Henkel Adhesive Technologies

Henkel Adhesive Technologies

Choosing the right edgebanding technology in a volatile furniture market

In every manufacturing process, there is the potential to improve and refine processes in pursuit of greater efficiencies or better product qualities.

By Dun Deng
Senior technical engineer manager, Henkel China

5 min.
Furniture kitchen
Edge banding peel test

In every manufacturing process, there is the potential to improve and refine processes in pursuit of greater efficiencies or better product qualities. New technology will emerge that promises to deliver these gains, but early adopters of en end up paying the premium for investing before solutions are economically available at scale. Of en, the high costs of being early to invest means that first movers fail to profit from moving first. And this is precisely the challenge facing furniture makers when considering the rapid evolution of edgebanding.

For an industry heavily reliant on conventional hot melt adhesive edgebanding, technology changes pose questions as to whether to adopt new methods and where to invest. On one hand, technology advances with polyurethane reactive (PUR) hot melt adhesives are making conventional approaches even better and more cost-effective. On the other, the industry has seen alternative methods emerge like laser edgebanding, which uses specialist laser banding machines to melt adhesives on special edging.

The advantage of laser edgebanding is its ability to create fine joins, which in some cases can provide a visual impression of higher quality. While manufacturers may present their customers with promises as to the quality of their materials and the longevity and, increasingly, the sustainability of their products, these first impressions can have a major impact on consumers. Does this perceived quality advantage mean that manufacturers should invest in laser edgebanding instead? Perhaps not –especially as the costs of being an early adopter can be prohibitive.

Today, the high capital expenditure required to invest in laser banding machinery means that for most manufacturers, there may be a risk in investing in different technology. The advantages of being first to market must be weighed against the high cost and whether any capex spend can be recovered through better sales or premium product pricing. It is also a risk to assume that any investment in expensive plant machinery will not be superseded by superior solutions that make a return on investment less likely. In the highly competitive and volatile market for furniture manufacturing, these are tough decisions to ponder.

Pieces of wood based panel
Evolving traditional edgebanding

These questions of cost and risk explain why more conventional edgebanding with hot melt adhesive still dominates the market. However, a major reason is that there has been exciting progress in this area too. Thanks to continuous progress in edgebanding processes, equipment precision, adhesives and edging materials,traditional hot melt adhesive edgebanding is competitive with laser edgebanding in performance terms — and better in many areas.

In terms of producing fine joins and esistance to yellowing over time, the latest PUR hot melts can offer nearly the same level of performance as laseredgebanding (Table 1). In other areas, high-quality PUR hot melt adhesives actually surpass laser edgebanding with stronger and more durable adhesion, and in many cases offer better longevity too. In particular, PUR holt melts can provide greater resistance to water and — unlike laser edgebanded products — also provide greater stability: the near invisible joins of a laser edgebanded join can develop into a more obvious glue line over time than an edge joined with a PUR adhesive. Hence, the perceived quality of a laser edgebanded product may not actually reflect the reality, or meet customers’ expectations for lasting durability. In other words, the best edgebanding technique to use is of en highly dependent on the specific user requirements and contexts. It is therefore vital for manufacturers to fully understand their market and invest to best align to their customers’ needs.

edgebanding technology

Countning the costs

In China, the unit price of laser edgebander ranges from 2.8-5.2 million yuan. Furthermore, the cost of laser edging tape varies from 3-5 yuan/m. This all translates into higher costs of production. Let’s consider the relative costs of manufacturing a typical type of door panel using different edgebanding techniques.

Laser edgebanding: 1/(0.4x0.6)x8 ≈ 33yuan/m²

EVA edgebanding: 1/(0.4x0.6)x3.171 ≈ 13.213yuan/m²

PUR edgebanding: 1/(0.4x0.6)x3.335 ≈ 13.896 yuan/m²

Using current technology, the typical cost of laser edgebanding is more than twice as expensive than that of hot melt adhesive — and that is before costs such as high equipment depreciation, equipment maintenance, and more stringent conditions of use are considered. Realistically, we can assume that costs may come down as solutions develop and become more affordable. However, the numbers alone explain why most furniture manufacturers are still holding off on investing in laser edgebanding.

When evaluating alternative technologies, leading enterprises currently committed to hot melt adhesive edgebanding should stay clear-eyed and focused on their strategic priorities and align their products to market opportunities. It is vital to stay abreast of the continuous innovations, both in new areas like laser edgebanding, but also those that are advancing the use of hot melt adhesives. Thanks to new approaches to hot melt PUR edgebanding, and the introduction of new edging materials, these enterprises will be able to fully realise their strategies and compete alongside the companies that have taken a different path.

Author

By Dun Deng
Senior technical engineer manager, Henkel China