High pressure, thermally-fused melamine and foil laminates was the subject of Richard Crow of Wilsonart Adhesives and Michel Fortin of CDM Decor Papers Inc. Mr Fortin defined foil as a decorative paper produced on a special base paper already containing special resins, which is available as solid colour or printed and designed to be laminated on a wide range of substrates. It has a base weight of 28 to 80gsm (grammes per square metre) and is usually delivered in roll form, he explained. He listed its advantages as: easy to laminate; flexible; multiple usage; and inexpensive compared with other laminates such as thermally-fused or high pressure melamine. "New and exciting developments are recoatability, optical embossing, continuous and simultaneous four-face lamination and a full cycle lamination time of 3.2 seconds for an 8ft panel," said Mr Fortin.
Mr Crow summarised the HPL (high pressure laminate) production process and said the two largest categories of HPL are general purpose laminates for flat use and postforming grades for curved edges. He pointed out that high-wear, compact and fire retardant grades are also available. Mr Crow then went on to describe the production of thermally-fused melamine panels. The basics of Kraft and decor papers for decorative and industrial laminates were covered in another tutorial by Rhonda Nichols of International Paper and Paul Marshall of MeadWestvaco Corporation. The speakers took delegates back to the basics of paper manufacture and the specific requirements of Kraft and decor papers. The rotogravure printing process was described by David Field of Interprint Inc, who took delegates through the history of printing from 1790, when William Nicholson invented the first printing cylinder, to the present, digital, age.
Impregnating equipment and methods was the subject of the fourth tutorial, by Peggy Lemmer of Dynea Overlays Inc and Wayne Xu of Shaw Industries, while testing methods, specifications and standards for decorative laminates was covered by industry expert F Holbrook Platts of Platts Laminate Technologies. Phenolic and melamine resin chemistry was the sixth tutorial, presented by Mary Epling of Georgia-Pacific Resins inc and Alan Edwards of Hexion Speciality Chemicals. Session 2 of the symposium was the Hall of Fame Luncheon, during which certificates were presented to several notable contributors to the industry over many years (see news pages). Session 3 was in fact the opening session of the symposium proper and included a presentation to Rhonda Nichols for services to the TAPPI committee. Session 4, ‘Laminates’, began with ‘How to reduce warping of melamine laminates’, presented by Bert Stijnen of DSM Melamine.
He said that warping can be minimised if water is heterogeneously distributed throughout the laminate and the size of the ‘water-poor’ domains is reduced. Water content is adjusted by varying the molar ratio of the saturating resin. "A laminate with good dimensional stability is from an impregnated paper with a higher degree of resin conversion," he said. ‘Cladding the world in decorative laminates’ was the optimistic-sounding title of the paper from Keith Phillips of Trespa International BV of Holland. He said that the new European standard for laminates, EN438, includes a section on exterior laminates, adding: "The solution to cladding the world is compact laminate, or solid phenolic laminate, which should be above 6mm thick to be self-supporting". He added that the critical factors for compact laminate facades are: reaction to fire; durability of coating; durability of phenolic core; dimensional stability; and method of attachment to the wall – preferably ventilated between the wall and the laminate. In ‘High speed online visualisation for improved quality and process productivity [on paper machines]’ Andrzej Denysiewicz of Technocell described how the use of 10 high-speed cameras on the paper production line had reduced web breaks by 26% over five months.
The next speakers were Frederick Kurpiel and Luca Onesti of Protronics, part of the Italian panel manufacturing group Frati of Italy. They described Protronic’s computer vision defect detection system, this time for laminated panel surfaces. The company developed its own camera with two microprocessors inside, which means there is less data to transmit on communication lines and users can have up to 15 cameras on one line without affecting those communications, explained Mr Luca. The system employs ProCM software to give real-time defect display. Session 5, on the second morning, covered ‘New products and processes’. This was kicked off by Andreas Lentner of Hymmen of Germany who described ‘Direct multi-colour printing on wood and wood composite panels’. "Direct printing is not new but until now was for low-visibility areas," said Mr Lentner. "But today it offers an exciting alternative for furniture fronts, with developments in inks, water-resistant layers, CNC controls and cycle times." He suggested that advances in printing technology, control software and ink formulations had taken direct printing to this new level.
