I well remember the first ZOW exhibition I attended in 1997. Almost nobody among the exhibitors spoke English and the exhibitors’ literature was only available in the German language.

This was not surprising – it was conceived as a show for German manufacturers to sell decorative and interior furnishing products and ideas to German buyers from the furniture and interiors sector centred around Bad Salzuflen, one hour’s drive from Hanover in the north of the country.

In fact the name of the exhibition is an acronym for Zuliefermesse Ost-Westfalen, with Ost Westfalen being the furniture producing region in which Bad Salzuflen is located and Zuliefermesse meaning accessories fair.

How things have changed. Now it is like the United Nations. Not only visitors, but also exhibitors, come from all over the world, including China. It started in less than one hall at the Bad Salzuflen Messe (fair ground) but this year occupied most of five halls, albeit that halls 22 and 23 are rather smaller than the others and triangular in shape due to constraints of the site. It was the first time that hall 23.1 had been used by ZOW.

Many exhibitors consider this expansion to be both a good and a bad thing. While they receive an international range of qualified visitors to whom they can offer their products, some of the essential character of ZOW has been compromised. It is not like any other exhibition, having more of a workshop atmosphere, and is at its best as a modest-sized show. Logistics have also become a problem with the growth of the show, with access roads becoming clogged with traffic and parking close to the show being more difficult.

Talking to the owner of ZOW, Peter H Meyer, at this year’s event (held from February 25 to 28) it appears that expansion of the exhibition has come to an end due to constraints of space as well as his desire to preserve the character of this unique show. He has always set his face against moving ZOW to another exhibition centre, too.

This is an annual show aimed at designers and specifiers and, once it became international, was seen as a strong competitor to Interzum, the interiors exhibition held in Cologne in odd-numbered years, just before the major Ligna woodworking show in May.

However, many of the exhibitors that I spoke to in Bad Salzuflen this year – and those were of course the exhibitors closely related to the panel business – said that they will in future attend Interzum in odd years and ZOW in even years, thus getting the best of both worlds.

Regular readers of this magazine will know that ZOW Bad Salzuflen began in 1995, with 2,000m2 of exhibition space. It has since spawned a number of other editions around the world: Today there are annual ZOW events in Pordenone, Italy (the first ZOW to be launched after Bad Salzuflen, in 2001); Madrid, Spain (2002); Moscow, Russia (2004); Shanghai, China (2005); and Istanbul, Turkey (2008).

The first event in Shenzhen in China will be held in 2009. This city is located close to Hong Kong but on the Chinese mainland and will be additional to the established ZOW in Shanghai.

“China is a continent, not just a country, and I think there is room for two ZOW shows,” said Mr Meyer at the Bad Salzuflen press conference.

The Shanghai show is to move from its location on the east side of Shanghai to a new one on the west side in 2008 and will run concurrently with the Shanghai International Furniture Exhibition, which debuted last year.

ZOW has always excluded machinery manufacturers from its line-up of exhibitors, until 2007, but only selected companies are allowed to exhibit.

“We have a particular type of machinery manufacturer here to make it clear what has become possible in terms of machining [and processing] furniture parts. It is interesting to contact different customer groups, without having noisy machinery running and we offer a different approach to customers for the machinery makers,” said Mr Meyer.

Thus Wemhöner Surface Technologies was to be found discussing its printing/lacquering lines, short-cycle presses, membrane and membrane-less presses and its lightweight (honeycomb-cored) panel pressing lines.

“We exhibited here for the first time in 2007 and got a large order as a result,” said Horst Oechler, area sales manager.

Similarly, Bürkle Process Technologies was present to discuss its direct printing and lacquering lines and lightweight board production.

“Two lacquer suppliers in Germany now have one of our lines in their showrooms and this has led to good business for us,” said Bernd Jochims, area sales manager. “Digital printing is very versatile – you can print whatever you like, in small runs if necessary.”

Homag was another machinery exhibitor (though without machines of course). It was also promoting lightweight board production lines, together with edging and fastening systems for them; and its direct printing lines.

Hueck Engraving has exhibited at Bad Salzuflen for some years but this year was the first time as Hueck Rheinische, having amalgamated with its sister company under the Berndorf banner. Thus the company was exhibiting Hueck’s press plates and Rheinische’s press compensation mats together for the first time.

“New for 2008 is ‘Glossline’,” said Oliver Espe. “It offers a particularly strong matt/gloss effect in the same panel.” Hueck also promoted its plates for woodgrains with gloss in the pores and matt on the higher surfaces.

Sandvik Hindrichs-Auffermann also showed its press plate designs, for the third year at the show. It offered a new matt texture which gives a very smooth feel to the panel – ‘Sparkling Stone’ – a stone texture with glossy spots in it.

Among panel makers exhibiting at the show was Belgian Spano Group. This comprises Spano particleboard at Oostrozeebeke, Spanolux MDF at Vielsalm and Dekaply melamine faced particleboard and MDF. Spanodecor is the name of its decor range.

An innovation from Spano is its MDF Design, a 3-D surfaced MDF. Using press plates, the company offers a variety of 11 patterns and textures and can provide others to order.

With all the talk about paper honeycomb-cored lightweight panels these days, it was interesting to see the core itself on the stand of Axxor, which supplies the honeycomb and the expanding machines to open it up for laying down in sandwich panel lay-ups.

Egger of course gave centre-stage to its honeycomb-cored sandwich panel produced at its St Johann factory in Austria.

“We are seeing a lot of good solutions coming together in fittings, processing, jointing, Innofix plastic strip edgebanding, adapters for sink and cooker hob fitting and so on,” said Andrew Laidler of Egger (UK). Panels with as little as a 1.5mm radius edge were shown.

