While news in the last year was dominated by the pandemic, you might have missed the quiet explosion in innovations related to engineered wood panel products. New materials, surfaces, and other technology are transforming how panels are made, what they can do, and ultimately how manufacturers and fabricators look at panel products.
Here’s a quick round-up of some significant trends and new developments in panels and surfaces that we are watching.
Corn, rice waste, not wood?
For decades, the standard source of material for engineered panels was wood waste in a variety of forms, but millions of dollars is now going into plants to manufacture panels from agricultural waste products such as corn stalks, and rice waste.
CornBoard is an environmentally friendly wood substitute made from corn stover, the plant debris left in the field after corn is harvested. CornBoard Manufacturing recently announced plans to build a $15 million, 50,000 square foot plant in northwest Iowa to manufacture panels of CornBoard.
Initially, they will be making CornBoard for pallets, but other products targeted include skateboards, surfboards, and outdoor furniture.
"Every day at least 8 million trees are deforested," says company founder and CEO Lane Segerstrom. "By utilizing the vast supply of corn stover that remains after corn harvest, we can save many millions of trees each year by reducing the need to harvest our forests for pressed board products."
A similar venture has just come online in California but using rice straw instead of corn waste. CalPlant has officially launched Eureka - the world's first commercially produced, no-added-formaldehyde, rice straw-based MDF.
“This is a defining moment for the CalPlant family and the industry as a whole. Decades of work have brought us to this day as we launch Eureka.” said Jerry Uhland, CalPlant founder and CEO. He says the material is engineered to match the performance of traditional wood-based MDF in machinability, paintability and strength. At full capacity, the plant will be able to produce more than 150 million square feet annually (3/4" basis) and use up 280,000 tons of rice straw. All required fiber is procured from a 25-mile radius of the plant. It could potentially supply 30 percent of the MDF demand in California.
Look Ma, no fingerprints!
Several panel manufacturers have developed products that promise to resist fingerprints and smudges. Two of note are from Wilsonart and Tafisa.
Wilsonart’s Traceless brand laminate boasts a “unique fingerprint-resistant technology” designed to ensure smears, smudges and streaks are seldom seen. The company describes the texture of the surface as “smooth and silky.” Wilsonart claims the product is “easy-to-clean, highly durable, and repairable surface with heat, impact, and scratch resistance.” Suggested uses are for countertops, cabinets, and flat panel doors with matching edgebanding.
In Canada, Tafisa recently completed construction of a 6,500-square-meter (70,000-square-foot) facility to produce a new LUMMIA line of “luxury lacquered panels.” The $42 million project, included installation of European finishing technology, which Tafisa said is the “first of its kind” in North America and will produce panels that are resistant to fingerprints, micro scratches, and UV rays.
Initial launch of the product features 19 solid colors and prints in two finishes: High Gloss and Perfect Matt.
With all the health concerns raised through the pandemic, it is no surprise that manufacturers are seeing renewed interest in anti-microbial products. One recent entrant in that category for panel products is RhinoCoat antimicrobial prefinished panels from Timber Products Co. The panels are treated with a BioCote silver ion preservative specifically formulated to mitigate the growth of certain microbes to protect the structural integrity of the panels, according to the company.
RhinoCoat antimicrobial panels are designed to inhibit the growth of microbes such as bacteria and fungus that might cause odor, degradation, discoloration, decay and staining of the panels. Timber Products’ test results show up to 99.999 percent of the microbe load was reduced by the silver ion additive. The coating is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency for its properties that protect the panel surface from microbes.
These panels are finished using a UV curing technology to apply the preservative to the panels. The UV curing technology remains one of the most environmentally conscious ways to finish the panel with no formaldehyde and no harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), according to the company.
New manufacturing capacity
Across North America, new composite panel product manufacturing plants have been coming online, showing the continued growth in the use of these materials for countertops, cabinetry, furniture, and other products.
According to Andy O’Hare, president of the Composite Panel Association, “The North American composite panel sector has been experiencing massive investments in both new, greenfield facilities and upgrades to existing facilities. The facilities that have come online in the last year or so are state-of-the-art and mark the expansion of European and South American manufacturers into the North American market. These facilities include Kronospan in Eastaboga, Alabama; Egger in Lexington, North Carolina; Swiss Krono in Barnwell, South Carolina; and Arauco in Grayling, Michigan.”
He also noted the CalPlant facility in Willows, California, which was mentioned at the beginning of this report. He said, together these new facilities represent 30 percent of the U.S. particleboard and 23 percent of the U.S. MDF production in 2020 (20 percent and 14 percent respectively, for North America).
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