By Olivia Cahoon
The decorative laminate market is full of possibilities as manufacturers turn to digital printing technologies. Design freedom, short runs, and quick time to market are some advantages. Smaller run lengths are more cost effective and reduce the need for storing products.
Decorative laminates can be printed digitally using direct or transfer technologies. Both offer advantages. Direct printing is gaining in popularity and here we learn about an early adopter.
Above: Classen Group uses printers from Hymmen to print directly to rigid board with UV ink and create laminate flooring.
Classen Group Innovates
Founded in 1963 as Baues & Co. GmbH, Classen Group started as a trading company for wood-based products in Kaisersesch, Germany. With two employees, it offered regional wood trade and local distribution in the Rhineland area.
In 1994, the company began producing battens and panels, and later added laminate flooring. In 2002, it transformed production as Classen Industries GmbH in Berlin/Baruth. Today it operates as a producer, supplier, and full-range service provider for natural wood products and wood as well as natural material-based products for interior finishes.
With 1,450 employees, Classen Group runs three production sites in Germany and Poland. At its Berlin/Baruth location, the company produces over 80 million square meters of laminate flooring each year. According to a Classen Group spokesperson, it is the most modern laminate flooring production site in the world.
Classen Group produces and distributes laminate floorings, floor coverings, and environmentally friendly vinyl floorings to 72 countries. Between its three locations it operates in a total of 84,000 square meters.
The manufacturer produces rigid floor based on Ceramin, a composite core material created by Classen Group’s research and development team. This production is exclusively performed in Kaisersesch, Germany, with a capacity of ten million square meters.
As a non-core activity, the manufacturer also offers interior doors and skirting boards out of Rybnik-Zwonowice, Poland.
The Classen Group produces high-density fiberboard (HDF) based laminate floorings. Also referred to as hardboard, HDF is an engineered wood made from wood fiber extracted from chips and pulped wood waste.
In 2013, it started to use digital printing in its laminate flooring production process with the Jupiter Digital Printing Line by Hymmen GmbH featuring a production width of 200 centimeters. Digitally produced laminate floorings are currently 20 percent of the company’s output.
When it decided to invest in digital printing, Hymmen was the only company at the time offering single-pass printing, according to the Classen Group spokesperson. The company believes single-pass offers the best cost-effective ratio. The digital printing process enables flexible production, allowing for small and large series of laminate floorings.
Individual décors are custom modified inline for Classen Group customers using color combination variants. The company uses two Hymmen printers in its Baruth location and three in Kaisersesch. Specifically, it uses the Hymmen JPT-C model lines for board substrates that include double rows of inkjet printheads per color.
The Hymmen JPT-C prints boards cost effectively in a single-pass procedure with a maximum print width of 2,176 millimeters. It runs up to 50 meters per minute and offers a 1,000 dpi optical resolution. The system features a UV arc lamp for drying and handles a range of applications on different materials including wood-based boards, glass, metal, fiber cement, and sandwich elements.
Classen Group uses UV-based ink, either from Sun Chemical Corporation or Tiger Coatings GmbH.
After digital printing, Classen Group’s products require finishing. For its laminate floorings, it applies melamine resin impregnation for high load bearing capacity. Rigid flooring requires a lacquer finish. Hymmen liquid coating lines are used for both production finishing processes.
According to the Classen Group spokesperson, the benefits of using digital print technology for decorative surfaces in a manufacturing setting include low capital commitment, quick setup times for changing décor, no stocked décor papers, and the possibility to create individual décors for customers.
Despite its success with digital printing, Classen Group still experiences production challenges including color rejections, color connection, and metamerism. It combats these issues with a productive, knowledgeable staff; the latest equipment; and trade secrets.
Compared to traditional manufacturing techniques, Classen Group believes that digitally printing decorative surfaces takes less time, especially compared with conventional gravure printers. Production steps are saved in the electrical image processing. Furthermore, time-consuming and complex cylinder engravings do not apply, according to the Classen Group representative. Based on internal research, the company saves a minimum of 50 percent on development and the entire cost of cylinder engraving.
Classen Group produces a variety of laminate flooring brands including Classen Home Edition, Extravagant, Videogrande, and Wiparquet. It also serves individual clients seeking customized flooring solutions.
In 2004, a specialized flooring wholesaler and repeat customer approached Classen Group for a flooring project. The customer sells solid wood flooring and wanted a copy of its parquet wood made up as laminate.
For the project, Classen Group developed eight designs within three months. The company started by scanning solid wood planks followed by the development process including creation layout, retouching, and color adjustment.
Classen Group edited the designs in Adobe Photoshop and made color adjustments on a proofing printer and its digital production line. It printed the flooring with the Hymmen JPT-C digital printers. Including production, the project was completed in four months.
The finished flooring featured a structured texture and AC3 laminate. Laminate products with an AC3 rating are suitable for residential use with heavy traffic as well as for commercial settings with moderate traffic. The flooring measured 1,286x194x7 millimeters. It was finished with a fold-down connect system, Megaloc. Each plank in the Megaloc system features a tongue and groove that clicks together, creating a tight lock that holds the planks together.
According to a Classen Group spokesperson, this project stands out from others because the customer runs its own design centers and sets the final product’s expectations extremely high. “The customer was thrilled because the actual parquet and the imitation are so similar in appearance.”
Focused on Flooring
Manufacturers look to digital print technology to boost production and quicken time to market. As this technology becomes more popular, the Classen Group hopes to grow its digitally printed offerings and expand its presence.
Oct2018, Industrial Print Magazine