Tech|Tips – 3DL: The Pressroom Environment – Cleanliness Is Next To… Profitability

3d Lamination Humidity Control | SmartechWe’ve been discussing industry best practices for the environment around your 3D Laminating/membrane press. Even if exaggerated requirements have floated around the industry for some time, there are still some legitimate non-negotiables need to be clearly understood in order to maintain a successful 3D laminating department. Today we’re going to talk about cleanliness and humidity.

Keep The Room Chip & Grit Free!

Avoid Close Proximity to Debris Producing Equipment: Locating a press next to a router is simply a bad idea. Anything that produces debris that can be seen with the naked eye can leave a deposit underneath the laminate that will show through after pressing.

If it Doesn’t Float, Clean it Up:  Anything that can be blown onto the substrate or drawn to the underside of the vinyl via static is absolutely something to keep out of your press room. This includes dirt, grit, small pieces of laminate that were created when trimming, as well as chips of particleboard, mdf, plastic, or any other materials used as pedestals/riser boards. However, the type of dust you normally only see in the sunlight usually doesn’t present a problem.

Avoid All Sources of Excessive Air Flow: While keeping floors perfectly clean is unlikely, keeping air flow as gentle as possible is extremely important. Never run powerful fans on high. Never position any part of the process from glue application or beyond anywhere near a door that is frequently opened to the outside. (Of course, exits only used in an emergency are not a problem.)

Avoid High Humidity: The higher the humidity, the longer it takes for sprayed glue to dry. The longer glue takes the dry, the more the glue tends to dive into the board which then causes insufficient glue levels on the edges. Longer dry times can also mean parts are pressed before they are dry. Pressing before the adhesive is dry can lead to “pillowing” where the vinyl can be seen pulling away from the substrate to form a large bubble.

Though a dust-free certified clean room is an exaggeration, keeping the room as free as possible from dirt, grit and material chips is still a must. Avoiding high humidity levels will also go a long way in reducing scrap rates and product returns due to edge delamination.

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What about your operation? What standards do you feel are important? Email us at with your thoughts. Up next – Material Storage & More.

Bill Formella is President of Formella Contour Solutions and is the owner and moderator of the LinkedIn group Membrane Pressing & 3D Laminating Design. You can reach Bill at For more tips and ideas, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Tech|Tips – 3DL: The Pressroom Environment – Ambient Temperature Control

3d Lamination 80 Degrees Temperature | SmartechLast time we introduced a blog series regarding the optimal environment for 3D Lamination. We discussed how commonly held beliefs in the early days were a bit of an exaggeration of legitimate industry best practices.

Though a certified climate controlled clean room is an exaggeration, consistent ambient temperatures are a non-negotiable. 3D Laminate needs to be sufficiently heated to allow it to form and activate glue without overheating to the point of changing the gloss level, texture or, in worse case, tearing the material as it wraps around the substrate. The glue line needs to be brought to optimum activation temperatures yet still allowed to cool before releasing the operating pressure. Ambient temperatures have a major impact on this process.

Avoid Temperature Extremes

Temperatures below 65° F or above 90° F can cause serious problems. Below 65° makes glue activation difficult because cold core materials absorb the heat too quickly, cooling the glue before it has a chance to activate. Temperatures above 90° F can lead to the glue remaining soft when it comes out of the press. Since the glue hasn’t solidified before the pressure was released, the 3DL can creep back or pull away from profiles and edges as it begins to cool and shrink. On many occasions, while standing in very hot press rooms, I’ve witnessed 3DL pulling away from the core and forming large pillows shortly after exiting the press.

Avoid Temperature Swings

Although a broad range of acceptable operating temperatures exists, temperature changes are never a good idea. Pressroom temperatures should remain as constant as possible. Otherwise operators are trying to hit a moving target – constantly changing press parameters throughout the day to keep up with ambient and material temperature changes.

Sudden changes are the most detrimental. Operating presses near external overhead doors is far too risky and pits operators against the odds, often having to adjust for 10 to 15 degree temperature swings in a matter of minutes. Furthermore, presses can develop a “cold side” or “cold corner” as a result of cold air from blowing through the room. Uneven heat across the press bed greatly reduces product quality and increases scrap rates.

Up Next: Dust & Humidity Control. Check back again soon!

Tech|Tips – 3DL: The Importance of Pressroom Environment

3D Lamination 3dl Racks | SmartechBack in the early days of 3D Laminating, there was a commonly held belief that the path to a successful manufacturing operation included creating temperature controlled and pressurized “clean rooms” in which to operate. Rumor had it that any dust or temperature variation in the lamination department would drive scrap rates to unbearably high levels. As a result, many companies opted to outsource out of fear that the requirements to bring production in house were cost-prohibitive.

