Today's edgebanders seem simple. You put the panel in, get a processed panel out. Unfortunately, edgebanders are often the most misunderstood machines in a panel processing plant. Without properly trained operators, good raw materials, and regularly scheduled maintenance, they can become one of the most difficult machines as well.

The term garbage in, garbage out applies to edgebanded panels as well as computer programming. Put a quality panel into a properly set up machine, and you'll get quality output. Unfortunately, in many high-production edgebanding situations it's the panels that cause the problems. And, without qualified personnel bad panels lead to other problems.

For example, processing panels with high-pressure laminate surfaces is difficult if the laminate is not properly adhered to the substrate. If the edge of the HPL is not secure on a postformed panel, the profile trimmers on the machine will cut into the face laminate during the edgebanding or end-capping process. Flat HPL panels with poor adhesion cause similar bottlenecks. Melamine and PVC-covered substrates create difficulties if the material has swelled or warped from moisture, prolonged storage or poor handling.

As one way to overcome poor panels, an operator might set the edgebander's profile trimmers to leave behind extra material. Unfortunately, that additional material will have to then be removed by hand. Often, the trimmers are then left in this position, and all the panels processed on this machine will need hand trimming. This greatly increases production time and cost.

To solve these problems, start with better panels, and a conscientious, well-trained operator. Your operator is the key to high-quality edgebanding output. In addition to being familiar with your expectations for good parts, the operator should possess strong mechanical skills. Basic mechanical aptitude tests are available to pre-test a potential operator. Use them. If a person doesn't have the basic capabilities to operate and troubleshoot a machine it will become evident before you invest time and money in training. Some people could be trained for a month and you'll still be in the plant with them every day. Find them something else to do.

Another area where many companies make a mistake is by allowing several different individuals to run a single machine. Under these circumstances no employee feels responsible for the equipment and maintenance tends to be neglected.

It is the employer's responsibility to make certain operators are properly trained. Edgebanders can quickly go from one of your most reliable machines to one of your least reliable in the hands of untrained personnel.

Without training, not only will you end up with an undesirable product, but also your equipment can be damaged, resulting in extensive and expensive repairs. It may be easy to find someone to feed panels into your machine, but without the skills to recognize and troubleshoot problems, you may end up worse off than if you had no people at all.

When processing problems do appear, the operator should follow the board through the machine to determine where the problem is occurring. Examining boards at the outfeed and guessing are time consuming and costly. The operator should then possess the skills to quickly and accurately adjust the machine to eliminate the error.

Keep the bells and whistles to a minimum. Examine your current needs and anticipate as many future production requirements as possible when selecting an edgebander. Manufacturers sometimes purchase machines that are more complicated than necessary. Bells and whistles can add complexity to the equipment and just make things more difficult for the operator, particularly if the excess capacity is not utilized. Buy the right machine for the right situation. Your panel processing supplier will help you specify the correct equipment.

Often, complex machines are purchased with good intentions. I once had an engineer say, "I don't want my people to have to think." Unfortunately, edgebanders can't, and shouldn't, be run that way. Operators must always be involved in their job and be ready to adjust the machine as necessary to ensure quality parts.

If you plan to purchase an edgebander, work with your employees on the factory floor. Discuss what type of output you expect and what should be coming off the machine. Assign quality personnel to take responsibility for the machine and thoroughly train these people. You create "ownership" for your equipment that will result in better care.

Keeping quality personnel is one of today's most significant manufacturing challenges. Invest in your people like you invest in your equipment and you'll have happier employees, happier customers and a stronger bottom line.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.