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Pressing thin MDF panels.

A continuous press gives Flakeboard the flexibility to efficiently produce large and small quantities of MDF panels between 1.6mm and 8mm thick.

In a time when many companies are responding to a recession by cutting hours and employees, about the only thing St. Stephen, N.B., Canada-based Flakeboard is reducing is the thickness of its new Fibrex medium density fiberboard. Ranging in thickness between 1.6mm and 8mm, in 0.1mm increments, the company started producing Fibrex in March 1991 and is benefitting from high technology and product/production flexibility to fill diverse customer demands.

Flakeboard started production of Fibrex in March 1991. The machinery was designed to provide flexibility to fill diverse customer demands. Along with a range of thicknesses, the German-made Bison MDF press permits variable widths between 48 inches and 64 inches, and length flexibility from the continuous calendar-type press.

Fibrex is being used in a wide variety of applications. Conventional uses include drawer bottoms and case backs where 3mm and 5.5mm are the predominant thicknesses, and core material and cross banding for veneers and plywood, where thicknesses as low as 1.6mm have been employed. Other applications include automotive components, packaging materials, computer circuit drill boards, door skins and curved furniture and cabinetry parts.

"Our company decided to get into the thin MDF market because technology had improved to the extent that we could offer an excellent thin board product, utilizing dry process technology which is more environmentally suitable," said Kelly Shotbolt, general manager of Flakeboard Distributors, the sales and marketing arm of the company. "Also, freight costs for shipping the product are less because we can now fit five times the surface footage on the truck."

This increased freight capacity is partially responsible for the company's growing international sales of Fibrex in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Located on the St. Croix River and bordering Maine, the 500,000-square-foot plant employs 250 people and has undergone 15 renovations since it began production in 1960. Making composite panels is a family affair at Flakeboard, with Kelly's brothers Kevin and Jeff working in the sales department and father, James, running the operation as CEO.

Im (press)ive technology

The Bison press, running 24 hours a day on two 12-hour shifts, pumps out an estimated 165 million square feet (1/8-inch basis) of MDF. This can be surfaced with paper, foil, vinyl, paint, or melamine depending on the customer's demands. Shotbolt said minimum board runs for nonstandard sizes and thicknesses can be as low as 500 panels.

In the production of Fibrex, Flakeboard uses hardwood contracted from local loggers on both sides of the border. Poplar is the predominant species, with a combination of birch, beech and maple making up the balance.

Wood chips are screened, washed and then cooked in a digester at more than 340F to break down the natural lignum bonds. The wood is then processed into individual wood fibers in a 44-inch Pallmann refiner before urea formaldehyde resins are added in a process called blow-line blending. The wood and resin mixture travels to the press through a tube dryer, where the moisture levels are carefully controlled. The wood fibers are vacuum-formed into a mat which is conveyed on a continuous belt. The mat thickness and width is automatically determined by the MDF press operator.

"One advantage of this press is that it allows us to be flexible," said Shotbolt. "Changing width and thickness on the machine can be done in about five minutes." The mat is pre-pressed, then preheated in a radio-frequency oven before entering the Bison's five huge cylinders for pressing. The continuously formed board is cut to required width and length.

Flakeboard's cover-up operation

Surfacing particleboard and MDF is a major part of Flakeboard's business. Flakeboard offers 200 colors of melamine, 20 foils, 25 lightweight paper designs and vinyl overlays, in addition to painted products. "Our GreCon continuous melamine press line produces our commodity white, almond and gray melamines, while our Wemhoner fast-cycle press runs special texture melamines and the Dieffenbacher fast-cycle press does specialty colors," said Shotbolt. Melamines are supplied by Casco and Pioneer.

Paper and foil surfaces are applied on a continuous-feed hot roll Harlan laminator that pre-heats the board before the paper or foil is applied, to assure proper adhesion. The company uses Dia Nippon, Chiyoda and Toppan 30-gram papers and Perstorp foils.

If a panel requires painting, it is fed through a Timesavers widebelt sander using Thomas 150-grit abrasives to prepare the surface for better paint adhesion. The panel is then preheated, reverse roll coated with fill, and then roll coated with base and top coats. The company recently switched to water-based Sico paints to improve surface characteristics and reduce fumes associated with solvent-based systems.

Apart from these value-added services, the company is also in the market for a panel saw so that it can offer cut-to-size services on its Fibrex panels.

Staying flexible

With this wide variety of big machinery, the company requires good coordination between departments. "As far as customer service is concerned, the key is the relationship between our sales department and scheduling, who have the power to redirect production. Our standard panel sizes and thicknesses are already run and stocked on the floor, so we can concentrate on a customer's special needs. We've given up some productivity sacrifices we had to make."

Concentrating on the customer's needs is a goal the company is striving to meet. "Two trends emerging in the industry have caused our productivity to operate this way," said Shotbolt. "First, there is a trend towards specialty products, like our thin MDF. And second, customers are looking for smaller quantities of colors and textures."

Shotbolt says future plans for the company not only require recognizing niche markets, but also further research and development of its products. Flakeboard is presently experimenting with specialty resins to enhance the water and fire resistance of Fibrex.

The company is also trailing decorative paper which would be placed on the MDF wood fibers before the panel is pressed. The end product is a pressed sheet of MDF with the paper already attached, eliminating the need to take the panel to another station to laminate.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:medium density fiberboard
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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