The foundation of success in 3D laminating starts with understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the materials and technology involved in the process. Without this knowledge, it is virtually impossible to design a product that will last, and that’s a major concern for the 3D laminating industry. We’ve come through the yellowing issue of the early 90s. We’ve gotten a handle on what causes delamination and how it can be avoided. But big problems arise when we create designs using only a partial knowledge of the technology, coupled with inadequate testing of the design.
A few years ago I was called on to help with a project that involved 3D laminated countertops. These tops were being installed across North America in high traffic areas of a major retailer. Immediately I saw terminal flaws in the design of this product. First of all, using high-gloss 3DL on a horizontal surface that would have keys, cell phones and small children sliding across them is a death sentence right from the start. I wish I could say that’s where the problems ended, but no such luck.
The countertop was to be made from 2-inch thick MDF. In addition to five sharp outside corners and one difficult inside corner, there were also 2 - 1-3/4-inch grommet holes. A 1-3/4-inch grommet hole is bad enough, but pressing it 2 inches deep is insane.Of course, we were going to attempt to pull this into that hole with just the use of vacuum. A sucker for the impossible challenge, I set out to see if I could help them.
In hindsight I should have saved everyone’s time by walking them out to the water retention pond for a little experiment. If I could walk across the unfrozen pond, we press on. If I sink, I go home. Instead I fought my way through a very frustrating and unsuccessful afternoon. I must admit I thrive on opportunities to "save the day," but sometimes my attempts to leap tall buildings ends in a single thump.
Later I learned that this project had been passed on from one fabricator to the next in an attempt to find someone that could consistently make a quality product. I can’t help but wonder how many shirts were lost in the process. Probably enough to start my own thrift store. Next time we’ll take a look at the fundamental issues to consider when designing a 3DL component.