Rubberwood processing company in India expands on thin kerf band saw
The quality cutting and high-yield of Wood-Mizer's 'workhorse' LT40 sawmill have provided an essential starting point for the top grade rubberwood manufactured by India's Gomma Wood Products.
Walking into the office of James Kutty, founder and managing director of Gomma Wood Products Pvt Ltd, in Kottayam it is impossible not to notice the fine rubberwood flooring, a new product line which the company started manufacturing this year.
Established in 1992, Gomma Wood has built up considerable experience and expertise in processing rubberwood and has used this knowledge to add increasing value to the raw material. As a result, the company has been able to move into higher-end and more profitable markets in India and overseas.
"In India there is growing interest and demand for wood flooring compared with traditional products such as marble and granite", explains James Kutty.
"We have been manufacturing and supplying rubberwood laminated boards for many years and now we are adding more value by producing finished flooring.
"Of course, to achieve quality end-products you have to start with accurately sawn and properly seasoned wood", he adds.
Over the years, regular investment has been made in drying and treatment facilities and a state-of-the-art factory at Gomma Wood's Kottayam facility. For cutting rubberwood logs, the company currently uses the mid-range Wood-Mizer LT40, acquired last year.
"We currently saw around eight tonnes of logs per shift", says James Kutty.
"The LT40 cuts accurately and delivers a good surface, which is important for our subsequent processing and which offers good productivity and yield".
James Kutty founded the company after purchasing a 33-acre rubberwood plantation in Kottayam. Rubber trees are tapped for rubber after seven years' growth and remain productive for around 20 years, after which they are felled and the area replanted. As a result, plantations provide a regular, sustainable source of timber.
Gomma Wood started with eight employees operating a small sawmill with traditional Indian machinery, as well as two drying kilns and preservative treatment facilities and initially supplied treated rough sawn wood to the local construction industry. After a few years it became clear that this was not viable long-term because of low profit margins in this market, so the company began producing furniture components in the form of seasoned scantlings, planed all four sides for export to Italy.
In 1998 the next step to added-value processing was taken, with investment in finger-jointing and edge-gluing machinery so that the company could manufacture rubberwood panels for the furniture industry in India and abroad.
With annual production of around 6,000m3 of processed rubberwood from its own and other plantations, James Kutty was keen to find a better way to saw the logs. During a visit to the Ligna international woodworking machinery exhibition in Germany, he had seen Wood-Mizer's LT band sawmills demonstrated.
"I then went to Austria to meet a customer who was using an 'LT' to cut pine and was impressed with the machine and the quality of the sawn wood. It was then a matter of working with Wood-Mizer and its Indian agent, HBR Consultants of Bangalore to see how to use the sawmill to cut rubberwood and make profit".
The business continued to grow successfully, with 75% of production going to customers in Europe, the USA and Asia. Then, more sawing capacity was needed. At the IndiaWood exhibition in Bangalore in 2008 an order was placed for the Wood-Mizer LT40 sawmill.
"In my opinion the LT40 is the best machine for cutting rubberwood because of the optional debarker which removes stones, mud and thick bark from the log before each pass of the bandsaw blade. In addition, the LubeMizer automatic lubrication system keeps the blades free of sap.
"The machine works three shifts, 24 hours a day, six days a week, cutting 30-40cm diameter logs all of 2.7m (9ft) length. In addition to the accurate cut and good surface finish, we are achieving a recovery rate from the log of up to 60% whereas with traditional Indian saws we only achieved maximum 40% recovery", adds James Kutty.
Increasing the yield of sawn timber means less waste and therefore greater utilisation of the log, which fits well with Gomma Wood's overall message of manufacturing eco-friendly products from sustainable timber. The accuracy and surface finish are equally important to the top grade production of the company, which is accredited to ISO9001 international quality management standard.
A key feature of Wood-Mizer's sawmills is the use of thin kerf narrow bandsaw blades, which ensure that less valuable timber is lost as sawdust. As the only sawmill manufacturer that also makes bandsaw blades, Wood-Mizer is able to offer blades that deliver optimum performance on its own machines and other makes of sawmill.
All machines are designed for ease of operation and maintenance, together with robust construction of the carriage and moving bandsaw head for accuracy over a long service life even in arduous climates.
The LT40 is a proven sawmill with thousands of installations worldwide. Available with a range of control, log handling and power options - diesel, petrol and electric - as well as bed extensions, the machine can be configured to suit customers' requirements for cutting logs up to 90cm diameter. At Gomma Wood, a separate log deck is installed with a lifting transfer conveyor which together with the hydraulic log positioning arms and 'dogs' on the bed itself, make it easy for operators to load the sawmill for high production cutting.
"A few months ago we added the hold-down clamping system so that we can cut flat, accurate boards even with logs that have strong internal tension", reveals James Kutty.
"We change the bandsaw blade every two hours and are able to resharpen them up to 50 times. At the moment we are using Wood-Mizer's 9/29 profile blade because we have found this to be the best for rubberwood, which is quite hard with a density comparable to teak and also containinghard knots. However, we are also testing Wood-Mizer's new RazorTip blade which is Stellite-tipped, to see whether that will give even better performance", he adds.
Boards from the LT40 are processed through a ripsaw to the required width, preservative treated against fungal and insect attack as well as bluestain and then kiln dried - the company now has seven kilns on the site. After that the boards are planed, sorted by colour and grain, and then glued to produce laminated panels of various sizes.
Up to 90% of the company's production has been rubberwood panels, largely for export, but over the last two years demand from many parts of the world has fallen as a result of the global recession. Adding to this, there has also been an increase in low-priced competition on panels from other supplying countries.
In response, Gomma Wood is using its experience of panel manufacture to begin production of rubberwood flooring, for which a new market is emerging in India where the economy is out-performing those of many other countries. But flooring is only one part of the next stage of expansion.
"We already manufacture planed four sides rubberwood components for furniture, and next year we plan to start making office and household furniture", says James Kutty. "There will be standard designs, which we will sell through dealers, and we may also offer a bespoke service".
The company is also considering investing in Wood-Mizer's industrial SLP (small log processing) line. Rubberwood logs used at the moment are 2.7m long but there is plentiful supply of 1-1.2m (3-4ft) logs, which cost half the price of longer logs. According to James Kutty, the SLP line could provide an effective, efficient and profitable means of cutting these short logs into material for the packing case and pallet industry.
Gomma Wood has grown successfully from a company employing eight people to a business that now has 120 employees, by reacting swiftly to changing market conditions. Current and future plans could soon see the company covering both ends of the market - from palletwood to quality furniture.
Foto: James Kutty, founder and managing director of Gomma Wood Products Pvt Ltd (left) with James Wong, Wood-Mizer Regional Manager for Asia, in front of some of Gomma Wood's finished rubberwood panels in the large warehouse on the site
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