State-of-the-art technology at the Sonae Arauco board plant in White River.

Wood-based panel manufacturer Sonae Arauco has invested R220 million in upgrading its White River, Mpumalanga facility to include an integrated press system from a leading German supplier.

The significant investment in state-of-the-art technology is testament to Sonae Arauco’s commitment to South Africa, where the company has had a local presence since 2000. The upgrade allows the company to introduce innovative new materials to the local market from its latest Innovus collection.

The upgraded facility will also give the company the flexibility to press niche products on demand, in accordance with specific customer requirements.

Sonae White River processes raw product into particle board and medium-density fibre board (MDFB) that is then covered to produce melamine-faced board. Its main target markets are the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom segment for homeowners and construction, shopfitters and outfitters, and furniture manufacturers.

“Sonae Arauco SA is a niche consumer of raw material timber in that we have the flexibility to utilize formal forest products such as pulp logs as well as a diverse range of secondary processing by-products in the form of wood chips, sawdust and offcuts,” said Gordon Scott, Specification Manager at Sonae White River.

He said that about half of the factory’s intake is in the form of roundwood with the balance being a mix of residual sawmill products. Sonae does not own any of its own plantations in South Africa, and is fully reliant on the primary and secondary processing industries for all of its raw material timber.

Currently about 25 sawmills supply various residual products to Sonae White River. The company purchases approximately 240,000 dry tons of timber per annum, mainly eucalyptus as well as pine, depending on demand.

“We have the added advantage of being able to assist growers when disaster strikes in the form of fire, insects or diseases, in that our process allows for a fair level of raw material flexibility as we are well positioned to utilize timber that is conventionally not suited to other formal processes,” commented Gordon.

*First published in SA Forestry magazine, March 2020

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