DynaDryer on display.

Francesco Zenere, on the stand of his family's wide-belt sander making business Imeas, said there was increasing interest in the market for Imeas' cross-belt sander, which is industry 4.0 ready.

"We have just signed a contract with Berneck of Brazil for a 10-head sander of 9ft width at the show," said Mr Zenere. "Our business is good all around the world and we have a similar agreement for a customer in Turkey and a similar line for China."

Many people involved in the global plywood industry will have been sorry to hear of the untimely death of Fernando Fezer, head of the family business making machinery for plywood production. The company continues under new ownership.

Greek resin technology company NTL Chemical Consulting offers resin production technology with an emphasis on meeting environmental standards and reducing costs. It has been active recently in South-east Asia and sales director George Pargianas said there is over-supply in that market and that this increased the demands to save on production costs.

The demand for low-density boards tends to mean increased resin dosage, but NTL says it has developed a special resin system with a balanced molecular weight distribution, and a more branched structure, to meet the requirements of light-weight board.

"We offer the lowest possible emissions at the lowest possible cost," said company owner Nikos Pargianis.

Raute of Finland was promoting its range of plywood manufacturing equipment and Veli-Matti Lepisto said that the company was offering its biggest-ever programme of advances in its systems.

These include: A G5 grading solution combining Metriguard and Mecano technologies; a high-recovery peeling concept, which uses a spindle first and then no spindle to produce up to 20% more face veneer and an increase in dryer capacity; less energy consumption combined with higher capacity in its dryer system; and a digital online measuring system which can connect to an app on a mobile phone.

The Deurotech Group now comprises: Vits; Wessel Umweltechnic; IFA, Deurowood; and Airprotech.

IFA has expanded from glue kitchens alone into complete resin plants for particleboard and MDF.

Wessel offers complete dust- and formaldehyde-reducing systems, combined.

Vits, well-known for its decorative paper impregnation lines, has a new Smart dryer and a quicker roller change for the gravure roller.

Deurotech Connected, or DTC, provides real time data on all the Deurotech Group's products, giving you internet access to your production.

Dieffenbacher reported a very busy Ligna with serious conversations being conducted. Christian Dieffenbacher, in an exclusive interview with WBPI, said the company is booked through to April 2020 in its three business areas of wood based panels, composites for the automotive and other industries, and the recycling division. "We expect to achieve a turnover of €450m in 2019, subject to projects not being delayed by client issues [eg funding, planning permissions, etc], as some were in 2018.

"We are focusing on profitability and our financial strength and have increased our equity ratio in the last few years," said Mr Dieffenbacher.

"We wanted to diversify and recycling, which came originally from the wood industry but now encompasses plastic and other materials, with cleaning, shredding and sorting capabilities gave us that opportunity. Our knife ring flakers and Classisizer guarantee sorting levels which other suppliers can't match."

Mr Dieffenbacher went on to say that the company's manufacturing strategy would be maintained, with Maier size-reduction equipment being made in the company's factory in the Czech Republic, while the Windsor factory in Canada will continue to produce heavy machinery and press parts for that continent.

Meanwhile, the Shanghai factory has gone from €30m to €85m in the 10 years since it was acquired.

Stefan Zipf said that in the last 12 months, 16 continuous presses had been ordered, with six orders going to SWPM in China and 10 to Eppingen.

"The CPS press is now well-established in the market, with improved thickness tolerance and higher speed," said Mr Zipf. "We have also supplied five recycling plants to particleboard companies and these are exceeding their promises in quality and quantity of the wood yield.

The company was also promoting its MyDieffenbacher App and the whole stand was themed with a new slogan "Move forward. Together" and a new logo.

Electronic Wood Systems (EWS) had a new foreign body detector on its stand. Its purpose is to protect the steel belt from damage and it is positioned in front of the press. This device can be combined with the high-resolution area weight gauge.

The latter is able to first scan the empty forming belt and thus compensate for the weight of the belt. It acts in both the length and width direction and has a resolution of 6g/m2.

There were also new developments to the Dense-LabX density profile meter for laboratory samples of 50x50mm. "What is new is the ability to measure insulation board and the X-ray technology has been modified to operate at low power, thus saving energy," said Hauke Kleinschmidt, son of Hans-Peter, the founder of EWS. The EWS moisture analyser for the laboratory offers a new operator interface.

Detlef Hanel of Wemhöner Surface Technologies said the company had made some "unexpected sales" at the show.

New for Ligna 2019 was the single-pass digital printing technology, rather than just the previously-offered multi-pass system.

On the stand were a single-pass roll-to-roll machine, handling widths up to 2.1m. Using water-based inks, this printer can run at up to 120m/minute on paper or foil, including EIR. A different printer is available for panels as a substrate.