‘Conventional printing + digital technology = profits2’ was the claim of Terry Amerine of Fujifilm Sericol, a supplier of printing inks. Mr Amerine said that digital printing will not replace conventional methods, but that the two are complementary. Digital has the advantage in short production runs in terms of set-up times and also offers a quicker response to urgent printing requirements, but is not the answer for all applications, he said. ‘Oriented polypropylene films for decorative lamination’ was the subject of Ron Rodeck of AET Films. He said that these films had replaced substrates which couldn’t continue to meet the demands of the market. He said this was because they offer exceptional resistance to water, good print fidelity, dimensional stability and a significant barrier to formaldehyde emissions. The three families of polypropylene (PP) films are: calendered, bi-axially oriented (OPP) and, the subject of this presentation, which was enhanced OPP.
Calendered PP films are an alternative to PVC but are only available in thicker films and have adhesion problems to become a ‘universal decorative laminate’. The normal OPPs, whilst thin and strong, lack robustness and also have adhesion problems, said Mr Rodeck. The speaker added that his enhanced OPP retained the advantages of PP, but with greatly improved adhesion, robustness and print quality. The next speaker was Gene Dera of Doellken-Woodtape, on the subject of ‘Green edgebanding alternatives’. He pointed out that, while PVC has been around since 1970 and is still popular, there are issues with dioxins and chlorine release. Mr Dera then summarised the alternatives available. He suggested that for chlorine-free materials, use ABS, PP or 3D. For laboratory furniture, use PVC or PP. For high heat resistance, ABS, PP or 3D. For high quality, 3D. The cheapest types are ABS and PVC and these are also problem-free in use on simple machines. The edgebanding for use in as many applications as possible is ABS, said the speaker.
Session 6 was entitled ‘Green/environmental’ and the first speaker to take the stand was George Cruzan of the Formaldehyde Council to give a ‘Formaldehyde issues update’. "Most of the issues are over-blown. All chemicals are hazardous – it is a question of how we use them. For example, excessive oxygen damages the DNA in your lungs," said Mr Cruzan, pointing out that formaldehyde is essential to life and is synthesised within the human body. He outlined the studies carried out, which concluded that, in rats, prolonged exposure to a formaldehyde level of two parts per million or more can cause nasal cancer. Research continues on what level would apply to humans, said the speaker. Colin McMillan discussed ‘Life cycle analysis (LCA) of laminate products versus competitive building materials’, covering both LCA and life cycle impact assessment (LCIA), as outlined in the ISO 14040 series, as it relates to laminate products. He said that the drivers for LCA are: market and competition; it answers requests for environmental and social information; it enhances a company’s public image; it plays a role in green purchasing policies; and it can identify cost savings within companies.
Session 7 was lunch, with Christopher Lowell as special guest speaker. He is a well-known TV personality and author in North America, having his own shows about interior design and decor. Session 8, ‘The marketplace’, began with an overview of the global laminates market by Jan Jaap Nusselder of DSM Melamine Americas Inc. The main forecasts were that laminate flooring production will continue to grow in North America, causing imports to stagnate, while production in China will also grow, to about 400 million m2 in 2012, and that most of that Chinese market will be served by domestic producers, who will also be looking to export. Mr Nusselder said that North America’s melamine laminate production is at a low level now but he forecast 7% per annum growth for the future. Global consumption growth was also estimated at 7% per annum. He added that development of the industry started in Europe and that Europe is the technology leader. However, he said that China is approaching European production levels. He also intimated that furniture imports from China into North America will continue to rise sharply.
