Vanachai’s 350-acre industrial site outside the southern city of Suratthani saw its first panel production line in 1997. This took the form of a Siempelkamp ContiRoll continuous press line with a capacity of around 300,000m3/year of particleboard. It was of course clear that a site on such a grand scale was not going to stop at one particleboard factory and in 2004 a second ContiRoll press line – and the third continuous line for the group, which also has production sites in Chonburi and Chachoengsao – started production with a particleboard capacity of 450,000m3/year (WBPI issue 1, 2005, p29).

Other particleboard lines for the group in the past include its first-ever line, built in Chachoengsao in 1981 and known as Plywood Laminated Company Ltd. This was followed by a second line on the same site in 1983, known as Durospan. Both lines had Siempelkamp single-opening presses, each with annual capacity of around 48,000m3, but both have since been sold. In 1991, Vanachai built its first continuous particleboard line, with a Siempelkamp ContiRoll press, at Chonburi. This has a daily capacity of some 500m3. Thus Vanachai has a total annual capacity of around 900,000m3 of particleboard. Again at Chonburi, the company has its first MDF line, built in 1989, second MDF line (doorskin multi-opening line), built in 1990, and third MDF line, built in 1993, with a total capacity of 270,000m3/year. The continuous lines employ two Küsters (now Metso) continuous presses. Coming back to all that space at the Suratthani site, Vanachai has built its second MDF line there. It is another continuous line, supplied by Metso Panelboard, with a capacity of 700m3/day and it produced its first board in September 2006. So we have a total company annual capacity of around 900,000m3 of particleboard and 480,000m3 of MDF. Work started on the construction of the new factory buildings for that fourth MDF line, and storage buildings to serve all three panel lines at Suratthani, in August 2005. The land here is soft and wet – it was formerly rice fields – and so extensive piling, to depths of 12 to 25m, was required before construction could commence. The machinery arrived from Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy and Switzerland in February 2006, by which time the warehouse buildings were ready to receive the large number of huge crates. Installation of the line was carried out rapidly, no doubt assisted by the knowledge and experience gained by Vanachai over the years as well as the experience of the installation engineers from the various supplying companies, and the first board was produced on September 8, 2006. All components from the woodyard to the finishing area, including sanding, were within the Metso scope of supply. The energy plant was sourced directly by Vanachai from Vyncke of Belgium and the angular panel saw from Holzma, Germany. The Metso press, with its chain-link belt transport system measures 8ft wide x 29m effective heating length, with the cooling zone occupying around 30% of the length. The planning and foundations for the press allow for a later extension to 34m effective length if Vanachai’s management so decides. On past record, it seems likely they will, assuming they do not decide to build another line alongside the existing building instead; there would be room. However, when questioned on this, Mr Phumsakdi, manager of the planning and developing department, said that the company currently has no plans for further MDF or particleboard lines or extensions. Raw material is rubberwood of course, as it is in plentiful supply here in southern Thailand. Vanachai pioneered the use of rubberwood with its first particleboard line and later became the first in Thailand to produce both particleboard and MDF from that resource. The logs are debarked in a machine supplied by Metso and chipping is by Bruks Klöckner. The chips are conveyed on a belt conveyor to the wet chip silo and from there to an oscillating Bruks Klöckner screen. The cleaned chips are belt-conveyed to the digester and refiner. The Metso refiner is a 62in unit which offers spare capacity if that press extension should go ahead at some point in the future. Waste process water is injected into the Vyncke energy plant. The Metso former and the continuous press itself are protected from fire by Firefly equipment. A Cassell metal detector precedes an Imal mat spray and density profiler. A Hema core heater is available for use in thicker boards of 16mm or above. A triple star cooler receives the master panels from the press, while handling from there is taken over by a fully automated/robotised Lukki handling system. The Steinemann sander is equipped with belts from Sia Abrasives of Switzerland. The record for production on the new line came two days prior to our visit when this 700m3 a day rated line achieved 730m3. The electrical power for the site comes from the national grid and there is one sub-station serving the whole Vanachai site. There is also an emergency diesel-powered generator available for when the grid power goes down from time to time. Such a back-up system is deemed necessary by most Thai panel producers due to the fact that the grid is not totally reliable. Loading of trucks is now carried out in the extensive new warehouse area and trucks bring in tanks of resin from the company’s resin factory in Rayong, 900km away in the north of the country, and take back loads of MDF and/or particleboard panels. Everybody in the south east Asian panel market is finding things difficult at present and Vanachai is no exception. “The particleboard market is currently over-supplied and we do not see this situation improving in the near future,” said Mr Phumsakdi. “The MDF market is also still over-supplied in this region.” Vanachai’s export market for its particleboard and MDF products extends to Korea, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. This normally accounts for around 60-70% of production and the panels are exported through Bangkok port. The company has a laminated flooring line at its Chonburi MDF factory and anticipated bringing that product to market early this year, Mr Phumsakdi told WBPI in December. Such a massive site as the one at Suratthani, which even has a dual carriageway concrete road bisecting it with the factories on either side, has to be largely self-contained and Vanachai provides accommodation for workers with families on site in condominiums, or chalet-style accommodation for senior staff and their families. The site currently employs around 1,000 staff, with about 50% of them living there. Such a massive site is also a potential security headache, especially in the troubled south of Thailand where terrorist activity is all too commonplace. Security checks on incoming vehicles are very thorough but the site also has a long boundary to protect. This is done quite effectively by a very ancient form of defence; the site is surrounded on all sides by a deep water channel like a castle moat, making unauthorised access difficult. Vanachai has always been one of the top panel producers in the region and this latest line secures that position. The company clearly has room to expand still further on the Suratthani site and, when the market is right, it seems likely that we will be returning there for another story of expansion.