BY BARBARA T. NELLES
Sales of adhesives in the mattress industry have grown enormously in recent years, according to suppliers. Attribute it to the variety of components in today’s bed sets—foam side rails, wrapped coils and those rapidly multiplying comfort layers of gels, foams and coils.
Adhesive suppliers BedTimes spoke with aren’t complaining about the business boom. They are hard at work refining product chemistries and application techniques to stay apace with the latest mattress constructions. They work closely with foamers, mattress makers and equipment suppliers to provide the right glue for any material—from gel foams to coco fibers—found in today’s beds.
New challenges in mattress manufacturing
Tim Brown, market segment manager for Henkel Corp., says “mattress manufacturing has evolved in recent years at a rate previously unheard of. The variety of foams, fabrics, support systems and designs, along with end-user requirements, provide a continuous, yet exciting, challenge for adhesive suppliers.”
Henkel, based in Bridgewater, N.J., sells water-based Dorus and Aquence, Technomelt hot melts and a number of solvent-based adhesives.
“Adhesives are no longer considered a commodity in mattress manufacturing,” says Jim Turner, president of Kimball, Mich.-based SABA North America LLC, which focuses primarily on supplying water-based adhesives for foam bonding. “This is a dynamic time for the way mattresses are being designed and built and there are many new challenges and opportunities out there for suppliers.”
Mattress manufacturers use hot-melt, solvent-based and water-based adhesives to bond soft materials in beds. All three types are readily available, but there is consensus among suppliers BedTimes spoke with that many bedding makers have begun phasing out solvent-based adhesives in favor of more environmentally friendly glues.
The most common method for applying glue when manufacturing mattresses is with a hand-held spray gun, although larger facilities are beginning to adopt mechanized spraying and roll-coating application methods, suppliers say.
Water-based wins fans
The newest water-based formulations vie with hot melts in initial tack and curing speed, proponents say. They’re also safer to work with and environmentally friendly.
Simalfa, with headquarters in Hawthorne, N.J., is a pioneer in offering water-based adhesives to bedding manufacturers and supplies more than 150 water-based formulations for bonding bedding foams, fibers and fabrics. Its patented Free Flowing System for product application is gravity-based and requires no maintenance, the company says. Simalfa also offers pressure and pump systems.
The company launched Overspray Free Technology in the first quarter of 2012.
“Overspray Free has been a central focus for us,” says Harry Bajakian, Simalfa national sales manager. “The instant bond is comparable to a traditional two-part or solvent. It can be applied via one-sided or two-sided application and there’s no mess. It’s really the best of all worlds. It’s a game changer. I can envision each of our products being offered in an Overspray Free version in the future.
“Companies want to use water-based adhesives because it’s healthier for their employees and the environment, but traditional water-based products can be messy in a production environment. Overspray can be a big problem in a mattress plant. You’re working in large, wide open spaces typically with no ventilation and in close proximity to finished goods.”
Bajakian says Simalfa has “solved the overspray issue with chemistry.”
“In the past, there was an attempt to control overspray with special spray guns or elaborate systems, but it never works,” Bajakian says. “Traditional water-based adhesives spray like a paint. Our new Overspray Free technology sprays like a web. Overspray Free technology replaces the need for a two-part adhesive using an activator.”
In its new formulations, Simalfa is striving to make adhesive application easier for operators.
“If used properly, traditional water-based adhesives can be applied with very little overspray, but you’re relying on too many stars to align in order to achieve this,” Bajakian says. “You need to train the operators on the proper techniques and hope that they use them. Then you need the spray gun and system set correctly—and hope that no one plays with it. But, once you walk away, the operator can adjust the equipment and forget all of the training. Overspray Free Technology solves that.”
UPACO Adhesives, a division of Nashua, N.H.-based Worthen Industries, offers water-based adhesive formulations for both spraying and roll coating. It also supplies hot-melt adhesives, as well as solvent-based, reactive and extruded-film adhesives.
UPACO’s water-based formulas are available in one-part and two-part formulas. Two-part formulas use an adhesive plus an activator or coagulator that are delivered to the spray gun at the same time.
“You get an instant bond, but it isn’t instant drying—unlike hot melts—the water is still there. So there are advantages and disadvantages to each type,” says Steve Adams, business manager for UPACO’s Foam Fabricating Adhesives Group based in Richmond, Va.
UPACO’s Fabond is a versatile one-part “high-mileage” adhesive that can “really be metered down very accurately in the app rate per square yard, so you can really save per piece as a one-side spray,” Adams says. “And it can also be used with a coagulant in a spray gun as a two-part adhesive. Its chemistry is so stable—with a good shelf life—that it is available in an aerosol spray can.”
SABA launched its newest water-based product—the 12.0 Hybrid series—this year. It allows for one-sided bonding, with an extremely high initial tack, which improves production speed and output, according to the company. It also produces pliable bond lines designed to increase bed comfort.
