Paper impregnation is a very specialized business and Tocchio, as one of only two major manufacturers of such impregnation lines in Europe, and one of very few worldwide, is the first to admit that it could not do it alone.
“Any new developments in this industry are the result of close cooperation by paper makers, resin producers, the end-user and our research and development team. We work together and Tocchio makes the necessary investments to achieve the desired targets,explains Emiliano Tocchio, who, with his father Umberto, runs the 31-yearold, family-owned company.
Umberto Tocchio started with a small workshop three kilometres away from the existing, expanding factory to which the company moved in 1996. The original premises are now used for storage.
Today’s factory stands on a site of 20,000m2 on the outskirts of Vigevano, which, until recently, had an undercover area of around 9,000m2. However, an extra 2,000m2 was added to the production facilities in May of this year and this extra space is primarily for the assembly of the company’s large impregnation lines. With those lines currently being anything up to 80m long, some space is obviously needed.
However, that may be about to change as Tocchio is working on the development of a revolutionary system which will result in shorter impregnation lines and, claims Emiliano Tocchio, a more efficient way of carrying out the impregnation process.
Like everybody in manufacturing of anything these days, Tocchio faces continual pressures to make lines which will run faster but, of course, cost less. Not that there haven’t always been challenges to face, explains Umberto Tocchio.
For example, 15 to 20 years ago paper weights for impregnating papers were 100-160g/m2 but now they are often 60-70 grammes. This is not just due to the efforts of the  paper makers, but there is more accuracy in the forming of a particleboard mat and in pressing, glue distribution, sanding, and so on, to produce a better panel surface. This then enabled the use of such low grammage papers.”
So what was the next challenge for a company like Tocchio? You probably guessed – it was cost.
“China and Asia can compete using their low labour costs and, sometimes, lower material costs,explains Mr Tocchio. “The challenge we have to answer is how to improve and increase sales of our impregnation lines against this competition from Asia. Our  customers are asking us for a lower price but the best performance at the highest speed.”
Emiliano Tocchio points out that they can achieve certain targets, as they already have, working with their customers’ laboratories, Tocchio’s own extensive R&D facilities and specialist laboratories in universities. But the company needs to go further in the current market.
“We are trying to develop simpler impregnation lines at better prices but with higher speeds – a different range of products for different markets,he says. “There are some customers who do not require [the speed of] a ‘Ferrari’ but want the same end result in terms of quality and reliability.
“Up to now we have concentrated on the high-level production end of the market but we have to address the price-sensitive markets as well.We will launch a new range of machines shortly to address these needs.”
One does not have to travel far in the panel industry in China to find a panel mill which has a European made impregnation line such as Tocchio’s which it uses for preference, but a cheaper, inferior, locally made line in another shed that is pressed into service for periods of high demand.
“We are developing a new coating system to coat with one or more layers of resin,says Mr Tocchio junior. “The resin is not exactly a liquid – it is a different formulation – and the system can work with two different kinds of resin: a urea and then, say, a melamine for low pressure melamine papers.
“The conventional system employs a bath but, as this new system is enclosed and pressurised, it enables the building of a smaller line.We are also developing a new drying system.”
The use of in-register embossing, particularly for laminate flooring producers, but also for furniture, is a rapidly growing trend and, if this is to work successfully, it is vital to limit the expansion of the paper, explains Mr Tocchio. “This is why we are developing a drying system which does not use air or high temperatures – to reduce the expansion of the paper.
“In all this R&D, which is at an advanced stage, we are working closely with universities and foreign partner companies.”
Talking of these new developments brings us back to the issue of the length of impregnation lines. “With this new injection and drying system, we should be able to about halve the length of the line,says Emiliano Tocchio. “Thirty to 35m should be more than enough and we will still achieve speeds of around 200m a minute. A  conventional line for low-pressure melamine runs at about 60-80m a minute and costs around €2m. Customers may pay a similar amount, but they want to produce about 50% more.”
Umberto Tocchio agrees: “The future is definitely high speed but with the maintenance of good quality. One of the major panel producers in the world is already rewinding paper at 120m a minute, 24 hours a day, and higher speed is already here and is certainly here for the future.”
There has been some heightened publicity surrounding formaldehyde emissions recently and Tocchio is already supplying a bio-filtration system to clean formaldehyde emissions from impregnation lines. The company has also developed an on-the-line measuring system for weight and moisture content for its lines.
In common with many machinery suppliers, Tocchio offers a teleservice/remote  monitoring assistance service to its customers, including the facility to connect via  modem to one of its supplied machines anywhere in the world and make remote adjustments.
“In the unlikely event that that is not enough, after-sales service is not just words for us, but a fact – we guarantee physical intervention in 24 hours maximum, if it is necessary,says Emiliano.
“We also offer chemical and technical assistance to our customers with new products, new resin formulations and it has always been this way for us.”
Internally, the company has a new storage system for components, to rationalize and improve efficiency, and it has installed an ERP Business Management System for ‘cradle to grave’ tracking of every order; the company knows exactly what stage every order has reached at any given time.
“It has always been my dream to have such a system – an exact picture of the situation – how many hours spent and so on. Now we have it,says the founder proudly.
It may have been tough in the panel market recently but Tocchio’s turnover increased by 10% between 2003 and last year, with exports going to Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Syria, Germany, Russia and South America, as well as to the home market in Italy. It supplies about 12 impregnation lines a year.
The company is also planning a joint venture production company for impregnation lines with a partner in Asia.
Apart from its activities in the panelrelated industry, accounting for over 80% of turnover, Tocchio also makes impregnation lines for the specialist filter paper industry, the food industry, and for the manufacture of masking tape. Lines for the glass fibre industry are another speciality.