The cabinet and furniture industries have many finishing specifications that meet a multitude of standards and certification bodies around the world.
A recent workshop hosted by Catas, Italy’s testing standards organization at its headquarters near Milan of in Lissone-Brianza, illustrates just how many challenges wood manufacturers face around the world.
“There’s a sentence that seems to me very symbolic and I like to repeat it during such events,” says Franco Bulian, deputy director of Catas. “Wolfgang Pauli, the famous Austrian physicist, awarded for the Nobel Prize in 1945 and being one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, used to say that the mass of the objects was created by God, while their surfaces are the work of the devil. I am absolutely certain that this sentence is more than acceptable also as regards the sector of wood and furniture!”
Specifications for wood coatings and finishes are only as good as their testing, according to Fort Erie, Ont.-based Joe Spencer, North America Distribution sales director at AcromaPro, the Sherwin-Williams industrial wood finishing brand. AcromaPro has manufacturing and test facility in Brantford, Ont., as well as a training centre inside the location. He notes that standards that AcromaPro meets — and often exceeds — are very similar to those in Europe, but that the products are only available in North America.
Resistance and retention
Spencer refers to the ANSI/KCMA A161.1 Performance & Construction Standard, a specification level for cabinet manufacturers. The standard has five categories for testing that must be performed: structural, drawer, door operation and finish tests. “The finish has to provide properties such as stain resistance, gloss retention and temperature resistance,” says Spencer.
Temperature extremes can mean disaster for cabinets and furniture, something that occurs frequently in shipping and storage of the wood products. Italian furniture manufacturers have had to address lower temperature conditions as sales have grown in Russia, according to Bulian. “We used to test from -20º to 50ºC, but now the range goes down to -40ºC to satisfy this market.”
Spencer echoes the need for stringent temperature cycling testing for its coating and finishing products. According to the KCMA (Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association of Reston, Va.) test procedure, “To test the ability of the finish to withstand hot and cold cycles for prolonged periods, a cabinet door is placed in a hotbox at 120 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 percent relative humidity for one hour, removed and allowed to return to room temperature and humidity conditions, and then placed in a coldbox for one hour at -5 degrees Fahrenheit. The cycle is repeated five times. The finish must then show no appreciable discoloration and no evidence of blistering, cold checking, or other film failure.”
These industry test standards are so important in AcromaPro products such as its recently announced Forte premium polyurethane coating, according to Spencer, that his company will perform temperature cycling 20 times rather than the required five.
Bulian notes that Europe has good wood coating standards for outdoor furniture, an area where he participates in standardization groups. Indoors and outdoors, however, Catas devotes a large department to all types of surfaces, testing for temperature, fatigue and impact.
Factors that can affect furniture include light and opening doors, things that can change temperature and humidity on surfaces, Bulian says. He notes that the European committee that deals with coated surfaces only address the coating, not the material underneath.
“Metals, laminates and PVC foils are considered equally” in this context, says Bulian.
Both Bulian and Spencer observe that wood coating and finishing standards are strictly voluntary in their respective jurisdictions. Naturally, the surface appearance is undoubtedly important, because it is the first value that a consumer perceives. But if behind the appearance some potential defects are hidden, the question changes and those who purchased a piece of furniture can have an unpleasant experience, with inevitable negative effects for the manufacturer and the dealer.
Disputes, in other words, can become a serious problem, to the point of influencing the reputation of the parties involved, according to Bulian.
This is a risk to be absolutely avoided: so better safe than sorry, better to submit the furniture to the necessary tests in order to avoid disputes – also defined by specific standards –- and so ensuring a good, trustful relationship with clients. Bulian adds that when disputes do occur and courts get involved, it goes along way during litigation to show that a manufacturing process has adhered to recognized testing standards and have been certified by bodies such as the KCMA or Catas.
There are always new standards and test procedures to develop, according to Bulian. Block resistance, or the surface tension (stickiness) between two coated blocks rubbing up against each other, is one that Catas is working on, he says.
Another is monitoring — and preventing — how resins migrate to the surface, giving white coatings a yellow patina.
With the recent ratification of a Canada-European free trade agreement, it also helps to know about the paths to certification in that part of the world — if you intend to ship product from Canada. Bulian doesn’t paint a pretty picture in that regard and notes that testing and certification procedures often change across borders. “Some countries own their standards, such as Germany, Finland and Italy,” Bulian says.
Creating de facto global wood finish standards could happen, however. Bulian observes that Ikea, the wood furniture and cabinet retail sales giant with operations around the world, demands that its standards are met by manufacturer suppliers. “Ikea has its own specifications for furniture surfaces,” Bulian says, “and they are becoming more and more important globally.”
While having a “single version of the truth” driven by a global juggernaut may not sound appealing, Bulian notes that Ikea has become a shadowy mentor to its far-flung suppliers.
“Ikea is teaching manufacturers how to check their production properly to maintain quality,” Bulian says.
“In one case for a curing process, it mandated that a manufacturer check its UV lamps every week.”