Wood vs. Steel-construction: 5 Common Claims

Posted by Ken Carson on Jun 15, 2020 8:16:50 AM
Ken Carson


If you’re shopping for new consoles for your 24/7 operations area, you’ve likely heard a lot of mixed messages about wood vs. steel-construction workstations. Why so much conflicting information? Because the best console manufacturers, including Xybix, invest heavily in their manufacturing infrastructures for the products they know are high quality.

So how do you sort through the myriad claims out there and, most important, choose the right materials and products for your operations center or control room? Read on as we address five common, often misleading, claims about wood components in control room consoles—and uncover the truth.

But first, a primer on wood components in 24/7 consoles:

Which part of my console is made of wood?

All Xybix surfaces and cabinetry are constructed with wood and have successfully been so for 25 years. Why? We believe it’s important to use the right product in the right place when designing quality consoles. Wood pairs well with steel yet offers warmth and beauty, both of which are needed in high-stress environments. Because our goal is to provide 24/7 control rooms of all types with world-class furniture, our wood-steel design is built to last. All Xybix lifts, work surface supports, and panel frames are made of steel.

What is considered wood within a console?

In the industrial furniture world, wood is typically particle board, made of either MDF (medium-density fiberboard) or M3-quality particle board. Both materials come in the form of flat sheets, cut out with a CNC router. Both materials have been around for years, and both have been refined into a high-quality substrate. Most every U.S. manufacturer uses particle board with laminate for the work surfaces you touch.

High-end custom cabinetry manufacturers and commercial office furniture manufacturers have adopted wood into their product designs. MDF or M3-quality materials have proven to be durable and highly adopted for decades.

What are five common claims about wood components in 24/7 consoles?

Claim #1: Wood cannot withstand the rigors of 24/7 environments
The battle of steel vs. wood has been around for 50 years in the office furniture industry. In fact, whole companies have branded themselves around the concept of steel, e.g., Steelcase and Allsteel. The word steel just sounds strong, doesn't it?

The Truth

The quality of a console or workstation can only be accurately measured and certified by the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA). As a third-party organization adopted for use by commercial furniture manufacturers, BIFMA doesn’t care whether a console is made of steel or wood. What matters is that the components meet the performance standard set by BIFMA.

Many of Xybix’s competitors claim they’ve either: (1) tested their products in-house; or (2) met BIFMA standards when they actually have not. The truth is that only 3rd-party testing by BIFMA guarantees quality and durability.

The Bottom Line

  • BIFMA testing assures the durability of consoles in 24/7 environments, regardless of material.
  • When comparing multiple workstation vendors, be sure to request each vendor’s BIFMA test results.

Claim #2: Edge banding peels off

Edge banding used in console desktops is essentially a roll of plastic that covers the thin edge of the sheet of wood (either MDF or particle board). Banding is the final step in sealing the wood against any outside elements, and it’s tooled by an edge-banding machine that applies hot glue and pressure to the edge of the wood.

The Truth

In 1996, Xybix bought an edge bander machine for $10,000 and quickly learned that it was junk. It didn’t apply the glue correctly, which resulted in some warranty edge band repairs. Six months later, we bought a quality edge bander, which solved the previous problems. Xybix’s current edge bander is a $200,000 finely-tuned machine, manufactured by Biesse of Italy—a huge step up from the older one that presented us with problems.

While a high-quality manufacturing process and well-trained operators raised the quality of edge-banding, Xybix eliminated most edge banding and now uses 3-D laminate desktops. 3D laminate is a film that wraps around an MDF plank vs. layering on top of it. As the laminate wraps, it conforms perfectly to the customized shape of the wood to deliver a seamless (germ-free) surface with rounded corners and gently angled desk edges to support wrists. All Xybix 3D laminate surfaces are manufactured in-house, using a customized machine.

The Bottom Line

  • Edge band comes off with improperly applied glue. High-quality machinery and experienced operators can apply the edge band to be permanent.
  • All newer Xybix consoles use a 3D laminate, rather than edge-banding, on high-touch surfaces.

Claim #3: Wood cabinets retain computer heat

The Truth 
Steel is a more efficient conductor of heating and cooling than wood. It will transfer the heat more quickly from the inside of the case to the outside. This is due to the thickness of the metal, which is around 22-gauge, or about six pieces of paper thick, for comparison. The wood cabinet, on the other hand, is 3/4" thick. Steel is more dense than wood, and this contributes to the heat transfer.

