Light Basis Weight Paper (LBWP) laminate is a decorative surfacing material produced by bonding decorative paper to a substrate. Both the basis weight of the decorative paper and its treatment directly affect the opacity and performance of the end product, allowing for a wide range of applications. LBWPs are differentiated by the basis weight of the paper prior to any treatment. The extraordinarily smooth surface of the 23 to 50gsm1 “micro-papers” or “pre-coated papers” used to make LBWP is also responsible for one of the material’s most notable characteristics: excellent print fidelity. The decorative papers used in the production of LBWP carry printed patterns with unprecedented realism and are also available in solid colors. Common designs include woodgrains, stone, textiles and abstracts, but the design possibilities are limited only by the imagination. Performance of LBWP can be specialized through resin impregnation, printing, and top-coating processes, making the material an appropriate specification for many applications including: cabinets, furniture, paneling and moldings.
BACKGROUND / HISTORY
Advances in printing, paper and topcoating technologies continually improve the consistency and realism of printed décor paper. Since the mid-1960’s Rotogravure printing, the historic method of choice for fine art and photography reproduction due to its remarkable color density and light to dark gradient, has been the industry standard for industrial décor printing. The resulting decorative papers are processed into a variety of surfacing materials that enable designers to “value-engineer” by specifying a consistent aesthetic across a broad performance range. And the design possibilities are endless.
LBWPs evolved in the 1970’s when it was observed that the surface of specially engineered 23gsm paper could carry a printed woodgrain design with remarkable fidelity. These early LBWPs were commonly used for paneling applications.
Soon 30 gsm papers were developed, resulting in improved printing definition and opacity. The slightly thicker LBWP also has the added benefit of masking board substrate imperfections. With this variation in thickness, specification of LBWPs expanded into furniture surfacing. Soon pre-coated 45 and 50 gsm papers were developed for improved machinability and profile wrapping applications. Contemporary LBWPs are still used in applications that specify the look of real wood, but the versatility of the highfidelity printed décor paper makes it possible for LBWPs to carry any aesthetic. Other common designs include stone, textiles and abstract patterns.
LBWP plays an important role in design, functioning both as a stand-alone material and in combination with other products. Engineered materials have visual consistency that allows designers to value-engineer endproducts based on the specific performance demands of each component, ensuring the highest quality in design, value and durability.
The basic components of LBWP laminates are decorative paper, adhesive, substrate and optional topcoat.
Decorative papers used for LBWP are usually divided into two categories, standard papers that contain no, or very low levels, of resin and industrial papers that have higher resin content. As the amount of resin in the paper increases, so does the performance of the laminate. Papers that contain no resin are said to be unimpregnated. Resin can be added during the paper making process (pre-impregnated papers) or immediately after the paper-making process is completed (post-impregnated papers). Adding resin to the paper increases its internal bond strength, which improves the machinability of the finished LBWP panel. It also calenders (smoothes) the paper, creating an excellent surface for high fidelity printing.
The most common substrates used in the production of LBWP laminates are woodbased composite panels, such as medium density fiberboard (MDF) and particleboard. An ideal substrate must be consistent, uniform in strength and free of defects. Wood composite materials are the substrate of choice for decorative surfaces because they can be engineered for specific performance characteristics and physical properties including strength, flexibility, moisture resistance, fire resistance and low volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions. In addition to these qualities, composite panels are generally constructed in large part from recycled waste materials, making them especially environmentally sensitive. Thoughtful combination of decorative surfacing materials and composite panel substrates is also an effective means of obtaining points for environmental building certification programs such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Green Home Building Guidelines.
The most common substrates used in the production of LBWP laminates are woodbased composite panels, such as medium density fiberboard (MDF) and particleboard.
ADHESION OF LBWP DECORATIVE PAPERS TO SUBSTRATE
LBWP decorative papers are supplied in roll form and are usually laminated onto the substrate using a roll laminating system. Continuous roll lamination is the most widely used process to bond LBWP decorative papers to flat panel substrates. Another common method of laminating LBWP decorative papers is profile wrapping. Both 45 gsm and 50 gsm LBWP decorative papers are typically used in this process because of their ability to be machine-wrapped around detailed profiled substrates.
The selection of the appropriate adhesive and laminating system is crucial to producing laminates that are well-bonded to the substrate and have good surface quality. The Case Study: IKEA most popular adhesive systems used in North and South America are hot melt ethylene-vinyl acetates (EVAs) and polyvinyl-acetates (PVAs).
When hot melt is used the adhesive is normally pre-applied to the decorative paper, and the paper is shipped to the laminating facility ready for lamination, thus reducing capital outlay. A hot melt EVA adhesive system requires a heated pressure roll on the laminator that reactivates the adhesive and bonds the decorative paper to the substrate using pressure. EVA-based hot melt adhesives have the additional advantage of enhancing water resistance of the finished LBWP panel due to their thermoplastic nature.