The speaker suggested that new investment was required in North American panel and furniture industries, that they need to be innovative and have winning designs and they could then take advantage of their shorter lead times. Chris Leffel, formerly of the Composite Panel Association (CPA) but now with panel manufacturer Sierra Pine, looked at the North American board market in recent years and at its future prospects. He said particleboard saw a recovery in 2004, followed by a slowdown in mid-2005, due to shifting furniture production and imported substitute products. He predicted a slight increase in demand in 2006, with increasing imports, and a decrease in demand in 2007/8 with domestic capacity falling 13% from its 2005 levels.
For MDF, Mr Leffel also reported a recovery in demand in 2004 which continued into 2005. Mouldings and laminate flooring accounted for most of this, with much of it imported from Europe. For 2006/8 he forecast increased demand (+8%), combined with a 3% increase in domestic production, but also a steep rise in imports, particularly from South America. He said that he expected most of any new MDF plants to be built in the US rather than Canada. He also said he expected to see more vertical integration in the panel industry in North America, as seen in Europe, saying: "The survivors will address issues of raw material source, product mix and will partner with their customers". He warned of the environmental challenges facing the industry, such as MACT regulations on factory emissions, product emissions and fibre availability. "The [US] industry must look to diversify its products and look for replacement opportunities," said Mr Leffel. "There will be a panel business going forward and certainly Sierra Pine will still be here."
For the outlook for South American panel producers, Pedro Montes of Georgia-Pacific Corporation, said that MDF capacity today stands at 3.1 million m3 and that he expected it to reach close to four million m3 in 2007, with growth mainly in Brazil and Chile. Particleboard growth, on the other hand, has been restrained he said, with Brazil as the main producer. He did not foresee capacity growth for this panel type. In plywood production, Mr Montes said Brazil leads the way, with Chile in second place, with new plants planned for Chile and Uruguay. In melamine resin impregnated paper, Brazil leads with 74% of the region’s production. Mr Montes concluded that the region has healthy growth in GDP of over 4.5% annually, sustainable forest plantations and a growing demand for its panel products, particularly thin and moulded MDF. Mathias Krull of Munksj√∂ Paper summarised the world market for laminate flooring. He said that average annual market growth between 1995 and 2005 had been 7.2% (or 5.4% excluding China). The speaker said 65% of world laminate flooring production is in Europe, although consumption there accounts for only 50%.
"Western Europe’s demand will be rather stagnant and the strong growth of eastern Europe and Turkey will not counterbalance the need for further export, mainly to North America, if European production capacity will be utilised as in the past," said Mr Krull. "European based companies have taken decisions for major investments, particularly in North America, and the capacity increase in North America will amount to more than 75 million m2 in 2005-7. Domestic companies have and will install new cutting lines as well." Turning to China, he said: "China has by far the largest production (approx 190 million m2) and the highest consumption volumes of laminate flooring, mostly consumed within China". The final morning of the symposium was devoted to three workshops: ‘Board regulation’; ‘Colour and appearance’; and ‘Specifying in the real world’. The last named had a panel composed of Dick Titus of the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA), Rick Troxel of Roseburg Forest Products and the CPA, symposium chairman Lee Miller and Michel Fortin as moderator.
After presentations on standards for kitchen cabinetry in the KCMA and on the CPA’s Buyers & Specifiers Guide, a lively discussion followed, led by Lee Miller, about certifying fabricators in the industry and also generic advertising to raise the profile of decorative laminates. Mr Miller was concerned that specifiers can specify a high-end product with the required specification such as fire retardency, while the fabricator can use a low-end product which does not meet the specification, pocketing the difference in cost, and the customer might never know – particularly when the identifying marks were on the back of the laminate. "This practice leads to poor-performing product in the marketplace and damage to the reputation of the whole industry," said Mr Miller.
¬†"We’ve also marketed to specifiers and not educated the public. We need a ‘Decorative Surfaces Institute’ to raise our own image to being the premier decorative product," he added. Mr Miller suggested that this would need a separate budget and to be funded by all in the industry "who will benefit from a larger slice of the pie". To obtain a copy of the proceedings of this conference, or other information on TAPPI, go to www.tappi.org