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This installment focuses on the technical reasons why wood-core substrate is a durable and functional material for PSAPs and Ops Center dispatch consoles. This will include evidence for functional strength, lasting durability, and technology interface benefits.


The answer is BOTH! In the previous installment, we shared the myth of wood inferiority, the reason that the mis-information about wood-core materials has come up more frequently, and the true value of blended materials manufacturing of dispatch consoles. Now, discover why wood and steel - together - provide lasting durability and superior aesthetics for 24/7 shift-work teams.

This blog is an extension of the education around wood-core as a viable material for dispatch consoles. If you haven't already, take a moment to read PART 1 and learn why this subject has become more important to manufacturers and customers alike.

This installment focuses on the technical reasons why wood-core substrate is a durable and functional material for PSAPs and Ops Center dispatch consoles. This will include evidence for functional strength, lasting durability, and technology interface benefits.


There is a place for wood + a place for metal on your dispatch console


What is wood-core substrate?

Commercial-grade wood-core construction provides a superior aesthetic - both visually and audibly. The most common material is commercial-grade medium density fiberboard. MDF is available in various thicknesses and grades. According to advocates for building and design professionals at

  • MDF is a composite panel product typically consisting of cellulosic fibers combined with a synthetic resin or other suitable bonding system and joined together under heat and pressure. Additives may be introduced during manufacturing to impart additional characteristics.
  • The surface of MDF is flat, smooth, uniform, dense and free of knots and grain patterns.
  • The homogeneous density profile of MDF allows intricate and precise machining and finishing techniques for superior finished products.
  • Trim waste is significantly reduced when using MDF compared to other substrates.
  • Stability and strength are important assets of MDF, which can be machined into complex patterns that require precise tolerances.

Developments in the technology-furniture industry reinforce this point-of-view. Manufacturers have tested and customer have validated the long-standing durability of these wood-core materials. Watson Consoles uses top-grade, 1 1/8" and 3/4"substrate rated for enduring stability, strength and performance.

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This is NOT the material used in big box store furniture. This is not cheap, non-regulated material from overseas. The wood-core substrate used by reputable commercial manufacturers for PSAP and Ops Center technology furniture is denser, thicker, stronger and engineered to stand up to the use of 24/7 shift work for a decade or more. The binders are industrial strength.

Why is wood right for my 911 center furniture?

Functional Strength

Gene Wengert, The Wood Doctor shares:

The ultimate strength of MDF will vary with the particular product characteristics, but a typical minimum value is 3,500 psi with an elasticity value of 0.35 million psi. A middle grade and density of particleboard has minimum values of roughly 2,100 psi and 0.32 million psi. Although MDF is weaker than lumber, the basic question is whether the high strength of lumber is required for a particular use. Applications for MDF are almost unlimited. MDF is also used as core material paneling has a face laminated with veneers, printed surfaces, vinyl and low-pressure laminates.
console in office

This means wood-core technology furniture is inherently strong.

Some customers have asked if MDF is as strong as solid wood. Woodmeister Master Builders adds to the conversation and challenges the presumption: "Isn’t solid wood always the best material? This is a question we’re frequently asked and you may be surprised that the answer is “Not necessarily.”

  • Solid wood has many benefits; it’s strong, sturdy and beautiful in its grain. However, solid wood contracts when subjected to changes in heat and humidity. Unless these conditions are carefully controlled, cabinets, doors or paneling made from solid wood can shrink, crack or buckle.
  • Medium density fiberboard (MDF) is a high grade, composite material that performs better than solid wood in many areas. Made from recycled wood fibers and resin, MDF is machine dried and pressed to produce dense, stable sheets..
  • MDF is more stable than solid wood and stands up better to changes in heat and humidity.

Day-to-day 24/7 durability

Within the last decade we've seen customers return to Watson’s wood cabinets. They tried steel and didn't like it. They say that Watson storage is more durable and “wears better over time.”

