The connection between stainless steel and wood based panels is not as distant as one might think when you consider that those panel mills with a continuous press may well be using stainless steel belts ground on an Imeas machine. The company is involved in various types of surface finishing, including grinding, polishing, brushing, calibrating and sanding. The company also acts as main contractor in the supply of complete, integrated turnkey plants for the surface finishing of those various materials. While Imeas Spa is still headquartered in the village where it began life 40 years ago, the company has not stood still geographically. In 2001, it set up a subsidiary in China to cater to the needs of the rapidly expanding panel industry there. This joint venture company with Chinese machinery maker Xinxieli, Imeas Sander manufacturing (Suzhou) Co Ltd, makes four-feet wide machines for panel manufacturers and furniture makers in the Chinese market, producing about 30 to 40 machines a year.
The Suzhou company employs about 40 people – all Chinese nationals – who are trained by Imeas technicians. Imeas Spa also has a representative office in Beijing to represent the Italian parent in the Chinese market for wide-belt sanders (eight feet and above), all of which are manufactured in Villa Cortese. This office, managed by Winston Yuan, handles business from the wood and metal industries. The rest of the world market is handled from Villa Cortese by a team of sales engineers including and led by Francesco Zenere, son of president and ceo Franco Zenere. Area sales managers Andrea De Giacomo and Francesco Zenere divide Europe and Asia between them, while the latest member of the sales team, Alex Sopianac, is area sales manager for North America. There are 90 staff employed at Imeas Spa, of which 15 work in the technical office. "This means we are able to produce special machines, starting from the initial project through to the finished line," said Mr De Giacomo. "Every year we have at least one or two completely new projects in a diverse range of industries such as rubber, fibreglass and so on. These projects are always related to grinding, sanding or polishing with abrasive belts or rolls."
The company’s wide belt sanders are offered in widths from 1.3m (4ft) to 3.2m (10ft). "That 3.2m width is the widest we have supplied to date, but we have also tested machines up to 3.3m for the fibreglass industry this year and we have studied widths up to 3.6m for the wood based panels industry. "The 3.2m machine is heavier and has some structural differences to the others and we have been able to transfer that know-how to 2.9m (9ft) machines, which will be available this year." For the 2.3, 2.6 and 2.9m wide machines, Imeas offers an extended belt length of 4m rather than the standard 3.2m length. The advantage to the customers is claimed to be that the belt has more time to clean itself, and to cool, as it travels round the loop. It also means less downtime for belt changes because the belt lasts longer, said Mr De Giacomo. He added that the difference in price between a 3.2m and a 4m belt is small because the loop requires the same number of segments and therefore joints (the most expensive part of abrasive belt production). The economic benefit to the customer is expected to be a reduction of 10-15% in terms of abrasive belt costs and an increased productivity of 5% says Imeas.
There is an increasing demand for more speed from all parts of the modern continuous panel production line and Imeas sanders currently run at up to 120m/minute, while its latest projects are guaranteed to 150m/minute. "You would require at least 10 heads to achieve that speed, although it also depends on the amount of stock material to be removed," said Mr De Giacomo. The trend in the market is to increase production and that probably means increased demands on line speeds. That means that a standard eight-head line may not be able to remove all the material required in some situations while keeping the same high-quality surface finish. "We thus expect a demand for an increased number of heads, especially for particleboard and MDF lines and, probably, in a 10-head line, there will be eight belt heads and two cross-belt sanding heads, in a separate machine, to increase the quality of the surface." Imeas launched its ‘Cross-transversal Belt Sander CR-TB’ in 2001, employing belts running at right angles to the direction of travel of the panel and located after an eight-head sander.
"We currently have four CR-TB machines running in customers’ panel factories and they are generating a lot of interest. This is especially coming from mills which want to improve their surface finish because the panels are to be lacquered, printed, or covered with thin decor papers," said the sales manager. This machine can be retro-fitted to an existing line, provided there is room at the end of the sanding line for the extra machine of course. Machines can be supplied with the conventional pad system in which the abrasive is bolt-clamped to the shoe, or with the new siapad system (from Sia Abrasives of Switzerland), in which the abrasive material is bonded to an MDF pad which can be changed much more quickly. At the time of my visit in June, Imeas Spa had sold six projects in wood this year, one ‘special’, and 10 projects in the metal field – and this represents an increase on orders received at the same time in 2005.
Italian MDF producer Fantoni ordered its second cross-belt sander, 2.6m wide – the first was purchased in 2004 – to upgrade an existing sanding line. Masisa, Hornitex Beeskow and Sonae Novobord have all ordered 2.9m wide machines for delivery this year. The Masisa line will have 10 heads, the last two being Ultra-Finish heads with Scotchbrite rolls. Hornitex has bought a four-head upgrade for an existing line, while Novoboard’s will be an eight-head line. The first 40 years in the life of Imeas have seen a lot of changes in the demands made on sanding widths and speeds – and in the global market for the company’s products. It is fair to assume that the future will not be any less challenging for this family-owned business.