This was WBPI’s third visit to a company which has been involved in the Thai panel manufacturing industry since 1954. Our first visit was in late 1996.

Thai Plywood Company Ltd was formed as a government-owned concern and expanded from plywood to wet process hardboard, decorative veneer and flush door manufacture, all on its 140-acre site in Bangna on the outskirts of Bangkok.
At least, it was on the outskirts then. Bangna has now been swallowed up by the expansion of metropolitan Bangkok and this has brought logistical problems for the company.
In 1995, Thai Plywood decided to join the rest of the panel making businesses in South East Asia at the time and to enter the MDF business. It bought a new Greenfield site at Saraburi, about 90 minutes’ drive from the city, and ordered a continuous ContiRoll press from German supplier Siempelkamp as a turnkey contract.
This was another large site of 140 acres and was acquired with the intention of ultimately bringing all the company’s panel production onto one location and freeing up the valuable Bangna site for redevelopment – a plan which has still not been realised.
Unfortunately for Thai Plywood, the South East Asian economic crisis of 1997/98 hit just as the MDF line was ready to produce its first panels, in 1997. After six months’ operation, the plant was shut down and remained closed for the next 27 months. The second visit by WBPI occurred shortly after the line had been restarted, in late 2000, when a separate company, Thai MDF Board Co Ltd, had been established to run the operation under parent Thai Plywood Co Ltd.
At that time, the plant was running at about 40-50% of capacity. The long period of idleness required a gradual ramping up of the operations, although the plant had been run occasionally and kept maintained and lubricated during its enforced shutdown by Mr Krisada Chao-Na; that greatly limited the deterioration of the machinery.
At the present time, Thai Plywood and Thai MDF are still 100% government owned. It has been the intention for some years to partly privatise the business, but the economic situation has delayed that as well.
“We plan to privatise the MDF business in about two years from now, with the plywood and hardboard operations being privatized later,said Mr Krisada, now an adviser to the company. “However, the government will retain 51% of the shares.
“We also still plan to move all the manufacturing operations to Suraburi. It has not happened so far because the economy has been so poor, but things are looking better now,he said, speaking in early December last year.
The company currently has no plans to increase capacity on any of its products, but Mr Krisada did say that the management is considering building an OSB line at some stage as the logs for plywood production are getting increasingly scarce.
“We are importing dipterocarp species from Papua New Guinea and some radiate logs from New Zealand, although most of our plywood is hardwood,he said.
Amnat Chatalongkorn, deputy managing director of Thai MDF, added that the company could use eucalypts and possibly rubberwood for OSB production.
The OSB panels could replace plywood in such end-uses as construction and packaging, suggested Mr Amnat.
In the meantime, the MDF line is producing to its designed capacity of around 260m3 per day, or 80,000m3 a year.
While the Siempelkamp ContiRoll was run once a month, without board, during the shut-down period and this limited the deterioration of the moving parts (and the steel belt), the electronic side of the factory did require major surgery for the resumption of production in 2000.
“We had to reinstall the existing software for the controls and to buy a number of parts such as control cards,said Mr Vithaya Chaipanya, executive adviser to Thai MDF. “We have not yet upgraded the original control system, but hope to do so in 2005, when we will also upgrade some now obsolete mechanical components, but it is not urgent.”
Chipping and debarking has run since day one, with the green chips being exported to Japan during the time the MDF line was moth-balled.
The drying line started up without a problem after 27 months, but the heating plant was the biggest problem as it could not be test-run like other components during the shut-down period. The energy system had been supplied, as part of the original Siempelkamp package, by IMW of Germany, who had since ceased trading.
A combination of ex-IMW employees and ATR (a Siempelkamp subsidiary) technicians managed to get the system running again. Today, the Thai MDF production line runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, utilising eucalyptus thinnings and small roundwood from a 100km radius.
The company is not concerned about raw material supply. The Forest Industry Organisation (FIO) is government-owned and is the largest landowner in the country – and the biggest plantation owner. The pulp and paper industry utilises the larger diameter wood and the MDF industry takes the smaller roundwood. The FIO also ultimately owns Thai Plywood group so that must give some reassurance too.
Fuji Kogyo supplied the debarker and chipper and there is a three-level Texpan screen to sort the chips.
Refining employs a 48in Andritz Sprout-Bauer unit. Gluing is by Imal.
The Siempelkamp ContiRoll continuous press is 8ft wide and 16.9m long and its  production is monitored by Imal thickness and density profile gauges.
A Steinemann eight-head sander, with the heads in two separate banks of four, finishes off the board after conditioning.
Thai MDF’s production goes to both domestic and export markets. Initially it was nearly all exported, as MDF was little known in Thailand, but today around 80% of production is consumed on the domestic market, mainly going to furniture production.
Suraburi produces two densities of board: MDF up to 800kg/m3 and HDF of over 850kg/m3, 8mm and 12mm thick, for the laminate flooring sector. The HDF is made using MUF resin for moisture resistance.
“The laminate flooring market is starting in Thailand and going very well. I believe it will replace parquet in a few years,said Mr Vithaya, known to his friends as ‘Todd’.
Mr Amnat confirmed that view, saying that laminate flooring consumption in the country has grown by 200% a year in the last few years.
Such is the confidence of the company in the future of this product that the board has approved investment in a flooring line in 2005, subject to government go-ahead. The plan is to install a short-cycle line with a capacity of 1,200m2 a day.
Thai Plywood group can boast two hardboard manufacturing lines producing a total of 200 tonnes per day, a plywood line producing 5,000 sheets (4mm basis) per day and a flush door factory producing 300 doors a day, as well as its MDF line.
The company has been through very difficult times since the economic crisis of the late 80s caused it to withdraw from MDF production before it really started. Nationally, SARS caused a further set-back and then bird ’flu gave the economy another blow.
But, at the end of 2004 at least, things were looking up in Thailand. Thai MDF was working to full capacity and the company was once again able to plan for a brighter future.