The rapid progress in electronic equipment in panel mills in recent years has perhaps reduced the scope to invent totally new devices to some degree. However, it has not by any means meant there is nothing new.What it has meant is that what may appear to be relatively minor modifications to existing equipment are as necessary as ever to stay ahead in a competitive market.
With that in mind, Imal srl of San Domaso near Modena has introduced new developments to existing equipment, as well as having some new product launches.
Examples of products which have been further refined and developed are the company’s well-known thickness gauge, blow detector and spark detection systems, all of which are for use on the production line.
A completely new product launch comes with the Surface Defect Detector SDG. This is an X-ray based system which marketing director Stefano Benedetti, son of Imal’s president Paolo Benedetti, describes as “similar to an airport scanner in principle”.
The SDG will show up high density areas in a mat prior to its entry into the press. Possible causes of these areas include glue spots, fibre lumps and metal or other foreign bodies that could damage the stainless steel belt of a continuous press.
“This is a completely new product for us, launched this year and it is particularly important if you are producing thin board,said Mr Benedetti. “So we position the sensors at intervals of 0.1mm across the mat. It can also show the density profile of a mat across the full width.”
Another machine employing the same principle is designed to protect wood size-reduction equipment. The DCE can be used in the infeed of crushers, chippers or flakers to avoid damage to the blades. It detects stone, metal or large lumps of wood.
“Today, panel mills are using more and more urban, or recycled, wood with an increased risk of damage and downtime,said Mr Benedetti. “The DCE can help to avoid these problems.”
Another area in which Imal has concentrated some research is OSB blending.
“The existing system is very old and in need of improvement. It involves a rotating drum blender with spinning spray heads inside the drum. You can’t access the spray heads to monitor their efficiency during production and they become blocked over time, which means the mill needs scheduled downtime to clean the blender – in particular the spinning head system,said the
marketing director.
“We have a strong background in blending, both for particleboard and, more recently, for MDF with our mechanical blending system, so in April this year we patented a new system for OSB.”
Imal’s new idea draws partly on the experience with the mechanical blending of MDF. There is a weigh-scale with a small surge bin behind it to even out the flow. The weigh-scale directly feeds the new blender, which does not have a revolving drum, but a fixed one, as used for particleboard and MDF; it is only the shaft inside that turns.
The blender is water-cooled to reduce maintenance (again a principle employed for particleboard) and resin is sprayed into the feed chute and at the blender entrance.
“The difference is that the spraying takes place outside the wood flow so it is easy to check and clean,said Mr Benedetti.
The advantages he claims for the system are no downtime just for cleaning the blender, and that the blender is much smaller than a conventional one, which can be up to 15m long and requires a large steel structure.
“Now you can clean the blender when you stop the plant, rather than stopping the plant to clean the blender,he said.
The first of the new systems is due to be installed in Europe in August.
Another new product is the UM800 on-the-line microwave moisture meter.
This device is designed to read the moisture content of particles, fibres or strands before or after the dryer and also measures the density and temperature of the material.
Two years ago, Imal launched its first mat damping unit for use prior to the press for the application of water and/or release agent. This TS100 unit obviously answered a need because the company has sold 35 of them worldwide, including six in China.
Imal also continues to supply a wide range of laboratory testing equipment, including its fully automatic, robotized Auto-Lab for testing the physical characteristics of panel samples. Here there is another product launched this year, in the form of the Roughness Optical Control
system ROC 100.
This is designed to select and grade samples of panels in relation to their surface roughness and to supply an analysis of the surface profile of the sample. The equipment is self-contained in its own cabinet and is particularly requested by manufacturers of MDF cabinet doors to detect roughness before painting or lamination.
The company has also spent some time developing its pallet block production line, utilising wood chips to make the blocks.
After extensive testing of a prototype in its own R&D department, Imal has supplied one line to Xilopan in Italy and sees a big potential market for this machine.
For some years, Imal has had a ‘second string to its bow’ in the refurbishment and supply of secondhand lines for panel production. The controls are always new and the lines are offered with performance guarantees.
Complete new plants of small capacity are something else the company has to offer and it has sold one such line to Iran for MDF production. It has a Siempelkamp multi-opening press line.
The capacities of the new lines supplied by Imal are typically in the 100m3 to 200m3 a day range.
Other markets for refurbishment and upgrading of plants are to be found in Russia and the former Soviet states. Imal received its first large orders from these markets in the past year.
It is not possible to stand still and survive in the machinery market today. Companies must always be refining existing equipment and developing new products and it is by a mixture of these approaches that Imal has survived the last 35 years.
The supply of complete lines, both refurbished and completely new, has added another dimension to the company and opened up some of the developing markets, where lower costs are mandatory.