To Build magazine is proud to feature Sonae Arauco on its cover. This international company has shown great confidence in the South African building scene via a recent major investment in Mpumalanga.

The history of Sonae Arauco

Sonae Arauco was established in 2016 through an alliance between two of the industry’s international top brands  – Sonae Indústria and Arauco. Sonae Arauco is a partnership created with the sole objective of becoming the number one international supplier of sustainable wood-based panels, offering customers the best in industrial knowledge, functionality, quality, design and price.

Sonae Indústria was founded in 1959 in Maia, north of Portugal, and quickly became acclaimed as a producer of high-quality decorative wood-based panels which were specially developed for use in the furniture, building and decoration industries. As a producer of wood-based decorative panels, Sonae Indústria insisted on using its natural resource, wood, in a sustainable way to minimise its impact on the environment. Sonae Indústria continued to expand throughout Portugal, becoming a leader in the particleboard sector, and eventually expanding internationally by acquiring a particleboard company in the UK.

Arauco, a producer and manager of renewable forestry resources, was founded in Chile in 1970. It has increased and enhanced its forestry plantations through research and applying the best practices in terms of sustainability and the conservation of trees, soil and biodiversity. Today, Arauco has set a benchmark in terms of forestry and industrial plants, efficiency, production standards, innovation, environmental responsibility and social commitment.

In 2016, when Sonae Indústria and Arauco formed their strategic partnership of Sonae Arauco, Arauco was one of the largest forestry product suppliers in the world. Today, Sonae Indústria, in addition to this partnership, owns the largest particle board industrial plant in North America, as well as plants for high-pressure laminates in both Portugal and Germany.

Today, Sonae Arauco is proud to say that it is one of the largest decorative wood-based panel producers in the world and has distinguished itself as a benchmark brand, with over 20 industrial and commercial units in nine countries and on two continents, including its brand new factory in White River, South Africa. While its wood-based decorative panels are already sold in over 75 countries around the world, Sonae Arauco still continue to expand its reach and take wood further.

Timber and forestry

Sonae Arauco’s Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) and particleboard form the basis of its range of wood-based decorative panels.

To give you a better idea of where and how Sonae Arauco source its timber, Gavin Burnhams, Sonae Arauco‘s timber specialist, responds to questions on the acquisition process. 

What is the background of the timber that Sonae Arauco uses to make its boards?

Sonae Arauco SA (Pty) Ltd is a niche consumer of raw material timber in that we have the flexibility to use 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. About half of our intake is in the form of roundwood with the balance being a mix of residual sawmill products in various ratios, depending on availability.

Where does Sonae Arauco source its timber from?

Sonae South Africa does not own any of its own plantations and is therefore fully reliant on the primary and secondary processing industries for all of our raw material timber supply. Geographically, timber is sourced about 300km north and 300km south of our production facility in White River. Currently about 25 sawmills supply various residual products to Sonae Arauco.

What species of trees are used for timber?

The bulk of our timber species intake is a range of commercial eucalyptus species with the lesser portion being Pinus species.

How does Sonae Arauco contribute to the local timber industry?

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

How do you transport your timber?

Sonae Arauco makes use of a variety of independent haulers as we do not own our own fleet.

Are there any silvicultural requirements for your particle and fibre boards, e.g. tree breeding and hybrids, age of logs and log dimensions?

Essentially, we have a very tolerant production process which largely eliminates most of the biophysical timber properties through conversion to a precision engineered wood product. Our specifications allow for logs from 5cm to 55cm in diameter – the biggest challenge is to present a consistent log density profile to the production process. This entails a calculated mix of juvenile, intermediate and mature timber profiles.

As a global entity we are fully aware of climate impacts and have positioned ourselves as fully compliant to all environmental legislative requirements as well as being fully FSC compliant with the primary objective of only purchasing timber from sustainable renewable resources. We are also ISO 9001 / 14001 / 18001 compliant with valid certification.

The White River Factory

Just over a year ago Sonae Arauco completed the upgrade to its state-of-the-art factory in White River, Mpumalanga, which included the installation of a world-class Dieffenbacher melamine press to expedite production and produce boards of an exceptionally high quality to meet growing demands.

29 November 2019 was a proud day for Sonae Arauco when it unveiled its R220 million upgraded factory in White River, accompanied by much fanfare with distinguished guests from South Africa and overseas in attendance. The opening was featured at the Investment Conference November 2020.

The MEC for Finance and Economic Development and Tourism, The Honourable Pat Ngomane, graced Sonae Arauco with his presence and endorsement to grow local development and acknowledged the growth and impact that this investment will have on the local economy.

Environmental practices and accreditations

As a global entity, Sonae Arauco will remain deeply committed to maintaining its high standards of sustainable projects and environmental practices:

  • By continually endorsing the standards of permitted formaldehyde emissions in its products to maintain its E1 Certification. (Sonae Arauco continue with its mission to find ways of reducing formaldehyde emissions even further or by eliminating it completely).
  • By acquiring its wood from suppliers who practise forestry in an environmentally responsible and socially beneficial way and who are certified through two of the largest forest management and responsibility chain certification systems: the PEFC™ (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes) and the FSC® (Forestry Stewardship Council®).

Health & safety commitment

Sonae Arauco consider the safety and well-being of its employees as a priority as they form the backbone of the company and help take it further every day. In order to support its employees and their goals, Sonae Arauco place huge focus on creating a comfortable environment that facilitates their professional and personal development. To ensure the continued well-being of all of its employees, Sonae Arauco have taken the following steps to improve their experience:

  • An increased focus on risk reduction in order to ensure that Sonae Arauco prevent accidents, injuries and occupational diseases.
  • Ensuring the safety of our employees in its factories and workplaces, especially when handling equipment.
  • Offering employee training and encouraging their participation in academic programmes.
  • Committing to strive continuously to improve all of these processes.

Sonae Arauco South Africa (Pty) Ltd

T :+27 (0)11 236 1400



Gavin Burnhams Sonae Arauco Timber Specialist

This article was published in partnership with Media Xpose.

5 + 10 =

WhatsApp chat