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What Is The Best Type Of Edge-Banding Machine?

There are a number of different types of machines for contour edge-banding.  In this article we compare them and explain the pros and cons of each method. The goal is to help you make an informed decision about the right machine for your situation and mix of work.

There are three main categories of contour edge-banding machines:

  1. Manual
  2. Semi-automatic
  3. Fully Automatic

Manual Machines

Manual machines have a rotating roller and a glue application system.  There are two types:

  • The first has a roller and glue system protruding from a table requiring the operator to manipulate the panel to apply the pressure and banding
Manual Contour Edge-Bander – Stationary

Manual Contour Edge-Bander – Stationary

  • The second has the panel fixed to a vacuum table and the banding unit is manipulated around the panel.
Manual Contour Edge-Bander – Hand Held

Manual Contour Edge-Bander – Hand Held

In each case the operator is applying all of the pressure and controlling the angle of the pressure.

The advantage of these machines is low cost.

Disadvantages are:

  • The machines are very operator dependent
  • Quality of output can vary significantly depending on the operator and operator tiredness.

It’s difficult for an operator to apply sufficient pressure. This means that, often, more than one person is required, especially when dealing with large panels.

As a result the glue bond is weaker, so you usually need to use Flex Edge to enable smaller radius corners with consistency.

Butt joins have to be overlapped and then trimmed manually which is time consuming and quality can vary.

Semi-Automatic Machines

Semi-automatic machines use pinch rollers to rotate the panel around a fixed banding head. They use the angle of the pinch rollers (like an angled power feeder) to apply pressure against the edge as well as to rotate the panel.

Semi-Automatic Edge-Bander

Semi-Automatic Edge-Bander

The advantages of this system are:

  • Low cost
  • Simplicity

The disadvantages are:

  • The edge pressure is very low, which means semi-automatic machines typically require the use of Flex Edge to bend banding for anything other than large radiuses.
  • Radiuses less than 50 mm external, and 100mm internal, are typically not possible.
  • As with manual machines, they require the operator to apply extra pressure and assist the machine to manipulate the panel around tighter radiuses.
  • They also do not vary speed according to corner radius, which significantly limits their ability to handle complex shapes.

For these reasons semi-automatic machines are also very dependent on operator “feel”, which means quality can vary between operators.

Because these machines can use only very flexible edge banding material, they usually require the use of Flex Edge. Flex Edge is a very soft material that makes it easier to bend around smaller radiuses.  However, Flex Edge:

  • Limits the range of suppliers for banding
  • Is more expensive than standard banding materials
  • Means trimming finish tends to be lower than when using standard edge-band materials, because of the plasticisers in the banding that are needed to make it flexible.

Typically Flex Edge is made from PVC and is not available in “greener” recyclable materials such as ABS and Polypropylene

Butt joins are not as accurate or repeatable as fully controlled automatic machines.

Fully Automatic Machines

There are 2 types of fully automatic machines:

  • The patented Vector Revolution principle banders
  • The CNC hybrid contour banders

Patented Vector Revolution Principle

The Vector Revolution machines use a patented pressure system utilising artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to automatically analyse the shape of the panel as the head progresses around the panel. It requires no programming.

Vector Revolution 180

Curved Edge-Bander

The advantages of this system are:

  • Simplicity – no programming is required, which means a significant cost and time saving
  • Separation of the banding process from the shape cutting, which means high productivity for both the shape cutting and edge-banding machines
  • Very high edge pressure. Which makes for the best possible glue bond and glue line thickness. This feature of high edge pressure (and strong glue bond) is particularly important to overcome band memory with contour edge-banding.

A further advantage of the Vector Revolution principle is that it is fully compatible with nested based manufacturing.  With shaped components, enormous time and material savings can be made by nesting the shapes.   The Vector Revolution principle then easily performs the edge-banding processes without any issues of panel alignment on the machine.

Nested Parts – a capability of the Vector Revolution Principle

Nested Parts – a capability of the Vector Revolution Principle

The disadvantages compared to CNC hybrid contour banders are:

  • The need to transfer the cut panel from the CNC shaper to the specialist edge-bander.
  • It’s not possible to perform secondary machining processes after banding, such as notching or drilling through the banded edge.

Advantages of a dedicated contour bander with separate CNC machines for cutting the panels are:

  • Compatibility with nested based manufacturing. There is no need to cut shapes from pre-sized panels.
  • Routing dust does not interfere with the edge-bander performance.
  • CNC router capacity is optimised as it isn’t limited to cutting only panels that need contour edge-banding.
  • The CNC router capability can be matched to general cutting requirements. For example, if you’re only nesting 18mm panels, then the size of the router and machine can be smaller, which saves cost.

CNC Hybrid Contour Banders

The CNC hybrid contour edge-banders use a CNC program to first cut the shape then, because it knows the position of the panel, use a second CNC program to carry the edge-banding head around the panel.  This is followed by trimming and scraping.

CNC Hybrid Contour Bander

CNC Hybrid Contour Bander

The advantages of this system are:

  • The panel is placed on the machine and not handled until complete.
  • It is also possible to do multiple processes on the panel, such as applying different band thicknesses to the same panel, notching and drilling, all in the same setup. This is a particular advantage with highly complex panels where multiple processes are required and risk of damage is costly.

The disadvantages are:

  • Machine cycle times are generally quite long for each panel since they have to both cut and apply the edge-band
  • Capital cost of the machine is high.
  • Operators need to have high skill levels to setup and operate the machine.
  • A skilled CNC programmer is needed in the office to do the separate CAM process for the banding process.

These machines are ideally suited to high value components such as high end office furniture. It can be difficult to get an economic return producing high volume mid range and low end panels such as closets, school desks, store-fixtures and the like.

Summary

As businesses look to differentiate their products from competitors, shaped panels are making up a greater proportion of components manufactured in the joinery industry.  This is evident by the high number of new manual machine manufacturers in the world as demand for entry into this field increases.

The opportunity to create new products and designs with contoured panels means manufacturers have many new possibilities to present a range, which takes them away from the commodity areas of box based components, and differentiates them from competitors.

Interesting Design Using Curved Components

Interesting Design Using Curved Components

It’s also common to hear that ‘cut and clash’ component suppliers (those supplying to other manufacturers), who invest in contour edge-banding equipment, win contracts they couldn’t win before, because they had now overcome their inability to reliably produce shaped components.

Contour banding is a whole new learning experience but worth the effort as it opens up new market opportunities with increased margins.


DEFINITIONS:

  1. CNC – Computer Numerical Control
  2. CAM – Computer Aided Manufacturing – this is the cutting of the panel to the contoured shape

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