“There is nothing this product can’t tackle,” Turner says. “Our customers wanted a water-based adhesive with instant initial tack to be able to quickly assemble mattress components, cover them, bag them and send them out the door. The initial tack is unmatched and long-term bond strength is excellent.”
In addition, Turner says, “The product has excellent shear stability, which means it won’t clog equipment and doesn’t require a gravity-feed system. It makes product application hassle-free and optimized when used via our pressurized adhesive delivery system.”
Turner says one of the biggest sources of growth for SABA is longtime hot-melt users who are switching to the company’s water-based solution.
“SABA is a major global supplier of higher-quality hot melts to the industry and, in mattress production, hot melts work well in spots,” Turner says. “However, it’s more of a contact bond. The long-term bonding quality is less and lower-quality hot melts can crackle in time. Especially in multilayer mattress constructions, crackling can lead to mattress returns and quality issues.”
SABA markets its adhesives along with application equipment and a real-time Process Efficiency Monitoring System that allows customers to track and measure adhesive usage. It recently developed the EZ-Mix 2C, a spray gun that optimizes the application of its Hybrid adhesives in conjunction with its new pressurized delivery system.
Next-gen hot melts
The latest hot-melt adhesives don’t resemble the glues of yesterday, adhesive suppliers told BedTimes. Formulas and application methods have improved dramatically in recent years to include next-generation misting guns that spray microsize glue dots that cure into a more flexible, stronger bond for foam adhesion, meaning the foam will tear before the bond will.
This year, Henkel launched Technomelt AS-414, a high-performance hot-melt adhesive providing some key benefits to the mattress industry, Brown says.
“AS-414 delivers critical benefits to mattress makers, including a high ‘green’ strength, meaning beds can be handled and finished before the glue finishes curing,” Brown says. “It also has a pliable bond line, a soft feel, is noncrackling and has excellent heat resistance.”
Hot-melt bonding technology continues to hold advantages for mattress makers, UPACO’s Adams says.
“Although they are sprayed, hot-melt adhesives do not fog or atomize,” he says. “They typically offer 25% to 35% savings on cost per part than water-based sprays and they dry instantly. So you can wrap and ship product immediately.”
UPACO has focused on hot-melt adhesives in the past couple of years because of the “inherent advantages” and has taken them to the “next level,” Adams says.
“The problems of hot melts have been solved, such as the one you hear a lot—that the product makes a crackling noise after it dries,” he says.
“Our fundamental way of operating is to say, ‘What does the customer need?’ ” SABA’s Turner says. “We uncover needs and find solutions. Much of it involves equipment development and customer service functions.”
Henkel uses what it calls a “voice of the customer” approach.
“We engage in a needs-based discussion with customers, as opposed to purely selling a product,” Brown says. “Beyond the ability to bond, process optimization is at the forefront of adhesive selection and use. This has been a Henkel philosophy for years. Being diligent in these efforts enables us to keep abreast of customer needs and direct our product development.”
Adams says UPACO strives to understand mattress makers’ goals.
“Everyone wants to save money, but there’s a broader picture,” he says. “Are there regulatory issues or OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requirements you’re trying to meet? Are you after better speed and efficiency? Do you have certain sustainability goals? How is your manufacturing process set up? We do an overall audit of your operation and your needs and then present the best product and chemistry for that application.”
UPACO operates a research-and-development and performance-testing lab at its division headquarters in Richmond, Va.
“We can tackle specific customer problems by first developing a test in the lab that duplicates the problem that a customer is having,” Adams says. “For example, if a new foam is developed, such as gel foam, and a customer is having problems bonding the foam, we can test the various types of adhesives, as well as several application methods, and make adhesive and application method recommendations.”
Simalfa’s Bajakian says that while most mattresses still are built using hand-held spray guns, more mattress makers are moving toward auto-spray machinery.
Henkel’s Brown agrees.
“The use of machinery and automation for the application of adhesives will increase in the mattress manufacturing industry,” he says.
Turner predicts that automated adhesive application systems that improve throughput and speed will be prevalent among mattress makers in the future.
“For whatever reasons, the mattress industry has been hesitant to make capital investments in automated adhesive application systems,” he says. “But the one-sided bonding capability of our new Hybrid adhesive creates many new opportunities for automated adhesive applications, and we’ve been working with machinery suppliers and helping our customers to develop their own custom spray systems.”
What else is on the horizon for mattress adhesives? Customers can expect to see more sustainability features in Henkel products, Brown says.
One concept UPACO is working on is extrudable-film adhesives.
It’s a “high performer,” but also a high-end technology, Adams says. “We’re investing in it to make it more usable in mattress making,” he says. “We have many divisions and a lot of technology at our disposal. We’re always looking for the next material and to advance current chemistries moving forward.”
* Find suppliers
To locate suppliers of adhesives and equipment for their application, check the BedTimes Supplies Guide online. The Supplies Guide also is printed annually in the December issue of the magazine.