Also exhibited was a membrane press with a new control unit within the tray, which measures foil temperature and automatically adjusts the cycle time, leading to increased capacity, said Mr Hanel. There is also an improved turnover device.

Also on show was part of a lacquering line for the protection of decorative surfaces.

Monica Bobes of release agent specialist Fusoni, of Spain, said that the company’s release agent for MDI had generated a lot of interest from Japan and Asia in general.

Also from Spain was Biele, exhibiting its wide range of solutions in panel manufacturing, handling and pressing.

Hexion said it has developed an adhesive for engineered wood which passes noncombustibility tests and reduces flame spread and the company has also achieved Glulam and CLT certification in North America.

Hexion produces UF/PF and MF resins and sells formaldehyde to other glue producers.

Siempelkamp had a very large stand incorporating all its subsidiaries, including for the first time at Ligna, wood size reduction specialist Pallmann.

“The main subject at this fair is digitalisation and we are explaining where we see this as an advantage to our customers,” said Ulrich Kaiser, head of sales. “With Sicoplan, we are visiting and scanning existing lines and then showing the customer what improvements we can offer to him.

“For Sonae Arauco Mangualde, we integrated a new line into its existing factory by being able to show the customer in 3-D [virtual reality] what would be involved.”

The company also explained how it had developed, over the past decade, a line to convert rice straw into MDF, as well as lines to produce OSB and particleboard from bamboo.

A separate open-ended room on the stand had six screens offering touch-screen demonstrations of production.

Vyncke of Belgium was together with the other Panel Alliance associates. Jef Mestdagh said Vyncke had had a very good 2018 in which it doubled its turnover in energy systems. He said the formation of Panel Alliance had helped, for instance in working with Recalor’s dryers to offer one guarantee for the entire project.

Arndt Bauer of panel saw maker Schwabedissen said he had had several serious discussions with potential and existing customers. This company concentrates on OSB and cement fibreboard mills and also offers edge-trimming and machining for these panels, for instance for T&G uses.

USNR acquired Ventek in November 2016 and the two companies produce lathes and dryers for the plywood industry.

USNR brought the feeder, dryer and outfeed and Ventek brought the grading vision and moisture detection and stacking.

Chris Van Ackeren of USNR described the multi-point diverter system which is Ventekbranded and uses data from the New Vision Nv4g veneer defect scanner to sort and divert veneer material, leading to greater production efficiency.

Willamette Valley’s Tony Vuksich said he was having a good show with a lot of interest in his company’s patching and sealing products.

Glue specialist Huntsman is concentrating on NAF – No Added Formaldehyde – resin systems.

“We offer resin and expertise together with release agents made to our formulation,” said Bart Singulé.

“There is a booming market in China, where there is not enough particleboard and MDF produced with MDI resin. China aims to be 100% NAF by 2020. There is sufficient MDI capacity globally for now, but a new MDI plant costs US$1bn, so you have to be sure of demand before building one!”

Firefly’s MD, Lennart Jansson, demonstrated the company’s Quick Suppression System which was launched last year. It uses a water mist to rapidly extinguish flames without the intervention of sprinkler systems that drench the environment in water, causing production stoppage for cleaning it up and disposal of the contaminated water.

Valmet of Sweden offered three new products at Ligna: its Steam Separator; Diverter Valve; and a new Blow Valve.

Valmet’s Ulf Eriksson said there had been a lot of enquiries at the show involving new panel lines.

Tocchio, the Italian impregnation line maker, has joined a consortium of companies called Alliance Décor. It comprises Tocchio, Chemisol (additives for impregnation), Pagnoni (presses), Fabinmec (resin production), and Brofind (air cleaning).

“We are all independent companies benefitting from being together,” explained Matteo Rasi of Tocchio.

Steinemann, the Swiss manufacturer of wide belt sanders, presented itself as a complete system supplier, from abrasives to sanding machines. It featured the Satos TSQ (Total Surface Quality) and its Board Quality Cockpit.

From Norway came Argos, which makes vision systems. Company founder Tor Gustavsen said it had been the company’s best Ligna ever, having even taken some orders at the show. Argos also offers panel repair systems.

Eastconsult is headquartered in Russia and consults on the whole process of building and commissioning new lines. Its owner, Hubert Weiss, has extensive experience in panel manufacture and offers everything from due diligence to financing, engineering, selection of machinery, structural design of the factory, or a complete plant.

Michael Rupp of Andritz said he had been in meetings on the stand every day of Ligna and had signed an order during the show.

“The emphasis now is on saving electrical and thermal energy, the Internet of Things (IoT) and plant control and we are active in all these areas,” said Mr Rupp.

This was, according to every person interviewed, a successful Ligna show.

Virtual reality headsets were in evidence on many stands this year, with people doing strange things as they “walked through” the factories they could see. However, obviously, it is the business resulting from the many meetings held that will give the actual reality of the show’s success.