Panels these days are about added value. Among down-line processes, specialty finishes in particular lend individuality and branding to a board, and hence value.

Today the demand is for high-gloss finishes, the glossier the better. Digital printing for flooring, kitchen laminates or use in public spaces such as restaurants and shops, is also in high demand.

Surface finishing technology is an area of demand, progress – and growth.

Who better to talk to than Dr Achim Hübener, CEO of Kleiberit, the worldwide leader in high-gloss surface finishing technology. We caught up with him at LIGNA, where he was extremely satisfied with the latest developments. A deal had just been signed. “Kastamonu Entegre, the Turkish board maker, has just ordered their second HotCoating line” he said. They ordered their first line four years ago.

This second line, from Barberan in Spain, will be 2,400mm wide, 178m long with a speed of 15m/min. It will produce boards with finishes ranging from high gloss to super matte with a soft touch effect, on demand. The line is being installed at Kastamonu’s facility in Turkey and is planned to go on-stream this year.

The CEO of Kastamonu was also at Ligna, and sounded equally pleased about the new line: “Four years ago we installed our first line with Kleiberit technology. We started to produce high-gloss boards 2.10 m wide. Now that line is operating at full capacity. This new line will more than double our capacity.”

“It will be able to apply clear or pigmented products with extraordinary durability, which are scratch resistant and resistant to sunlight and chemical discoloration.” Another benefit for any family with small children in the kitchen, the finish is resistant to fingerprints as well.

Not surprising that this is a product that is in demand and has a future. Not surprising that he also included the words "and our customers" in his message “We and our customers are very happy to work with Kleiberit.”

For Dr Hübener, the best part of the contract is that it is a repeat order. “For us, we see it as a great sign of trust. We believe it is a confirmation that we are leading in high-gloss and surface finishing technology products.”

Kleiberit has not always been into surface coatings. “We began in 1948, as a family firm making woodworking adhesives” says Dr Hübener. “We still are a family-owned company, and that may seem a small thing but it is very important. It gives us passion and it gives us a long-term vision. It lets us see beyond just the next shareholder meeting.”

That long-term vision helped the company expand into surface finishing technology. “We are a company working with polyurethane chemistry and striving for innovation. After about 30 years we began to expand to polyurethane coatings as well – we began to consider not only the adhesion of melamine to wood panels, we considered the surface of the panel too.”

“We began that process in the '90s. The first industrial production line for HotCoating started in early 2000. As with any breakthrough technology, there were many challenges.”

Today there are lines operating in Europe, North and South America, South Africa, the Middle East and Russia as well as at Kastamonu in Turkey. Another deal was recently signed with Pfleiderer, for a 2.10 metre line in Germany. “That is a €12 million investment – a real commitment to the technology” says Dr Hübener.

The manufacturing process takes place downstream from the board production. Using melamine-faced board (chipboard, MDF or any other wood based board), the first stage is to apply a layer of HotCoating.

“It is a solid material melted at high temperature to become a liquid” says Dr Hübener, “which reacts and results in a clear and durable coating.”

“It has excellent adhesion to the melamine surface. Another innovation is that it also sticks well to flexible surfaces, such as veneer or films, giving them strength.”

The next stage is application of high-gloss digital printing or surface finish lacquer for high-gloss or super-matte.

At its LIGNA stand, next to where we were talking, Kleiberit had installed a short-cycle press. The company’s finishes can be applied equally well to embossed kitchen units. To achieve the highest glosses, absolute cleanliness is essential.

Any dust landing on the surface will make imperfections. Here the process is to apply a liquid coating to the board by roller, and then to apply a clear plastic film – think kitchen cling-film – on top of it. Shine uv light to cure the liquid; and then peel off the film, which can be used again. The film keeps out the dust: “Dust is the enemy,” says Dr Hübener. The film keeps the surface not only clean but also absolutely flat and wrinkle free. The result is a 100% mirror-like finish free of imperfections.

“The real benefit for the user in the market” says Dr Hübener. “Is that the highgloss board can be subsequently processed in furniture manufacturing, by sawing, drilling or milling, in a factory or on-site.”

Here is the unique – and highly desirable – selling point of the technology. “There is no chipping at the edge when you saw the board. You can drill it – and all end-users of boards drill them – cleanly, without danger of chipping. Therefore you can be sure that you can use 100% of the boards that you buy and do not have to throw away a complete board due to damage at the last stage of installation.”

“There is no waste and no last processing step after installation. The board has a scratch-resistant surface and is hard, but it also has flexibility. There is no cracking, even when it is used in the direct post-forming process for a small radius.”

Kleiberit, and Dr Hübener, are justly proud of their technology, and see a great future for the product. Carpenters and installers will surely buy it with confidence, and parents admiring the beautiful highest gloss surfaces of their new kitchens no longer need tell their sticky-fingered children not to touch.