The science behind the scenes
Every great commercial opportunity starts with a single good idea. For the wood fibre dice, this idea came from Scion Business Development Manager Jeremy Warnes. After many years of working with medium density fibreboard (MDF) producers, Jeremy saw how MDF technology could be adapted to benefit plastics manufacturers.
“For several years now, people have been predicting a huge increase in using natural fibres to reinforce injection moulded plastics. One of the limiting factors has been the handling difficulties associated with these fibres,” he explains. “Wood fibres are ideal for this purpose so we were keen to find a way of overcoming these challenges.”
Jeremy saw the potential to bind wood fibres together so they could literally be poured into an extruder and then the reinforced compound into an injection moulding machine. Although the idea appears simple, it took several years of research and development to make it work with conventional manufacturing plant.
“The main challenge was to get the thermoplastic binder right so it would hold the wood fibres together during handling, then release them once they were mixed with the polymers,” he says. “We also needed to reduce the fire risk associated with manufacturing wood fibre products, so the successful formulation included components to address this.”
The next challenge was to engage a commercial partner capable of creating a whole new global market for the product, which appeared to be beyond the scope of New Zealand manufacturers.
This is where the power of international networks came into play. Through a science connection that Jeremy had developed in France, he received an introduction to Sonae Indústria who immediately saw the market potential of this idea.
“With any new technology, there’s both technical risk and business risk,” Jeremy says. “We have removed the technical risks through our research programme and are delighted that Sonae Indústria was prepared to take on the business challenge. It is refreshing to deal with such a large company that is so innovative and willing to take this risk.”
Scion developed and patented the wood fibre dice technology under its biofibre research programme funded by New Zealand’s former Foundation of Research, Science and Technology (now Ministry of Science and Innovation).