by Melissa Donovan
Manufacturers with rich histories in product development and research are often tasked with ushering in new technology, despite the familiarity and comfort of existing practices, to keep up with customer demand and market trends. Savvy business owners embrace change and invest heavily in research and development (R&D) facilities. The flooring space is no exception and those open to the possibilities are poised to be leaders in this latest industrial revolution.
Above: Välinge recently implemented an Ammonite Creadigit from System Ceramics into its production line that produces flooring for two of its powder-based technologies—Nadura and Woodura.
Välinge, headquartered in Viken, Sweden, was founded in 1993. According to the company’s website it pioneered the concept of glue-less click flooring, changing the way floors were installed and used. Today, its technology base covers all fields related to floating flooring as well as other applications such as furniture and surfaces.
The company’s patent portfolio comprises of more than 3,100 granted patents and a global license base of over 250 licensees. All of its R&D activities occur in Viken. This includes anything related to laminate, wood, and wood powder-based flooring technology. Since its inception, Välinge has been on the cutting edge of product development and welcoming of new technologies to enhance its portfolio. In 2010, the company developed a digital powder printing technology enabling high-quality designs in powder-based surfaces. The next year it installed a digital printer with a printing capacity of 25 meters squared per minute at its R&D center in Viken.
2013 brought more digital printing innovation to the company. It released digital binder and powder (BAP) printing, consisting of a water-based transparent blank ink applied with conventional printheads to create a digital binder pattern on a surface. That same year Välinge presented a new digital embossing technology as well as a digital overlay technology. Based on its BAP technology, during Välinge’s embossing process every panel of a production batch may include unique embossing without any repetition effects and synchronized with variations of digitally printed décor. With the overlay technology, aluminum oxide particles are positioned digitally in precise and pre-determined patterns. In 2014, the company installed a full-size digital printer in its Viken facility.
Moving into Production
These moments in the company’s history illustrate its continued commitment to development and digital printing’s role in it. “Digital printing is attractive for many flooring applications due to the possibility to have small production lots. Thereby you can develop, test, and offer more designs compared to traditional technology. Välinge is interested in both development and production,” explains Göran Ziegler, director R&D surface technology, Välinge.
As Ziegler mentions, the company’s goal was to implement digital printing at both a development and production level. It achieved production-level status in 2019 after installing its first digital machine into the production line that produces flooring for two of its powder-based technologies—Nadura and Woodura.
Nadura is durable solid surface obtained by fusing a well-defined mixture of recycled wood powder and binders together under high pressure. The Woodura surface technology is based on fusing a thin sheet of wood onto a wood fiber core through a powder mix layer. The result is a real wood surface, but stronger.
The digital printer was supplied from System Ceramics and modified to fit Välinge’s technology. A 1.2-meter wide device, the Ammonite Creadigit prints with aqueous pigmented ink. “It prints a special type of fluid developed to capture the decorative powder used to make our products with Nadura. The traditional Nadura products are either uni-color or mixed though scattering technology, but with the addition of our special printing technology we can further enhance the design of specialty stone and tile replicas, which are our main goals with flooring made with Nadura,” shares Ziegler. “With our investment in digital printing we further develop the technology for future innovations in flooring including our own powder-based flooring,” he adds.
As of May 2020, Välinge was into production trials with the printer. Ziegler says the learning curve during install and initial implementation was minimal, which allowed for the company to get up and running quickly. He credits this to the fact that as an R&D company, Välinge considered the leaning curve as one of the goals of the investment.
Sellable product output from the Ammonite Creadigit is due out on the market late 2020. The plan is to initially roll out a range of nine stone replicas referred to as the Basalt range, and these will be followed by new and more advanced designs in the future.
With the success of the Ammonite Creadigit, Välinge plans to add more digital printing devices to its production facility in the future. This is primarily to improve upon design possibilities. According to Ziegler, “digital printing allows for faster turnover of designs and smaller lot sizes. For this reason we will likely see both more experimental designs and an increase in special projects.”
As an innovator in flooring and furniture, Välinge is at the forefront of the newest technologies. It is fortunate to leverage its R&D to accelerate its position. IPM
Oct2020, Industrial Print Magazine