Throughout my years in 3D Laminating I’ve regularly been called on to answer questions such as “What’s the best way to do this?” and “Is it possible for us to do that?” The problem is, I’m rarely able to answer these questions with the level of certainty the client is hoping for. Before I can give a meaningful answer, a discovery process needs to take place. For example, questions like “Can I do this with a vacuum former?” leads to questions about their profiles, substrate, 3DL thickness, adhesive and operator consistency, just to name a few.
With some room for disagreement, industry veterans generally agree that the safest, most reliable formula for a successful 3D Laminating operation includes a three chamber membrane press, double refined (door grade) MDF, two-part polyurethane adhesive, and 3DL that is 12 mil or thicker. Although budget-conscious or simpler options can sometimes be successfully implemented, stringing multipleweak links together can lead to disastrous consequences.
Several years ago, a client had developed a line of furniture that incorporated 3D Laminated tops and asked for my help. These tops were used in one of the harshest environments possible. I was called in to determine the reason for a high volume of delamination claims.
Before the customer released this product line, management decided that the price point of this product would require low-budget options in three out of four critical areas. They purchased a vacuum former and began pressing very thin 3DL onto particleboard. Although the adhesive was high-quality, a massive amount had to be applied to the very porous particleboard in order to achieve an acceptable bond.
Sure, we could identify areas of improvement that would help with their problems. But the real issue was that their combination of equipment and materials significantly narrowed their window to success. They needed to hire sharp shooters to get through it. At the end of the day this fabricator decided to simply discontinue the product line.
So what exactly was the official story when the product line was eliminated? I can’t be sure, but years later I was speaking to an engineer that worked for a sister company. When he learned what it was that I did for a living, the first thing he said was, “We tried 3DL at another one of our companies, but that technology is not suitable for our environment.” If the technology involves components made out of particleboard, very thin 3DL, and laminated using a vacuum former, I would have to agree. Then again, I don’t think I’d put that product in any environment.