PG Bison ramps up eMkhondo investment

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PG Bison’s latest investments in its eMkhondo operations, valued at R560 million, will increase the plant’s capacity by 25%.

PG Bison (Pty) Ltd is a proudly South African company that aims to inspire and enable beautiful living spaces. In 2020, the leading manufacturer of decorative wood-based panel products announced a R2 billion capital investment to be rolled out over the following three years. This includes a major capacity expansion to PG Bison’s existing facilities in eMkhondo (Piet Retief), Mpumalanga, as well as an additional new medium density fibreboard (MDF) plant at the same location.

PG Bison is part of KAP Industrial Holdings Limited, a diversified industrial group consisting of industrial, chemical and logistics businesses that employ more than 19 000 people. The investments into the eMkhondo projects will aim to solidify PG Bison’s position as an industry leader in its chosen markets.

The first phase of the upgrades at eMkhondo commenced in 2015, with the installation of the German Siempelkamp ContiRoll press. According to Francois Pienaar, PG Bison Lead Project Manager “The first project of R500 million involved replacing the old forming press, and the cooling, stacking and sanding lines.  Additionally, we installed and commissioned second melamine faced board (MFB) line, with a capacity of 18,000 square metres a day. We were also able to ensure we optimise the use of raw materials through improving the pressing process.”

The completion of the second MFB line has provided PG Bison with significantly increased capacity to service market demand with its MelaWood, SupaGloss and Formica LifeSeal Worktop products.

Furthermore, in late 2019, the company commissioned a refurbished Siempelkamp short-cycle press. “The refurbishment was managed completely in-house by the PG Bison project team,” says Pienaar. “This included all the electrical cabinets, the design of the SCADA control system, the pneumatics, the hydraulics – basically a complete rebuild. We also performed the installation and fitted the line with three Kuka robots for out-feed and inspection. To our knowledge, it’s the only roboticized MFB line in the world.”

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Upgrades are currently underway, and more in the works

Pienaar says the project team is now busy with the complete replacement of its preparation line for the eMkhondo plant. This includes state-of-the-art Austrian Büttner energy plant and driers, screening equipment, a new flaker, and new conveyor systems. The project is due for completion in early 2022 and will result in a 25% capacity increase at the plant. The value of the project is R560 million.

Pienaar says PG Bison has now received approval from its shareholder, KAP Industrial Holdings Limited, for the next stage in the eMkondo development, which entails building an additional medium density fibre (MDF) plant. Pending utility supply and various regulatory approvals, the project will commence in 2022 and is expected to be completed by mid-2024. Justin Berry, Sales & Marketing Executive at PG Bison, says the capital investment project and the localisation opportunities it will create have been positively received by the government at all levels. “A total of R1.85 billion will be invested in this new plant. Currently, we produce 400 cubic metres per day at our MDF plant in Boksburg. When the additional eMkhondo plant comes online, our capacity will be increased by 200%, with an additional 800 cubic metres per day of MDF. This will give PG Bison a total installed capacity on MDF of 1 200 cubic metres per day between our two MDF plants. We believe the impact of these investments will be significant, contributing to the creation of direct and indirect jobs, as well as skills and enterprise development, and further local partnerships.”

A focus on in-house skills

The Büttner equipment for the new energy plant and driers are being installed by a team from SGS Industrial Services, an Austrian-headquartered global industrial service provider, and the remainder of the project will again be handled by PG Bison’s in-house project team.

“We’ve manufactured over 500 tonnes of platework for this project between our own workshops in Boksburg and eMkhondo,” says Pienaar.

PG Bison has strategically developed its own project management capabilities to allow for major upgrades to be undertaken internally. “We have a dedicated, experienced workshop manager, and our workshops can manage everything from detailing design procurement to the quality of throughputs from the workshops, supported by the detailing draughtsman,” says Pienaar. “We’ve also invested in our own state-of-the-art workshop equipment and software packages, with competent operators. There is a massive skills shortage and generation gap in South Africa, but at PG Bison, we’ve been working to bridge that gap by investing in our own teams, both at plants and within project teams. It takes time to build skills and resources, but we’ve always understood that for the sake of our own long-term sustainability, we must train young people.”