New company offers lightweight furniture

August 3, 2009
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One might not think that airplanes and office furniture have much in common, but Avian Lightweight Board is changing that.

Avian, 4655 Patterson Ave. SE, Kentwood, is a home and office furniture manufacturer and product supplier. The company makes a thick but lightweight board that has a core of honeycombed cardboard covered by a wood surface.

“The honeycomb actual configuration was used in the floors in airplanes. They had to be very rigid, but very light. They were able to steal that technology and insert it into the middle of the wood,” said Nevin Groce, president of Avian Lightweight Board.

“The honeycomb structure … offers that thickness while also offering great stability.”

The concept of a desk having a cardboard core instead of the usual particle board sounds eerily similar to the pig who built his house of straw instead of brick. Avian’s product, however, stands as strong as the traditional product no matter how hard one huffs and puffs.

“The neat thing about the whole production process is that when it’s constructed correctly, it offers a more rigid product than standard wood,” said Groce.

“For example, if you have a piece of wood that’s very thin and very long, and you put it on two posts, you’re going to see it bend in the middle, because it’s going to bend on its sheer weight.

“Now imagine this product is ripped of 50 percent of its weight, then has wood on the top and bottom … so you can load that up, and it’s actually going to have a better deflection than standard wood, because it’s not bearing its own weight.”

The manufacturing process calls for special equipment because of the honeycomb core.

“Because the material does not have a solid core and is paper in the middle, the way that you manufacture the product is a little bit different — special machinery (is needed) to put the edging on and to drill it.”

Because of the hollow core and lighter weight, the way the pieces are connected to each other is different than traditional case goods, and that opens the way for innovation.

“We’re designing new ways of connecting the products together. There are a lot of companies that create connectors for a desk, a shelf or whatever. Some of the old way of thinking was how to make old connectors work for this new product.”

By thinking outside the box, however, and creating new types of connectors, designers now can come up with new visuals and ways to utilize the product. For example, Groce said, because of the hollow core, a shelf’s connectors can be hidden and made to look as though it is suspended in air.

Because of its light weight, mobile furniture is the main target for Avian, said Groce. He believes the product would work well for multi-use spaces that need to transform quickly and simply. The four-person company has only been around since May, but has already garnered attention from companies that take furniture on the road: Tradeshows, exhibits and training are some examples. Other prospects are those attracted to the latest design trend of clean, thick lines.

When Avian started up in May, it found a partner in an Austrian-based company.

“Avian Lightweight Board’s sole purpose is to bring lightweight solutions to the American market,” Groce said of the frameless product. “After doing a lot of research, we partnered with a company called Eggar that’s been producing lightweight panels for five years on a truly industrial scale.”

Eggar currently has 16 plants in six countries. While Avian does manufacture the boards, the company’s main role is to brand the product for the American market, as well as distribute it.

The product is also highly sustainable. The cardboard core is 100 percent recycled and the wood meets high standards within the industry. Another benefit to the light weight, Groce said, is the reduction in shipping costs.

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