Green fingers for the wood business

Green fingers for the wood business

"It was not easy. It is always difficult to start a business, more so when venturing into something new," recalled Kuo Jen Chiu, executive director of Evergreen, an integrated producer of engineered wood-based products from medium-density fiberboards (MDF) made from residual rubberwood.

"The biggest challenge was to make it known that MDF is indeed a product with numerous uses."

The company's range of MDF products includes materials for building interiors such as walls and ceiling, paneling and doors as well as for profiling, joinery and millwork applications like furniture mouldings.

It also used MDF to make household items such as picture frames, hi-fidelity speaker boxes, snooker tables, furniture and fixtures such as computer stands, bedroom sets, cupboards and drawers and automotive products like the interior parts of cars.

The company's history lies in the Incorporation of Evergreen Timber in Singapore in 1972, by Kuo Wen Chi, father to Jen chiu and his brother Jen Chang Evergreen Timber's principal activities were manufacturing of fancy veneer plywood and trading of timber logs. In 1977, as part of its expansion, Dawa Timber was established in Pasir Gudang, Johor with similar principal activities.

Speaking during a tour of the factory in Batu Pahat, Jen Chiu explained that until the end of the 1980s MDF was still new to the wood-based panel industry.

"But we (Jen Chang and Himself) foresaw the potential for MDF - in replacing plywood as a substrate of veneering products. We then set up Evergreen Décor Products, to focus on the manufacturing of veneer door panels and product utilizing MDF."
In 1991, the company decide to venture into producing rubberwood MDF and set up it's first production line and downstream facilities in Batu Pahat with an initial investment of RM150 million. The company later expanded its operations further to include the production of knockdown wooden furniture.

Evergreen, in 2003, started on particleboard production. The Kuo borthers decided to acquire Siam Fibreboard, a MDF producer based in Thailand, as part of their plan to market to other parts of Asia.

Besides the factory and head office in Batu Pahat, Evergreen has three other production facilities in Johor - two in Pasir Gudang and one in Segamat.

Jen Chiu says the decision to venture into the manufacturing of MDF proved to be wise as the demand for the product has increased dramatically over the years. "We believe in hands-on management, getting involved in every step. The MDF process is rather complicated and out approach solves challenges quickly and efficiently, maximizing employee performance," he added.

The bold move to branch out into downstream products (apart from veneer lamination) such as paper foil overlay, coating paint and subsequently, melaine and knockdown furniture, also paid off, he says. Knockdown furniture, In particular, Is making a steady growth, contributing five per cent to the group's revenue.

"We had to endure sleepless nights at home to ensure the engineering and production teams got the machine repaired. Through constant investment and development, with the help of our committed workforce and a strong dedication to quality and commitment to total customer satisfaction, we hope to achieve new heights."

Evergreen has a three-pronged mission, among which is to produce environmentally-friendly, quality MDF products through a well managed afforestation programme.

Jen Chang says that the company is adopting a "maximum waste approach". The zero waste factor emphasis also involves utilizing small-diameter rubberwood branches which were usually left to rot or burn.

"We are using waste from the rubber plantations such as the twigs and branches. Ten or 15 years ago, they would have been burnt."
"The waste produced throughout the process - like when we skin the tree bark - is used for the boiler to generate heat and to run our dryer and press. We are using it as fuel."

Evergreen is enroute for listing on the main board of Bursa Malaysia Bhd. It has 374 clients in 40 countries including the United States, Vietnam, China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Jordan.

- New Straits Times, February 18, 2005