Wood & Panel

Olaf Plümer

 Thursday, January 13, 2022

Dr. Olaf Plümer, CEO igeL, the lightweight panel association, talks about the lightweight panels industry.

What are the latest developments in the lightweight panels industry?

Dr. Olaf Plümer: There are some really exciting projects, e.g. an Austrian company is currently developing a new concept for a lightweight fibreboard in cooperation with other partners. Thanks to their smart technology, the density within the boards can be adjusted according to the stress during usage. Thus the concentration of particles in the boards will be inhomogeneous: higher in some places and lower in others. That way up to 30 per cent material savings can be achieved. The market launch for this interesting product is scheduled for 2013.

What is the future of lightweight construction?

Dr. Olaf Plümer: Due to climbing timber prices the cost factor will be a striking argument in the future. Less material input can cut costs. Less weight also means better handling. Especially in view of an aging society and aging staff in the industry we will have to think of new strategies and this can help lightweight construction furniture. I think that hybrid concepts with a mix of conventional and lightweight materials are quite interesting, too, and will gain more importance in the market.

What is the biggest drawback of lightweight construction panels?

Dr. Olaf Plümer: At present some lightweight constructions still mean more investments and efforts in terms of process knowledge and mastering. It requires special machinery, tools and equipment such as fasteners, fixings, glues and fittings. Also, there is no official product norm for lightweight furniture yet, but that work is well underway with the help of our igeL partners.

Apart from the weight what features can be achieved from lightweight panels?

Dr. Olaf Plümer: Due to intelligent engineering solutions, lightweight construction is synonymous with significant value appreciation in the construction of furniture across the entire value chain”. Lightweight panels have allowed innovation in construction and furniture industries, such as:

• New wood composites, with high level of stability despite the low weight, are being developed. These new wood-based panel materials are driving forward the development of novel connection technologies for screws, glues or plugs.

• Light panels also allow for new and bigger dimensions in width, e.g. lightweight sliding doors for wardrobes. Other aspects are the ongoing miniaturisation of components, such as fittings.

• Hollow boards provide the necessary space for installations in furniture which can be kept hidden. This will cause significant changes in furniture design and functionality and thus create a new buying incentive for customers: for e.g. a shelf with an integrated docking station for smart phones, furniture lighting concepts without any visible cords or a board that plays music without any visible loudspeaker.

Apart from the weight what features can be achieved from lightweight panels?

Dr. Olaf Plümer: There is a huge variety of concepts in lightweight panels: basically sandwich constructions with a solid top and a variety of fillings for the inner layer;honeycomb, then frameless boards, board-on frame constructions, fibreboards, light solidwood boards, light particle boards and the like.

What are the best kinds of lightweight panels?

Dr. Olaf Plümer: The ‘best’ solution with lightweight board depends upon the usage and the application, e.g. for vertical surfaces, side or back parts you will need other constructions than for doors or for shelves and worktops. Or take fire protection: For public or commercial use you have to meet strict regulations- and there are already special lightweight boards on offer which meet these requirements.

What are the moves taken by igeL to further develop the field and promote lightweight construction?

Dr. Olaf Plümer: We regularly present our knowledge, the latest developments and prototypes at the leading furniture and machinery fairs in Germany, such as LIGNA in Hanover or the supplier fair ZOW in Bad Salzuflen. Last year we were also invited to give an expert lecture at the ZOW in Istanbul/Turkey. Our activities are well received by the trade press. We also have a special “technical panel” with regular meetings. Our annual two-day “International Lightweight Furniture Construction Symposium” with expert lectures at the nearby University of Applied Sciences in Lemgo/Gemany draws a lot of professionals from the industry and the press. The university is also in charge of the basic materials’ research and documentation in lightweight construction. We are also in contact with the technical instructors of the area and hope to make a change for the students to empower the next generation.

How is the market for lightweight construction products?

Dr. Olaf Plümer: Lightweight construction is widespread in the supplier industry, but has not gained much in the furniture industry. The retailers are still hesitant to offer products using the term “lightweight”, because “good weight” is still associated with “value”. That’s why we have to work on special marketing strategies in order to overcome these stereotypes. The customers have to be persuaded emotionally, e.g. by furniture with exciting new functionalities that are only feasible in lightweight construction.

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