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Build Something Better. This guiding principle drives innovation at Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft combined. The company employs more than 165,000 people across the United States and in more than 65 countries. Approximately 45,000 work in Everett, Washington on a campus the size of downtown Seattle. Boeing not only cultivates a diverse workforce heavy on brainpower and technical talent, but also provides many benefits to enhance the wellbeing of its employees and their families.

“We used to say that we build the people that build the airplanes,” says Ron Anderson, a recreation administrator for Boeing. “The Employee Work-Life Services provides a good work-life balance to our employees by helping them to have healthier lifestyles.” Anderson, who serves as a recreation advisor and program manager across locations for the Boeing Wellness Initiative, is based at the Everett Activity Center, a 73,000-square-foot onsite facility. “Our goal is to get the Boeing population physical, to have more people exercising more minutes,” says Anderson.

Boeing’s corporate vision is to “Operate as One Boeing.” The company emphasizes technical and functional excellence, lifecycle solutions, large-scale systems integration and detailed customer knowledge and focus. So, it is not surprising that when the time came to update the wall panels in the Activity Centers, great care went into selecting a high-performance material for the standard specification. Wilsonart® Compact Laminate was chosen not only for the durability of the product but the integrated, customer-centric solutions provided by the fabricator, distributor and supplier.

Building Better

The Everett Activity Center rivals commercial fitness clubs with weight rooms and two full-sized gymnasiums housing basketball, volleyball, pickleball and more - as well as group fitness classrooms and an elevated running track. “We average 25,000 client visits per month,” says Anderson. “So when it came time to replace the wall panels we had two concerns, aesthetics and durability.”

A Boeing design team spearheaded by Angela Moffett in Renton, Washington was tasked with making sure all of the Boeing Company’s Activity Centers have a unified identity and corporate look. “I got involved when I learned that the Activity Center at our site was getting a makeover,” says Fredrik Bergström, architectural/technical facilities designer for Boeing at Everett. “With all of our buildings, we continuously strive to achieve ease of maintenance. We also look for innovative products that meet our long-term goals and will withstand the heavy usage of our facilities.”

Bergström specified Wilsonart Compact Laminate – also known as solid phenolic – for the application. The material is essentially High Pressure Laminate, or HPL, except made with many more layers of Kraft paper that are fused under heat and pressure to create an extraordinarily strong, stand-alone finished panel that requires no substrate.

“I have 20 years of experience working with Compact Laminate and selected it for this application for many reasons,” says Bergström. “Cleanliness is a priority. Phenolic does not absorb moisture or bacteria. It can be pressure washed, and it won’t peel or warp. Also, it is durable, impact resistant and has anti-vandalism attributes. Compact Laminate stands up to the constant abuse of athletes pounding the walls. And if it scuffs, or even if someone writes on it with marker, it can be wiped clean. Plus, Wilsonart Compact Laminate is a UL GREENGUARD Gold Certified product that assists us with LEED. Using a local supplier and manufacturer to fabricate the panels gives us additional advantages.”

Manufacturing Strength

Making Wilsonart Compact Laminate the standard specification for the Boeing Activity Centers required some convincing. Bergström, who is Swedish, has worked in Sweden, the United Kingdom and Europe where Compact Laminate is well understood and widely used in airports, hospitals, laboratories, restaurants, exterior panelling and more. “Having a qualified supplier and manufacturer is critical to the success of a Compact Laminate project,” says Bergström. "In the Activity Center’s case, it was Ironwood Manufacturing out of Snohomish, WA that fabricated the panels. With Wilsonart via E.B. Bradley Co. down in Kent as the suppliers, we have a dedicated supplier/manufacturing combination servicing our needs at the very highest level.”

Trey Clasen, president of Ironwood Manufacturing, shares an appreciation for Compact Laminate. “We started playing with phenolic here in 1995, and I fell in love with the material. The stuff is so cool. Just the feel. It’s so solid, durable, smooth and clean. I like the tactile quality of it,” says Clasen.

Ironwood’s traditional niche is toilet partitions, but Clasen knows the material is capable of so much more. “Compact Laminate is great in wall panel and wainscoting applications, far better than even HPL or Fiber Reinforced Laminate (FRL) glued to the wall,” says Clasen. “Those materials work well, in fact they will take quite a lot of impact, but they damage the piece below. If you have repeated impact, like a cart running into the same place, I’ve seen it where all the sheet rock beneath the panel crumbles. Then the panel begins to flex, and when it finally gives away and cracks, it is very expensive to replace. Compact Laminate doesn’t flex on impact, so it protects the wall. I’ve never seen it break.”

Specifying Integrity

Ironwood’s tooling technology and very precise machining methods allow them to fabricate complex custom panels with smooth edges and a pristine finish. Support on the supply side from Wilsonart, and on the distribution/specification side from E.B. Bradley, helps Ironwood to bring out-of-the-box Compact Laminate solutions to architects and designers looking for superlative performance – like Bergström and the Boeing Activity Centers.

“Wilsonart is very supportive. They ask the right questions and follow up,” says Clasen. While Ironwood is busy engineering unusual Compact Laminate panel systems, E.B. Bradley works to close the loop with specifiers. “As our distributor partner, they have an appreciation for the Wilsonart material, and an understanding of our capabilities,” says Clasen. “We often make presentations to the A&D community together because it’s not enough to just show specifiers a remarkable material, you have to show them how and where it can be used.”

Ultimately, it was that integrated system of supplier, fabricator and distributor that helped Bergström prove the value of the Compact Laminate specification to his colleagues at Boeing. “The wall systems installed at the Everett Activity Center look great, and I anticipate the panels to last at least 50 years without losing performance and without the finish deteriorating. In fact, the client is more likely to initiate change to follow trends prior to the material losing its integrity. It’s a great solution to any application that undergoes heavy, everyday use.”

Image: Everett Activity Center