Improving noise reduction
The SILENTWOOD project has developed sophisticated noise-reducing wall panels and doors. These multilayered wood-based panels with enhanced acoustic insulating properties for applications on doors and wall panels aim to substantially reduce the financial losses caused by noise pollution, but also to contribute to the health and well-being of citizens.
‘To achieve our goals, we worked in parallel in three complementary directions,’ says Tomas Rodriguez, Head of Technical Delivery Unit at INSPIRALIA, the Spanish RTD performer which spearheaded the three-year project that was developed in cooperation with eight partners from five Member States.
He explains that the first was the selection and development of the core materials to absorb the sound, to insulate thermally and to provide an overall structure with high strength and low weight. The second entailed the design of the internal structure of the panel and door applications to ensure efficient acoustic performances. The third direction involved the development of accurate computer simulation tools to predict the mechanical, thermal and acoustic behaviours. ‘In particular, the last one is crucial as these tools enable easy optimisation while avoiding time-consuming and costly practical tests,’ he adds.
Developing doors with high sound reduction indices
Mr Rodriguez emphasises that the innovation and uniqueness of SILENTWOOD products lie in the fact that the noise-reducing wall panels and doors provide the high acoustic and thermal performances desired within the weight and thickness of a normal door/panel. This is in stark contrast to the current solutions that are costly and require bigger thickness.
Mr Rodriguez outlines SILENTWOOD’s other objectives. ‘The project directly addresses society’s growing awareness of the detrimental effects of noise on health and on the quality of people’s lives.’ The project responds as such to stricter European standards for the construction of private housing and public infrastructures, which reflect the importance of these concerns. ‘Reaching a sound reduction above 35 decibels today is deemed necessary for educational establishments, medical premises and hotels.’
The Spanish, Italian, Polish and Slovene SMEs and SME Associations lacked the necessary R&D and international project management expertise to proceed with such a project. They agreed to form a strategic alliance with INSPIRALIA and two other private European R&D service providers (RTD performers). ‘INSPIRALIA, together with the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden and the Castilla-La Mancha Business Association of Wood Products, further developed the concept based on the SME’s need for affordable high performance doors and panels,’ says Mr Rodriguez.
‘In addition to our technical expertise in simulation and materials demonstrated in other EU projects, it was INSPIRALIA’s desire to help the SME and SME Association partners in becoming more competitive in their markets.’
‘One of the main challenges was the coordination and planning between the three RTD performers,’ stresses Mr Rodriguez. ‘Since the technological work was carried out in parallel during the first two years, it was very important to monitor any problems or potential delays to avoid a trickle-down effect. On the other hand, this organisation allowed us to work as a close team, which improved our complementarity and responsiveness.’
‘EU funding has been crucial in bridging the gap between research and innovation,’ admits Mr Rodriguez. ‘The SME Associations have now received the means to carry out the research work. This work will in turn provide their associate members with the long-awaited competitive edge that they need to foster in the door/panel application market, despite the economic downturn.’
Innovative doors and panels set to make their mark
SILENTWOOD’s added value lies in both short- and long-term development. ‘The SME Associations own the newly engineered wood-polymer composite and innovative multi-layered structures which can achieve high acoustic, thermal and mechanical performances. The partners have acquired new knowledge that will enable them to have sustainable growth, developing the SILENTWOOD technology and products even further.’
The final product is primed to establish itself in the European market, believes Mr Rodriguez. ‘The doors/panels are 30% to 50% cheaper than current applications with similar characteristics, and they are already acoustic- and fire-resistance certified. This is a strong selling point in the medium-to-high quality door/panel application market.’ The wood-based doors and panels represent about half of the overall wood doors and windows market, generating over EUR six billion turnover in the EU alone.
‘The partners are currently studying alternative applications for niche markets and the possibility to develop 100% bio-based doors/panels in order for SILENTWOOD products to obtain a unique positioning in the door and panel application market,’ continues Mr Rodriguez. ‘This will address the growing ecological consciousness.’
In addition to spurring growth and jobs in the doors/panels application sector, SILENTWOOD will provide direct economic and health benefits to the EU. Mr Rodriguez puts the project’s value in perspective: ‘About 20% of the EU’s population suffer from noise pollution. This leads to financial losses in excess of EUR 35 million and to noise-related health problems such as cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal disorders, all of which could be avoided by using our noise-reducing applications.’
Since SILENTWOOD’s completion in April 2013, the SME Associations have been working feverishly to ensure time-to-market readiness by creating and protecting the product trademark, preparing a mutual agreement for the exploitation, development and production of panels and doors, as well as targeting the upcoming trade fairs to present their finalised products.