Green River started its business, in Songkhla province, in 2001 by setting up a sawmill. The site is in Bangklum, near Hat Yai in southern Thailand. Green River also has other sawmills in the area.

In 2005, the company made the decision to build a particleboard factory on the same Bangklum site in order to utilise the residues from the sawmilling operations. This meant better utilisation of the rubberwood resource (previously the residues were sold to the latex industry as fuel for their process); and production of a panel that could be used within the group or sold on the open market. Green River has not by any means stood still since starting up its particleboard line in 2008.

"We have learnt a lot in the last four years," said chairman Hubert Hsieh when we met in his office at the factory in April. "We started with an annual capacity of 150,000m3 and now we are producing a minimum of 250,000m3/year," he said proudly.

The company had no experience in particleboard production when it started, but has been able to employ the services of a number of experts over the years to improve its process quite dramatically.

A well-known expert with long direct experience in panel production in the SE Asian region is Bob McIntyre and he is a director of, and consultant to, Green River Panels.

"Bob helped us greatly to improve our business management, using his long experience in this industry," said Mr Hsieh. "We are also very lucky to have had the services of Herbert Hermann Karl Fahlbusch as project manager during the development of this project. Working together with our staff, he helped us to achieve a 40% increase in output in only four years – and that was quite an achievement." Green River has also employed the parttime services of another German-born consultant, Florian Henkenhaf, who specialises in the production of particleboard. The particleboard project was initiated and established by Hubert Hsieh and the chief executive David TS Huang, both of whom are Taiwan nationals. With an eye to the future, they decided in 2012 to bring a younger man on board in the management team.

Konstantinos Karakolidis (widely known in the panel industry as ‘Kosta’) has a background in the production of particleboard and other panel products and joins the company as deputy to Mr Huang.

Value-adding opportunity

Now the company is looking for ways to increase its revenues from the particleboard line.

"We are considering value-added production on this site to increase our margin because our costs are increasing, but our selling price for raw board is not," said Mr Hsieh. "The population of the ASEAN region is about 700 million and we are in a good location for that market. We are also quite close to the Middle East and China markets. "Because we have no experience in valueadded [particleboard] production, we are looking for a joint-venture partner from Europe, or any region, who is experienced in such processes, to help us get into this specialist market," said the chairman.

"We would like to add value to, say, a third of our production. We are not looking at mass production, but at a high-level product that will increase our margin and we want to achieve this in the next two or three years.

"Of course we will have to invest in machinery, but we don’t want to have to learn from scratch with no knowledge of the technology. We can do the marketing but we need someone who knows what they are doing in the manufacturing.

"We are able to adjust our board quality – such as the surface, density or the properties – to match any criteria required in order to generate the base board demanded for a successful value-added product."

The question for Mr Hsieh and his team is what kind of surface to apply and who will assist the company in this joint venture? In seeking a joint-venture with an experienced partner, Green River’s management is accepting that value-adding in particular requires expertise, experience and market knowledge. The company is open to considering all forms of value-adding, whether it be the application of melamine, foil or paper surfaces, or direct printing.

Learning on the job

Green River Panels (Thailand) Co Ltd boldly launched itself into the particleboard industry with no previous experience in 2008. But this was a company willing to learn, both from its mistakes and from people with extensive experience in the industry.

As a result, the company has increased its efficiency and quality and in the process has raised its particleboard output by 40% in four years.

Now it intends to put the principles it has learned into practice in taking the company forward with that joint venture in some form of value-adding.

One can assume that, as with its particleboard, Green River will want its valueadded production to be both efficiently produced and of high quality