Sometimes you can anticipate rebuttals or objections to something you say even as the words are leaving your mouth. Last week I had expected some dissenting opinions to my comments about the limitations of using vacuum formers as 3D laminators. I thought for sure someone would point out demos they’d seen of highly detailed parts done at a trade show, or photos they’d seen in product brochures. Much to my surprise, I heard no such objections. Still, I have a feeling they’re out there.

Today I want to talk about how to make sure the demonstrations you see, as well as the sample parts you receive, truly tell you what you need to know. In my years in the equipment industry, whenever I was responsible for setting up a trade show that included demonstrating a machine, I always insisted that everything would be done in a manner that showed potential customers everything they really needed to see. I was tired of watching demonstrations that used parts without thermally fused melamine (TFM) on the back and no glue on the faces and edges. Anyone that’s been in the industry for a while knows that these two components highly restrict the flow of vacuum through a part. When parts are done without glue and with no TFM the demonstration is virtually worthless.

I’m not insinuating this is being done deceitfully. It’s a difficult task to make sure you have glued parts to press at trade fairs. Have you ever been to Atlanta in August? I can remember having to spray parts at a plant nearby and then arrive at the booth totally drenched in sweat. To compensate for this I started using only the adhesive component of a 2 part PUD (See 3D Laminating Glossary) so I didn’t have to mix and spray the day of the show. Without the hardener added, I didn’t have to worry about open time and could use the first batch of parts all week. However, I did have to caution everyone that the parts would not have maximum heat resistance if tested, but at least the demonstration was realistic.

Making sure sample parts have TFM on the back is a much simpler matter. However, there is a common trick used to overcome the vacuum restriction of TFM that you need to be aware of. Many companies will drill holes through the TFM to give the vacuum direct access to the soft MDF core so it can continue to work even after the part is completely sealed by the 3D laminate.This is great if holes are acceptable. In fact, I always encourage cabinet and closet companies that have vacuum formers to drill for hinge holes before pressing.The difference in definition is drastic. But what do you do if drilling holes through the TFM is not allowed in your product?

Today’s Lesson: Whether you are outsourcing 3DL components or looking to buy a 3DL press, make sure the samples you receive and the demonstrations you witness adequately address any potential requirements you may have. Are you expecting to need product with a TFM back along with detailed edge and interior profiles? I’m assuming you want your parts glued? Then that’s exactly what you should expect to see before you make a purchasing decision. In the era of online video and Skype, you don’t even have to take a plant tour anymore, but I still highly recommend it whenever possible.


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