15 years ago, an HVAC engineer would plan on a single computer, contained within a computer cabinet, creating the heat equivalent of one person. (We have all been in a crowded room and know how hot it can get.) Today’s computers, however, are so much more efficient that they generate just 25 percent of the heat generated by a computer 15 years ago. Coupled with ventilation that mirrors what computer manufacturers install, the chances of computers overheating in a cabinet today are slim.

The Bottom Line

A properly designed cabinet will prevent overheating. Here are the three, simple heat-eliminating features of properly engineered cabinets:
  • Venting holes that deliver continuous airflow, reducing the heat transfer mentioned above.
  • Fans that keep the air moving through the computer. Proper design should allow fresh air to cycle through the cabinet at least every 20 seconds.
  • Fans that pull the air in the correct direction. Computers are designed to pull air from the front to the back. When engineered correctly, the cabinet fans pull the air from the front to the back of the cabinet to keep the computers at the proper temperature. 
All Xybix cabinet models are quality-engineered, with virtually zero overheating problems. If additional heat is added by adding additional components, e.g. a small UPS (uninterruptible power supply) box, we can add fans as needed. Our standard computer cabinetry supplies two (2) 45 CFM fans for ample air circulation.

Claim #4: Screws pull out easily from wood
With enough force, a screw can be ripped out of the cabinet, leaving a gash in the side. If it’s true that a single screw has a holding force of 275 pounds, this occurrence would be highly unusual.

The Truth

The holding force of a single screw to the side of an MDF is 275 pounds. If you have 4 screws holding a power strip, you have 1100 pounds of pull force. Multiple screws help increase that overall pull load, depending on proximity and design. Proper engineering of the cabinets to meet the BIFMA tests—which all Xybix products do—helps prevent these problems. Xybix manufacturing pre-drills all holes and uses screws specifically designed for the MDF wood board. These components are cut on a CNC router for accuracy to 1/64th of an inch.

Steel cabinets, on the other hand, are limited when it comes to mounting equipment. Made from thin 22-guage sheet metal, the sides will flex and dent if a user mounts anything heavy. Power strips and PDAs must be mounted to the cabinet, or to the panels’ vertical supports.

The Bottom Line

  • Steel cabinets are limited when it comes to mounting equipment.
  • Proper engineering, tools, and components make for a durable cabinet. 

Claim #5: 3D laminate peels and warps, leaving a sharp edge

The Truth

Laminate is, by definition, a cover for a wood substrate, e.g., MDF or particle board. The laminate is glued to the wood substrate and, when glued incorrectly, can start to peel off. You may remember older desks where the laminate wrapped around the front edge, and people tended to pick it off. The truth is, technology has far surpassed old-school laminate applications, providing manufacturers like Xybix with multiple options for a high-quality, peel-free surface like 3D laminate.

Xybix’s switch to 3D laminate was spurred by feedback from hospital customers who were using our consoles. Hospitals require a durable, fully sealed surface with seamless edges for high-traffic areas. Xybix 3D laminate is manufactured in-house, using our 3D laminating machine that completely seals the board with a combination of glue, pressure, heat, and vacuum. Xybix has one of only two of these machines in the U.S., which is another high-quality machine made in Germany.

The Bottom Line

  • Old-fashioned laminate and 3D laminate that is constructed improperly will come un-glued and peel off.
  • New 3D laminate technology provided by Xybix eliminates the peeling of the laminate from the substrate. The 3D laminate and the substrate are one single unit piece upon manufacturing. 

Wood Desktops, In Closing

The bottom line when it comes to procuring the most durable workstations for 24/7 performance is quality manufacturing. Our product design places wood and steel where it fits best for a console. To meet the quality standard we demand, Xybix manufactures our products in-house, at our Denver-area headquarters. Bringing console manufacturing in-house requires an investment many other companies are not willing to make, which is why many vendors outsource their console work surfaces.

At Xybix, we obsess over the quality of our products and continuously check our procedures and products to eliminate problems. Our warranty guarantees that if we build it, you have a lifetime warranty.

It’s through performance, not just luck, that Xybix has been specializing in 24/7 control rooms of all types for 25 years. Over the years, our products have earned certification from all industry quality standards such as BIFMA performance testing. More importantly, we’ve earned the decades-long loyalty of legacy customers who have purchased from Xybix multiple times. Because Xybix products last for 10-20 years, we’ve been the vendor of choice for some customers for the duration of their careers.

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Topics: Design, Warranty, Durability, Performance, Features