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Engineered wood creates new hardware & assembly options.

System 32 construction and RTA furniture are some of the developments largely linked to Engineered Wood refinements.

It must have been frustrating, says one hardware supplier, reflecting back on the early days when users of man-made panels tried to get the same results from hardware designed for solid wood use. Today there is no reason to settle for less than perfection when it comes to selecting functional hardware, fasteners and assembly systems. The panel industry has evolved and so have the options made available by industry suppliers.

Jim Wilson, product engineer for Georgia-Pacific Corp. in Atlanta, explains that in its infancy, particleboard was primarily used as a core stock with lumber banding or as 3- or 5-ply material with a veneer or high-pressure laminate face. Its primary use was as a top or end part. Today's Engineered Wood applications are those plus cabinetry and furniture drawer fronts and doors. Assembly systems have changed to keep pace with the new improved Engineered Wood products and uses.

"Today particleboard has to have a surface with integrity suitable for micro-laminate applications and to accept the hardware systems used by RTA manufacturers to put cases together," Wilson says. "The edging material is much thinner than 10 years ago. The machinability of particleboard has changed along with the particle geometry. Today you can machine a profile on particleboard and use a hot foil transfer over the profile. Four years ago we would only consider doing work like that on MDF. So you have a combination of face improvement and edge integrity improvement plus improved overall physical properties," says Wilson.

Wilson adds that new hardware developments put greater demand on the holding power of Engineered Wood. With the improvements in machinability of particleboard, a face hole can be drilled with a much cleaner cut and within tighter specifications for inserting hardware.

"Before, particleboard had a tendency to be more coarse and tear outs happened when the panels were machined. With engineered products more uniform, you get physical properties that are very predictable and that has allowed for greater design freedom and the boom in RTA applications," Wilson says. "MDF hasn't changed so much in structure, but the biggest changes are in the manufacturing process and techniques of manufacturing. The product has been improved by reducing the variability of it. MDF's physical properties are much more predictable."

Fastener considerations

Steven Gumbiner, president of Equality Screw Co. in El Cajon, Calif., says he thinks the improvements in particleboard and MDF have helped attract a much wider audience among furniture and cabinet manufacturers. "The panels are easy to laminate, of better quality and are a good value for the money," says Gumbiner.

"Particleboard and MDF are widely accepted today but they demand their own special hardware. Someone still using a steel metal screw is going to think he's getting great performance when it holds 50 percent of the time," Gumbiner says, adding that person has a lot to learn about the fasteners that have been developed specially for panel use.

Gumbiner explains that it is not possible to get the same results using products designed for solid wood with particleboard and MDF. "Particleboard and MDF are man-made. If you take a magnifying glass to particleboard, you'll see the unique structure of the panel with its voids. To work with panels, fasteners are designed with wide-spaced, deep threads to go into the panel and pick up the voids and create its own grooves. If you tried to use a conventional fine-thread screw, most of it would go in but then spin out because the pitch isn't deep enough. A proper panel screw literally creates its own ledges in the particleboard and holds every single time. The fastener can be taken out and put in again and again and it will hold the same on the 10th, 15th and 20th time," Gumbiner says.

Gumbiner says his company sells literally millions of deep thread 1/2-inch screws specifically designed for panels each month. "When you use the right screw, you get clean instead of messy jagged holes. And you get excellent hold; spin outs are history," he says.

Karl-Heinz Kraft, product and marketing manager for Hafele America in Archdale, N.C., points to the cam-type connector as a major fastener development. "The cam connectors have replaced surface mounted connectors, cleats, staples, glue and wood dowels," Kraft says. "Using cam connectors with particleboard and MDF, allows the use of automated flat panel production processes which are extremely efficient. Plants run panels from receiving to shipping on conveyors and the panels are worked on along the way to a finished product, put in a box and shipped." Kraft adds flat panel production is especially beneficial for manufacturing ready-to-assemble furniture.

Panel boom spawns 32mm system

The 32mm system, a popular European concept for high-production manufacturing of cabinets and case goods, might never have evolved if not for improvements in panel quality, says Marte Yerkins of Julius Blum Inc.

Yerkins says the system 32 method of construction has accounted for a variety of new hardware options for panel users. For drawer slides, for example, special holes are made to accommodate screws with deeper threads. He says these system screws give a better grip and will not strip out because they are designed to grab the particleboard or MDF.

Yerkins says the new developments in hardware coincide with the increasingly sophisticated offerings using panels. "New hinges have been designed for special applications using bifold doors and doors with glass inserts. Mini-hinges and concealed hinges with a smaller cup are also available."

An RTA innovation

Bruce Keller of O'Sullivan Industries in Lamar, Kan., says his company is living proof that particleboard and MDF have gained respectability in the furniture and cabinetry industry. O'Sullivan, a subdivision of Tandy Corp. and member of the PB/MDF Institute, manufactures RTA furniture for virtually every room of the home and office. That translates to 75,000 to 100,000 pieces of furniture per week.

Keller agrees that the improved panels have created new solutions in fastening and assembly. His company is currently introducing four new pieces with a radically different assembly concept. "We hired someone who held the patent for hook and loop fastening, the generic term for Velcro, to develop a new fastening concept for some of our RTA desks, credenzas and bookcases," Keller says.

Keller says the pieces were debuted at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in New Orleans and were shown at the Fall 1992 International Furniture Market in High Point, N.C. "It is user-friendly assembly, something needed in the RTA field. Sales have been affected in the past by people's reluctance to do self assembly. Anyone who has put together a swing set can testify that RTA can test one's patience to the limit. The hook and loop assembly is quick and not so intimidating," Keller says.

Keller further explains that there are various types of Velcro-like fasteners from the type found on children's shoes to the permanent bond that a tractor couldn't pull apart. For some furniture assembly applications, hook and loop can be used in place of metal fasteners -- screws and cams.

"Our driving force has been to offer ease of assembly rather than cost motivation. From a manufacturing standpoint, this technology is more expensive. But we think it will help upscale our product and price points and overcome consumer reluctance. RTA furniture is kind of at the baby stage in this country. Our research shows, though, that while RTA furniture was once viewed as rather inexpensive, it now has a better image and is attracting a more upscale buyer."


"A panel user is the customer of both the panel manufacturer and its related suppliers. With full bilateral cooperation and satisfaction between manufacturer and supplier, the PB/MDF Institutes provides the unique forum to further this mutual benefit."

--Earl T. McCarthy, McCarthy Products Co.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Previous Article:High-tech panel processing follows panel improvements.
Next Article:Engineering design creativity.

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