I realize this is a strange question to ask in a woodworking blog, but are you hotter than average? Seriously, do you think you’re pretty hot? A few years ago MSNBC and Elle magazine did a joint survey and came up with some very interesting results. Even though we’re fatter than ever, the vast majority of people consider themselves to be pretty hot. In fact, the under 30’s were found to be especially confident, with 28% of young women and 30% of young men rating themselves between an 8 and a 10.
Are we really this confident? If I had to choose between healthy self-image and wishful thinking to explain these results, I’d go with the latter. Remember the studies that indicate over 80% believe themselves to be above average? We like to believe what we want to believe and we’re willing to overlook inconsistencies in order to believe it.
So what does all of this have to do with 3D laminating? I’ve actually seen this same principle acted out over and over again, often with devastating results. Whether we’re outsourcing 3DL components, buying our own press, or sourcing materials, we are simply too quick to believe we can do it cheaper, better, and faster than those who have proven themselves with consistent performance. In our carelessness and sometimes under intense pressure, we are prone to believe the first person that promises a cheap and easy solution.
It’s not that we shouldn’t remain open minded and look at new materials, equipment, and ideas. There is a balance between being too risky and too rigid. Being too rigid might prevent us from embracing the next great technological breakthrough. However, in a world where promises are cheap, truth is not determined by what we want to be true. Believing is not achieving, especially if we are unwilling to confirm our beliefs through trials, testing, and the counsel of others.
click image to zoomIn 3D laminating a thermoformable laminate, such as the leather pattern above, is bonded to a 3-dimensionally shaped component using a controlled sequence of heat and vacuum, heat and positive pressure, or heat, vacuum and positive pressure combined. True story: I once had a 3DL component producer ask me about a particular 3D laminate. He first told of his excitement to learn that many of the patterns he was using were now available for 30% less than the other well-known and proven suppliers he was using. But the look on his face clearly indicated there was more to the story, so I asked what the problem was. “Well,” he said, “I have to run 30% more cycles to get the same amount of product that is good enough to ship.” So in exchange for a 30% savings in 3DL costs, he had to use 30% more 3DL, board, adhesive and labor hours to make the same amount of “sellable” product.
In retrospect, I realized I neglected to inform him that his extra costs likely didn’t end there. If the 3DL was made cheaper in the traditional way, by adding more plasticizer so it could be produced nearly twice as fast, then his problems were not over. As more plasticizer is added the film becomes less rigid, making it more prone to bridging, shrink back along the bottom edge, and lower heat resistance. The bottom line is a greatly increased possibility that this product, though it looked good when it was shipped, will be returned for replacement at a later date.
So what’s today’s lesson? It’s really very simple. Learn to ask questions. Don’t believe something is true just because it will make you feel good, look good, or simply make you feel like you look good. If you’re outsourcing 3DL components, learn as much as you can about the 3D laminate, board, adhesives and equipment your supplier uses. Learn what test methods are available to confirm the quality of the product you’re buying. Draw from the experience of others that have been involved in the industry for a long time. Joining discussion groups, such as the LinkedIn group Membrane Pressing & 3D Laminating Design, puts a lot of industry veterans right at your fingertips.
Why is this so important? Whether the issue is manufactured goods or service providers, educated consumers lead to a healthier industry. After it’s all said and done, we really are all in this together.