In an era when most consumers want their new bed, desk or cabinets yesterday, UV-curable finishes are becoming an increasingly attractive finishing method for secondary wood products manufacturers.
"The product comes off the line fully cured," says Chuck Susnis, market director of wood and composite building products at Sherwin-Williams. "It can go into the shop for further assembly or be put on the truck for shipment."
Kitchen market booming
The kitchen cabinet industry is seeing the most explosive growth in the area of UV finishing, say Susnis; Mickey Fortune, chief strategy officer at RadTech International; and Don Hart, technical service manager at Mid-America Protective Coatings.
"What's driving that is the housing market," says Susnis. "More and more homes are being built. Owners want their cabinets faster."
The kitchen cabinet industry is also the least afflicted by Asian imports because most kitchen cabinets are still made in the United States. "It just seems to be the segment that has the best profitability in the wood industry," says Hart. "They're actually able to reinvest better than some other industries."
Because the housing market is booming, says Fortune, most of the big cabinet manufacturers are adding plants and capacity. Many are updating with UV because of the speed and performance characteristics."
Other growth industries
Other industries that are seeing growth in UV finishing include millwork and moulding, says Susnis. "You can finish it so quickly. A company can put in that equipment and put in high-solids material, low-VOC, it's environmentally friendly and it makes a lot of sense."
Fortune, Hart and Susnis say that just about any company could benefit from installing a UV line. They say it's becoming much easier to get into UV finishing because the cost of equipment is coming down and it's becoming easier for small companies to purchase smaller UV finishing lines.
Companies are making smaller conveyor belts now, says Fortune. If woodworking companies want to use UV finishing on small quantities of doors or moulding, the machinery is available to accommodate small operations.
Chemistry most important
"The main thing you need [to get started with UV finishing] is the chemistry," says Fortune. "You can't just buy solvent-borne coating. The chemistry has to be formulated specifically to react when it sees the UV energy. So you need a system with UV lamps."
According to Hart, companies that wouldn't benefit from UV finishing are those where space is not an issue. "They may have a 100,000 square foot building and they have 20,000 square feet where they can fill the rest of the building with drying racks and things like that. Also, [UV finishing] doesn't seem to be as necessary in areas where there's not a tight deadline."
In some areas of the United States, increased government regulations regarding emissions of volatile organic compounds or VOCs have moved some companies to switch to UV finishing because the process involves little or no off-gassing.
"I was just at a plant in New York state," says Hart. "The main reason the owner's looking at [UV finishing] is because he's getting close to his VOC cap and he's got to get something that will allow him to finish product without having to exceed his VOC cap."
Fortune says he spoke with some kitchen cabinet producers from Mississippi and Alabama at a recent RadTech event. They said, "We don't have any air regulations; we're [using UV finishing] because of the performance and productivity."
Representatives from Taylor Guitar gave a presentation at the same RadTech event, says Fortune. "Taylor Guitar said they got into [UV finishing] because of the environment, but now they have emission credits trading and they could get out of it if they wanted. But they said there's no way they would because of the productivity. They said it used to take them four to seven days to finish a guitar. Now it takes them one day. That's all due to automated lines with UV curing."
Future of UV finishing
According to Hart, the cost of UV equipment is dropping and the technology is rapidly improving. Both factors make UV finishing more accessible and attractive to manufacturers who may have overlooked the process in the past. "The application equipment is better and from that standpoint, I think there's going to be a lot more spray UV, whereas in the past a lot more UV applications were roll-coated."
UV finishing technology has come a long way in the past five or six years, says Susnis. "I think it's going to continue to advance as the chemistry evolves. Right now, we're able to spray UV coatings, where 10 years ago, that was unheard of. It's been a combination of the advances in the equipment, the curing process and the coating. It's been a three-fold advancement."
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