Decoboard skips the paper and thermofusion and goes straight to the board, using a painted sheet stock technology for its state-of-the-art finishing line.

Pierre Letellier, majority owner of San Bernardino, CA-based Decoboard, came across the idea for his company's finishing line while traveling through Italy.

“At the time, I was purchasing a spray robot, and I came across this idea,” he says. “I was not really in a hurry to start, but I had a couple partners at the time who were really anxious to get it going. They're the ones that kind of pushed me to move forward a little quicker than I would normally have. That's how it started.”

The two-year-old company manufactures a 4-foot by 8-foot painted sheet stock, which is meant to be sold as a competitive product to melamine. The main difference between the two, Letellier says, is that Decoboard prints directly onto the product instead of the paper, and in the process, saves the cost of laying up the paper.

Though the technology is not widely used in the United States, Letellier says it is actually an old process, but the products have evolved so much over the years that it has become possible to do. He says that he's not sure if Decoboard is the only company using this process in the United States, but he does know his company's finishing line is significant. “I could be wrong here, but I don't think there's another line of this magnitude that can produce this,” he says.

Letellier says that it takes time to get the market to accept a product. “It has been widely used in South America and Europe,” he says. “It has not replaced melamine, but a lot of very large manufacturers have chosen it as their product of choice, mostly because of cost flexibility. Here, the product acceptance has been a little bit difficult, but it's getting there.”

Cost savings could be a strong motivator for any company to try out a new technology. Letellier says that the savings are considerable, especially on the woodgrains. “On the woodgrains there's a tremendous savings,” he says. “And when I say tremendous, remember you're dealing with a commodity product. If you're saving a couple pennies a square foot, to you it might seem insignificant, but for someone using two or three trucks a day, a couple pennies a square foot is huge.”

The company currently manufactures 12 woodgrain patterns and three solids, but Letellier says if the number is large enough, the company can dial in pretty much any color a customer desires. He says that presently, Decoboard's customers are primarily distributors, though the company is working on a couple larger customers who are direct end users.

Welcome to the Machines

Letellier says that shopping for the equipment that composes the finishing line took about six months, taking him and his partners through Europe and Brazil, before they decided on Cefla finishers to be used in conjunction with Costa sanders and Sorbini machines.

The line is housed in Decoboard's 54,000-square-foot facility in San Bernardino, CA. Letellier says that the line, from start to finish, is about 450 feet long and requires very little manual handling. He adds that the line speed can be adjusted all the way to 160 feet per minute.

The process begins with boards being destacked with a fully automated Esse 2 handling system. Next, the boards are calibrated on a K3 4-head sander from Costa. Letellier says that Decoboard doesn't take any chances; they calibrate everything. “It's essential to have a very smooth surface before you start finishing or printing,” he adds. “It's all in the preparation.”

At this point, the first coat of UV filler material is applied to the board on a Sorbini Smartcoater SP with a smoothing roll to push the material into the pores. “The surface might look smooth, but it's got pores and they must be filled,” Letellier says. “If you look with a magnifying glass you can see voids. We're filling the voids so we have a smooth surface.”

After the first UV filler is applied, it is cured in a four-light UV oven, the Cefla UV 2000 M4. Depending on board quality, a second coat of filler material may be required and then also cured. The line has a second filler machine identical to the first one to fulfill the need of double filling. “[Some] particleboard is prone to needing a two stage filling,” says Letellier. “We use a six-light UV oven, the Cefla UV 2000 M6 to cure that second coat of filler.”

The next process is to sand the filler material. A Costa SH3 sander with two heads and electronic segmented pads is used. “A very fine scratch pattern has to be achieved on the surface in order to ensure proper bonding between the filler and the water-based coats,” says Letellier. “The critical thing in successful board production is the sanding.”

The board is then cleaned through a brushing/air jet machine, the Sorbini VS 33/ACT-F, in preparation for a double-base coat of paint, applied wet-on-wet through a double-head coat roller machine, the Sorbini Smartcoater 2MF. For woodgrains, Akzo Nobel paints are used; for whites, Renner paints are used. The double-base coat is then cured through a 36-foot gas fired infrared oven, the FEV EU 2/7 by Cefla. A single base coat is then applied with a Sorbini Smartcoater MF and cured through a Cefla FEV EU 2/6. The curing ovens are gas-fired with infrared lights.

After the Sorbini Smartcoater applies a topcoat, the board is cured through a UV oven by Cefla.

San Bernardino, CA

At its 54,000-square-foot facility, Decoboard manufactures 4-foot by 8-foot painted sheet stock which is sold as a competitive product to melamine. The two-year-old company has six employees.

Three Keys

1. Decoboard's finishing line, from start to finish, is about 450 feet long and has a line speed that can be adjusted up to 160 feet-per-minute.

2. The company currently manufactures 12 woodgrain patterns and three solids, but if the order is large enough, it can dial in nearly any color a customer desires.

3. Decoboard's process of printing directly to the product saves the cost of laying up paper.

Woodgrain is then printed with a single-frame, three-head CNC printer, the Sorbini T20-3STP/1300. Letellier stresses the importance of proper synchronization of the printing heads at this step. “Where the first roll touches down, the next one has to touch down at the same location or starting point,” he says. The printed ink is then cured through an infrared oven, the Cefla PRE/IRM.

After the woodgrain is printed and cured, the first UV topcoat is applied with the Sorbini Smartcoater MF and partially cured through a two-light UV oven, the Cefla UV 2000 M2. “The application is achieved with a coat roller,” Letellier says. “We meter the amount of paint by either tightening the relationship between the two rolls, adjusting the pressure of the application roll in contact with the surface or adjusting the pressure of the doctor blade on the rolls.”

A second UV topcoat is then applied through the Sorbini Smartcoater MF and fully cured through the Cefla UV 2000 M4, a four-light UV oven. “One of these consumes as much electricity as a 30- to 40-hp motor,” Letellier says of the Cefla UV 2000 M4. He adds that because of very high summertime rates in California, the line can cost as much as $120 an hour for just the energy.

After full curing, the board is cooled through a Cefla NR-2 CR4 cold air-cooling hood, followed by a quality control inspection. The line has an inspection station, allowing ejection of panels if required. The sheets are then flipped by a panel turner so they are ready to coat the other side as needed. Another Esse 2 handling system restacks the panels into bunks, adding a protection sheet before starting a unit. The units of sheet goods are then transferred with conveyors and transfer carts into the packaging equipment made by Itipack, which will add top sheets, bunk boards, corner protection and straps.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Letellier is a firm believer in staying caught up with technology where equipment is concerned, and usually starts updating his machinery after about five years of use. He says Decoboard will probably purchase some new equipment later in the year, such as a nesting machine to cut-to-size parts and an edgebander.

“Years ago, I was one of the first guys to buy CNC machines,” he says. “People would say ‘you're taking jobs away.' I would say ‘No, I'm not. I'm making sure this business is staying in the U.S.' When you're buying new machinery, you're not taking jobs away, you're keeping the jobs in the U.S. You're going to create another five jobs: for a sales guy, for a driver, for people managing parts, etc. You are generating jobs. It's the truth.”

A fully automated Esse 2 handling system destacks boards at the beginning of the line. The company’s line features two Costa sanders, including this SH3.
Letellier says that proper sanding is critical in successful board production and ensures proper bonding between the filler and the water-based coats.  

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