Watson Consoles Blog

Sep 26, 2017 High Performance Environment, Before You Buy, Future-Proof

Which is the best material for my dispatch console, wood or steel?

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You may have been recently misled with a false claim. The pitch may have gone something like this: “I understand your agency is planning to replace your consoles... ...That’s great news. As you consider your options, you should really stay away from the wood-based products. Steel is so much more sturdy! You need a console that is built to last and wood can’t do the job.”

Do not be fooled.

As experienced manufacturers of both wood and steel products, we were surprised that many of our customers were misled by this false information. We use both steel and wood in our consoles. Both have their merits and we use these materials for the parts best suited for the quality they provide.

Often, folks who believe steel is always a better option than wood are not familiar with the nuances of engineering and manufacturing processes. They also may not know that wood remains the preferred material for human-centered furniture goods worldwide, including those used in shift-work environments. 

When applied correctly wood-based materials are useful, durable, sustainable and look great.

sitting on the console surface

Select, commercial-grade wood is ideal for shift-based technology furniture like dispatcher consoles.

  • Wood is functionally strong.
  • Wood lasts a long time.
  • Wood is tech-friendly.
  • Wood looks, sounds and feels better than metal.
  • Wood promotes US economic health.
  • Wood is a renewable resource.

We’ll share more facts that reinforce what tens of thousands of seasoned manufacturers and 911 dispatch professionals, hundreds of thousands of wood experts and 75 million US citizens know to be true.

Before we do, here’s a little bit about what we do and what makes us technically qualified to put a stake in the ground.

timeline.jpgA half-century learning, testing and perfecting blended-materials manufacturing

Our teams are engineering and commercial furniture manufacturing experts – particularly for complex furniture with multiple points of adjustment and integrated power and technology.

We’ve been manufacturing dispatcher consoles as long as they have been available to PSAPs. The modern dispatcher console, brought to market in 1987, was carried forward by Watson in partnership with MOW Co. Since that time, we have engaged regularly with operators and 911 center IT techs to create solutions that work. Several recurring themes inform our design and material choices. We’ve learned this from you.

  • Dispatchers want to sit at furniture that helps them feel comfortable and focused. And they want the center to feel welcoming.
  • IT professionals want easy access to hardware and cabling. They want furniture that solves the challenges they face with cable routing, signal interruption and regular maintenance.

  • Center managers want furniture that will last a long time. They want their teams to like sitting at the furniture – to be comfortable; a comfortable dispatcher is a happy dispatcher, and happy dispatchers stay with the agency.

Additionally, and prior to our entry into public safety technology furniture, Watson spent 20 years perfecting height-adjustable commercial furniture solutions.

Today, the concepts Watson pioneered are mainstays in ergonomic and comfort-focused commercial environments including 24/7 manned call-centers, security centers, and high-traffic university common spaces.

Materials expertise

Blending materials offers the best of both worlds. Cumulative field observation and research has led us to design with blended-materials. Our unique engineering discipline and manufacturing expertise positions us to deliver furniture that is shift-work rated for structural durability and provides the user a pleasing environment to work from every day.

By having both a steel shop and a wood shop in-house we leverage the advantages of both materials to create consoles that are structurally sound and visually appealing.

Wood and steel have a place

We are experts in knowing when and where best to use it. Our engineering teams assess the stress, strain and strength parameters of all framing, surfaces and joinery materials. Then they design for superior strength and functional application. 

expert welders

Steel

Steel and aluminum are ideal for parts that lend functional strength and stability including framing, under-structure, extruded supports, brackets and joinery, cable channels, power channels, mounts and accessory parts. Each of our consoles is designed with a steel and/or aluminum frame for stability and strength. We fabricate and build these parts right here in Poulsbo, Washington where we have access to expert machinists and welders trained to create and repair tools and vehicles for the US Marine Corps and Navy.

Wood

Wood is the best choice when you want a durable solution that also looks great. Laminate, expertly laid up on top-quality commercial wood-substrate, adds style to interiors, creates a welcoming environment, and reduces sound-bounce when combined with upholstered paneling.  

Components that are good candidates for wood-core include frame surrounds, surfaces, panels and ancillary storage. We source wood-core materials from within 500 miles of our factory. Additional fabrication is completed right here, at our headquarters, by seasoned machinists and wood-working experts.

Understand motivation. Why attack wood construction?

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It’s easy.

Why tell customers that wood is inferior? Frankly, the sale. The reality is that all manufactures want to remain viable in the consoles marketplace and want more of the, proverbial, pie.

A quick attack on wood is easy. On the surface the argument might even seem to make sense – steel is stronger than wood. This is a logical fallacy when you consider the application and functional need of console furniture. 

While a biased side-by-side materials comparison may reinforce this thinking. Don’t be fooled. 

Wood is functionally strong, lasts decades, is tech-friendly, and looks and sounds better than metal – especially in noisy environments. 75 million US citizens and tens of thousands of dispatch professionals can attest to these facts.

Unfortunately, steel is often chosen because it’s a less expensive raw material, not because it’s better.

The anti-wood argument deflects attention from rising problems with steel fabrication

beware of bad weldsSome commercial technology furniture manufacturers are engaged in “race to the bottom” cost-reduction initiatives. They choose low quality steel, presuming customers will not question the value – because, after all, it’s steel.

Be aware that some manufacturers have replaced robust gauges of steel with lower quality pieces that dent, scratch, and clang when closed. They have replaced the craft of hemming and mitering cases for lower quality connections and inferior welds. Inferior workmanship may be further exacerbated when some or all components fabrication is outsourced.

To deflect scrutiny over steel components, the same manufacturers attempt to discredit the value of wood and wood-core materials.


Watson teams want you to have the consoles that best meet your needs. Because we know if you are satisfied, you’ll be back. 

steel frame + wood cabinets are a lasting value

Based on our on-going field observations and materials research, your best-fit solution will be a console that is durable, quiet, feels good to work at and makes your center feel inviting – after all, you spend unusually long hours at your console. As you consider your next dispatch console, shop around. Ask the tough questions and stay informed.

In the next installments...

In the next installment of this three-part series, we'll share the technical reasons why wood 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. You'll also learn why choosing the right dispatch console for your team can boost engagement and mitigate turnover.

 


 

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