A few short years ago, it would have been difficult to envision powder-coated wood as an integral part of many office and retail furniture lines. But recent design evolutions, combined with continuous advances in the wood powder coating process, have made this vision a reality.
Designers have come to appreciate the flexibility provided by a quality powder coat on wood, and consumers have come to appreciate the products’ look, feel and durability.
Craig Martin of BTD Wood Powder Coating in Minnesota is enthusiastic about the future of powder-coated wood.
“Every day, we become more excited about the wood powder coating industry,” Martin says. “Working with customers, we are constantly finding new applications for our t.fusion powder-coated wood finish. We love challenging the status quo and helping customers release products that couldn’t have been designed before.”
BTD says it has seen success by focusing on quality and durability; the company also invests heavily in R&D and is constantly upgrading its equipment.
“Our emphasis on quality is allowing us to test the limits of finish smoothness,” says Craig Fast, vice president of operations. “We are working with customers who didn’t realize they could have this upscale of a finish with the durability of powder.”
Many individuals associate powder coating with metal finishes. Newly gained knowledge about the process, combined with advancements in medium density fiberboard (MDF) and in available powders all have played a role in bringing the powder coating concept to wood.
The wood powder coating process begins with a raw sheet of MDF, which is then cut to customer specifications using specialized CNC machinery and sanded using a variety of equipment in order to achieve the smooth surface critical for proper powder adhesion.
After sanding, the part is heated in order to activate an electrostatic charge in the wood; automated and manual powder sprayers ensure even coverage. Finally, the board passes through a curing room as it cools and is then inspected for packing.
“When powder coating wood, one of the main obstacles to overcome is the fact that it really is a mix of art and science,” the company’s Heidi Hansen says. “Just to list a few variables: the color being applied, board thickness and board preparation can all affect the outcome of the finish. It has taken many years of proprietary research for us to achieve our consistently high quality”.
Proper wood powder coating requires advanced equipment combined with an experienced operations team. Advancements in MDF have corresponded with increased levels of expertise in the industry.
MDF is a board made from reclaimed wood shavings, possessing the consistent moisture content necessary for electrical conductivity. This electrical conductivity, in turn, is an integral part of powder adhesion. In fact, many MDF manufacturers now offer boards that are specifically designed for powder coating applications.
Martin says it is important to match the right powder with the job. Powder suppliers have created new formulations that help powder coaters push the envelope of smoothness. Many suppliers offer custom powder formulations that parallel offerings for metal coatings.
“Finishes can range from textured to smooth, as well as hammer tones, veins and metallic colors,” Martin says. “The powder can be custom made to match a swatch, RAL or PMS code.”
Moving into Mainstream
It wasn’t long ago that powder coating MDF was considered a niche method of wood finishing with limited applications. This view has been turned on its head; the aforementioned advancements provided the consistency, durability and design flexibility that set the stage for a push into mainstream products.
“One of the current trends that has really worked in our favor is the push to a clean, painted look,” Martin says. “Our customers in office furniture, retail furniture and even in healthcare have been very interested in the smooth painted look of powder-coated MDF. Powder coating provides the look and feel of painted wood without the cost, environmental and durability concerns that go along with liquid paint.”
Designers also are facing markets with increasingly crowded competitive landscapes. Powder-coated wood provides design flexibility that can help a brand stand out from the crowd. Traditional wood finishes, such as high pressure laminate (HPL) or melamine have inherent design limitations that can result in more homogeneous designs. For example, it can be difficult or impossible (not to mention expensive) to fully coat a tight interior radius.
This is no problem with powder coating, as the part is fully coated regardless of the location of the design detail. There is no need to worry about edge banding or adhesion. Powder coating also allows for custom edge profiles and curvilinear shapes with no edge banding to peel or crack.
“Another benefit of powder-coated wood is that it feels and sounds like wood,” Hansen says. “Wood powder-coated parts have a tactile advantage over many other artificial finishes such as laminates, melamine or thermofoil that can tend to feel synthetic or rough.”
She says a powder-coated MDF door front, for example, truly feels like a painted wood door and sounds like a quality part when handled or closed.
Sustainability and environmental friendliness have become completely mainstream ideas. This green push has benefited wood powder coaters for a variety of reasons, including that the wood powder-coating process emits no HAPs or VOCs and contains no PVCs, unlike many competitive finishes. It also is possible to coat boards that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and powder coated wood components can play a role in the LEED certification process.
Variety of Applications
Martin says the unique characteristics of powder-coated wood make it ideally suited for a wide variety of applications, including retail furniture such as table tops and shelving.
“Customers love the painted look without the added cost of paint, and the superior durability keeps buyers happy after the purchase,” he says.
In office furniture, powder-coated MDF is currently used in such parts as door and drawer fronts, modesty panels, and pedestal units. Because durability is a primary concern, the thick, seamless powder finish offers a lasting benefit in addition to the look and feel. An antimicrobial additive also can be incorporated into the powder to augment the fact that there are no seams where germs can accumulate.
“Healthcare customers love the ability to integrate door pulls into the panel itself, making the surface easier to wipe clean,” Martin says.
Information in this story provided by BTD Wood Powder Coating. For more information on BTD Wood Powder Coating, please call 855-272-1002 or visit BTDwoodpowdercoating.com.