Construction and the processing of glass (tempering, hardening and cutting to size) formed the basis of Sichuan Guodong Construction Co Ltd?’s business.

However, in 2002 it moved into the panel business, buying a single-opening-press particleboard line from Bison of Germany. Capacity of the line, located in Guangyuan, was 50,000m3/year.

Raw material for panel production has of course always been a problem in China and so for its next venture, Guodong decided to make particleboard from wheat straw.

That was never going to be an easy decision to implement, with the short-season availability of the wheat straw and the already well-known problems associated with making panels from such a highly abrasive and difficult-to-handle raw material.

The line was supplied complete by Metso Panelboard and had a designed capacity of 40-50,000m3/year.

We reported on some of the difficulties experienced with this line in 2003 and it transpires that the line was converted to wood raw material and the capacity increased to 100,000m3, in 2005/6.

“Straw based particleboard was not very successful for us, because of a poor market, so we made an additional line to make wood based board,said deputy general manager Mr Yang Gang when interviewed at the latest development of the company in March this year. “We still produce some straw based particleboard on that line, but it is mainly wood today.”

More of that latest factory soon, but in the meantime, Guodong built a continuous MDF production line in 2004, which went into production in mid-2005.

Dieffenbacher supplied the CPS continuous press – and the line from forming to the book saw. Designed capacity was 300,000m3/year, 8mm basis, on a press of 40m x 9ft.

In 2007, Guodong decided on a second fibreboard line from Dieffenbacher and in 2008 bought a 400mu (27ha) plot of land on an industrial estate in Nanchong City, Sichuan province, to build the Sichuan Nanchong Guodong Forestry technology Co Ltd factory.

Although the contract was signed in 2007, the project was delayed due to the global economic uncertainty and was re-started in October 2008, explained Mr Yang.

Construction began on site in October 2009 and the first board came off the production line on January 26, 2011.

“Today, we are working towards commercial production and optimising the line,said Mr Yang when WBPI visited Nanchong in March. “We hope to be running the line fully in June.”

The wood raw material for the line comes from a 100-200km radius and Mr Yang said that supply was no problem at present. “But we are not running at full capacity yet…..There is of course competition for wood, but the current supply situation looks OK for this line.”

The capacity of the new line at Nanchong is less than the previous Dieffenbacher CPS line at Guangyuan, at 220,000m3 on a smaller press of 26.4m x 8ft.

Dieffenbacher was responsible for the supply of equipment from chip cleaning to the finishing line and also had overall responsibility for the whole line.

The debarker was supplied by Chinese manufacturer Jiangsu Weimei Light Industry Machinery Co Ltd.

The chipper was supplied by Bruks Klöckner of Germany.

The refiner came from Andritz of Austria and is a 54/60in unit.

The energy system came from a Chinese supplier and is entirely wood fired.

On-the-line quality control came from GreCon which supplied its DMR and UPU 2000 units.

Imeas of Italy supplied the eight-head sander and Holzma of Germany the cut-to-size system as part of the Dieffenbacher contract.

The site had its difficulties as it had to be excavated out of a small ‘mountain’ to obtain a flat area on which to construct the factory.

The front of the site is dominated by a tall blue and white striped water tower. Mr Yang explained that this was necessary because the water supply for the factory is pumped from underground and in the event of an electrical power cut, there would be no water. Thus 300 tonnes of it are stored in the tower.

Sichuan Guodong group is no stranger to value-adding: At the Guangyuan site there are two Dieffenbacher short-cycle laminating lines, each with presses of 5.3 x 2.4m and full automation. There is also a Homag line to machine panels for laminate flooring and one Vits and one Shaanxibeiren Printing Machine Co Ltd (Chinese) paper impregnation line. All this gives more than enough value-adding capacity for the panel production at Guangyuan.

For the new factory at Nanchong, Mr Yang said the company plans to have a laminating line for melamine facing MDF panels here too.

Thicknesses produced at Nanchong are mainly up to 12mm and the market is the furniture and door making industry in Chongqing and Chengdu Cities.

Future growth in panels
“This Dieffenbacher line was not the only MDF line we ordered in 2007,said the deputy general manager.

“We also ordered two Siempelkamp lines of the same annual capacity (220,000m3). Both are being built at the Guangyuang site, with the first producing its first board in March this year and the second coming on-stream in April.

Meanwhile, the Nanchong site has the space for another line as well and the company plans to build more MDF capacity, subject to market conditions being favourable.

“Our overall capacity is more than a million cubic metres and the total investment in the latest three lines is RMB1.4bn,said Mr Yang.

I asked Mr Yang if he thought the market would continue to grow in the next five years?

“Yes I do,he said confidently. “There are still a lot of single-opening lines with poor quality which will leave the market and in the future the market and the capacity will grow and continuous lines will take over from these single-and multi-opening ones.”

With regard to particleboard, Mr Yang believes the market is growing, though not a lot and certainly not as fast as that for MDF. “The Chinese prefer MDF,he explained.

“Personally, I think particleboard has its own advantages, but the Chinese customers’ ‘habit’ is to use MDF for domestic furniture. For export furniture and for some kitchen cabinet manufacturers, particleboard is the preferred material.”

He explained that he believes that this is because, years ago, very few Chinese companies could make good quality particleboard, especially on Chinese-made machinery: “Ten years ago, only Jilin Forest was making a good quality particleboard”.

In just about 10 years, Sichuan Guodong Group will have gone from nothing in terms of panel production to one million cubic metres, all with mills which it has projected and started up itself. Added to that is the company’s considerable commitment to value-adding, which should stand it in good stead against its competition, many of whom rely on raw board for all their turnover.