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The science behind our Ultra Boards


Our Ultra Boards were developed to meet a demand in display marketing for lightweight, versatile, and strong display boards. This demand comes from the need for short-term, easily-disposable displays fabricated with short lead times. LED screens can sometimes meet that demand, but they’re not as versatile – physically speaking – as physical displays, and can be prohibitively expensive to implement for short-term displays.

When it comes to versatile, lightweight displays, the only real option used to be printed cardboard. Cardboard fulfills three criteria: lightweight, quick to fabricate, and easy to dispose of, but its lack of rigidity means that it’s severely limited in application. Think about those cardboard cutouts of famous people, they always need a significant support framework of other cardboard or timber in order to stand up properly. Any additional weight needs to be carefully considered and supported because of the inherent weakness of cardboard.

So we put our minds to creating the perfect solution using our unique honeycomb paper.

Honeycomb’s strength

To get technical, the compressive strength of a shape comes from how few weak points it has. Now, circles are usually the best shape for withstanding compression because they don’t have any corners, but let’s explore why hexagons win out in this case.

To illustrate, imagine a shape has an equal force exerted downwards along its cross-sectional area. So imagine that we’re putting a weight top-down on, say, a square.

Shape force diagram

When we look at the cross-sectional area of a square, we can see that its weak points are its four corners. The force from the weight is distributed along the walls of the shape so each corner is a point where those walls could come apart.

Effects of weight on a square diagram

A circle, on the other hand, distributes the force all the way around its one wall, so doesn’t have a particular weak point in theory.

So why don’t we use circles as the shape for our core?

Well, a circle provides a huge amount of compressive strength on its own (hence why structural columns tend to be cylindrical) but doesn’t provide the same strength when multiplied across a plane. Put simply, circles don’t tessellate.

You can get near to tessellation with circles, but not neatly, and it’s precisely because of the lack of corners that tessellated circles don’t add up strength.

By the same logic applied earlier, you’d think that hexagons would be a worse choice than squares, because they have six corners – six potential weak points. But, when tessellated, each of these corners is supported by a branch in another hexagon.

Maximising the honeycomb shape diagram

This honeycomb shape is the perfect way to maximise compressive strength while also maximising on internal surface area – which in turn means you need to use significantly less material.

Ultra Board is Rigid

Because of these properties, Ultra Board is able to be very lightweight (30% lighter than competitor materials with similar compressive and beam strength) while also remaining rigid.

This means that it’s able to replace timber or MDF elements in displays – even semi-permanent displays. Thus reducing weight, simplifying assembly, and reducing overall cost.

The crucial benefit here is that through combinations of partial and full cuts, we’re able to fabricate complex patterns that can be easily assembled into complex shapes out of one, lightweight sheet. Where a display would have taken numerous sheets combined with timber and/or MDF, displays made from Ultra Board only need one sheet. This is perfect for one-off custom pieces, but also for large-scale multi-store displays that need to be shipped out to hundreds of stores affordably.

This series of short videos demonstrates how we’re able to essentially mimic wood joinery through cutting holes and shaping edges.

Ultra Board is sustainable

The way we see it, sustainability isn’t just about using recycled material, or stopping when your material is recyclable, it’s in striving to optimise your use of that material.

Even though cardboard is a relatively easily-renewable material (it doesn’t depend on the time it takes to grow a strong tree, for example), it still depends on a supply chain that uses energy and has wastages at each point.

It’s our duty as manufacturers, therefore, to reduce the amount of material being used at all.

That’s why we’re so confident with our Ultra Board. It uses significantly less material than comparable competitor products, which means it’s lighter at the same or better strength, which saves on fuel for shipping, which cuts emissions.

And this is the post-production benefit.

It takes a significant amount of water to grow a tree, and a significant amount of energy to cut it, transport it, and pulp it. So being able to get more out of the same amount of raw material maximises the effect of expending that energy. 

We also use recycled paper for our Ultra Board, which further reduces the overall energy cost of the product.

Efficiency is not just about having a great, effective product as an end-result, it’s about minimising wastage along the whole road to that great product.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch, we’d love to hear how we can work together for better products, for a better future.

17 December 2020

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