The Fantoni business began in a village in Gemona in the Friuli region of Italy, not far from Venice, when Achille Fantoni began making furniture for the local middle classes in a small craft workshop.

It wasn’t until 1925 that the company purchased its first factory and became an industrial organisation which formed the basis for today’s Fantoni group of companies.

In 1961, Dr Paolo Fantoni’s father and uncle entered the panel making business for the first time, making particleboard on a single-opening press. This line was designated Plaxil 1 and all subsequent lines at Osoppo have used the Plaxil name. Dr Fantoni is now vice-president of the Fantoni family business.

In 1962, the company outgrew its premises in Gemona and joined forces with other industrial companies to found ZIRO, a new industrial area in Osoppo. This historic town lies in the province of Udine in eastern Italy and in the shadow of the Alps; this factory must surely be the most scenically-located panel manufacturing businesses in Europe.

In 1967 Plaxil 2 was built, using a Siempelkamp multi-opening press, again for particleboard.

In 1973, the company made its first venture into continuous particleboard production, using a Bison Calender press to create Plaxil 3.

In 1976, Fantoni SpA was dealt a devastating blow when a major earthquake almost completely destroyed the factory. It was at this time that Paolo Fantoni and his brother Giovanni entered the business founded by their grandfather and the factory was rebuilt.

Not only does the Fantoni company occupy a stunningly scenic position, but the buildings have a beauty of their own, created by the gifted Italian architect Gino Valle. The most well-known of these structures is the ‘cathedral’, built in 1983 to house Plaxil 5 and turning an industrial building into an object of beauty in many peoples’ eyes; the reason for the name is obvious when one sees it.

By then well-established as a manufacturer of particleboard, Fantoni turned its attention to the relatively new ‘wonder board’, MDF, building a Pagnoni multi-opening line in 1977 designated, of course, Plaxil 4.

In 1980, Fantoni built a factory named Novolegno, located in Avellino. This housed a production line which employed a Pagnoni multi-opening press to make MDF using wood from local copses (small woodlands).

In 1983, Plaxil 5 was born and housed in that ‘cathedral’. This was a multi-opening Pagnoni line, on the Osoppo site, for making MDF.

Fantoni then began to look at diversification in the form of adding value to its raw panels and in 1987 purchased a company called Carnica Lavori SpA in Villa Santina, Italy. This company was renamed Lacon SpA in 1992 and manufactures impregnated papers, decor papers and melamine faced panels. It has two Vits impregnation lines.

In 1996, Plaxil 6 joined the line-up of production lines for Fantoni, producing MDF on a Küsters continuous press at Osoppo. In 1998 the company took over Patt srl in Attimis in the Friuli region of the province of Udine. Patt makes laminate flooring and in 2000 started production of acoustic panels, which we will come to later.

In 2001, Fantoni diversified once again by buying the Lesonit MDF factory in Slovenia. At the time, this had a 10-daylight Motala press, 5.6m long and 2.08m wide, but in 2005 Fantoni replaced this with a Siempelkamp ContiRoll press.

Plaxil 7 was built in 2002, but this time the end-product was particleboard. This was also a major step in terms of production technology for Fantoni as it employed, for the first time in this company, a full continuous press. The supplier chosen was Siempelkamp with its well-known continuous hot press, the ContiRoll. Today, this is the only particleboard line in operation at Osoppo.

Fantoni again ventured abroad with its purchasing hat on in 2006, buying the Spik Iverica company in Serbia. This is a particleboard line and still employs its original press.

That is a long story of continuous expansion, in Italy and abroad, with the production capacity in both MDF and particleboard increasing accordingly. And that is not the end of the story of growth.

The new line

Fantoni SpA is now undertaking further investment at its Osoppo site. This will see the construction of Plaxil 8, which will ultimately replace the aging Plaxil 4 and 5 lines.

The new line will have a Dieffenbacher CPS+ continuous press, while much of the existing wood preparation lines will continue to be utilised. The designed capacity of this line will be 460,000m3/year.

Dieffenbacher will also provide modifications to the existing fibre driers, as well as two new fibre sifters. The package includes a forming station equipped with the latest generation of mechanical forming equipment, a forming line and a CPS 240 – 65.5 continuous MDF press.

The 65.5m-long CPS will be the longest such press line in Europe, producing boards with a width between 1830 and 2200mm and a thickness of between 6 and 60mm.

The components to be supplied by Dieffenbacher in the finishing line include a raw board handling system with triple diagonal saw, a board cooling and stacking system and a modification to the existing raw board storage system. Start-up is scheduled for January 2017. Fantoni SpA is also erecting a complete new building to house the new line, using the services of the architect responsible for all the current buildings at Osoppo. This production hall will be 300m long and 30m high.

The total investment in the building and production line for Plaxil 8 will be €70m.

There has been a second major recent investment project in the Fantoni group, this time in the Lacon plant, where the company has invested in a biomass heating plant to burn bark coming from the wood used for the production of MDF, as well as sawmill waste.

The system came onstream at the end of January this year and will provide heat energy for the impregnation lines.

To summarise the raw board lines operating within the Fantoni group, it has four lines at Osoppo: Plaxil 4&5 multi-opening MDF lines (soon to be replaced); Plaxil 6, a Küsters MDF line; Plaxil 7, a Siempelkamp ContiRoll continuous press line; and soon, Plaxil 8 (replacing 4&5) with a Dieffenbacher CPS press for MDF.

Total capacity for the Fantoni Osoppo MDF lines is 800,000m3/year, including Plaxil 6 and 8. For particleboard, the figure is 430,000m3.

The Novolegno factory, with its two calender lines and one multi-opening line, produces a total of ca210,000m3 of MDF per year.

