What has made MDF a rapid and continuing success among specifiers, designers and builders is its ability to provide a versatile substrate with more features than most of its competitors.

Among these are mirror-smooth surfaces, suitable for painting, laminating or veneering, similarly smooth cutting, without breakout or splintering of edges, stability, availability in a variety of sheet dimensions and thicknesses, and being tough enough to resist rough handling on site.

These inherent features alone would have made it an attractive addition to the sheet materials used in the construction industry. In fact, companies such as Willamette Europe, with its Medite brand of MDF, have concentrated a good deal of attention on expanding the value, versatility and attraction of MDF for the building industry.

The result has been a growing choice of specialist boards. With its Medite FR boards, formulated to meet Class 1 and Class 0 flame-retardant certification, Willamette found a ready market for interior wall panelling in commercial and public buildings.

Many retail stores now use similar panelling or its slot wall shelving variation. With the latter, stringent fire regulations are met while making full use of wall areas for the display of a wide variety of products. Both shelving and products are suspended from a comparatively thin section of MDF, utilising the inherent strength of the board.

The success of the flame-retardant board led to other versions of MDF. Medite 313 is moisture-resistant, especially suitable for bathroom and kitchen furniture, window boards, and – most popularly – for architectural mouldings and skirtings. Here, builders and specifiers soon worked out the cost-effectiveness of the MDF product. It is not only smoother and easier to paint than softwood but has no knots, ensuring virtually no wastage.

Medite Exterior, properly prepared, stands up to the rigours of weather. It is widely used for signage, shopfront components, fascias, even complete shop frontages where its creative aspects can be employed to marked effect. It means that shopfronts, long the domain of concrete, glass and aluminium, can assume an individual character.

Willamette Europe, in fact, now has eight different versions of MDF. One of the most recently-developed, directed at specific sectors of furniture and construction, is Medite ZF (zero formaldehyde).

This is an MDF where no formaldehyde is added during manufacture. As a result it far outperforms European and US low-formaldehyde standards; its formaldehyde content is less than 1mg/100g. (It needs to be remembered that, since formaldehyde is found naturally in wood, no wood products can be entirely formaldehyde-free.) Originally Medite ZF was directed towards museums where highly sensitive and valuable artefacts need to be protected. Its success has been exceptional, helped by the boom in museum building and refurbishment engendered by the availability of lottery funds. For instance, the Museum of Scotland, at £64m one of the largest new-build museum projects for years, uses Medite ZF throughout, for wall panelling, furniture and display cases.

Other key market areas were swiftly discovered. Laboratories, hospitals, schools, nurseries, and care homes, are all now users of Medite ZF.

All of which demonstrates that once versatility is a recognised feature of a product, it makes sense to develop it in ways that provide bigger benefits for major markets.