Laser and hot air edge banding has gained some momentum in Australia with the installation of dozens of machines reported by the major suppliers. Supplier spoke with Craig Stevens of HolzHer about the myths and facts of the technology.
With true laser edging a laser activates or melts the face of the tape. The tape material and adhesive are co-extruded together in the manufacturing process. The technology is capable of high feed speeds with a nearly invisible glue line. Because it’s a laser this technology is very expensive so it’s only used in high production shops. You can’t use laser edging on veneers; solid timber strip edging; laminates or aluminium. It doesn’t work well on chipboard because the melted layer of the edge tape is thin and it doesn’t easily penetrate the porous board.
True laser edging gives the best results but suitable edge-tapes are made in Europe and availability is limited in Australia. Normal edge tape coated (with glue) by local suppliers is available in Australia but this does not have the same qualities as a true co-extruded laser edge tape. Its EVA glue coated and has none of the water, heat and steam resistant properties or the strong bond of PUR.
Suppliers have come up with low-cost alternatives to laser systems that can save a hundred thousand dollars off the price of a machine. The most common of these is the hot air system and known in the industry by brand names such as Airforce, Airtech and others. These machines use about 1,500 litres of compressed air per minute and you may need a larger air compressor. Hot air machines are often noisy, have long heat up times and are much slower than laser systems with at best 14 metres/min depending on the tape. Many customers have discovered their 20 metre/minute machine can only do 10 metres/minute using a hot air system.
HolzHer provide a system using infra-red technology which is very near to a laser system but priced similar to hot air systems and with similar feed rates. These machines have the advantage of not using any air, are silent and require no heat up time at all. The finish is the same as a true Laser edge. The infra-red system is made by HolzHer and fitted as an integral part of the machine in the factory. The system is linked to the main computer on the machine so power settings and feed rates can be stored as a library for different types of edges and colours such as white; that may be limited to 10 metres/minute or black that may get 16 to 18 depending on the tape; due to heat absorption.
Craig stresses that an important thing to consider is that “The finish you get is more dependent on the machines’ trimming and finishing units than on the gluing process. It does not matter how good the gluing process is, if the trimers cannot be set correctly and quickly for different products; cannot hold their accuracy through the life of the machine or cannot be fine-tuned easily and quickly, you will get a very poor finish.” Some companies have good, thin glue joints but still finish the board by hand.