Adhesives vendors look to aid manufacturers

By Karl Kunkel

When you think about the mattress assembly process, the adhesives operations probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind.

But as bedding manufacturers scrutinize every step of mattress production for cost savings and increased efficiencies, they are beginning to appreciate the value of adhesives as a labor–saving feature—a quick step in the production process with lasting results.

Adhesives can find their way into virtually every part of the mattress. They are used for laminating layers of cushioning foam, joining slabs and blocks of foam in foam–encased spring systems, securing pillow–tops to substrates, and adhering fabrics, fibers and insulation layers to foam. Some adhesives can be used to bond the ends of rolls of foam sheeting used in quilting machines.

Cost pressures here, too

Like suppliers of other mattress components, adhesives vendors—many with products tied directly to oil prices—are watching raw materials costs shoot upward. There are reports of sporadic shortages of some inputs and of allocations of some chemicals.

“As a chemical company, we’ve been dealing with highly unusual increases and shortages that really are unprecedented,” says Steven Adams, business manager for UPACO Adhesives’ Foam Fabricating Adhesives Group in Richmond, Va.

Adhesives suppliers say they are taking steps to hold the line on costs or offering mattress manufacturers ways to offset rising prices.

“It’s a battle we fight every day,” says Harry Bajakian, national sales manager for Simalfa in Hawthorne, N.J.

Suppliers say that adhesives and their application systems can themselves be used to bring down costs. The two complement each other and each can be modified to suit a particular project. Well–designed spray guns, applicator guns or roll coaters can be adjusted quickly by the operator, saving time and money.

Jim Turner, president of SABA North America in Kimball, Mich., promotes a water–based adhesive dispensed through a pressurized delivery system, the SABA Triple C System, and applied via laminar airflow spray guns produced by Seattle–based DUX Area Inc. Last year, Turner, former vice president of business development at DUX, was part of a team that formed a joint venture between SABA Dinxperlo BV, a foam bonding adhesives supplier in Dinxperlo, Netherlands, and DUX to introduce SABA adhesives to U.S. bedding producers as a package with the DUX spray gun technology. In May, SABA Dinxperlo BV bought DUX’s interest in the venture and formed SABA North America.

UPACO, founded in 1866 and now a division of Nashua, N.H.–based Worthen Industries, made its big push into the bedding industry in 1993, when it introduced a “spray and tack” water–based adhesive, an improvement on a “spray and wait” version prevalent at the time. The latter slowed the mattress assembly line, delayed same–day shipping and caused higher labor costs, Adams says.

UPACO currently tries to keep costs down for bedding manufacturers by offering a range of adhesives: water–based, solvent–based and hot–melt. If one type has risen in cost or is in short supply, UPACO can offer a bedding manufacturer another type.

“We are not limited to any specific chemistry to solve somebody’s problems, whether they are looking for cost savings through adhesive chemistry or process efficiency or trying to meet a changing government regulation,” Adams says. “We specialize in the market and can bring all types of solutions to the problem.”

Donald Fahlquist, market specialist for Hot Melt Technologies in Rochester, Mich., says the cost savings generated through the use of hot–melt applications stem from the fact that nothing is wasted—100% of the hot–melt adhesive is used with no evaporation.

Going ‘green’

The environmentally friendly “green” philosophy is being embraced by some consumers, and retailers are cognizant of the number of consumers who are wary of chemicals in products they bring into their homes and who are trying to shop green.

So adhesives manufacturers have taken steps either to create more environmentally friendly adhesives or to promote applications systems that reduce waste and minimize air pollution.

Simalfa was founded on an environmentally friendly platform 14 years ago, according to Bajakian. As such, the company offers a water–based adhesive that’s packaged in recyclable corrugated cardboard containers.

“We believe there will be a continued sharpening of awareness about adhesives, their differences and their impact on the people using them and the consumers who sleep on beds containing them,” Bajakian says. “We also see more mattress manufacturers looking for greener products and better ways to connect with the consumers who seek them.”

Some suppliers promote the fact that their products don’t contain volatile organic compounds.

