Shopping for a High-Volume Laminating Machine

If you're looking for manufacturing equipment to laminate a lot of vinyl to a variety of substrates, look carefully at the options. You'll have to sift through a lot of confusing claims. April 11, 2008

I am currently searching for a machine to laminate vinyl onto various substrates, including MDF and gypsum. I was looking at the Harlan equipment, but I am confused about what I really need... Hot press, cold press, HPL...? We are launching a new product soon and this is really holding us up.

Forum Responses
(Laminate and Solid Surfacing Forum)
From contributor M:
A vacuum press with heaters works the best for vinyl. It becomes soft and compliant and works well with the adhesive. All the air will be sucked out with a good vacuum press. The equipment we manufacture is prefect for what you want to do.

From contributor L:
If you're looking to get high quality thermofoil doors, you must consider a press that acts both with vacuum and positive air from the top. This gives you higher productivity, because as soon as the tray exits from the press, you may immediately trim out the doors, and you are given higher definition on your panel surface even with difficult profiles.

From contributor B:
I think your application is being misunderstood. You are talking about laminating vinyl onto flat gypsum or MDF panels, right? If so, in order to determine what you really need, we'd need to know what size the panels are, what your volume requirements will be, and what adhesive you are planning on using. I do have experience with this type of laminating.

As for the discussion about thermofoil doors and positive pressure, up until April of this year I had been working for an adhesive company selling into the 3D thermofoil components industry. Our tech support calls went through the roof anytime someone installed a vacuum only machine. Anyone trying to do thermofoil doors on melamine backed material will have to pre-drill holes through the melamine in order to even get halfway decent definition. If not, you'll be using a heat gun after the parts come out of the press to try to get the vinyl to collapse into the profile. The problem is the glue has already started to cure so you never really know if you have any bond in the profile.

Don't believe me? Then go to Miami, FL where you can see a few dozen of these machines in operation. You'll likely see the heat gun pulled out at every installation you stop at. Then ask to peel the vinyl back from one of the doors and notice the bond, or lack of bond, in the profiles.

From contributor M:
The fact is that heated vinyl film becomes like rubber and can be easily formed and pressed with vacuum onto and into a raised panel door. We have been making these machines since 1986 and the R.A. Macdonald Company was been making them for 40 years before us. Back then vacuum forming was the only way to apply decorative film to a substrate. Vacuum forming was mostly used for furniture components like head boards, carving and wall trophies.

Vinyl coated doors were becoming popular in the early 1990ís and membrane presses like the one in this string started to pop up and some are very nice. If a customer was to go in business making doors to sell, or required a high volume, or wanted to make wood veneer raised panel doors, then a press with top pressure, a membrane press, is the way to go. However, the making and selling of doors is a very saturated market, you can buy them cheaper than you can make them.

The Multi Vacuum press is for small- to mid-sized shops who want to make their own custom components, like for schools or apartments or even custom kitchens. Making your doors with melamine on the back side is the way to go. If you have a really deep detail, then drill your hinge holes first - you need them anyway. And there are adhesives just for vacuum pressing as well as pre-applied adhesives. I promise everyone that no heat gun will be needed.

From contributor B:
Before you make any decision, don't listen to either one of us. Educate, educate, educate yourself by talking to as many people as you can in the industry. Wishful thinking leads to someone buying a $30,000 machine when the reputable suppliers all use something much different.

If you're only making 50 parts a day, what on earth are you doing making your own parts? You're never going to get familiar enough with the process (effects of temperature changes, different materials, profiles, etc.) to be any good with it. Hey, just buy from one of those vacuum former operators selling for $3.00 ft2. But, make sure you buy one more part than you need and rip it to see if I'm telling you the truth.

From the original questioner:
I am not looking for doors. I am looking for a machine to laminate vinyl onto various types of gypsum boards. I am looking for large production, 100,000 sheets per year at least. I looked at some Harlan machinery and was told that they are the best. I then was told that they are going out of business. Any help, please?

From contributor M:
That is an interesting application. With that high volume, I would suggest Stiles Machinery.

From contributor B:
This is what I thought you were talking about but had to answer the other claims as well. I don't know if I'd give up on Harlan just yet. They may be going out of business, but there are used machines available and people that know how to maintain them. Harlan has been owned by Patrick Industries for several years with Patrick operating several of them across the country. It really is the best system for what you want to do. Another possibility is a company called Walco. It's a smaller machine than a Harlan but there are a lot of those doing flat lam work as well.