Evergreen Fibreboard Sdn Bhd found itself virtually forced into making MDF when it ran into difficulties sourcing enough thin plywood for its veneering operations which supplied the furniture market.
At first the company bought in thin MDF from other local manufacturers, but as market demand for that panel mushroomed, supplies of MDF became difficult.
Thus it was that, in 1993, Evergreen built a Mende thin board line in a new factory in Parit Raja in Johor state.
This was followed by a second MDF line, this time based on a Dieffenbacher CPS continuous press, in 2000.
This line had originally been scheduled for start-up in 1995, but the plans were put back to 1997. Then chief executive J C Kuo saw the economic problems on the horizon and put the date back again to 1999. This is an example of the prudence with which he has pushed his family business forward over the last 10 years or so.
However, a really major step for the company came two years prior to that second line when, in 1998, Evergreen Fibreboard set up its first knock-down (KD) furniture manufacturing operation, in Parit Raja.
Since WBPI last visited the company in late 1999, it has been transformed under the guidance of J C Kuo. “Over the last four years we have bought out five neighbouring companys’ sites,he said. “We have used one for a warehouse for raw MDF board, one for a back-up logyard, one for furniture production facilities, one for a warehouse for finished furniture and the fifth is a small factory to be used as our furniture parts store.”
That all adds up to approximately 30 acres of land on six sites – in 2000 the company owned 12.5 acres.
Add to that the fact that Evergreen produced its first panel from its first particleboard line, in Segamat, in May 2003, and the rapid growth of the company is clearly illustrated. In total, the group now comprises two MDF lines, a particleboard line, a lot of KD furniture production and two veneering works in Pasir Gudang in Johor.
“We needed vertical integration, and to minimise costs in every product, and we needed to be big enough too – size does matter in this business. The value-added downstream production was vital as well,said the 40-year old chief executive.
Mr Kuo feels the company occupies an important niche by being both an MDF and particleboard producer, especially as he sees particleboard as being currently under-supplied in Malaysia. “We can also offer both particleboard and MDF laminated, printed, veneered, whatever is required,he added.
“Furniture production was getting more and more important for us and we needed the particleboard capacity. It also sells to the same customers as MDF and so there are no additional sales costs.”
Because Mr Kuo, in common with other panel producers in the country, sees potential limitations in the supply of its principle raw material, rubberwood, he sees another advantage for the move into particleboard.
“The raw material is easier to source from sawmill waste from a number of local mills and we can use rubberwood, or mixed tropical hardwoods if necessary.”
The major components of the Bison-designed particleboard line were bought secondhand through Modul Systeme of Germany, coming from a company in Latvia, Ventspils Koks, which had gone into bankruptcy. The purchase included the dryer, forming line and press line and Mr Kuo went to Latvia himself to supervise dismantling.
Some other components came from the former SEP mill in Italy and some new parts were added.
Providing a link to the parent company, Evergreen Fibreboard, and an individual identity for the new venture, the particleboard factory is known as Allgreen.
The line has a capacity of 420m3 a day, or around 110,000m3 a year. It can produce particleboard 9mm to 30mm thick, although it is currently producing 12mm to 18mm.
Klöckner chippers and Pallmann knife-ring flakers and refiners prepare the chips, while a Pallmann hammermill was added to the equipment in September 2003.
Wet and dry chip screening were supplied new by Pal of Italy, together with surface and core layer sifter. These latter systems are vertical sifters, the first of their kind in Malaysia, and are intended to give a good laminating surface to the particleboard for furniture production.
Forming employs the original static three-head Bison unit, with wind-forming for the surface and mechanical forming for the core. Drying is carried out in a 16 tonne per hour drum, while energy is provided by a Konus system with a Körting dust burner.
The Dieffenbacher press is a two-opening model, 8ft x 42ft. “We refer to it as a ‘twin single-opening’ press,explained Mr Kuo. “It has four hot platens which gives us better thickness control than a conventional two-daylight press, because we can have different temperatures in the two openings if we want to – that is why it is like two single-opening presses.”
The line has an eight-foot wide Steinemann six-head sander, also bought secondhand.
All machinery installations for the MDF lines, the new particleboard line and the furniture factory are carried out by Evergreen’s own staff, giving the company a cost saving, claimed Mr Kuo.
The Parit Raja complex is the location of a new, three-storey office block, built in 2002 and providing head office facilities for all production plants and the group’s sales operations. Only two floors are currently in full use, so there is still room for expansion here.
The control systems for the panel lines were being upgraded at the time of my visit to enable the chief executive to monitor and control them from the office, or from his home, two hours’ drive away in Singapore.
My tour of the furniture production facilities took place in a golf car – there was a lot of ground to cover in a short time.
The factories offer direct printing, paper lamination, veneer lamination with UV lacquer line, low pressure melamine and PVC foil application.
“We can match the colour and pattern between all the different surfaces we offer and carry out PVC wrapping on a post-forming machine,said Mr Kuo. “Whatever the customer wants, we can do.”
For the real wood veneered panels, there are three slicers and one rotary lathe, which are in addition to the four rotary and eight slicing machines at Pasir Gudang.
The knock-down, or flat-pack, furniture goes to markets as diverse as Japan, Singapore, Australia and, more recently, the US, as well as to the domestic market. Some hypermarkets in Spain, the UK and France are also customers. The warehouse has 28 loading bays for direct forklift loading of 40ft containers, all under the watchful eye of video surveillance cameras. The factory turns round 25 to 30 containers a day here.
The site at Parit Raja employs 1,100 staff, but the company employs 2,000 in total. “Furniture production is very labour intensive,said Mr Kuo.
It seems superfluous to ask him if his plans include further expansion of the Evergreen empire. “We are planning investment in MDF in Thailand because I feel the raw material supply is a limiting factor in further expansion in board production in Malaysia,said the chief executive. “The biggest problem for the business in Parit Raja has been finding space – we have grown so fast.
“It has taken 10 years to get where we are, step-by-step, and suddenly you realize how big you are.”