Wood working07.09.2018

Thin plywood in production

Picture by Designer Michael Cuppage. Wooden bike made out of 21mm plywood by Flat Frame Systems. For more information, read the article at http://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/product-news/wooden-bikes-from-flat-frame-systems-27723

Picture by Designer Michael Cuppage. Wooden bike made out of 21mm plywood by Flat Frame Systems. For more information, read the article at http://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/product-news/wooden-bikes-from-flat-frame-systems-27723

The choice of materials has a big effect on overall production cost based on machinability, production flow, tool lifetime and work & safety issues. Furthermore, it also affects to moisture resistance and surface treatments. Gaining higher overall productivity requires choosing uniform and stable materials that behave predictably. Wood-based materials such as traditional plywood, MDF, or HDF rarely fulfil these criteria.

Sustainability of thin plywood compared to other materials

Traditional plywood, MDF, and HDF are popular material choices in many domains. However, their high resin content, which is also a source of formaldehyde, is not good for humans, animals, or nature. When cutting with laser, tropical woods like ceiba have good characteristics, but the sourcing of these woods does not usually meet sustainability criteria. In addition, tropical wood usually comes with a very distinct odor. Carbon fiber comes into the picture when weight is considered, but it has its disadvantages as well – it is stiff and lightweight, but it adds to non-disposable waste as compared to wood-based materials. Thus, sustainability is not carbon fiber’s strongest quality.

Koskisen’s thin plywood provides an answer to these demands: it is taint and odor free, safe to use in the manufacture of wooden toys, and is certified in accordance with EN 71-3. Koskisen’s thin plywood is sustainable wood of known, traceable Scandinavian origin. Because it is a wood-based material with non-toxic additives, thin plywood does not harm humans, animals, or nature and does not cause plastic pollution. Wood has the least impact on the environment as compared to plastic, metals, or resin-rich MDF. Wood and veneer store carbon and are recyclable; thus, wood is an ecologically sustainable and renewable resource.

The moisture properties of certain materials cause setup and operational problems in production and makes surface treatments difficult 

Although MDF and HDF are affordable materials with a uniform structure and are thus suitable for the production line, they possess certain characteristics that are not beneficial: they soak up water and other liquids like a sponge and swell. In addition, their composition does not hold screws and other fixtures well, making it difficult to use them for the creation of strong structures. As humidity changes the dimensions of these materials, the necessary setups and other adjustments to production equipment require extra work and production stoppages. MDF and HDF may swell and break when in contact with water, or shrink in low humidity environments, both of which cause problems. Each extra setup, adjustment, and production stoppage creates extra costs and lowers productivity. In addition, painting is complicated due to MDF and HDF not being able to tolerate the application of liquids.

Koskisen’s thin plywood provides a more stable solution for production: it is much more resistant to moisture, and because it is real wood instead of resin-based mass, it holds screws and fixtures well. Plenty of surface finishing and coloring alternatives are available for thin birch plywood – it can be finished with lacquer, wax, paint, or stain like any other wood surface, producing aesthetically pleasing results.

Work and safety issues when using MDF or HDF can be resolved with thin plywood

The machining of MDF and HDF results in an excessive amount of dust particles being released into the air, which can cause workplace safety and health issues. Dust also accumulates in the machinery, causing various problems, including production stoppages and the need for extra cleaning. Machining Koskisen’s thin plywood does not create as much dust, and because it is taint and odor free, there is no danger of toxic gases being released. MDF and HDF, on the other hand, are heavier and denser due to the presence of resins, which are a source of formaldehyde and may cause eye and lung irritations and aggravate allergies during the process of cutting and sanding.   

The features of certain materials limit their production possibilities and carry hidden costs

Making intricate parts, tips, and precise shapes out of MDF, HDF, or traditional plywood is difficult and often impossible. In contrast, the use of Koskisen’s thin plywood provides numerous additional possibilities for both part and production design. With Koskisen’s thin plywood there is no chipping or breaking even when producing precise shapes, tips, or intricate parts. This all leads to less or no scrap, fewer production stoppages, and a much higher yield – all of which greatly affect profitability.

In addition to their tendency to chipping and breaking, other production-related properties of MDF and HDF can result in extra costs. Dust accumulating in machinery has already been mentioned, but tooling is another point of concern. Cutting these heavy, dense, resin-containing materials makes severe demands on tools, resulting in shorter tool lifetimes. Expensive hard-metal tools with short lifetimes are needed, causing high tooling costs both in terms of initial tool price and production stoppages required to change tools. Furthermore, the glues used in MDF and HDF cause problems; for example, some glues require up to 4X more power to cut by laser.

Picture by Designer Michael Cuppage. Tubular structures made of thin plywood and carbon fiber. The thin plywood version is 50% lighter.

Picture by Designer Michael Cuppage. Tubular structures made of thin plywood and carbon fiber. The thin plywood version is 50% lighter.

Some little-known characteristics of thin plywood

Carbon fiber has the reputation of being a lightweight material. It is stiff and light and resistant to fatigue, but when it fails it usually fails catastrophically without any warning signs. Of course, thin plywood is not carbon fiber, but it has certain surprising characteristics, like being lightweight. The picture below shows two tubular structures; the one on the left is wooden and the one on the right is carbon fiber. The wooden structure is made by wrapping three layers of thin plywood in opposite directions, resulting in a structure that is 50% lighter than the carbon fiber tube.  

Another example of Koskisen’s thin plywood’s versatility is shown in the wooden, flat frame bicycle pictured below. The flat-frame system used requires no more than four pieces of wood. Computer-aided, CNC-based manufacturing allows the bicycle to be crafted to the rider’s specifications.


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Want to know more? Read more about Koskisen thin plywood products.