Material Mondays: Thermoset plastics APRIL

Thermoset Plastics: Vacuum forming and nanotech creating new surfaces and solutions

Laminates and melamine are both durable, easy to clean surfaces. The colors, graphics, grains and sheen options available are now innumerable. 

So what are the next generation products doing differently? 3D laminates are becoming commonplace, produced by putting a thermoplastic sheet into a cast former, heating it and then vacuum forming it into a unique, three-dimensional tile or sheet. 3D laminates are light weight, flexible, yet rigid when installed. They can be designed with a built in overlap to make seams invisible. They offer moisture, scratch and fire resistance. They are mold- and mildew-free and used on walls and ceilings. 

Some furniture makers, like Werzalit, are using the same 3D process to create finished products like table tops, windsills and window shutters to produce high tech composites preformed as a solid material (not laminated). The product will not splinter or shatter, can withstand extremes of moisture, weather and scratch abrasion. They do not harbor bacteria or mildew. They can remain outdoors all year round. Paints do not adhere well on these thermal resins. For outdoor and and high wear areas these products offer a wider range of design choices, including custom graphics (there are limited options in terms of shapes).

Another new material, Fenix, addresses some of the common complaints people have about laminates and melamine: fingerprints, build up of dirt/stains over time and scratches. Fenix is an acrylic resin that is hardened and fixed with an electron beam curing process. It uses nanotechnology to heat set the plastic. The result is a surface that has very low light reflectivity, is anti fingerprint and has a very pleasant soft touch. While other resins and laminates may feel plastic-like, Fenix has a silky, suede like feel, a natural "skin". Most importantly superficial scratches can heal - either by rubbing (where the heat generated cures the scratch) or by using a hair dryer or heat gun. The nano surface also withstands impacts, acid-based solvents and household reagents. The surface is hygienic, easy to clean, liquid repellant and mold proof. The smooth surface also makes the material a number one choice where acoustics and light need to be managed. Colors and finishes are still limited but as this new product evolves we expect to see many new designs and options. Wherever a matte, solid color is desired, Fenix is an optimal solution.