Berco Inc. has integrated biodegradeable linoleum surfaces into its table top offerings as an environmental alternative to high-pressure laminates.
For 25 years, high-pressure laminates have and continue to serve Berco Inc. of St. Louis, MO, well for surfacing training and other specialty tables.
In fact, Berco currently offers customers a choice of more than 5,000 laminate colors and patterns from such companies as Pionite, Wilsonart, Formica and Nevamar.
In the last couple of years, however, in response to the environmental movement that is finding its way into the architect and design community, Berco began offering a work surface-grade linoleum product from Forbo. Marmoleum, as Forbo calls it, is a biodegradeable product made from linseed oil, wood flour, rosin binders, dry pigment, mixed and calendered into a jute backing. It shares many of the same performance characteristics and fabricating requirements of decorative laminates.
“Many architects and designers these days are building offices, colleges and schools to fit environmental or the 'green movement' standards,” says Robert Beegle, general manager.
“They want the furniture in the buildings to coincide with the environmental aspects of the building itself,” adds Elliot Baum, director of engineering. “We started offering the option of tables that could meet this requirement.”
The linoleum option dramatically increases the design possibilities offered to Berco’s customers.
“We have 60 different powder coating color offerings for our metal table bases,” says Beegle. “For our table tops, we have 20 wood stains, numerous wood profiles, 15 vinyl edgings, hard PVC and soft PVC edges as well as numerous laminate and linoleum colors. We also offer custom legs and table top surfaces to match any color or decor.”
Five years ago, Berco began offering computer tables for use in training rooms, classrooms and offices. These and other standard and custom tables are manufactured by 34 of Berco’s 58 employees in an assembly-line fashion at the company’s 80,000-square-foot plant.
Why Choose Linoleum?
“One reason our company chose the Forbo linoleum is because it is a growing product that is also biodegradeable,” says Craig Eckelkamp, plant operations manager. “It can also heal if it is not cut deep. For instance, if you are sitting at your desk and skim the surface of the desk with a letter opener it will grow back together after a period of time.”
According to the company, the healing aspect gives it an added plus for classroom usage where tables are moved and could be abused by students. In addition, linoleum has bacterial fighting agents and biosides which are naturally present.
“The bacterial fighting aspect has made linoleum an appealing surface to health care facilities, schools and hospitals,” says Baum. “They consider linoleum a plus because of this and its other environmental aspects.”
Berco’s environmentally- conscious customers, from designers and architects to dealers, choose linoleum surfaces because it has biodegradeable properties.
“They like the fact that if you put it in the ground it completely degrades,” says Baum. “We also combined the linoleum-surfaced top with aluminum legs that can be recycled, water-based glue, ABS for smaller parts and reforested birch plywood.”
Linoleum’s Performance Trials
According to Baum, the company applies laminate to MDF panels or plywood, but it only uses Finnish birch plywood for linoleum.
“We use plywood the most for our tables because it creates a balanced panel,” says Baum. “Tables are not supported continuously like a countertop. Because pedestals only support the table in two locations we have to be very mindful of warpage.”
According to Baum, it took some trial and error to find out that Finnish birch plywood specifically supports the weight of the linoleum best. In addition, Finnish birch plywood coincides with “green” concerns because it is reforested.
Another discovery for Berco has been that linoleum keeps its color all the way through. If a piece of laminate is scratched the phenolic could show through.
“For tables that are in classrooms and high-traffic areas, linoleum can at times take scratches better,” Baum says. “It’s softer than laminate, but it is 1/8 inch thick that is solid in color all the way to the jute. The linoleum also can be more simply reconditioned and repaired with some oils.”
The company at first recommended three standard solid colors and patterns for its linoleum products. That is until it discovered linoleum can have the same problem with scratches on certain solid colors as laminate.
“We have discovered that a patterned linoleum is better to use than a solid color linoleum,” says Beegle.
Baum adds, “We discovered the solids can show more of the scratches just like glossy laminate. Now we are encouraging people to pick the patterned linoleums because it is harder to see any scratches.”
Processing with Care
Berco gets its laminates in nine standard sheet sizes and its linoleum in 79-inch-wide cut-to-size rolls per order.
The first major step in processing is acclimation for both the surfacing materials and the substrates.
“We will not use any core unless it has been sitting at the back end of this (laminate and receiving) room for at least two weeks for acclimation,” says Eckelkamp. “When the laminate and linoleum come in the door they have to acclimate overnight at least to reach moisture content balance before we will start to use them.”
Laminates and linoleums are cut and then acclimated with the backer in a large shelving unit. This assures that they come out at the same moisture content. According to Baum, if the backer and linoleum or laminate are not stored together they could vary in length as much as a 1/4 inch, which creates the potential for serious warping.
The company uses National Casein PVA water-based adhesives for application. There is only one main difference between the laminates and linoleums when they go through the spreader.
“We were hand rolling all of our linoleum tops at first,” says Eckelkamp. “Now we have it down to where we can actually roll it through the spreader. It can get tricky when there are five or six tops run at a time because of the pre-cure issues on the glue.”
Step by Step
The process is then repeated until a stack of linoleum panels is made. The stack is then pushed along on roller conveyors to a Black Bros. cold press. After the stack is pressed it sits for 24 hours to cure.
“We manufacture from a two- to six-hour cure,” says Eckelkamp. “However, we let them sit for 24 hours just to make sure there is a tight bond. Maintaining proper film thickness of glue helps with the space between the jute on the bottom of the linoleum, eliminating pockets that could be torn by the router.”
The panels are machined on a Komo CNC router for round tops or curved tops or a Celaschi double-end tenoner for squared tops. They then have ABS edgebanding applied by a Brandt edgebander for the linoleum or “green” tables. Profiled solid wood edges or t-mold vinyl edges are applied to the laminate panels by hand.
The finished linoleum panels then are joined together with the aluminum legs from the metal shop. The leg mechanisms are put on the legs; the legs are assembled with the tops and the entire order goes out the door.
“We spent a lot of time experimenting with the linoleum,” says Eckelkamp. “Now we have its application down to a science.”
“Now we can offer an environmentally-sound table in the same amount of time as a laminated or veneered table,” Beegle adds. “Using linoleum has helped us keep up with the demands of the market and allowed us to offer our customers something specific that they want.”
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