The hydraulic press – daylight or continuous – remains at the heart and foundation of the business but only as a part, albeit the major one, of the whole production process. In another move to add a new competence to the company family, Dieffenbacher in summer 2006 acquired a minority shareholding in Italian company Instalmec and is already having some Dieffenbacher products manufactured there as a prelude to producing some complete product lines at the San Giorgio di Nogaro factory in Udine, eastern Italy. Instalmec’s own product range includes extraction systems and filters, separators, rotary and gate valves, cyclones and silos and screening systems. "There are still some product lines which are not inhouse at Dieffenbacher – yet – but expect more news in 2007," said Günter Natus, managing director for engineering and sales director for North America for the wood based panel division.
"In the meantime, we are very happy with the number of orders we have and with the diversified nature of them. Two years ago, almost all our business was for China but we have a wider spread now, although of course we still have orders in China as part of a well-balanced global distribution. "If you include the already in-progress orders, we have more than 20 projects in our factory at present." Because most green field projects take 18 months to two years from project to final acceptance of the line, Mr Natus said the company already knows its turnover for 2007 is going to be good, with the workshops busy until well into the third quarter. "At the beginning of 2006, I would have said the China ‘boom’ was more or less over, apart from a couple of particleboard lines maybe, but I would have been wrong," admitted Mr Natus. 
Of the 11 orders taken by Dieffenbacher between January and October, three were for complete lines for China: Hebei Yingyang (particleboard); Dongdun (MDF); and Shengda (MDF). There were also orders for Hungary and Latvia (both for Kronotec), Thailand (Kristina), Spain (Unopan), the US and Chile (Louisiana Pacific) and Russia (Cherepovets). These orders cover thin HDF (THDF), particleboard, OSB, MDF and OSL (oriented strand lumber).
They also include one single-opening and one refurbished multi-opening press. The rest were for Dieffenbacher’s signature CPS continuous presses. However, the China market is not just for green field developments, said the technical director: "There is a trend to replace old multi-opening lines with continuous ones because they are more economical." Dieffenbacher is in the process of building a local assembly facility in China, close to Shanghai, which should start production around March or April 2007. At first, this factory will assemble parts of forming stations produced by sub-contractors, as well as parts of the finishing line: "Mainly the bulky and labour-intensive components," pointed out Mr Natus. "We are already having dryer parts produced in China and other parts of the world by sub-contractors."
The company has also expanded its workshops in Canada and the Czech Republic and is steadily increasing the number of local service stations it has around the world, staffed by Dieffenbacher people."Our main strategy is to strengthen our service, worldwide," said Mr Natus. On the research and development front, raw material is taking centre stage at present. "Everybody is worried about scarce raw material – even our customers in Canada and the US at a recent Dieffenbacher press users’ meeting expressed concern," said Mr Natus. "So we are active in alternative raw materials – annual plant fibres – which we think are a good idea in certain circumstances. We are looking at alternative raw material sources which are not being burnt because of political subsidies," he said, in a pointed reference to the European industry’s problems with EU biomass fuel subsidies. Another target of Dieffenbacher’s R&D is new high-value products such as OSL. The company has supplied its second line to Ainsworth for its Grand Prairie mill in Canada. The first was a 12ft wide line for OSB but the latest is a continuous OSL line with steam pre-heater.
Louisiana Pacific has also ordered a single-opening 64ft press with steam injection for its Houlton, Maine OSL mill. "We have also invested in a new laboratory press in our Eppingen R&D centre, which is capable of running steam injection for OSL production," said Mr Natus. "We developed the pre-heater for OSL, but it has also proved useful in other lines, such as the BHT Kunz (now Pfleiderer) particleboard line in Thuringia, Germany, which switched to MDI resin – a slower curing resin with resultant loss of production capacity. The pre-heater has restored that lost capacity." Kronospan’s THDF line in Hungary – Dieffenbacher’s latest such high-speed line, due to start up in mid-2007 – will also have one directly in front of the CPS press to increase the surface moisture content. Thin HDF is currently experiencing strong demand and requires a special line, running at much higher speeds. To achieve this, Dieffenbacher has made a number of modifications to the continuous line: It has increased the length of the infeed section of the CPS for better de-gassing and increased the speed of the whole press. It has also heavily modified the forming station to dissolve lumps and fibre balls and it has further increased the forming accuracy.
The Dieffensor, jointly developed with sensor manufacturer GreCon to detect lumps or foreign bodies in the mat before the CPS thus protecting the valuable steel belts, is a vital part of this whole concept, says Dieffenbacher. Current design speed of such lines is 1500-2000mm/second and the range of board thicknesses they can produce starts from 1.8mm. A line for a rather different type of product is being offered by the forming division of Dieffenbacher. Normally producing presses for moulding metals and plastics, the division has turned its attention to hot press moulded wood chips and resin in the Werzalit process to produce pallet components; it has supplied presses to Werzalit licensees for some time but is now allowed to approach certain markets directly. On the subject of the ever-increasing length of continuous presses, Mr Natus feels that, while it may be possible to produce shorter presses for the exclusive production of thin board, with customers looking at 3,000m3/day lines for a range of panel thicknesses, presses will have to be a minimum of 50m long.
Dieffenbacher has already supplied a particleboard line to Romania which is achieving almost 3,000m3 a day on a 58m-long press. "Anyway, to double the capacity of a mill does not mean doubling the cost," advised Mr Natus. "A 20% longer press is not 20% more expensive. Yes, a pre-heater is an alternative to a press extension on an existing press for regular MDF or particleboard, but for a new mill, it is far better to go for a longer press in the first place." Dieffenbacher attaches great importance to its ability to supply complete plants from woodyard to finished product from the one source and has many references in that field. All that is likely to change in the future is the closeness of the relationship between this 133 year-old Eppingen-based company and the manufacture of all the pieces in that jigsaw puzzle, both at home and abroad.