UMaine Wood Composites Center Receives International Certification to Help Companies Develop New Products

Contact: Media contact: Habib Dagher, Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center, 207-581-2138; Nick Houtman, Dept. of Public Affairs, 207-581-3777

ORONO– Structural and materials tests performed by the Advanced Engineered Wood Composites (AEWC) Center at the University of Maine have received an international stamp of approval that will help companies develop new products. The International Accreditation Service (IAS), Inc. has certified AEWC as a laboratory that meets standards for 47 different tests of plastics, wood products, composites, adhesives and structural panels and assemblies.

The IAS is a nonprofit subsidiary of the International Code Council that provides the foundation for quality control functions used by industrial associations and government agencies around the world.

“Businesses in Maine can come to our laboratory not only to develop new products, but to get them tested and approved by building code agencies in the U.S. and around the World. We are pleased that we can now offer this unique service that will help grow Maine industry,” says Habib Dagher, director of the AEWC Center. “The upcoming June 10 bond referendum is also good timing, as it will allow us to expand the types of certified tests that we can now offer to Maine companies.”

The AEWC Center currently works with over 100 Maine companies in the wood products, construction, and composite materials areas to help them develop better products. Such products include composite ships, bridges, consumer products, and building materials. “The latest code-approved product that we have developed resulted in Engineered Materials of Maine, a new manufacturing business in Bangor, Maine, which will employ 70 people in two years. Our center not only developed and patented the product but conducted 300 beam tests and obtained national code approval.”

The UMaine center is one of four university laboratories in the U.S. that have received this type of accreditation, but it is the only facility whose certified testing procedures cover such a wide range, according to Stephen Shaler, assistant AEWC director and professor of wood science and technology. In addition, it is the only such laboratory in Maine.

“The IAS wants us to document that our procedures are consistent and scientifically reproducible,” says Shaler. “Accreditation is a seal of approval that our testing procedures are comparable to tests by other ISO certified labs. Our certification is ISO 17025, which is the testing laboratory equivalent to ISO 9001 for manufacturing organizations.”

Maine businesses will benefit through an AEWC initiative to commercialize new products and develop new building technologies, says Robert Lindyberg, manager of the AEWC’s industrial services unit. The Maine Technology Institute has awarded a $250,000 grant to the AEWC to create business collaborations using the center’s testing facilities and business services in cooperation with the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the Maine Composites Alliance, and the Composite Technology Development Centers in Sanford and Greenville.

For companies developing new wood composite products, certification is a guarantee that AEWC testing procedures meet international quality standards. “Companies can now cite our testing results as evidence that their materials meet internationally recognized criteria,” Shaler adds. In addition to offering accredited testing services, the AEWC Center can now interface with international building code agencies to attain code approval for products developed by the AEWC or its industrial partners.

Justin Crouse, AEWC materials scientist and ISO coordinator, led efforts to meet the IAS standards. “Receiving this certification means that our tests fit into a quality management framework,” says Crouse. “We have the policies, manuals and procedures in place. We perform regular calibration on our testing equipment according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards.”

Students working at the AEWC will gain experience learning to work in a quality management environment, Shaler says. “This gives them a leg up when they go to apply for a job because they can demonstrate familiarity with certification procedures. That is a very important skill for employees at companies to have.”

The 33,000 square-foot AEWC includes eight laboratories for the development of wood and non-wood composites. Laboratory equipment includes an industrial scale composites extruder, a radio frequency panel press, laser scanning confocal microscope and a structural testing laboratory that can accommodate components up to 90 feet long and 30 feet high.