Low cost, durability and eco-friendliness – these three factors mainly have propelled a rapid growth of the market for particle board amid surging demand for wood-alternative furniture and interior designing.
The use of particle board, made of wood chips or jute stick chips, in interior decoration, furniture, door and door frames, partitions, false ceilings, shelves and panels at homes and offices has gone up significantly over the last few years.
Industry insiders say the burgeoning market has been growing at 18%-20% per annum since 2015.
Some 15-20 companies have stepped in with massive investments amounting to Tk10,000 crore to cash in on growing demand for particle boards, they also say, adding that there are also more than 300 small entrepreneurs engaged in manufacturing such boards.
The annual sales have also crossed the Tk5,000 crore mark, they note.
Akij Group has recently set up its state-of-the-art plant, which is also the largest in South Asia, at a cost of over Tk1,000 crore for manufacturing modern particle boards in Mymensingh's Trishal.
Khourshed Alam, director (Sales & Marketing, Particle Board & Ceramics) at Akij Group, said, "We are now planning to set up our third plant as we have got very good response since our second plant came into production."
He hopes that the particle board industry will continue to grow in the future as it is cheaper, eco-friendly than timbers and furniture made from it has more durability.
Wastage of timber and jute sticks apart, unnecessary tree branches are also used as major ingredients for manufacturing particle board, which is creating an additional source of income for marginalised people, he noted.
Akij built its second factory on more than 100 acres of land in Trishal in 2017 to produce particle board. The factory, built entirely based on German technology, can produce 25 crore square feet of particle boards a year.
They procure tree branches from all over the country and process them in the factory. At present, more than 2,000 people are working directly in the factory.
Khorshed Alam said, "The boards they manufacture from mahogany, raintree, akashmoni and chambal tree branches using state-of-the-art technology are more durable than wood."
In 1962, Star Particle Board Mills Ltd, a concern of Partex Star Group, was the first factory in Bangladesh, which started producing jute-based particle boards. The same group also pioneered the manufacturing of wood-based particle boards in 2006.
Other major manufacturers that followed are TK Group's Superboard, Star Particle Board Mills, Super Particle Board Mills, MRS Industries, Amber Boards, Multi Panels, Woodland Plywood & Particle Board Mills, Bengal Plywood Mills, Otobi, Diamond Particle Board Mills, and Maya Particle Board Mills.
The labour-intensive sector has also created jobs for more than 25,000 people.
Md Shibbir Hossain, head of Business Development of Partex Star Group, said their particle boards are bug repellent and last longer than wooden ones as they apply a special chemical while manufacturing.
"We are also exporting jutex boards abroad after meeting local demand," he added.
Shibbir Hossain also said particle boards manufactured in the country are melamine, ply board, plain board, veneered board, and PVC board. MDF board is imported from Malaysia.
Local companies cater to 80% of domestic demand, while the remaining 20% demand is met through imports. The annual demand for particle boards is 80 crore square feet.
If social forestry increases, the amount of imports from abroad will come down further, he pointed out, adding that the use of wood has reduced by 60% thanks to the rapid growth of the particle board industry.
The furniture sector consumes 55% of particle boards, while 45% of those are used in housing and corporate sectors.
The furniture making raw material
All companies now produce furniture directly with veneered boards and most of them also apply lacquer on boards.
Shahriar Zaman, manager for marketing of Akij Particle Board Mills, claimed that most Malaysian or Canadian wood furniture available in the local market are made from local wood-based particle boards.
Selim H Rahman, president of Bangladesh Furniture Industries Owners Association, said, "Particle boards are now being used as raw materials for making furniture. The particle board market, which is working as a backward linkage for us, is growing in line with the furniture sector."