Looking back, I’m not sure how this rumor ever got started. The pressrooms of some of the largest and most well respected companies in the industry that I know certainly don’t have the set-up described. The companies that did were usually smaller, single press operations that closed off their pressroom and spray booth in a room with low ceilings.  This did not, however, always include climate controlling material storage which, as we will learn, has a major impact on quality. Ironically, those smaller companies that immediately come to mind are now all closed.

Though a certified clean room may be both unrealistic and unnecessary, there are some non-negotiables when it comes to the pressroom environment. Not surprisingly, many of them have been ignored throughout the history of the process. I can still remember the day I was standing next to an operating press when suddenly a nearby exterior overhead door was opened all the way. Both the wind and dirt from the gravel driveway brushed across my face in an instant. I stood there in utter disbelief.

Once the process is understood, the requirements to be successful are really just common sense. Companies that are committed to producing a consistently high quality product will not be intimidated by them. Ambient temperature range and consistency, material temperatures, air flow, humidity, and cleanliness are all factors that need to be considered. Though the environmental requirements for a quality pressroom are significant, they are not unrealistic.

Over the next few blogs we will address these critical issues in detail. Stay tuned!

Tech|Tips – 3DL: Milky “Stretch” Marks On 3DL Surface

Recently I worked with a 3DL component producer that was experiencing wrinkles across the width of very large parts. After working our way through the process the primary culprit was an excessively large membrane belly upon press closing. (See the previous blog)

In the process of working through one issue, another was created, albeit very briefly. Immediately after eliminating the large wrinkles by reducing the press temperature, preheat time and membrane belly, we began to see what looked like stretch marks. (more…)

Tech|Tips – 3DL: Wrinkling on Large Parts

Since the very beginning of my involvement in 3D Lamination, I’ve been aware of the problems associated with producing very long parts (4′ +) in a membrane press.  One of my earliest experiences providing technical support involved a part that was 4′ wide and nearly 8′ in length. “I can’t even get 1/3 of the parts to come out acceptably”, said this frustrated producer.

So what is it about long parts that make them so difficult? For starters, 3D Laminate tends to expand when heated, especially across the width of the material. As it expands, this excess material needs somewhere to go or it becomes a wrinkle on the surface of the product. When producing smaller parts, gaps between each of the parts allows the material to stretch out any excess that was created during the heating cycle.  With very large parts this excess has nowhere to go. The only solution is to eliminate the formation of excess material in the first place.

The process of eliminating these wrinkles can be a long and emotionally arduous task. The solutions will vary based on the press design, but one factor is a consideration among all of them, so we’ll start there.


Tech|Tips – 3DL: Recycling Used Membrane Material


An Array of Membranes in Multiple Colors | Smartech InternationalPreviously we discussed how a very risky use of scrap membrane material lead to an unusual defect and very high scrap rate for one 3DL component producer. That got me wondering how other companies are using their silicone or natural rubber membrane material once it is no longer suitable for use in a membrane press.

The performance characteristics that are required for 3D Lamination are very advanced. Commodity silicone and natural rubber sheeting would never do the job. Over time even high-grade membrane material will lose its elongation, tear strength, tensile strength, and heat resistance – all critical characteristics required for use in a membrane press. However, that doesn’t mean the material is not suitable for other applications where commodity level products are typically used. (more…)

Tech|Tips – 3DL: Diagnosing a Unique Problem

Recently I visited a fixture manufacturer that I had not been to in quite some time. The problem as described over the phone was “worms” under the 3DL in the profile of raised panel cabinet doors.  Upon arriving at the plant I witnessed something I had never seen in my 20+ years in this business.

Cabinet Door with Rippled Membrane | Smartech Online

Though this was a new one to me my thoughts immediately turned to the vacuum system. Maybe the vinyl was floating over the profile just before pressure was applied causing the 3DL to wrinkle in such an unusual pattern? Several tests and checks later and still no solution. (more…)

Tech|Tips – 3DL

Bill Formella with a Press | Smartech InternationalWelcome to a brand new service offered by Smartech International via our website at Tech|Tips – 3DL is a free service to benefit the entire 3D Lamination industry. From the basics for start-ups to rare difficulties with potentially devastating consequences, we’ll address industry issues via our Tech|Tip blog.

In handling various issues, I will rely on nearly 25 years of experience with every facet of the 3D Laminating industry including machinery, materials, supplies, as well as training and technical support. In addition, we’ll include thoughts from other top minds in the industry.

If you’d like to ask a question, send them to us with our website contact page. We’ll do our best to get to it in a timely matter and post our response for the benefit of the entire industry. However, we encourage you to explore your options for on-site training and support for critical issues requiring an immediate response.

Stay tuned as we will begin soon!

Bill Formella is President of Formella Contour Solutions and is the owner and moderator of the LinkedIn group Membrane Pressing & 3D Laminating Design. You can reach Bill at For more tips and ideas, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.