Particle Boards and the British Furniture Industry

Nowadays, you have to be pretty high up in a company to have a solid wooden desk. Your desk is more likely to be made of pressed wood made from lumber by-products. Particle board is a common type of pressed wood. Lumber mill leftovers provide the raw materials for particle board, and the process starts with truckloads of sawdust.

The next ingredients are wood shavings and wood chips from all types of lumber. These chips and shavings are fed into a large mill that works like a giant food processor, chopping them up into little bits. When the milling is done the particles are between .2 and .5 millimetres in big and less than .7 millimetres thick.


To process these particles, the mills have to keep the humidity levels uniform. They put the particles into giant dryers, whose combustion chambers are fuelled by leftover dust from the chopping mill. After 15 to 25 minutes, the humidity level drops to 1.5%. From here, the dried out particles are sent to a screening machine which separates them according to size. Pieces too big for particle board are fed through the mill again. Sawdust becomes fuel for the dryers. Larger particles go into the rougher, core layer of the particle board. Smaller pieces into the smoother, surface layer.


Forces in action

Meanwhile, the factory's glue department gets to work mixing resin, water, wax and chemical hardeners. Machines mix the glue and the particles, then push out a long, continuous mat of the resulting mixture. A cold compressor forces the air out of the mat, then a hot press activates the glue and forces it all together.


Next, a saw cuts the continuous mat into large sheets called master boards. They are still hot from the hot press so they are put aside to cool for about half an hour. Once the master boards are cool they are sanded, then a stacking machine piles them about 80 sheets high. A saw cuts them into a smaller, more manageable size to be to be sent off to the furniture factory.


At the furniture factory, the first step is to laminate the particle board panels with a decorative covering. First, the glue spreader covers the board's surface with glue. Then another machine sticks on a 4 to 5-foot strip of decorative paper. The paper is fortified with resin, varnish and other chemicals. This covering comes in many different colours and designs, from solids to imitation granite or wood. A blade cuts the paper between each board, then another machine stacks the boards to prepare them for cutting. The saw cuts through six to eight boards at a time, depending on their thickness.


Bagged and boxed

The next step is to cover the edges of the particle board. A machine applies a strip of PVC plastic that matches the laminate. The strip is glued over the edges of the board and then trimmed for a neat finish. Now the pieces can be prepared for assembly. A multiple head drill makes screw holes in the panels. Meanwhile, a bag of hardware is prepared. There is a separate bin for each screw, nut, bolt and connector. A machine counts out the exact number of hardware each piece of furniture requires. Then the hardware is automatically bagged and weighed, to make sure nothing is missing.


Every so often a worker assembles a sample of the furniture to make sure everything fits together properly. If it does, production continues and they can proceed to packaging. Different particle boards are put together for each piece of furniture. The hardware bag and instruction booklet are added, then everything is sealed in plastic film. From there it goes into a cardboard box to be shipped to the retail outlet.


The latest stats

Our homegrown furniture industry is huge. According to the latest market research report on office and shop furniture manufacturing in the UK, the industry produces an enormous range of products for use in shops, offices and other establishments. This includes chairs, desks, shelves and bookcases. And the market is growing fast. The expected worth of wood furniture and component sales for 2017 is estimated to go beyond the £3 billion mark, with around 43% of the demand being satisfied by foreign imports.


But exports are also on the up. Over 15% of the UK's furniture industry's revenue in 2017 is expected to come from exports. Which means that overall, industry revenue will grow at an annual rate of 0.8% over the next five-year period. And over those five years, Britain's wood furniture businesses are set to increase budgets by expanding their capital expenditure, which will lead to a greater demand. Commercial construction is also on the rise, and this will add to the already growing demand, as new buildings also need to be furnished.


The future of British furniture is bright

According to The British Furniture Confederation, (BFC), the industry is made up of just over 8000 companies with a GDP contribution of £11 billion. Over a quarter of a million people work in the industry, 52,000 of which are specialist designers with 150,000 involved in the production of specialist furniture. Manufacturing workers come in at 107,000 jobs, 3,000 in repair and 10,000 in leasing. UK consumers spend roughly around £16.2 billion on furniture every year.


And while an estimated 30% of the UK's manufacturing profits can be directly attributed to the office market and subcontractor sector, the distinction between the two is becoming increasingly blurred, with many companies serving both contract end users and domestic customers.


Britain's operators in the furniture, bed and furnishings industry produce a whole range of wares for offices, shops, public areas, schools, hotels, restaurants, cinema and theatres and laboratories. In fact, they make just about any kind of furniture that can be created from wood and metal but isn't made of stone, concrete or ceramic, materials which are excluded from the industry.

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