Futuretech: Technology to Shape Woodworking’s Next Decade

This article is part 2 of Wood & Wood Products’ gaze into woodworking technology’s crystal ball. This month, we examine research in two areas: a new PVC extrusion process for panel edges, and clear powder coatings for hardwoods and veneers. Part 1, published in May, examined genetically engineered hardwoods and small-size diamond tooling.

Naturally, FutureTech is speculative in nature. The advances described may or may not come to pass, and there are undoubtedly other developments coming that are not included. We invite readers and researchers to send their comments and share their work by e-mailing glandgraf@vancepublishing.com. While this is the final article planned in this series — for now — covering new and developing technologies will remain part of Wood & Wood Products’ mission always.


An Edgy Development

By Greg Landgraf

Panel edges may get some new options, thanks to a new machine being developed by Homag Holzbearbeitungs Systeme AG.

     
Project: PVC edge extrusion.

R&D by: Homag Holzbearbeitungs Systeme AG.

Goals: Apply a thick or textured PVC edge to composite panels.

Approximate time to market: Summer 2003 or later.
 
   
     

The machine looks more or less like an edgebander. But instead of gluing the edge from a roll or strips, the machine extrudes a panel edge from specially treated PVC pellets.

Homag demonstrated the edge extrusion machine for the first time at the Homag Treff open house at its headquarters in Schopfloch, Germany, last September.

     
 
Patterns on the edge can range from flat and smooth to deeply embossed.  
     

The machine first heats and primes the panel before extruding the edge. Josef Baumann, export manger for Homag AG, says the edge attaches to the panel “just by the heat of the material and pressure.”A wheel located immediately after the extruder applies the pressure needed to join the PVC to the panel. In addition, the wheel shapes the PVC, so the machine allows for flat, angled or round edges and treatments ranging from a smooth edge to subtle textures to deep embossing.

The edge hardens as it cools. Baumann says that the hardened extruded edge has “much better” durability than edgebanding.

The machine has the capacity to produce edges up to 20mm thick. Changing the shape or the color of the edge is as simple as replacing the pressure wheel or adding different PVC pellets to the extruder, respectively.

While the technology is already in testing phase, Homag does not know when or if it will be released to the public. “The market has to be researched before introduction,” Baumann says. At the Homag Treff, however, the earliest estimate was that if all went well, it could be available next summer.


When Powders Meet Hardwoods

By Greg Landgraf

Traditionally, powder coatings have been applied to the substrates using an electrostatic charge, making powder coating great for metal parts, but ineffective for non-conductive wood.

     
Project: Powder clearcoats for hardwoods and veneers.

R&D by: Independently, several powder coating manufacturers.

Goals: Develop a clearcoat that can be applied in powder coating form to papers, veneers and hardwoods.

Approximate time to market: 6 months to 3 years, depending on specific application.
 
   
     

Powder coatings for MDF applications made a big splash when introduced at IWF in 1998, netting Morton International a Challengers Award. But even with that development, the choice of substrate remains a stumbling block. Several manufacturers have developed powder formulations, including clearcoats, for MDF, and many companies are using the process commercially for MDF parts. But not so for solid woods.

“You’re dealing with a whole new animal with other substrates, like hardwoods and veneers,” says Mike Favreau, Marketing Manager — Lamineer for Morton International. New formulations must be developed for the wide variances in hardwood solids and veneers..

Walt Blatter, new market development manager for H.B. Fuller Co., says powder’s development will progress naturally from MDF’s very smooth surface to woods with small pores and finally to woods with larger pores. “The degree of difficulty increases as the grain size gets larger,” Blatter notes.

     
 
Powder clearcoats already exist for MDF parts. Powder for hardwoods is a few years away, however, due to the variations in the substrate. Photo courtesy of Morton Powder Coatings.  
     

Favreau says that Morton offers a clear powder coat for MDF in both “translucent,” or tinted, and “basic,” or clear, varieties. A few manufacturers’ lines, such as Herman Miller’s Ethospace and Resolve products, include clear powder coats as an option, Favreau says.

Favreau estimates the timetable for Morton’s clearcoat rollouts to be six to eight months for paper applications, 18 months to two years for veneers, and two to three years for hardwoods. He says Morton is also working on a sublimation process, in which an image is heat-transferred onto wood, and then a clearcoat is applied over it.

David Ades, operation manager of Protech Chemicals Ltd., says that Protech offers a powder clearcoat for both MDF and hardwoods, although the market is still at a developmental stage. “We are targeting kitchen cabinets, office furniture, store fixtures, and prefab mouldings,” Ades says.

The application of clearcoats on solid woods will be identical to existing powder coatings: preheat the substrate, apply the powder, and cure. Favreau says both ultraviolet- and thermoset-cured formulations will be available.

Blatter says H.B. Fuller is targeting ultraviolet curing for powder on hardwoods because the process requires exposing the substrate to lower temperatures for less times. Engineered woods can handle the higher temperatures of thermal curing, but solid woods might not.

“I think there’s tremendous potential for clearcoats,” says Favreau. “We will continue to develop a technique that gives the clarity needed and the process to apply our product to users’ substrates.”

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