  • Wood substrates finished with laminate do not dent or ding and are virtually scratch resistant.
  • Laminate wood surfaces are easy to clean.
  • Since there is no paint or powder coat, there is no threat of chipping.
  • Wood substrate strength and dimensions are not significantly affected by heat, providing stability in environments when temperatures shift.
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If you were at the 2017 APCO conference you might have seen our own 6'3", 225+ lb Quint Andrae hop up on the console surface to demonstrate the weight bearing capacity and stability of the console. His demonstration recreates a situation that happens often in centers - someone stops by for a chat and rests on the surface. Our consoles support that and more with an active lifting capacity of 250 lbs for 40,000 duty cycles. When we say our consoles are strong, we mean it!

Technology interface

Technology is the central tool for dispatch teams. The best dispatch consoles integrate hardware and cabling in a way that makes regular maintenance and upgrades easy. Additionally, consoles designed to mitigate signal interference reduce technology-related downtime. With regard to materials, wood provides certain advantages:

  • When dried, wood substrate is naturally resistant to electrical conduction.
  • Wood cabinets are quiet and prove less disruptive during routine IT maintenance. The softer surface is less likely to mar hardware if there is physical interference.
  • Wood is less likely to contribute to IT noise amplification; steel cabinet interiors tend to amplify fan noise and vibration.
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Dispatchers want consoles that look great and make their job better

  • Wood core is quieter. In dense environments, wood provides acoustic softening.
    • In particular, wood-core drawers are quieter when opening and closing.
  • With the wide variety of laminates available, procurement teams can select a style that supports their team’s culture.
    • When using steel, you have limited color and design opportunities.
  • An increasing body of research is beginning to show that being surrounded by wood at home, work or school has positive effects on the body, the brain and the environment and can even shorten hospital stays through reduced recovery times. (More about this in the next installment.)

Wood + metal is preferred for technology furniture

Once you understand the inherent strength of commercial, wood-core substrate, you begin to understand the distinct advantages of material use for technology cabinets, personal storage and surfaces. The manufacturing advantages mean dispatch and operations centers can reap the value of durability AND design. Wood-core substrates, finished with laminate endure daily abuse for decades - bring on hot coffee, dropped phones, ancillary monitoring equipment, and visitors who think the desk edge is a perfect perch.

When shopping for dispatch console, look for reputable manufacturers that back the products with a lifetime warranty; no manufacturer would take that level of risk if they didn't believe in the stability and durability of their products!

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A manufacturer's commitment to quality begins with design

In addition to general industry findings about the functional value of MDF, we can share what we have discovered. We know it is imperative to serve the needs for function and durability and desirability for centers that look and feel welcoming. Console designs must integrate height-adjustable and environment controls. The unique challenges associated with manufacturing complex technology furniture has refined our discipline and honed our expertise. For more than 30 years we have manufactured with a blend of wood, aluminum and steel.

You will find some younger manufacturers recognize these values and embrace the same manufacturing philosophies.

While our console lines differ, they are engineered and manufactured with the proven blended materials approach. They support the use of multiple operators over the course of 24 hours and are tested to withstand more than 10 years use as a primary-use work center.

  • Synergy (right): In order to outlast the rigorous demands of 24/7 use, Synergy is built on a steel and aluminum core with a contiguous frame and wood-core cabinetry. The aluminum extrusion system and wood panels create a rigid structure.

  • Mercury (below): A fusion welded 12-gauge steel frame girds the surface and moving components. Wood-core materials frame the technology and personal storage cabinetry. Steel cable channels run throughout.
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All metal parts are fabricated, welded and integrated right here in the Watson Consoles factory. Each console is fully pre-built in-house before it leaves the factory. Quality assurance teams inspect parts, joinery, welds, structural integrity and fit-and-finish before sending them to our customers.

In the next installment...

Stay tuned to learn about additional benefits of choosing wood-core and laminate products. Choice dispatch console purchases have long-reaching benefits:

  • Reduced ROI over time thanks to comprehensive features and benefits that boost engagement and mitigate turnover within the agency.
  • For products made in the USA, the purchase stimulates regional and national economies.
  • Products made in the USA, with select materials, contribute to forrest health and land stewardship.

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