So long and thanks for all the chips!

3 May 2018

In his final column, Dr Mark Irle looks back on nearly 18 years of writing for WBPI.

Back in October 2000 I was having dinner with the then editor of WBPI, Mike Botting, during the European Panel Products Symposium (now the International Panel Products Symposium) and I suggested that WBPI could include a regular column on technical aspects of the wood panels sector. He thought it a good idea and suggested that I write the first column. Somehow I have been writing it ever since.

After nearly 18 years, I have decided to stop writing “Technically Speaking”. The objective of this column has always been to define jargon and clarify terms used within the sector.

I was surprised to discover that I have written 102 columns including this one. Perhaps I should have stopped two issues ago?

I wonder if anyone, apart from Mike Botting, remembers the first one. That first column explained characteristic values and defined the acronyms: CEN (Comité Européen de Normalisation or European Committee for Standardisation) and prEN (provisional European Norm, ie. a draft of a standard). Since then I have covered a wide range of topics.

Looking back, I see that the top five topics have been: aspects of manufacturing panels (16 times); specific panel types (11); wood as a raw material (11); VOCs (10); adhesives (10) and dimensional stability (10).

I received most feedback from an article on wet process fibreboards (WBPI August/ September 2013) and another on the conditions inside a mattress during hotpressing (WBPI October/November 2013).

I was told that the former was being used for a tutorial for university students in Canada and the latter for training press operators in the UK.

The article that I am most proud of is that published in WBPI February/ March 2013 on why water swells wood. This subject is at the heart of panel manufacture and performance. A grasp of how wood and water interact is fundamental to understanding how and why the core of a panel heats up during hot-pressing. Plus, once the panel is in use, most problems stem from the presence of water, eg swelling, delamination, off-gassing.

The most amusing impact of writing these columns was during the 11th Pacific Rim Bio-Based Composites Symposium in Shizuoka, Japan in November 2012. Some of Prof Suzuki’s students were helping during the conference dinner and one sheepishly asked me if I would sign his copy of WBPI! Of course I did, but then all the other students insisted on having their photograph taken with me. I was a mini-celebrity for a few minutes.

I have enjoyed trying to write articles that are easy to understand. I hope that you have, indeed, found them accessible and that you have enjoyed reading them. With any luck, we will meet at different conferences and meetings in the future.

To paraphrase Douglas Adams: “So long and thanks for all the chips”.  

While at Biocomp 2012 in Shizuoka, Japan, I met Prof Suzuki (to my left) and some of his students, all of whom read WBPI