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Frisco Manufacturing keeps VOCs down in Dixie.


Bedroom furniture manufacturer Frisco Manufacturing changes from high-VOC wet printing and spray finishing systems to a dry foil system that virtually eliminates VOCs. When thinking of furniture manufacturers that have updated their facilities to meet strict clean air regulations, locales like Los Angeles and Chicago come to mind far quicker than Frisco City, Ala. Yet, some very low VOC (volatile organic compound) levels can be found south of the Mason-Dixon line at Frisco City-based Frisco Manufacturing Co., located just east of the Alabama River in southwestern Alabama. The bedroom furniture manufacturer is putting the finishing touches on switching from a high-VOC wet printing and spray finishing system to a continuous-feed hotmelt foil, or dry, laminating system that virtually eliminates VOCs.

Early to rise

Unlike some areas around the country, where manufacturers are being pressured by government agencies to reduce finishing operations, no one had to tell Frisco Manufacturing that it had to clean up its act. Yet, according to Jack Minisch, company president, "We see the writing on the wall and we want to get a head start. Usually, when California does something, it's only a matter of time until the rest of the nation goes. It might cost us a little money now to reduce our VOCs, but it could put us out of business if we waited for the law to change."

In business since 1949, Frisco Manufacturing now employs 250 people to produce promotional bedroom suites targeted at children and adult markets. Fifteen years ago the company began substituting medium density fiberboard for some of its solid wood parts. According to Gary Johnson, production manager, the company now manufactures 13 furniture suites constructed predominantly with MDF and added that the company produces between 1,800 and 2,000 furniture pieces a day. Eleven of the suites are produced by using the dry laminating system, which was installed last October. Only two suites are still produced using the wet spray finishing system. "We plan on stopping our spray production of those suites by mid-October," he said.

Sleepy times down south

With today's slow economy, many companies have been wary of investing in new equipment and taking the time to retrain employees for fear that they might run themselves out of business. But Minisch said he sees this sluggish period as an opportunity. "This is the worst recession I've seen in my 24 years in the business, but it's stabilized and I don't see it getting any worse. We're looking at this situation as a time to experiment with our new dry laminating process so that when the recession is over, we won't have to play catch-up. We can hit the ground running."

The company was attracted to a dry laminating system because of the many benefits it promised. "The VOCs in our old system came from printing inks and our finishing and sealing operation," said Andy Gressett, general manager. "Our wet print system would take raw boards and print the image on them in a three- or four-step process. First, knots would be printed on the board and then grain patterns would be printed in the following steps. Then boards would be sprayed with a sealant. Now, the dry laminating system is a one-step process without the VOCs."

In addition to eliminating VOCs, dry systems also eliminate the sanding step and concerns for maintaining proper grain direction needed with wet systems. Other pluses include no clean-up or hazardous waste production, durable, attractive finishes and no topcoat requirement. Minisch added the system was affordable. "We could have spent over $1 million on new equipment, but we got the same result for $250,000," he said.

Making the transition also created some problems and the company was forced to make some adjustments. "Our biggest problem was getting people to change, especially the ones who had been working with the wet system for the last 40 years," Minisch said. "We had to train them from a wet system to something they'd never done before." He estimates the average time to train an employee on the new system is six months.

Although the company has an efficient new system, there is also the question of what to do with the old finishing system. "We don't know what we're going to do with it," Minisch said. "It might still be of some use, but we probably will abandon it."

"Since we dip stain our solid wood parts, we'll save some finishing equipment for applying sealer," Gressett added.

Other shortfalls with the dry system, Minisch mentioned, are that solid wood is harder to foil than MDF because the grain in solid wood will telegraph through the laminate, unlike MDF's smooth surface. Gressett added, "You're unable to touch-up a scratched board that has been foiled."

