The three main instruments available to COST Actions are: Meetings, which range from 2-3 people who may work on a specific task (Task Group meeting) to several hundred for a full conference; Training Schools in which Early Stage Researchers are educated on a particular topic in an intensive course; and Short-Term Scientific Missions (STSM). Each of these is discussed below.
Each COST Action has a specific topic. COST Action E49’s theme was wood based panels (WBP), ie particleboard, OSB, plywood and fibreboards, including MDF. Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) was also included because it is manufactured as a panel (like a large, thick piece of plywood) even if it is rarely used in panel form. There was a lot of debate when E49 was being developed as to whether to include wood/plastic composites (WPC) or not. In the end, it was decided to exclude them as they are neither generally manufactured nor used as panel products (of course there are some exceptions!).
Cost Action E49
E49 consisted of three Working Groups:
• WG1: Process optimisation and innovation, concerned with the manufacturing of different panel products
• WG2: Fundamentals and modeling brought together those with an interest in modelling and simulation of both the manufacturing process and the behaviour of products in use. Thus this WG provides a link between WG1 and WG3
• WG3: Performance in use and new products focused on how best to evaluate products. Product assessment is often a barrier to the introduction of new products because standard assessment methods for them do not exist.
Most participants in COST Actions tend to come from academic institutions and E49 was also dominated by academics, but considerable effort was applied from the start to include researchers employed by companies.
This was considered necessary because the majority of research on WBPs is applied, rather than fundamental, in nature and so it must address industry’s needs, which are most easily revealed by interaction between industry and academics. It is mutually beneficial too, for if the commercial side of the WBP sector is large, strong and competitive, then it is better able to fund research into developing new products and optimising existing ones.
To help encourage industry participation, E49 was in fact partially managed by industry. For example, the vice-chairmen were Chris Van Riet, European Panel Federation, and Eleftheria Athanassiadou, who is R&D Manager for Chimar Hellas, both of whom provided a direct link to industry.
Professor Marius Barbu, Leader of WG1, was the R&D Manager for the Binderholz Group when E49 started (he is now a Professor at Transylvania University of Brasov, Romania).
Other companies, like Dynea, UPM-Kymmene Wood and Latvijas Finieris were members of E49’sManagement Committee.
Thankfully, other companies have also participated in the numerous events organized during the lifetime of E49.
The philosophy behind the management of E49 has been to demonstrate to industry what might be possible in the future; and to provide a link to researchers who might be able to help them in the future. For the academics, E49 has tried to give them a link to industry so as to help to ensure that their research is applicable by the WBP sector and that future projects include industrial partners.
One of the main differences between industry and academia is the natural rhythm of work. The main ‘product’ from academics is trained personnel, who typically need three to five years before they are ‘available for sale’.
Most WBPs are made in a matter of minutes and industry is understandably focused on the immediate future, so a long term project for industry may last six months, which is a short-term project for an academic. An effect of this is that industry’s priorities change much more rapidly than those in academia.
E49 has tried to address this: Heiko Thoemen, leader of WG2, created an innovative database that presents research topics in a dynamic list. The list is dynamic because the priority order can change from day to day, depending on the votes received for each topic. A new vote has a higher weighting than an old vote. In other words, a topic that received many votes in the previous year may not be at the top of the list now because other topics have more recent votes compared to the ‘old’ one.
Voters can also propose new topic ideas. Please go to and click on ‘database’ to vote and/or propose new ideas. At the time of writing, the top three topics in the dynamic list were:
• Understanding formaldehyde emission from WBPs
• Ecological glues for panel manufacture
• Lightweight panels
A second database has also been created which contains information about institutes and companies that conduct research on WBPs and their relevant projects. This database is accessible to anyone and will continue to be available for some years.
Conferences and workshops
E49 began officially on July 12, 2005, but was launched to the public with a Plenary Workshop, held in October 2005 in Llandudno immediately before the International Panel Products Symposium (IPPS), also held in Llandudno. Likewise, the final conference was held just before IPPS 2009, in Nantes, France. This was done to encourage industry participation and to publicise E49 to as many researchers working in the sector as possible.
The themes were determined on the basis of perceived need and relevance at the time.
Short-term scientific missions
COST Actions are financed to co-ordinate research, but a small part of their budgets can be used to generate new knowledge through Short-Term Scientific Missions (STSM). These are designed to provide a researcher with some financial support to allow them to visit another institute so that they can conduct some research which they could not do at their home institution.
Training schools
A Training School is a short, intensive course on a particular subject. The lecturers are normally experienced researchers and the ‘students’ are Early Stage Researchers.
The first Training School organised by E49 was held at the Federal Research Centre for Forestry and Forest Products, Hamburg, in 2006. The title was Testing and Evaluation of Emissions from Wood Based Materials. Experts presented lectures and held practical classes for 21 participants, 11 of whom came from industry.
The two-day school began with presentations from leading experts on measuring VOCs and formaldehyde emissions. Then the afternoon and following morning were dedicated to practical sessions where students obtained first hand experience of conducting measurements with different test equipment. The results were brought together and discussed in the final afternoon session.
The second Training School was also held in Hamburg, on December 10-11, 2007. This one was organised in conjunction with COST Action E34 (Bonding of Timber) and the theme was Physical Characterisation of Adhesive Cure. The two methods used were ABES and IPATES.
Again the format consisted of initial lectures to describe the theory behind the two systems, followed by practical sessions in using the two items of equipment. The third and final Training School was held in Thessaloniki, Greece, as the hosts were Chimar Hellas.
Practically every laboratory involved in WBP research is able to make its own panels. Therefore each laboratory has experience that it can share: standard manufacturing protocols; things to avoid; things to remember and so on.
Consequently, the aim of the Training School was to share best practice between laboratories that is how to make panels consistently and with properties matching those made commercially.
The first day was dedicated to lectures and discussions on how to make particleboard and plywood. The second day provided participants with the opportunity to make both a plywood and a particleboard.
Since there were 30 students and 10 lecturers, the group was split in to two so that not too many people were in the laboratory trying to make panels at the same time. The group not making panels was given an excellent tutorial by Heiko Thömen on modelling the conditions inside a mattress as it is pressed.
On the third day, the ‘students’ were again in the classroom, this time to learn and discuss the making of fibreboards, the development of recipes for panel manufacture and statistical experimental design.
There is no doubt that every participant learnt something new, or found a useful technique for them to try in their own laboratories.
There is proof that new professional relationships have developed between participants of E49 as a result of chance meetings during conferences, or through an STSM. It is clear, too, that knowledge and experience has been shared. Hopefully this will benefit the wood based panels sector as whole – it is unlikely to hurt it.
For sure, new knowledge has been generated by the STSM awarded to Early Stage Researchers. It is likely, too, that national research programmes have been influenced by the information gathered by researchers during E49 events.
As a result, E49 has achieved its principal aim.
Whether it has succeeded in breaking down some of the barriers/misunderstandings between academia and industry is harder to tell. But if we do not try, then we will never succeed.