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New finishing process enhances quality, reduces VOC emissions for Metropolitan.



This northern California-based furniture manufacturer works to stay one step ahead of local air quality regulations. The San Francisco Bay area is home to a number of medium-sized furniture and cabinet manufacturing operations, and perhaps more than 2,000 small cabinet shops and refinishing operations. Air quality regulations proposed recently by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) are intended, over the next five years, to reduce volatile organic compound emissions by area wood products finishers from 10 to 5 tons of VOCs per day.

The amended regulations would cover many wood coatings users currently exempt from VOC limits. For example, the small user exemption would be lowered from 500 to 20 gallons of coating per year. The regulations also include lower VOC standards for clear topcoats, sanding sealers and semi-transparent stains beginning in 1992.

Though not unexpected, the new regulations require change on the part of wood finishers throughout the area. At least one furniture manufacturer's forward-thinking approach to the VOC limitations has resulted in the adoption of a new finishing process which not only reduces VOCs, but enhances finish quality as well.

Established in 1905, Metropolitan Furniture Corp. competes in the high-end office furniture market. As a result of the company's approach to VOC compliance, Metropolitan Furniture already meets VOC requirements which do not take effect until 1994.

Matching quality with compliance

Metropolitan Furniture's product lines are manufactured at two facilities in California, an 80,000-square-foot facility in San Francisco and a 65,000-square-foot facility in San Jose. Millwork, upholstery, foam, frame assembly, resin casting, final assembly, inspection and shipping are completed in San Francisco. The facility in San Jose fabricates metal parts and performs wood finishing.

Both facilities fall under the local jurisdiction of the BAAQMD, which has proposed increasingly strict VOC limits for 1992, 1994 and 1996. As a reuslt, Metropolitan Furniture made a high priority of finding low VOC finishes which matched or exceeded the quality of its existing finishes.

"Regulations are changing so fast, sometimes it is hard to keep up with the local, regional, state and federal policies," said Bill Sellers, wood division manager for Metropolitan. "We closely monitor legislation. Daily records are kept to meet BAAQMD requirements."

Recognizing that changes needed to be made in the finishing materials and equipment being used, Metropolitan ran rigorous performance tests on a number of finishes. Metropolitan switched from pre-catalyzed nitrocellulose lacquer with stains hand-mixed in-house, to a complete package of Sherwin-Williams products.

At the same time, the company updated its spray equipment with air-assisted airless and high-volume, low-pressure spray equipment (HVLP). "We now use Graco pumping equipment and Binks HVLP spray guns in our operations," said Steve Fowler, Metropolitan's director of manufacturing. In making the changes, Metropolitan Furniture found it did not have to sacrifice product quality. "We haven't had a finish complaint since we made the change," Sellers said.

Custom finishing

The finishing process begins after the wood components have been shipped from San Francisco and sanded. In its sanding operation, Metropolitan uses Heesemann semi-automatic stroke sanders; Dynabrade random orbital hand sanders; 3M Xodust belts; and Imperial sanding discs to meet its standards.

One of 18 standard stains, as specified by a designer, is then applied. For custom colors, Metropolitan blends dyes and stains to match exact customer specifications. For darker finishes, the company uses dye stains followed by the application of a wiping stain. The dye stains are fast drying and provide deep color penetration, minimum grain raising, good interior color stability and uniform staining without wiping or other mechanical treatment. Light sanding does not remove the color, and it can be recoated with clear finishing systems including catalyzed finishes.

For lighter finishes, Metropolitan skips dye staining and directly applies wiping stains which are sprayed on wood, allowed to flash off for 10 minutes and wiped off. "The wiping stain provides excellent clarity and good workability. We can seal the wiping stain 80 minutes after it's applied to meet our production schedule,' said Sellers.

The wiping stain is sealed with three coats of a clear converting vinyl finishing system for wood. The first coat is sanded with 240-grit paper and the second coat is sanded with 400-grit paper before the topcoat is applied.

For a polyurethane finish, Metropolitan applies a two-component polyurethane coating meeting the 2.8 pounds per gallons of VOC requirements for solvent emissions. The coating provides excellent hardness, adhesion and abrasion resistance.

Looking ahead

Metropolitan Furniture is planning to improve overall production efficiency by consolidating operations in a new facility in the Bay area. This will reduce the costs of operating and maintaining two plants. The new facility will enable the office furniture company to expand floor space by more than 30 percent. The finish area will double in size to support growth in case goods and tables. The sanding area also will be expanded. "The new facility will make us more competitive. We will no longer have to complete millwork in one facility, send it to San Jose for finishing and then send it through San Francisco for assembly and shipping," said Sellers.

In making the decision to locate the new facility in California, Sellers said, "If we were worried about VOC legislation just in California, we could move elsewhere. However, we believe that the standards set in California for today under the U.S. Clean Air Act will migrate to the rest of the country. Thus, an aggressive approach to finding new, lower VOC materials today will make us even more competitive in the future."

Sellers has said the company has chosen to meet VOC requirements by using coatings with lower VOCs rather than abatement devices. "We believe VOC compliant coatings are more cost efficient in helping us grow at this time," he said, adding that the company is working with Sherwin-Williams to test a water reducible conversion varnish to meet 1996 VOC requirements.

PHOTO : Freshly finished tabletops air dry at Metropolitan Furniture.

PHOTO : Metropolitan uses air-assisted airless and HVLP spray equipment.

PHOTO : Attention to detail in sanding operations is a Metropolitan Furniture specialty.
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:Metropolitan Furniture Corp; volatile organic compounds
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Previous Article:Design: impresario of design.
Next Article:Wood of the month: Pear

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