Eye-opening manufacturing

Using Louisiana-Pacific, Weyerhaeuser and Masonite MDF substrates, blanks are cut on Holzma computerized panel saws and pieces, including headboards and drawer slots, are formed using two Thermwood CNC routers. Other shop equipment includes an SCMI M3 gang-ripping saw, an Onsrud Model T2-1284-H profiler, a Newman *Whitney Model HP-48-800 and L&L Machinery embossers and a Voorwood Model L-77TDX4 edgefoiler.

The company uses some solid wood for pieces such as poplar and cottonwood in bedposts and some curved parts. These pieces are purchased from Wood Products of Newport, Tenn., and HallWood of Canton, Miss. Frisco sands and stains them in the plant. Wood offal that many companies would hog are put into drums and used for support construction in the furniture.

After milling, pieces are moved to four Fletcher Model FM82 dry laminating machines, where Kurz-Hastings Tuff-Coat foils are applied. Three of the laminating machines can handle board widths up to 24 inches while one can handle widths up to 48 inches. "We run full sheets which get cut up into smaller pieces in the 48-inch machine and drawer fronts, sides and tops on the 24-inch machines," said Gressett.

To supply the machines with foil, the company custom cuts the desired width of foil needed for each job. Taking a 60-inch-wide roll of foil, a Fletcher foil slicer uses razor blades to cut the foil as it rolls by on a separate take-up roll.

When pieces are fed through the machine, a brush and vaccuum clean the substrate to eliminate telegraphing. Since the foil contains an impregnated hotmelt adhesive on its back, two computer-controlled heat rollers operating at temperatures ranging from 340 to 375 F activate the hotmelt and press and adhere the foil to the substrate.

As the piece exits the machine, a clear Mylar polyester carrier sheet separates and is removed by a take-up roll. When the heat roller passes over the carrier, the heat causes the lacquer to release from the carrier and adhere to the substrate.

Testing for proper laminating requires no fancy instruments or equipment. After the piece exits the machine, an inspector applies a small strip of masking tape directly onto the foil and quickly rips it off. If the bond is defective, the foil will come off with the tape. Excess foil overhang on the edges and over embossed parts are easily flaked off with a blast from an air gun.

Assembly of the pieces are performed either with screws installed with Aro pneumatic screwdrivers or staples applied by Duo-Fast pneumatic staplers. The finished pieces are packed and stored in the company's warehouse to await shipping.

Dreaming of success

In terms of cost, Minisch said, "Right now, it's too soon to see. The dry system allowed us to keep the same designs with some changes. It doesn't use as many people, has less set-up time, uses less electricity, and since different parts can be run through the continuous feed at the same time, our productivity should pick up."

Since the dry laminating system takes up much less space than the wet finishing system, the company also has a lot of empty space to fill. "We would like to expand by doubling our assembly line area to increase our bed and mirror production," Minisch said.

"We think the dry laminating system can not only give us the best product possible, but the VOC reduction will also be an asset to the town, county, state and nation," he added.

PHOTO : Masking tape is ripped off the foiled surface to check bonding. Correct laminating leaves no foil on the tape.

PHOTO : A Mylar carrier sheet is collected on a take-up roll after completing the foiling process on these drawer fronts. Frisco City uses Tuff- Coat foils from Kurz-Hastings.

PHOTO : Dresser tops exit a Voorwood edgefoiler before being sent off for topfoiling.

PHOTO : At more than 340 F, heated pressure rollers bond the foil to the substrate.

PHOTO : A pneumatic air gun flakes off the excess foil that must be removed before packing and shipping.

PHOTO : A Fletcher foil slicer custom cuts foils from a 60-inch roll to its desired width.

PHOTO : Some scraps are used as reinforcement parts instead of being hogged.

PHOTO : Headboard components are ready for foiling after being machined on a Thermwood CNC router.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Mason-Dixie Line; Frisco Manufacturing Co.; volatile organic compounds
Author:Derning, Sean
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Previous Article:Pella pulls the shades over poor quality.
Next Article:CNC routers give top-notch performance.

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