Stiles shines light on lightweight alternative


    Grand Rapids-based Stiles Machinery Inc. has partnered with Virginia Tech University to offer insight about lightweight panel use for the wood products industry during the two-day Think Light Symposium, which starts today and repeats on Wednesday/Thursday.

    Lightweight panels, sometimes called honeycomb or foam core panels, are currently used in some furniture products, such as IKEA. They have the appearance of other furniture panels, but with different features. The most striking difference is the much lighter weight, which means reduced shipping costs. The panels are also a more sustainable resource than traditional panels, said Stephen Waltman, vice president of sales and marketing for Stiles Machinery Inc.

    “It’s all about providing a better product for the consumer,” he said. “The consumer has a better product, easier to use, less expensive, and there’s the additional component. … This product is much easier to recycle and uses much less materials in its production.”

    Waltman said a typical office desk is made out of panels that have centers of heavy particle board. Lightweight panels, on the other hand, are made with a paper core, foam core or an expanded urethane core. This cuts the weight of a panel by approximately half of its traditional counterpart. Because of the lighter weight, manufacturers are able to ship more product on a truck, which means fewer truck loads.

    “Quite often, (trucks) limit out due to weight before they limit out due to how much product they can actually put in their trailer,” he said. “It becomes a whole lot cheaper to ship (the light panels).”

    The technology comes from Germany, and the symposium will feature two German keynote speakers, Prof. Martin Stosch and Thorsten Ober, both from the University of Applied Sciences in Lippe/Höxter, Germany. Stosch spent 10 years as a product development consultant for various German furniture manufacturers before teaching furniture construction and product development. Ober, a professional researcher at the university’s furniture laboratory, was the project manager of ZiMit, which focuses on the future of the furniture industry; he is cofounder of Igel, a light construction interest group.

    The two-day symposium combines lectures the first day with hands-on demonstrations the second day. Waltman said attendees can bring in products to test by setting up appointments during the event.

    “After the event, we’re going to leave the machines in place, so they can use it to make samples. They can use it and make various pieces and parts and do all their rigorous testing,” said Waltman.

    The event is also sponsored by Sloan Foundation Forest Industries Center and FDM-Magazine. For more information, go to

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