Decorative paper impregnation line technology specialist Vits had just returned from the Moscow exhibition LesDrevMash when WBPI caught up with its head of sales, Daniel James.

Mr James reported a successful show and said Vits is working on some new projects and has new technological developments in the pipeline, some of which would be showcased at next year’s Ligna exhibition.

"In Russia we have quite a lot of projects and enquiries we are working on," he said. "But there are a lot of concerns about the sanctions and the ruble has fallen so much."

"The political situation is stopping the progress we have been making in Russia in the last five years. We expect to have some contracts finalised in the short-term, but apart from these, generally, projects are being deferred."

The super-fast HIGHLINE impregnation line has been a strong offering from Vits in recent years, said Mr James.

"In the last five years we have made a lot of progress with our lines, doubling the speed of output of some products for example. The fully automatic HIGHLINE has addressed a lot of issues our customers were having."

Customers have been requesting higher speed, more efficiency, less manpower on lines and better handling at the end of the machine.

"We are starting to sell more of these machines to customers," he said. Recent orders of the HIGHLINE product include Borg Manufacturing in Australia and a large producer in North America.

Their reasons for investing in the HIGHLINE include the low operator involvement (partly due to issues with finding suitable trained operators) and improved health & safety benefits.

The line can work at speeds of up to 120m/ min for melamine impregnation (300m/min for phenolic), compared to the majority of impregnation lines which work at up to 60-70m/ minute.

"For a lot of customers the HIGHLINE is the obvious choice. However, depending on the product mix, other line concepts from Vits can also suit the customers’ needs."

The expansion of registered embossing from laminate flooring into a wider range of applications has also been a driver of product development at Vits. Registered embossed surfaces, which give panels an authentic wood or stone touch and finish were much in evidence at this year’s IWF show in Atlanta. Initially developed for flooring, these products are now being seen in vertical surfaces for furniture and general interior design.

This trend took hold in a very short time. Customers were finding that stretch and lack of dimensional stability were becoming issues during impregnation runs, resulting in an unusable product and waste. Vits found that customers were reducing their production runs as a result, which makes the product more expensive.

"If you detect problems with the impregnated paper and it’s already been pressed you have a whole lot of product that is waste."

The company developed its own online scanning system optimised for paper in the impregnation process. This online measurement system, with hi-resolution cameras and lasers, manages the speed of the paper, with software to calculate the patterns and dimensions, keeping the process within tolerance.

"This is part of a host of progressive developments we are working on to give customers more control of their individual product and process," said the head of sales.

The latest development is a coating system for two-stage melamine lines. Vits has been conducting trials with customers with the aim of reducing the percentage of surface resin applied.

This system, to be launched at Ligna 2015, is called the PRIMUS Coating System. Vits says trials have shown that this technology can reduce the surface resin content by 50%, equating to a 10 to 20% reduction in total resin usage; if this is proven then the PRIMUS could be set to be a game changer.

Three years ago, Vits launched its own scattering device for the laminate flooring sector using dry corundum powder.

"It has proved to be more flexible than previous systems and customers have shown satisfaction, citing superior accuracy and uniformity benefits compared to other systems," said Mr James.

A 2.80m-wide line with scattering has recently being commissioned in the US. Scattering is an alternative to the existing wet (ARP) coating on Vits flooring lines, however Vits sees a trend towards more scattering due to higher flexibility and lower maintenance needs.

A key factor for Vits is its one-stop-shop concept, which has been bolstered further by the recent acquisition – on October 17 – of Wessel Environmental Technologies, which markets systems in the area of air purification, energy recovery and waste management.

"Our customers have always been required to deal with emissions, particularly on the phenolic side," said Mr James. "However we are seeing more regulations on the melamine side.

"By this acquisition, we now can give the customer a complete solution for his environmental needs, together with the impregnation line."

Other partners in the Vits group include resin mixing and blending systems supplier IFA Technology and resins and additives (for paper impregnation) supplier Deurowood.

Vits is also diversifying from the wood based panel industry and making inroads into composites, such as glass fibre & polyester. Big developments include a 4.60m-wide veil for use in the glass fibre panel sector for roofing panels and interior design.

"There are a host of applications for this product," said Mr James, who said the material’s fire-resistance properties were proving popular in the market.

Crucially, there is no conflict between Vits’ expansion into these industries and its traditional wood based panel customer base, as the former does not go into the flooring and furniture sectors.

In terms of market performance for impregnation equipment, the US has proved to be the biggest market in 2014: "We have not seen a buoyant US market like this for a long time," said Mr James. "South America was a good market for us last year, but like everyone we are now seeing a slowdown there."

"As market leader, we often see a great deal of investment in a particular geographical area and following this a more quiet period when the market has to digest the extra volume. This is the case in South America.

"In Europe there is some activity on the phenolic HPL side."

Mr James thinks future growth in Europe will be driven more by necessity for line replacement than actual market growth. "Turkey is quite interesting. We had a very good exhibition at Intermob in Istanbul recently," said Mr James.

"The last two years have been quite flat in Turkey, however we see improvement and have many new inquiries. Vits is incredibly strong in the Turkish market and has delivered practically all the impregnation lines there."

Worldwide, Vits has now installed more than 930 impregnation lines, with the vast majority being in the wood based panel industry.