CoPaCabANi: Feasibility study for low-current conductive wood-based panels

Integrating lighting into furniture seems straightforward enough, but to do so without any wiring calls for a completely new solution. This is precisely what the ‘CoPaCabANi’ project is all about: developing conductive furniture panels.

Factsheet

Situation

Contemporary furniture is hard to imagine without the integration of electronic components. But this also means new solutions need to be found for wiring in furniture. The Conductive Particleboard for Cabinets At Night (CoPaCabANi) project aims to supply electronic components with power without using wiring. The key principles of this approach were established in BFH’s ‘Smart Electronic Furniture’ project, which includes the concept of conductive panels. The wireless power supply of LED lighting, for example, opens up completely new and hitherto unknown possibilities for interior lighting or the illumination of furniture or wood surfaces and their role in design. The use of conductive panels makes the installation of LED lighting and other electronic components highly flexible, cable-free and cost-effective. This feasibility study covers key aspects of process engineering, material properties and production costs. It focuses on developing the conductive panels and their properties to provide a decision-making basis for further technology development with implementation partners.

Stromleitende Möbelplatte
Stromleitende Möbelplatte.

Course of action

Standard wood-based panels do not conduct electricity. A small amount of conductive material must be added to panels to enable electrical conductivity. The predecessor project used carbon fibres for this purpose. In an initial stage, the project will now explore whether other additives can also be used to produce conductive panels. In a next stage, the panels will be developed using the new additives selected to achieve optimal conductivity using the minimum amount of additive. During the previous concept study problems were encountered achieving a homogeneous mixture of wood chippings and carbon fibres, which impacted on the panel surface, the appearance of the panel and its processability, e.g. coating. After the successful development of the conductive panel, the focus will shift to processing. Researchers will aim to establish whether the improvements to the panel resolve the issues faced or whether other reasons exist for poor processability. The goal is to develop and manufacture a demonstration product by the end of the project. The economic and ecological impact of the development will be evaluated in parallel. The study will place particular emphasis on options for recycling the panels or their individual components, resulting in a recycling concept for conductive wood-based panels.

Result

Even after the analysis of other additives, the carbon fibres still produce the best results for improving conductivity in wood-based materials. The option of using other materials remains open, for example the use of graphene (still very expensive) is currently being analysed. It appears that carbon fibres provide the best overall solution in terms of the process, conductibility and costs. A process has been developed which enables the creation of an almost perfectly homogeneous mixture of wood chippings/fibres and carbon fibres. The target conductive values have not yet been fully met, but there is a realistic prospect of achieving them by further optimising the process and without increasing the level of carbon fibre used. A recycling concept for these panels has been produced with a highly promising scenario for reuse of the panel components. The issue of processability still has to be addressed and a demonstration product produced. These steps will be undertaken shortly.

Looking ahead

A patent application has now been made for the low-current conductive furniture panels and LED connector for three-layer panels developed by us. After successful completion of the feasibility study, we intend to take the project and concept to market-maturity stage in collaboration with an implementation partner. Discussions with potential partners in Switzerland and abroad have been held during the current feasibility study. There is strong interest from the furniture and furniture supply sector.