Visitors to Ligna this year will remember IMAL’s rather large exhibition stand.

WBPI visited IMAL’s headquarters, outside Modena, shortly after the Ligna exhibition had closed.

There, Loris Zanasi , CEO of the company, was marking an anniversary and feeling pleased, indeed ebullient. Those who know him of course will be aware that ebullience is something that comes very naturally to him; but he did seem to have good reason.

“It has been exactly 40 years since we first appeared at Ligna,” he told us. “That was back in 1977. I remember very well that first time. We were in a very small truck, driving ourselves; we had a stall of a few square metres, I think three metres by three; but people came. And this time we had a stand of 1600 square metres, the largest booth of the Ligna fair! Larger even than the stands of some German companies I could mention…”

And since size isn’t everything, he wanted to tell us of IMAL’s performance there. “At Ligna, we closed 22 contracts for total sales of €11.5m! Most of those were not pre-prepared; the first enquiries were at Ligna, they both started and were sealed there. We were not expecting all of them by any means. It was a great success!”

Why so many contented customers, I asked? “The reason is because we were there with so many innovations. The main focus of our company is new technology; we presented many of our developments there.” Mr Zanasi happily proceeded to list them.

“For one thing, we have a unique product, Dynasteam. We are the only company in the world to offer this. It works by directly injecting steam into the mat, ahead of the press; and it allows existing factories to increase their capacities by 10 to 20%, with only a small investment and taking up very little space! “You put it at the entrance of the continuous press, and it allows the line to run faster; 92 Dynasteams have already been sold.

“Secondly: we are specialists in gluing. We are world leaders in gluing systems for particleboard and MDF. Our high-pressure resination system reduces consumption of resins: the technology reduces the size of crystals of glue and, for MDF, sprays them into the line, or for particleboard coats the particles when they fall from the hopper. “Thirdly, we offered at Ligna our quality control systems. We are the company with the largest number of quality control machines available to the market. In particular at Ligna we showed our full delamination detector. Other detectors monitor only part of the board, maybe 10%, maybe 20%. Ours monitors every inch of the board, from edge to edge, right across,” said the CEO.

“On thickness control machinery,” he continued, “we are the only company in the world to offer a three-year guarantee. You get that when you buy a new car, so why not when you buy a machine? And we can offer that guarantee because historically we have had no problems with the machines. Our machines will not fail, so we cannot lose money.”

“We have supplied…” There is a slight pause while the number is looked up. “Yes, we have supplied 782 of these machines.”

It might be more by the time you read this. And his enthusiasm continues. “We showed a whole range of laboratory machines and products. No other company can claim so large a range of lab machines.”

Then Mr Zanasi spoke of one of the really unique machines: a new device that IMAL has developed. “We showed it at Ligna in operation. This device we call SMC, which stands for Send, Mark and Cut. The older particleboard factories have a team of workers to mark and cut boards by hand. It takes a lot of space, a lot of work, and is dangerous.

“So we presented this machine. It is much cleaner and much safer. We made two agreements with purchasers at Ligna. Since it is a brand new design, they pay us only if it works.”

Mr Zanasi is not expecting to have to do without the money.

“For MDF production lines we have our X-ray on-line density profiler.” He explained that the unique selling point of this one is that it works the other way up from the competition. Artists sometimes turn the painting they are working on up-side down to get a new perspective on it. IMAL has done something similar with this machine.

“Ours is totally different because we measure from the bottom of the board, not the top. That works better because placing the sensor on the bottom keeps it away from the heat and steam from the board which can interfere and generate inaccuracies. Putting your sensor on the bottom eliminates that.”

Mr Zanasi goes on to explain where some of the company’s expertise comes from. “70 PhD-holders in our engineering team have worked on the density profiler, with input from the University of Modena and the Polytechnic of Milan. The synergy between our team and the universities is something wonderful. When we want to develop something new, we put together all the brains.”

Mr Zanasi claims specialist, not universal, expertise for IMAL. But IMAL is part of the Panel Alliance group of companies, which each have their own specialities but between them cover every part of panel production. He waxes lyrical about the advantages: “We got the idea from the Star Alliance of airlines. You can buy a complete project from Panel Alliance, from beginning to end. But you are not buying from a generalist; you are buying from specialists in each area, from companies who are the very best at what they do.”

It is now seven years since the Panel Alliance came together. The companies involved are IMAL, PAL, Globus, Trasmec, Vyncke and Recalor. Recalor specialises in drying technology; Trasmec in wood chip conveyors and sorters; and Vynke of course fuels plants.

“The total turnover for the group for 2017 is forecast to be €150m – and that is from a workforce of 400 people in total,” says Mr Zanasi.

We have already heard about IMAL, now he tells us about PAL.

“PAL leads the world in recycling and screens,” he says. “They have installed more than 900 around the world. The speciality of Globus is wood treatment – knife-ring flakers and chipping lines; and in transferring flakes. Three years ago when we became a shareholder in it, the turnover of Globus was €2.5m. Since then it has quadrupled. Globus reached €10m turnover this year, with a staff of just 40 people. We are very proud of this company. It has extremely advanced technology.” Another advantage of the Panel

Alliance grouping, he says, is the flexibility it can offer to customers.

“We have the capacity to supply complete projects, from beginning to end; and of course we are very happy if the customer wants that from us. He can talk to just one main supplier – ourselves – and sign just one contract for all his needs.”

One such project is the MDF plant supplied to VRG Quang Tri in Vietnam, which came on stream last year with Imal’s Dynasteam press at the heart of it.

“And even if the customer wants to deal with the alliance companies separately, with individual contracts, we can still give a common guarantee. That is a great advantage for the client.”

Mr Zanasi had to leave to talk to a client who was waiting downstairs, doubtless eager to discuss acquiring just such a machine. IMAL is clearly busy as well as successful. Its enthusiasm is contagious.