Sonae Arauco launched 3DF, its new three-dimensional fibreboard, at the Interzum exhibition in 2017. Two years later, following a market development phase with key players in the sector, the company has reached full-scale industrial production at its plant in Meppen, Germany.

The 3DF product range is now commercially available for different applications ranging from plywood substitution to replacing CNC technology and bringing what the company calls “breakthrough advantages” to its customers.

This was recognised at this year’s Interzum in May, when 3DF won the Intelligent Material and Design Award, and again in September at the TTJ Awards in London when it won the Timber Innovation: Product category award (TTJ October 2019).

“I’ve been pleased to see a number of innovations over recent years which add value to basic level commodity MDF by adding performance attributes such as flame retardants – but this is a step change,” said Nathan Garnett, director of UK Construction Week exhibition organiser Media 10, which co-sponsored and co-judged the award category with TRADA.

“This isn’t just about adding a performance attribute – it’s an entirely new sort of building block, and it delivers a whole palette of possibilities. You can make different shapes and patterns, and add embossing, and it requires no specialist equipment.”

The product was the unanimous category winner, with fellow judge and sponsor Rupert Scott of TRADA adding:

“Sonae Arauco has taken an existing manufacturing process and added to it, using a completely different kind of adhesive – thermoplastic resins – in combination with wood fibres. This results in a truly innovative product, because it comes out in a prefinished way. You can then imprint decorative patterns or change 20mm boards into shapes half the depth, which is a value-adding stage with the potential for huge variety.”

“3DF has not only created a new market for MDF, it has enabled MDF to compete with other products and materials," added co-judge Stephen Powney, TTJ and WBPI group editor. “It is no longer just utilitarian – 3DF boards have a high value finish, with the potential for endless forms including 3D shapes and curves. Its thermoplastic nature means it has the potential to be re-shaped, while the method through which shaping is achieved – pressing – creates no dust, and ultimately reduces the cost of the process by removing steps.’’

“The 3DF breakthrough technology is a perfect fit with our strategy of bringing new innovative solutions to the market through strategic industrial partnerships and by taking wood further,” said Adelaide Alves, product manager for the Sonae Arauco group. “Additionally, 3DF also responds to the new requirements of the furniture industry, bringing an improved environmental impact.”

3DF is a thermoformable wood board solution that, under the action of temperature and pressure (a compression moulding process) can be shaped into endless formats, allowing deep structures and high radius capabilities in a very fast and productive way. This technology allows the replacement of traditional processes such as CNC machining and/or plywood applications, “bringing outstanding improvements in terms of productivity, quality, design possibilities and environmental impact,” said the company.

The company goes on to say that, whether 3DF is applied in furniture fronts, doors, seats, wall panelling or in other applications such as construction or even in the automotive sector, the product is a good option for turning the most demanding designs into reality with maximum flexibility and minimum effort. In addition, the product surface is ideal for lacquering and powder coating and can also be surfaced with 3D foil or continuous pressure laminate (CPL) directly at the moulding process. The material is 100% recyclable.

Furthermore some key collaborations have also been established with wood conversion machine manufacturers to extend the validation of the technology and to allow straight forward solutions for the customers when changing from their existing processing methods.

As the 3DF technology represents a major step change for customers, technical support is also available within the group.

“3DF not only brings an innovative product to the market but also extensive solutions to the furniture markets with our technical support in these areas based on our deep in-house knowledge developed in the conversion processes allowing bespoke options for our customers,” said Dr Alfred Pfemeter, corporate research and development manager.

Some economical advantages versus existing technology have also been demonstrated with key partners, bringing further value to end users. Up to 60% cost savings are being quoted due to a simplified holistic process for finished lacquered moulded items, thanks to being able to skip sanding, which is unnecessary, plus shorter cycle times.

“The constant search for innovation and new solutions in our wood based products is our key priority embedded in our DNA,” said Michelle Quintao, marketing director for Sonae Arauco group.

“We are proud of this new development, focused on improving our customer’s performance in efficiency and output”.

A full 3DF product range at different thicknesses and densities is now commercially available.