It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so I’m rewarding all you loyal Panelman readers with a post featuring an exciting company that is making moves in the panel industry, especially in the MgO board arena. I spent some time talking with Jim Wambaugh, President of JetProducts. I was impressed by his commitment to designing and manufacturing magnesium oxide board here in the U.S., no one else out there is doing that right now! Check out what Jim had to say about why MgO board truly is a superior building product, and what makes their JetBoard unique…
The Panelman: I’m always interested in what draws people to MgO board, what is your story?
Jim: I spent 22 years in various roles at Shell Oil, so I’m sure you’re wondering, “what’s an oil guy doing in the panel business?” It was a natural transition, actually, because I specialized in oxide chemistry at Shell as a Chemical Engineer. Now, I’m taking an equally scientific approach to MgO board and implementing rigorous testing to ensure that the boards we’re producing at JetProducts are both structurally and chemically sound.
The Panelman: What about JetProducts, how did the company get into magnesium oxide board?
Jim: The founders of the company are in the home building market, and were importing a wide range of products from around the world. In 2005, they started seeing MgO board emerge as a popular building material in China. Intrigued, they began investigating this promising material that was everywhere in Asia but nowhere in America. As you can imagine, they quickly learned that all roads led back to China, where the board was being manufactured. They started importing Chinese MgO board for use as trim and backer (as a James Hardie replacement product) in 2005. Then, from 2006 to 2009, the founders tried to get a higher quality MgO product from the Chinese. They tried everything: from owning parts of Chinese manufacturing plants to improving quality control systems and having US employees on the ground. The critical question that emerged was: “Are we going to fix Chinese manufacturing?” You can guess what the answer was…The realization was that we could get China to “good” – but not “great.” And our customers deserve “great.” The logical next step was moving production to the U.S., where we also had a better opportunity to receive ICC code listing. The JetBoard U.S. manufacturing process began in 2010, with research and development, along with our own structural and chemical testing process. We also began planning for a commercial scale demo plant that is in operation today in Houston, and made the switch to using American-sourced raw material.
The Panelman: So, what exactly was the problem with Chinese MgO manufacturing? And how are you rectifying the situation in your own JetBoard plant?
Jim: First, the quality testing was random and unpredictable. Now, we test every batch, every time. Second, the tests themselves were not thorough enough at all. Here at JetProducts, we’ve developed proprietary chemical AND physical testing protocol which we perform in our on-site certified lab. What many people – even MgO board manufacturers themselves – don’t understand is that MgO cement is not inherently stable. It’s a reversible reaction, meaning that its chemical and physical properties can change based on the conditions it is manufactured in AND the conditions it is used in. How the MgO is obtained from the mined raw materials also comes into play. Size, reactivity, handling and purity all effect the quality and stability of the concrete phase. If not managed properly, a carbon dioxide reaction can occur that converts the MgO cement back to magnesium carbonate (the raw form) that affects the board density. This can cause the board to constrict on one side and become brittle like glass. Another disheartening fact about most Chinese-manufactured MgO board is that it is not water resistant, and actually soaks up water and can change forms as it does so! Most companies producing MgO board today just aren’t taking these chemical “quirks” of MgO into consideration; we are.
JetBoard MgO SIPs
In 2011, we tested over 400 MgO formulations to fully understand and solve the stability issue and define the full range of products that were options with American sourced raw materials. This know-how has been applied to new US made products and into making a stable Chinese sourced board.
The Panelman: What about the JetBoard manufacturing process, how does that differ from what you saw in China?
Jim: You can’t ensure a consistently high-quality product without a repeatable and proven manufacturing process. We took a fastidious approach to getting our process right in our demo plant. In fact, we have just received certification on our process from an outside testing agency in addition to our internal quality audits. From a business growth standpoint, perfecting our manufacturing process is just as essential to our success as production. Yes, we sell MgO board, but ultimately, we are planning to license our process to manufacturers who can then produce their own board.
The Panelman: Tell me about JetBoard, what makes it unique?
