Imeas spa, founded in 1966, has its headquarters in Villa Cortese near Milan, where it manufactures all its wide-belt sanders up to 3.2m wide, or more if required, for a variety of industries, but most importantly for the panel industry. The company also has a manufacturing company in China – Imeas Sander Manufacturing (Suzhou) Co Ltd, typically making four feet wide machines for the local Chinese market.

Two years ago, at the 2011 Ligna exhibition in Hannover, Germany, Imeas launched its Full Control System (FCS) for its wide belt sanders. This system offers electronic control that combines graphical visualisation with the precise positioning of every single sanding head, explained Imeas’ sales director Francesco Zenere when we met at his offices in June.

The FCS management software not only provides information on the status and use of the sanding line, but also allows the customer to manage the line through incremental changes that can be freely set by the operator, as well as through the use of preconfigured ‘recipes’, which, Imeas claims, can eliminate up to 90% of the set-up time for the sanding machine.

Mr Zenere said another advantage of the FCS is that staff changes between shifts in a panel mill often mean that different people have different ideas concerning what are the best settings for the sanding machine. However, the FCS software can store the exact parameters required for each thickness of panel in its memory, meaning that the operator simply has to select the appropriate thickness and set-up is then automatic.

The FCS system also integrates into the mill’s existing automation system and can receive input from thickness measurement systems before and after the sander and automatically adjust the machine accordingly . The FCB system

Now Imeas has extended the FCS concept with the Full Control Belt (FCB) system.

"The sanding belt always tries to move from side to side during running because the belt tends to be a ‘cone-shape’ rather than a true cylinder," said Mr Zenere.

"Therefore, after starting the sander with a new belt, the machine has to be repeatedly adjusted manually to compensate for this and that can cost up to 30 or 40 minutes at each belt replacement in a typical eight-head machine.

"Thus our aim was to make something ultra-stable which can self-correct and we have already tested this system in a customer’s machine in his factory," continued Mr Zenere. "You put the belt more-or-less in the centre of the machine, push a button to tension it, then start the sander. Photocells measure points at the edges of the belt. Unlike the classic system in which only two photocells are used in a crude on/off, left/right positioning, FCB offers a continuous measuring system, reading how far to the left or right the belt is – for example 59%, say, means 9% right of centre.

"The system then adjusts the belt slightly, with a precision of 0.1mm, to return the belt to the correct, centralised, position."

Imeas first developed FCB for use on its metal grinding machines (such as are often used to grind stainless steel belts for continuous presses) before successfully testing it on wood panels.

"You can automatically offset the belt, or have it oscillating from side to side, if you wish," said the sales director.

Under construction in Imeas’ workshop at the time of WBPI’s visit was a sander for Swedspan/IKEA’s Malacky particleboard plant in Slovakia – the first to feature both FCS and FCB systems.

In another contract, for Arauco’s rebuilt plywood factory in Nueva Aldea, Chile, two of the 16 heads supplied in April 2013, have FCB. The FCB system can also be retro-fitted to existing sanding machines.

"The FCB was the kind of automation that the panel industry needed," concluded Mr Zenere.