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Understanding melamine; not all panels are created equal

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Melamine has become a dirty word among many consumers seeking to purchase cabinetry or other wood panel products. But it's bad reputation is not necessarily justified. The reason it's looked down upon comes from either being specified for the wrong application, or comparing it to similar but inferior panels.

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What is melamine? The industry correct definition for the panel product is thermally fused laminate (or TFL). Not to be confused with high-pressure laminates (designed for horizontal surfaces), TFL is primarily designed for vertical surfaces only. The way it's manufactured is by fusing a resin-impregnated sheet of decorative “paper” directly to a substrate, most typically particle board or MDF. The surface has a very strong abrasion resistance because the paper being fused is saturated. Much of the lower priced, mass-produced cabinetry and furniture advertise a “melamine” product, but because their decorative papers are not saturated, the surface is easily worn off. This is the main reason why melamine has a bad rap; not because the product itself is bad, but the consumer's exposure is skewed by an inferior product claiming to be something it is not.

In the accompanying slide show, we'll take a journey through the KML Designer Finishes plant in Tacoma, WA. Here you will see how high quality thermally fused laminate (melamine) panels are manufactured. In addition, KML is changing the appearance of traditional melamine. Using a giant customized platen, their Edgewood series offers a variety of textures beyond the simple smooth finish. Their wood texture, for instance, creates the feel of real wood by imprinting a three-dimensional grain during the fusing process. Advantages of thermally fused laminate panels would include, color consistency throughout each panel, fade resistance where UV exposure is a concern and the elimination of expensive finishing costs. For more information on the panel products industry, visit the Composite Panel Association.