New for 2008 is a range of 75 laminates, held in stock, cut to size for doors.

Egger’s stand also exhibited its wide range of textured decors in wood grains and stone, as well as smooth plain colours.

Homapal of Germany launched its real wood veneer-surfaced laminate, offering 39 veneers from light ash to ebony, with a soft touch surface that maintains the real wood feel.

The company has nearly 60 different cylinders to print woodgrains onto Homanit’s HDF.

Varioboard, also of Germany, showed its MDF/HDF panels, while sister company DTS Systemoberflächen exhibited a range of printed foils and decor papers finished with its electron beam-cured (EB) acrylic resins. “These are not melamine resins but acrylic and that makes our process unique,” said plant and sales manager Ralf Michael Gerigk. “We have always been very strong in high gloss and there has been much increased demand for that in recent years. Our surface is also much more scratch-resistant than melamine.”

The company is investing e13m at DTS in a new hall, stocking system, coating line, office building and mixing of its resins. These resins can also be coloured to order by DTS, if you want a coloured ash for example.

Elesgo is the brand name for DTS’ EB-cured surfaces and it can offer the coating on decors from any printer worldwide of course. The surface is also suitable for outside use and on laboratory bench tops for example.

Decospan from Belgium chose ZOW Bad Salzuflen to launch Shinnoki with a striking black theme to its stand (and the clothing of its personnel).

Decospan has always specialised in veneered boards and Shinnoki is a range of 16 fully-finished, ready-to-use, lacquered 19mm MDF panels, with a melamine backing on the reverse face for stability. The ultra-matt polyurethane finish is said to enhance the natural look and preserve the veneer structure.

The company uses the ‘mixmatch’ jointing technique where wood of different trees and various grain patterns is matched, giving continuous areas without any visible interruption. This gives a more uniform quality without losing the lively and unique aspect of wood, says Decospan, which emphasises that all its veneers are ethically sourced. It has recently invested in a 2.3m wide lacquering line from Bürkle, giving the company great flexibility in its new 70,000m2 factory.

Decomat is a subsidiary of Decospan established in February 2007 in Croatia to splice veneer and supplies eight million m2 annually to the open market.

Decospan also has a splicing factory in the Ukraine supplying its own needs.

Panel manufacturer Unilin, also of Belgium, though owned by Mohawk of North America, launched its Unilin cabinet Concept at the show. It now offers knock-down kitchen cabinet kits, complete with fittings, for base and for wall units.

The company, as Unilin Decor, continues to offer melamine faced panels in a wide range of decors, cut to shape/profile and drilled if required.

A company headquartered in the UK and with a factory in China, BLP, displayed its range of cabinet doors, primarily for kitchen cabinets, in membrane pressed foil, real fleece-backed veneer and in five-piece shaker style.

Moving on to the decor printers, we begin with Interprint, whose motto for 2008 is ‘Go closer’ to discover a new dimension in design, said Interprint’s Elizabeth Zenker. Its stand was strikingly themed in black and silver with pull-out panels and large drawers displaying its decors in various harmonised colour matches.

‘Iron Red’ was a very striking marble effect in grey/black/red colours and a strong pattern.

‘Cimbalo’ fantasy had simple swirls which had to be touched to realise it was not 3-D.

In addition to more traditional woodgrains in a variety of light and dark shades, grey/brown tones predominate in the 2008 range, as well as strong, darker grains with white in the pores. Alabama Walnut showed both heart and sapwood in a particularly striking woodgrain.

In a room at the rear of the stand were many more decors including the one-week-old range in ‘carbon fibre-look’ as a ‘high-tech’ material.

Süddekor received an award after the Interzum show last year. Not for its decors, though it certainly could have been, but for its printed brochure and the award came from the printing industry and was won in competition with automotive companies and other ‘sexy’ brochure specialists.

Dirk Eiynck confirmed that black and white is a trend this year, leading to such woodgrains as limed darker woods in combination with other structures

and colours.

“The first two months of 2008 have been very positive for us,” he said.

Coveright was promoting its ‘Silveright’ anti-bacterial surface and Dean Musfelt said it had received a very good response from the healthcare industry. The company’s DWS range is also available with anti-scratch, anti-static and slip-resistant surfaces in many different colours and designs.

Schattdecor’s stand was a real show-stopper. It was totally white. Or that is the way it appeared. Laid out as an apartment floor plan, it had a ‘kitchen’ with white cooker and units, ‘living’ with white furniture, ‘play’ with white toys, ‘sleeping’ and ‘study’ areas with white fitments and everywhere, triangular cross-section panels which rotated within the walls. These revealed the latest decor suggestions on two sides and – you probably guessed it – white on the third.

“We have a new research centre in Thansau for finish foil and a laboratory lacquering line so our customers can see the finished effect,” said Bernd Reuss.

Schattdecor brought 30 new decors to ZOW in oaks, beeches, maples and fantasies, demonstrated by Monika Ruthe of Schattdecor’s design department.

There were two new stones for kitchen worktops including ‘Nero Marquina’, a black and white marble.

Grey/brown tones were a feature in the woodgrains, as well as fantasies such as ‘Letra Fantasy’, which was light grey on dark grey.

Strong grained woodgrains were a significant feature of the display.

Among all the regular exhibitors at ZOW Bad Salzuflen, many of whom have been exhibiting since the first edition, there are now Chinese companies adding to the total of more than 700 exhibitors for 2008.

Has this workshop lost something of its original appeal by getting so much bigger? Yes, it undoubtedly has. On the other hand, it has gained a reputation as probably the most comprehensive, focused and user-friendly show for the sector which it serves.