Often referred to as Oregon State University’s “front door” for outreach to the wood products industry, it’s only fitting that some of the work the Oregon Wood Innovation Center (OWIC) performs involves door testing.
OWIC, created in partnership with the OSU College of Forestry and Forestry and Natural Resources Extension and housed within OSU’s Department of Wood Science and Engineering (WSE), works to improve the competitiveness of Oregon’s wood products industry. OWIC accomplishes this goal by fostering innovation in products, processes and business systems through testing and technical assistance. It also serves as a “clearinghouse” to connect manufacturers to the research community and other organizations that assist businesses and facilitate networking within the forest industry.
“OWIC’s role is to connect people, ideas, and research,” says Scott Leavengood, professor and director of OWIC.
Some of the technical assistance and applied research OWIC performs includes helping firms with new product development and improving market opportunities for lesser-known wood species. The Center also hosts workshops, creates publications and provides experiential learning opportunities for students.
“For many industry professionals, their first contact with us, and in fact, with OSU, is through participation in a workshop,” Leavengood says. “And particularly for workshops on campus where participants see our facilities first-hand, many participants then follow up to request assistance with innovation in the form of product improvement or product development – things like ways to make their products stronger, more durable, more competitive, or their manufacturing processes more efficient.”
Much of the products tested within OWIC are non-structural wood products like doors, windows, cabinets and flooring. However, with the addition of the TallWood Design Institute (TDI), the combined efforts of OWIC and TDI also support computer-aided manufacturing, timber engineering and structural design.
Testing takes place in various locations on campus and one of the more popular resources in recent years has been the environmental conditioning chambers that test wood products’ performance in varying moisture levels, temperature extremes and levels of UV exposure. OWIC also runs tests to support product durability, strength and protection, including assessing insect and decay resistance.
Leavengood explains that when people visit OWIC, they often are impressed to see the wide range of product development and testing capabilities available.
“For example, we can explore the microscopic properties of wood, measure density profiles with x-ray, create products like composite panels and materials impregnated with chemicals,” Leavengood says. “We can densify products, and with TDI, we produce mass timber panels as well. And we can machine all these products and put them through a wide array of tests including measurement of strength properties, resistance to UV, insulation value, performance in temperature and humidity extremes, and durability.”
Some of the tests Leavengood has been involved with recently have focused on moisture performance, including coatings on structural panels, performance of a new line of exterior doors, testing additives for improving moisture resistance of particleboard, and testing moisture performance of new mass timber products. But he also works on collaborative, multi-stakeholder projects.
OWIC has a long history of working to foster an industry utilizing western juniper. In 2020, Business Oregon, via their High Impact Opportunities program, funded a collaborative effort between Sustainable Northwest and OWIC to explore opportunities for value-added products from juniper sawmill residues and non-merchantable timber. Tomas Pipiska, a post-doctoral scholar with WSE, conducted the work, sourcing materials from several juniper entrepreneurs, a start-up firm producing environmentally friendly wood adhesives and the State’s existing composite panel producers.
That kind of multi-institution collaboration is common for Leavengood and his work at OWIC.
A member of the OSU community since 1994 and director of OWIC since 2006, Leavengood is a mainstay in the wood products testing industry and has spent over 15 years with OWIC building trust and credibility. If a client wants a service that OWIC cannot provide in an efficient and cost-effective way, he will recommend another institution or place for them.
“A relationship that revolves around testing is based on trust. So, I am transparent and upfront with everyone about everything,” Leavengood says.
This means if the power goes out while testing wood products or if water leaks occur, Leavengood accounts for that. It also means if he knows a certain test or idea is already filled with pitfalls before the work even begins, he will let clients know.
“We have to maintain confidentiality at OWIC because the products we are working on are sometimes competitor products,” Leavengood explains. “But because we have built that trust, companies know that their products and technologies are safe with us.”
This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.