Jim: What sets our board apart is the fact that we have the capacity to customize its chemical configuration based upon a specific customer’s needs. This is a U.S.-patented chemistry/process and involves dialing up or dialing down certain properties such as flexibility, porosity, or density. We primarily operate on a business-to-business basis, so if we’re working with a developer who is building a hotel, we might tweak the MgO board configuration to be highly fire resistant. If they were using the board as a backer in the bathroom, we’d ensure the board could withstand intense moisture. As most of your readers already know, MgO is inherently moisture- and fire-resistant, however, by chemically adjusting the board and optimizing it for a specific use, we can emphasize certain qualities. And yes, we do have “standard” configurations for general use as customizing the board is not cost-effective for all applications.
The Panelman: What about structural applications? How is MgO board superior to other similar products?
Jim: The structural applications for MgO board are structural insulated panels or SIPs, structural sheathing, and OSB substrates for coatings such as stucco. In structural applications, MgO definitely stands out from other panels and boards. Take Portland Cement, which folks were getting excited about for a while until they realized how heavy it is and difficult to work with! Plus, it’s not water resistant and leaves a very large carbon footprint during the manufacturing process. You might say that when gypsum board (sheet rock) is produced using fly ash it’s very environmentally friendly, which is true, but fly ash poses health risks to people. We like to point out the fact that our JetBoard is people, planet, and performance friendly. You cannot say the same for ANY other product on the market today! For example, JetBoard is people safe. While OSB can release toxins like formaldehyde, and many Portland cement based fiber cement boards release silica dust when cut, JetBoard releases…nothing! It’s completely non-toxic, making it an ideal building product for those with chemical sensitivities and allergies. Plus, you just can’t top the fire rating of JetBoard, which has 8 times better fire protection than standard sheet rock. That means 8 times more protection for homeowners, and 8 times longer to get out of a burning room. In fact, due to our manufacturing process, JetBoard actually stops the fire, literally releasing hydrated water on the fire through a chemical process as it heats up
The Panelman: What about JetBoard being “planet-safe”? Can you share with our readers how manufacturing MgO board is an eco-friendly process?
Jim: MgO production has significantly lower CO2 emissions and NO industrial processing! The mixing of materials occurs at a very low temperature, and the effuse is actually good for the environment and the chemicals and minerals can be readily consumed by humans, animals, or plants. We liked to say our plant is like a bakery – it’s that’s safe, and that easy on our environment. MgO is also recyclable due to its neutral PH and carbonaceous form, with similar chemical components as a corn husk.
The Panelman: As you know, I’m baffled as to why magnesium oxide board and MgO SIPs just haven’t taken off here in America…what have been the roadblocks?
Jim: I believe there are 3 main roadblocks. There isn’t sufficient intellectual property protection in China, where almost all of the MgO board is being manufactured. So, there’s no incentive to innovate as a company, because any investment into R&D isn’t protected overseas. Second, as I mentioned earlier is the chemistry. If not manufactured properly, MgO board can crumble, break, or become warped. What’s really unfortunate is that this poorly produced MgO board has been used by builders and developers, who then believe that the problem is the material itself – NOT faulty manufacturing. The final roadblock is what I talked about earlier with the inconsistency and lack of quality control of the Chinese product. This also hindered anyone from getting ICC listings and forced the product into non-structural, non-mainstream applications.
JetBoard...Ready to Ship!
The Panelman: So I guess my last question is, what is the future of MgO board in as seen through JetProducts’ eyes?
Jim: Well, we cut our teeth on using MgO in a backer board application, so we have close to a decade of experience working with this product. It’s not new to us by any means! I believe MgO board will be the innovator in the SIPs market, it has the potential to “own” the modular building industry along with low income housing both domestically and abroad. For us, we expect our full-scale plant in Houston to be up and running in 2014. We also expect to continue working with forward-thinking architects and engineers who are inciting change in their respective industries by embracing advanced materials, like JetBoard. To us, the future looks bright.
If you’re interested in getting in touch with Jim and the JetProducts Team, just click to send me an email!