TFM Press Line Speeds Custom Orders
New 5 x 18, short cycle press brings added color and size capabilities to Pluswood.
By Karen M. Koenig
Pluswood was already well-established as a just-in-time laminator of low pressure panels when it made its move to the next level.
And became even faster.
Part of the Nevamar Co. LLC Decorative Panels Group, the Oshkosh, WI-based facility invested almost $5 million this past year to increase its competitiveness in the low pressure laminate panel market. Among the investments at the 330,000-square-foot facility was the purchase of a 5 x 18 Wemhoner short cycle press for manufacturing thermalfused melamine panels in a 20-second cycle time, at optimum speed and conditions.
“We were always competitive in the custom market, but with the new press in Oshkosh, we are now also competitive in the commodity market,” says Jim Tees, Nevamar president and CEO. “Historically, our TFM business has been limited by geography and we have not had much national brand recognition. Our strategy in the TFM market is to have manufacturing capacity that can deliver our products competitively throughout the U.S. market. The new press in Oshkosh is the first step ”
New TFM Capabilities
According to Lee Mullen, central district sales manager, in order for Pluswood to better compete on a national level, “We needed to add flexibility, both in size and color options.” To accomplish that, the company purchased the 5 x 18 Wemhoner press from Stiles Machinery. It replaces the two oldest melamine lines and offers added length, width and color capabilities.
A 5 x 10 Wemhoner press will continue to be used for specialty and small run items.
With the new press’ larger capacity, in addition to 4-foot and 5-foot widths, 6-foot through 12-foot lengths are available without the 18-foot drop. Core thickness capabilities now range from 14 inch to 112 inches, says Kathy Burgert, facility manager. The Wemhoner short cycle press handles rainbow pallets, making possible instantaneous color and core changes.
“We do just-in-time manufacturing, which is why we needed the added flexibility with this new press,” says Burgert. “We also wanted to be sure we could accommodate a broad base of customers.”
Pluswood’s TFM customer base includes store fixture, residential furniture, office furniture, and cabinet manufacturers. “The store fixture industry is one of our largest market for thermalfused melamine,” Burgert says.
The Press in Action
The new press line is approximately 251 feet long, with automated lifts and conveyors stationed at the infeed. As one board is lifted from the stack and brushed clean, another is placed onto a bottom sheet while a third receives a top sheet, explains Lyle Goebel, manufacturing manager.
The pre-saturated papers are stored in a climate-controlled, 4,800-square-foot room maintained at 70F and 50 percent humidity. “This keeps the papers from becoming too brittle or too moist, either of which will cause problems on the press,” Goebel says.
Tight placement of the sheets ensures that the overhang is within 316 inch, which conserves paper usage, Goebel adds. After pressing at temperatures in the mid- to upper 300F range, the panels are sent directly to an in-line trim system, followed by a brush system, before being conveyed to the cooling station.
According to Goebel, the cooling station ensures that the panels have a consistent cure and also reduces the chances for warpage, which can occur if the panels are stacked while still too hot. Five stacking stations are located at the end of the press line. Those stacks earmarked for customers are automatically edge protected and readied for shipment.
Vinyls and Veneers
Pluswood first produced vinyl laminated panels back in 1968. Today, the company uses two Black Bros. laminators to manufacture panels in 4-foot and 5-foot widths and in lengths of 6 feet to 10 feet for use in the cabinetry, closet organizer, home office, RV and store fixture industries.
Unlike the TFM panels which currently use particleboard or MDF cores, the laminating lines may also incorporate lauan and hardboard as substrate materials. “Customers can also specify the brand of the core material. We’re always flexible to special orders,” Burgert says.
For product orders that require greater durability, Pluswood has a Black Bros. spreader on-site which can be used to apply a special mar-resistant “Vinyl Plus” coating to VinylFace panels as well as for pad coating and back sealing.
The LamClad resin-impregnated topcoated foil-laminated panels products are manufactured on Pluswood’s third laminating line, a Harlan, which was obtained in 1991. In addition to the industries served by the VinylFace products, LamClad also targets the juvenile furniture market. Pluswood produces the LamClad panels in 4- and 5-foot widths, and up to 10 feet in length.
Rounding out the company’s capabilities is the hardwood veneer pressing operation. Using a Wemhoner single-opening, four-panel hardwood press, Pluswood manufactures unfinished hardwood veneer panels as well as the Quinella line of veneer panels which are matched with melamine, vinyl or foil on the back side.
“This is a smaller portion of our business and is done on a strictly custom basis,” Goebel says. “We work with different suppliers for the veneer selection, plus we’ll do some of the grading here.”
Printing and Saturating
“In addition to in-house custom matches, we’re often asked to match a low pressure laminate to a high pressure,” she says. “We’ll use the same paper as the high pressure laminate and either purchase the paper pre-treated or treat it here with resin to produce a thermalfused melamine product.”
In the 18,650-square-foot melamine resin saturation area, paper is dipped twice in the Babcock saturator, run through metering rollers, then sent to a smoothing bay. “The paper then flutters through the ovens, without touching anything,” Goebel explains. After drying, a thin topcoat of 100 percent melamine is applied. Inline slitters cut the paper to size.
The printing of the vinyl and TFM paper takes place in an 18,960-square-foot area adjacent to the saturator. A Nakajimi printing press is used to produce the 2-mil and 6-mil reverse printed vinyl. The TFM is printed on a Rotomec printing press using waterborne inks.
Pluswood has 40 different sets of cylinders on hand to produce a wide variety of wood grains and patterns. “Most of what we produce is custom. For example, we’ll make maple in several different variations. Cherry is also very popular,” Burgert says.
To maintain quality control, the printed papers pass through a grading station which highlights any imperfections in the grain or pattern. “We also keep a copy of the first and last run and use them as comparisons to make sure the color doesn’t drift,” Goebel says. Each operator, whether on the printing, press or laminating lines, acts as the final inspector and is responsible for the quality control of that product.
“All of these (capabilities) make us well-positioned to compete. We’re definitely looking ahead toward the future,” he adds.
Changes Ahead for Nevamar Co. LLC
It’s been almost 18 months since Kohlberg & Co. purchased the Decorative Products Division from International Paper and formed Nevamar Co. LLC. Since its formation in July 2002, Nevamar has invested approximately $10 million in capital improvements to its high pressure, low pressure and board facilities. According to Nevamar President and CEO Jim Tees, additional expenditures of $10 million or more are planned over the next 12 months.
Although Tees says the laminate industry “is a mature industry,” he adds that the plant upgrades and consolidations have Nevamar “well-positioned for future growth.”
In September, the company announced plans to move production of its Nevamar high pressure laminates to the Micarta facility in Hampton, SC. The Odenton, MD, facility, which employs 360 people, is scheduled to close in 2004. Approximately 100 workers are expected to be hired in Hampton as that plant increases production.
“When we finish with the consolidation and upgrading of our current plants, we expect to grow our business. Some growth will likely come through acquisitions,” Tees says. One possibility, he adds, would be the addition of other panel products, like custom plywood, to complement Nevamar’s current businesses.
A synopsis of the current Nevamar facilities follows:
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