October 25, 2012

Toys With A New Plan

Last week I attended the ABC Kids Expo, a child-focused design exposition, in Louisville, Kentucky. There were a few stand-out designs one of which included the s noticed an interesting change in the materials they now use to make it.

I spoke with Ashley Cao, Marketing Coordinator for Plan Toys at the ABC Kids Expo.

Me:  I’ve been a fan of your company for a really long time. I bought the Plan modular dollhouses for my daughter when she was a baby. I do notice, however, that you are using a different material from wood now.

Ashley:  The new material we’ve incorporated into our product is called Planwood which is the surplus sawdust from our production. We use organic pigments to color the sawdust and less that one percent of our non-formaldehyde glue. We took this mixture of sawdust, pigment and glue, put it into high-pressure molders, applied two hundred tons of pressure and heat and created a mix that allows the wood particle to naturally bond into a high-density fiber.

The cool thing about it is that Planwood allows us to use different kinds of molds that are not typically done on solid wood. It’s water resistant and more durable than microdensity fiberboard (mdf) and solid wood products.

Me: Good design is good problem-solving so with the introduction of this new material, it seems that you have figured out how to use all of your sawdust waste in a really creative way. Now that you’re no longer confined to only using wood, it looks like this new hybrid material gives you more range of design shapes and colors. Was that a surprise to you and the company?

Ashley: It was a pleasant surprise. Our factory produces up to twenty tons of sawdust a day. This is a lot of sawdust. Prior to creating this new material, we used the sawdust as biomass (organic material used as fuel) to help power our facility, but we still had so much sawdust left over. We had to go back to the drawing board to see what we could do with it.

Me: I notice that the colors are so beautiful and rich. Is that because the sawdust takes the dyes so much better?

Ashley: We use organic pigments derived from vegetables and because Planwood is not solid wood, the pigment is absorbed throughout the toy. This creates a more earthy color. This is the first year that we are introducing Planwood and we’re hoping that maybe we’ll discover more innovations along the way.