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Wood-Based Composites Center Supports Continuous Improvement Efforts

Published in PanelWorld, March 2012

March 9, 2012 – Do you know what’s going on inside your blending equipment at this very moment? Is it operating at peak performance? If not, do you know how to make it better? Of course, if it were easy to optimize your blending process, you would have done so already. Whether you apply adhesives using a blender, blow-line or roll-coater, optimization remains a mystery to most, and without dedicated effort and resources, plant technical folks must continue to do the best they can to optimize their resin application process.
Members of the Wood-Based Composites Center (WBC) have a different take on improving the manufacture and performance of composite wood products. They believe that sustainable, long-term improvement is rooted in fundamental research and effective networking. The National Science Foundation (NSF) agrees, and recently awarded the WBC the funds to establish an NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC). Under the NSF model, the WBC has placed its industry members firmly at the center of industry advancement.
The WBC conducts industry-driven research, and it provides an exclusive technical forum for networking with competitors, customers and universities. Members are involved in developing research agendas; they make funding decisions, and they guide research projects that provide a path toward continuous improvement. And they do this at significantly reduced university overhead rates. Currently there are eight WBC-funded research projects under way at the Center’s four partner universities—Oregon State, Virginia Tech, the University of Maine and the University of British Columbia. Topics range from understanding resin blending and resin distribution, to the micromechanics of bond performance, to documenting native formaldehyde emissions from wood, and how native emissions naturally vary.


Jesee Paris, Ph.D. candidate Jesse Paris, Ph.D. candidate and WBC student at Oregon State University (Dept. of Wood Science and Engineering)


Sara Knowles, Ph.D. candidate Sara Knowles, Ph.D. candidate and WBC student at the University of Maine (Chemistry Department)

At Virginia Tech, WBC Director and Professor Charles Frazier and Ph.D. candidate Xing Yang are studying the impact of filler particle size on adhesive penetration and performance in veneer bonding. They evaluate adhesion using fracture testing and they determine adhesive penetration using fluorescence microscopy. By combining these techniques they hope to provide new insights into the performance of plywood and laminated veneer lumber.
Across the continent, at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Professor Greg Smith and his team are working to help OSB producers optimize resin distribution and efficiency in the rotary drum blender. They are developing computer simulations of the blending process and studying the impact of various blender characteristics on blending performance. WBC Managing Director Linda Caudill comments, “The student working on this project, Ingrid Tsai, tells me that her regular interaction with WBC members has been invaluable to her, and to the success of her project. I hear the same thing from our members; that they benefit greatly by working directly with our students. The system seems a win-win for everyone.”
No one can afford to ignore the recent and pending changes in formaldehyde emission regulations in the United States. But as emission limits are reduced, how are we going to account for the formaldehyde that naturally emits from wood, and how this native emission varies by species and processing history? WBC research at the University of Maine is looking at these issues, with a goal of first understanding how much native formaldehyde exists in wood, and how it is formed. Chemistry Professor Barbara Cole and Ph.D. candidate Sara Knowles continue to work on this topic with regular and direct input from center members.
How long will it be before the structural composites sector comes under a similar level of scrutiny as the nonstructural industry? WBC members believe it is necessary to be prepared with solid scientific data and techniques to prepare for what lies ahead for formaldehyde emissions regulation. The NSF supports this approach, recently awarding Dr. Frazier a supplemental grant to complement the work already being conducted at Maine. “This is an intensive effort that we believe is critical to the long-term success of the industry,” Frazier says.
Consider the fact that every time you make a change to your adhesive or raw material, you are changing the way resin is distributed on your furnish. You are changing the way it penetrates into the wood. You may even be changing the way your product performs when it’s further processed and put into service. Think about the resin changes you’ve made in just the past 10 years, then ask yourself how you are preparing for the future; how you will maintain your market share and compete in a continuously changing industry. Consider visiting with a WBC member to learn how they are benefitting from their membership, and how the research they support is, in turn, supporting improvements in their businesses



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