The Brand that Made The World Love RTA
It takes commitment for an individual to build a piece of furniture, even if all the necessary parts, hardware and clearly drawn instructions are provided in a flat packed box. Yet nearly 700 million IKEA customers worldwide are willing to make that commitment yearly. LBWPs, which offer excellent visual performance and value, are widely used in IKEA’s panel-based furniture and home storage products.
All IKEA operations are guided by the official vision statement, “to create a better everyday life for the many people, by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishings at prices so low that as many people as possible can afford them.” But there is more to IKEA’s success than high-style at low prices. Since its inception in 1943, IKEA has been dedicated to innovation and sustainability. This is apparent in all matters of IKEA operations, from its revolutionary distribution system to its careful material specifications. By utilizing LBWPS, a PVA laminating system, sometimes known as a “wet line,” is typically found in high-output laminating operations. With this system a PVA adhesive is applied in line on the laminating press. The adhesive may be applied to the board, the paper or both. After flashing the moisture out of the adhesive, bonding is achieved with a heated pressure roll. Other adhesive systems, such as urea formaldehyde and epoxy can also be used to laminate LBWP decorative papers, but are less common in North and South America.
IKEA offers products made from recycled composite wood boards, moldings or lightweight panels that are visually indiscernible from solid wood. Because LBWPs can be both flat laminated and profile wrapped, IKEA pieces have a consistent aesthetic on every surface.
“We are in a fairly unique position,” says Joseph Roth, director of public affairs for IKEA in North America. “As a manufacturer, IKEA has a guaranteed distribution network and market share. As a retailer, IKEA has control over the production end. By having control over the entire pipeline we can consider the big picture and really focus on the economies of scale.” This vertical integration allows IKEA to make stylish products of consistent quality widely available, which has changed the way that people all over think about RTA furniture.
Sauder Takes Light Basis Weight Papers to New Heights
Since 1934 Sauder Woodworking Company, headquartered in Archbold, Ohio, has developed increasingly innovative furniture products for the consumer market. By 1951, the company introduced a patented table that could be assembled in the home, marking the beginning of the ready-to-assemble furniture industry in North America. Since then Sauder has continually refined its use of materials, technology and design to create a consumer goods empire with sales of nearly $750 million a year. “Sauder has both domestic and imported RTA,” says John Beck, senior research scientist for Sauder Woodworking, “and the domestic RTA product is almost exclusively made with LBWPs. Sauder has succeeded with paper laminates because they offer the aesthetics and performance required for our retail customer at affordable prices.”
LBWPs have been so successful, in fact, that Sauder is moving beyond furniture into other markets. According to Beck, “LBWPs work best in applications where you need a very realistic wood look at a very low price, and where durability is not the primary design objective.” Sauder is now leveraging its expertise in the production of laminated products by diversifying into other markets, including caskets and ceiling systems. In both cases, LBWPs offers consumers the rich look of solid wood at a fraction of the cost.
LBWP decorative papers are manufactured in a variety of colors and patterns, and provide quality surface performance and realism. Specialized top-coating treatments can enhance these characteristics. The papers are available in a range of gloss and matte finishes, as well as with specialized coatings which enhance the visual impact of the paper’s printed design, be it woodgrain, stone, textile, abstract or solid. Topcoat options include polyurethane, urea, polyester, acrylic, melamine and combinations of these systems. Additional visual depth can be achieved through the use of mechanical and chemical embossing. All of these techniques highlight the design and enhance the high-fidelity decorative surface, resulting in the visual realism that consumers expect.
LBWP decorative panels are utilized in numerous woodworking end-use applications such as residential furniture (both assembled and ready-to-assemble), kitchen/bathroom/garage cabinets, closet and storage systems, store fixtures, commercial office and contract furniture, wall paneling, architectural moldings, trim components and picture frames. LBWP material can be used on flat panel surfaces, profiled components and edge banding to achieve an exact visual match on every surface of a component. The high print fidelity and realistic finish coatings of today’s LBWP decorative papers make them almost indistinguishable visually from real woodgrain, stone and textiles. Thus LBWP is highly desirable for many end-use applications.
LBWPs can be specified by designers and engineers in both commercial and residential applications. The material provides significant value in medium and large scale projects. When finished with the appropriate topcoat for the specified level of wear, scratch and stain resistance, LBWP decorative panels can be used in most vertical and some specific horizontal applications. The production efficiency and relatively low cost of LBWP makes this decorative surface the ideal selection for cabinets, fixtures, slot walls, storage components, wall panels and decorative accents.
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