The final part of the drive to Guangxi Sunway Forest Product Industry Group’s mills in Wuzhou has to be one of the most spectacular in the Chinese panel industry, as the road winds along the side of the Zhujiang river valley for several kilometres. The company’s latest mill is built in a commanding position on the banks of the river a few kilometres from Wuzhou itself.
To be fair, I suspect the approach to the Lishui Oak mill may be equally spectacular, also along a river valley, but as I arrived there at far too well past midnight, and from the wrong direction, it was difficult to be sure.
Founded in 1921 as Wuzhou Zhicheng Board Mill, Guangxi Sunway produced particleboard largely by hand on a small scale. In 1989, the company imported a Sunds (now Metso) single-opening press line from Sweden to manufacture particleboard and this line has an annual production capacity of 50,000m3.
The line has a two-head wind former. The press is large, at 32ft long and 8ft wide, meaning it can accommodate eight panels per cycle, and operates on the recycling steel caul belt system. It is enclosed in a housing and the small glazed control room with synoptic controls is located alongside the press at ground level.
The line is supplied with steam and thermal oil by a locally-made energy plant.
In a neighbouring building on the same site in Wuzhou, a few kilometres from Sunway’s latest project, there is a more modern continuous MDF line. This has its own energy plant, independent of the particleboard line, and the wood supply for the two lines is also kept in separate areas of the same woodyard. The whole line, including the energy plant, was supplied by the former Sunds company in 1996 and fibre from the Sunds refiner passes to an ABB Fläkt Pendistor former.
The continuous press was made by Küsters of Germany, now also part of the Metso group of course. It was originally supplied with a length of 12.5m, but in 1999 was extended to 17.5m, increasing the MDF line’s output capacity from 50,000m3 to 100,000m3 per year.
The Steinemann sander has six heads, followed by a further two heads, added more recently and made by Chinese company Sulin.
Another building on the same site houses the laminating lines. Here there are three short-cycle laminating lines, giving a total capacity of six million m2 of surfaced panels per annum.
All three lines are from Wemhöner of Germany and the newest is a single-opening 4ft x 16ft press, used mainly for the manufacture of laminate flooring.
The factory employs manual lay-up for the surfacing films, rather than the automatic systems which are perhaps more relevant where labour costs are higher than in China.
The same building houses the two laminate flooring lines employing Paul multi-rip saws for cutting the flooring strips, while machining of the edges is carried out by Homag and Torwegge equipment. Annual output is five million m2.
In 2000, Guangxi Sunway Forest Products Industrial Co Ltd was established and a new factory built in Cenxi City, Wuzhou, which went in to production in 2001. Sunway Forest Products Cenxi Artificial Board Co Ltd produces 150,000m3 of MDF annually on a mixture of Germanand Chinese-sourced equipment.
The latest line for Sunway is unusual in that it brings together two major equipment suppliers in one line; the press is from Dieffenbacher, but the contract for the rest of the line was placed with the successor company to the supplier of Sunway’s other lines at Wuzhou, Metso Panelboard.
“We bought this line by open bidding on the internet,said Mr Fang Fengchao, an engineer with the Wuzhou factories. “Which company would win was dependent on price, quality and a number of other factors, including the fact that we wanted to make mainly HDF panels.
“Metso and Dieffenbacher offered the best combination of price and of meeting our requirements for production. I am not saying one press [Küsters or Dieffenbacher] is better than the other – they are different.”
The site chosen for the new line was cut back out of the hillside beside the river Zhujiang and building work commenced in September 2002. The first board was produced from the line on December 5, 2003.
The wood raw material is a mix of softwood and mixed hardwoods, mainly thinnings, branches and mis-shapen logs. Some bought-in chips are also used. Sunway does not employ a debarker.
An undercover belt conveyor takes the chips into the chipper building where there are two Bruks-Klöckner chippers. Hardwood and softwood are chipped separately and the chips conveyed to two separate, round, concrete silos which are tiled on the outside, as is common practice in China.
For some board 100% hardwood chips are used, while for most production hard and softwood are mixed 50/50 or 60/40.
The silos have a circulating rotating screw in the base to move the chips to an  underground conveyor and up to the chip screen which separates out the oversize chips and the fines for fuel. Accepted chips pass up a bucket elevator to the chip washer at the top of the adjacent refiner building.
The refiner is a 66in Metso unit but the motor was supplied by a Chinese sub-contractor. Everything from here to the press, and beyond the press, was in Metso’s scope of supply.
The dryer is a two-stage system, with the first stage outside and the second stage, with fibre bin and sifter, inside the main production building.
The energy plant is fuelled by sanding dust, sawdust, screening rejects and board trimmings.
The mechanical former has adjustable width, from 8ft to 9ft, and this is followed by the Metso pre-press, Cassel metal detector, and GreCon traversing x-ray mat density analyser. GreCon also supplied thickness gauges after the main press.
The production hall which houses the main line is well lit by roof windows during  aylight hours and houses the Dieffenbacher CPS continuous press. This is 42.88m long, with room for extension, although there are currently no plans at Sunway to increase its length. It is nine feet wide.
Fumes from the press are extracted by pipe, meaning that the press is not enclosed in a full housing – which must be advantageous for maintenance (as well as photography!).
The control room alongside has all the latest controls and is, unusually, equipped with the latest flat screen monitors.
A Lukki robotised panel handling and stocking system handles the panels from the line. A Steinemann eight-head sander and a Metso cut-to-size line handle the finishing of the raw panels.
Capacity is around 300,000m3 a year, based on 9ft wide, 8mm HDF.
The company has no plans to increase its MDF/HDF capacity at present and has an eye on the rapid expansion of the supply in China in recent times.
Any future plans seem more likely to relate to particleboard than to fibreboards. Other, related, activities of the group include the production of 100,000 tons a year of urea formaldehyde resins to E1 standard.
Value-adding, as we have seen, is important to Sunway and, in 2002, the company added a Vits melamine paper impregnation line on the 110,000m2 Sunway Hi-tech Industrial Park where its new HDF line is located. This has a capacity of 20 million m2 and the full range of treatment for all products, including wear-resistant layers for laminate flooring.
The group also has a furniture production line making 60,000 items of panelbased furniture annually, on equipment imported from Italy and Germany in 1993. The furniture is exported worldwide.
Raw material supply for the Guangxi Sunway Forest Products Industry Group’s wood-based activities is guaranteed and underpinned by its forestry activities, giving the company a sustainable approach.
In fact the company has its ‘Double Million Project’ which aims for one million acres of forest base and one million m3 of what it calls ‘synthetic board’ capacity.
And to go with that scenic approach to its new Wuzhou factory, Sunway also has ISO 14001 certification for its environmental management systems.