Mid South Adhesives in Memphis, Tenn., has supplied several types of adhesives, including solvent–based products, to the bedding industry since 1972. But, in a nod to the green movement, it has been promoting its VOC–free, water–based FoamWeld adhesive for the past two years. The company touts it as being nonflammable, nonallergenic and odor–free. The fact that it’s nonflammable may lead to lower insurance costs at the plant level—a green benefit of another kind, according to Mid South. Hence its slogan for the product: “Don’t switch to FoamWeld water–based adhesive just to save the environment. Switch to keep your costs down to Earth!”

“Solvents are less dominant in this industry, but there are some still using them,” says Archie Thompson, Mid South sales manager. “You do have a faster, final cure with solvents than with water–based. But the solvents are coming a little under fire and people are going to no VOCs.”

In the future there may be other green innovations.

“There might be a trend toward more renewable resources used in the development of adhesives,” says Tim Brown, marketing manager for Henkel Corp., a century–old company in Elgin, Ill. “Maybe soy–type products or anything that’s organic.”

Keeping production moving

Adhesives suppliers study enough mattress assembly operations to realize that a slow manufacturing process is inefficient and wasteful. They also know that their adhesives won’t be practical or welcome if they don’t dry quickly or come with a safe, easy–to–use application system. So they’ve been paying more attention to equipment and in–plant processes.

In addition to offering adhesives, Simalfa will assist mattress manufacturers with redesigning process flows and plant layouts to cut waste and save money.

UPACO’s Adams says that his company is working with equipment companies involved in automation to create complementary products to benefit bedding manufacturers. One labor–saving device offered by UPACO and some other suppliers is the roll coater, which applies a layer of water–based or hot–melt adhesive to a mattress substrate in a controlled, quick and uniform way.

“We see a lot of opportunity where we work with equipment manufacturers to reduce costs through efficiency—mainly labor savings,” Adams says. “There’s a lot of hand–application of adhesives, so there’s a lot of opportunity where we can automate the application process, as well as automate the assembly of the foam parts to create foam–cased tubs or foam–only mattresses.”

SABA North America able to monitor adhesive consumption on a plant–by–plant basis for customers who have wireless Internet in their plants. Turner’s customer service team can study a daily readout for each plant to determine if too much adhesive is being used—and how much extra the customer is spending because of it. One phone call to the plant manager may remedy any application inefficiencies. SABA is just now starting to implement this technology globally, according to Turner. (Another SABA weapon is Doug Fremow, the company’s national training manager for the United States. His license plate reads “GLUE” and, when it comes to adhesives, his mantra is “Less is best!”)

“It’s all about delivering on expectations,” Turner says. But it’s also about listening, according to Hot Melt Technologies’ Fahlquist.

“We do have to be knowledgeable and ask the right questions when dealing with our customers,” he says. “What they are looking for in the properties of the adhesive for a foam–encasement might be slightly different than what they are looking for in a lamination or a pillow–top.”

And if cushioning foam prices rise and bedding manufacturers look at substitute materials or if the green movement continues its roll, adhesives suppliers say they’ll be ready with the right product for the job.

What’s what in adhesives

The primary types of adhesives used in mattress production are hot–melt, solvent–based and water–based. All three have their advantages, as well as limitations, regarding drying time, ventilation requirements, cost and other factors. Handheld spray guns typically are used to apply water– and solvent–based adhesives. Hot–melt usually employs an applicator gun for beading or swirl–spray applications on foam slabs.

Here’s a rundown of the strengths of each type, according to suppliers:

  • Hot–melt Ability to handle low– to high–volume applications; nonflammable (though potential burn hazard); little or no volatile organic compound output so no special ventilation required; no evaporation process means fast drying time, no potential for mold and same–day shipping of mattresses; 100% solids.
  • Solvent–based Fast drying and curing time allows same–day shipping of mattresses; wide range of tack; low–cost; ease–of–use regarding set speed and adhesive tacking properties so production rates are high; no possibility of mold in mattress due to residual water.
  • Water–based Immediate tack and fast drying time allows same–day shipping of mattresses; doesn’t contain volatile organic compounds; lack of chemical fumes reduces need for venting; fewer engineering controls required in mattress factories; soft lines for better feel; good final bonds; high heat resistance for storage; nonallergenic; odorless; high solid content; economical.

Adhesives suppliers

For an extensive list of suppliers of adhesives and application systems, consult the printed version of the BedTimes Supplies Guide, published in the December 2007 issue.