Continuing the tradition of this family business, there are five members of the next generation working in various parts of the company. For instance, Paolo Fantoni’s son Alessandro is commercial manager of the furniture division, while his nephew works in the technical department.

As stated earlier, Fantoni SpA began in the furniture business before moving into panel production.

The furniture division today manufactures office furniture, such as cabinets and desks, as well as partitioning systems.

The company is also well-known for its acoustic panels ‘4akustik’ and ‘Topakustik’. These are both sound-absorbing systems for use on walls and ceilings, comprised of melamine-faced, lacquered, or veneered MDF slats. They are produced at the Attimis plant.

Another Italian company owned by the Fantoni group is XILOPACK Srl, which produces and sells packaging made from MDF.

The environment

Fantoni is also an environmentally aware company. It already has a cogeneration plant at Osoppo, built in 2009 at a cost of €15m. Devised by Fantoni’s team of engineers and technicians, the plant houses a power source engine manufactured by Wärtsilä Italia of Trieste. It is 18m long, with an overall weight of 370 tonnes, and is able to generate an electric power of 17.2 megawatts. This is in addition to the latest biomass system in Lacon.

The majority of Fantoni’s wood supply also comes from recycled wood, giving the company further ‘green’ credentials.

Away from the area of manufacturing, Fantoni also owns Inter-rail, a railway transport logistics company, and moves around 15,000 wagons a year to and from its factories. Fantoni also has eight hydro-electric power stations throughout the Friuli region, satisfying a large part of its own energy needs.

Research & development

The Fantoni Research Centre was created in 1996 in Osoppo and continues to involve professors, architects, businessmen, technicians, employees and students in technical and scientific studies of products, process innovation and research of materials.

It deals with economic subjects (raw materials, planning, innovation, design, markets, etc), ethical, environmental and sociological subjects as related to wood as a material and to furniture as a product, through an exploration and learning route.

The foundations of this approach, says the company, are the will to join the enhancement of the value of people, ideas, objects etc with the idea that a strong cultural mission can represent the basic tool to improve the surrounding world.

The company says that the range of projects for this Research Centre is enriched by the Blue Industry collection of volumes with pictures and texts, which looks into the newest developments in design for the furniture division; and into co-operation between the company and world-renowned architects.


"The scenario for our markets has been dramatically affected by furniture consumption in Italy," said Dr Fantoni. "The volume sold in Italy has fallen to 35% below 2008 levels and this has a lot of consequences. However, the market today is calming and reaching a new equilibrium.

"Some other companies [producing panels in Italy] have closed and others have reduced their production significantly.

"MDF production has ceased at Nuova Rivart and at the MDF Hallein factory in Austria. Hallein was a major supplier of MDF to the Italian market and we have been able to take advantage of that reduction in supply," pointed out the vice-president.

"In 2015, the furniture industry’s performance in Italy was very soft and domestic consumption fell, but we expect 2016 to be more positive. This will be helped by the Italian government’s plan to give a fiscal advantage to first-time home buyers for up to €16,000 of the purchase price and I expect this to sustain domestic demand in 2016.

"Furniture represents 13% of our turnover, while the rest is in sales to importers and distributors – at home and abroad."

The chairman

In March 2015, Paolo Fantoni took on the chairmanship of the European Panel Federation (EPF), becoming the first person to hold that post.

The EPF also underwent a dramatic change in its full-time management structure, appointing its first managing director, Clive Pinnington (see ‘The Interview’ story elsewhere in this issue).

Dr Fantoni is a great believer in the EPF and was involved with its predecessor associations: FESYP for particleboard and EMB for MDF.

"I have been a regular, attending meetings since the EMB in the 1990s and continuing with the EPF from 2000, when Frans de Cock was president," said Dr Fantoni.

"The EPF membership wanted to restructure and the proposed chairmanship would not involve as much commitment as did the presidency of Laszlo Döry.

"Having a full-time managing director reduced the activity which would otherwise be required of the chairman, so I accepted that role."

The chairman of the EPF is required to preside over meetings and provide direction to the management of the federation. The managing director can then carry out those directions.

"I am trying to put in place a major framework for the workings of the EPF," continued Dr Fantoni. "This involves five main tasks for the federation during my chairmanship and we have already achieved some significant results, for instance in the target of making all panel products in Europe to a minimum of E1 standard."

The European plywood federation, FEIC, has also joined the EPF, in March 2016. "Those [ex-FEIC] members have targets in line with the EPF’s expectations for E1 and will add weight to our attempts to get national governments to include E1 in their legislation," said Dr Fantoni.

"We have produced a draft, which is acceptable to the US as well as Europe, for a common agreement on the level of formaldehyde being equivalent to the US’ CARB rules."

Dr Fantoni also has other objectives for his chairmanship, including getting closer to the panel industries in the African nations.

"I want to invite technicians from the African mills to Europe during 2016 to acquaint them with European standards and they will be assisted in setting up a small laboratory to test to those standards.

"I also want our industry to be more involved in construction with wood and to be more visible [in that market]."

Another important objective for Dr Fantoni is to increase public awareness of the sustainability of the panel industry.

"The general public doesn’t understand that we recycle and operate sustainably and we need to promote both that and the ‘cascaded use’ of wood, etc," he said.

Paolo Fantoni is a man with considerable experience in the panel and furniture making industries.

The family business has always been one of great vision, as demonstrated by its history of treating factory production buildings as ‘architecture’ and not just a metal-framed-and-clad box.

His family’s company continues to make great strides in its production capacity and methods, as well as in design trends and functional panels, such as the Akustik range.

He would also appear to be the ideal candidate as the first chairman of the EPF.