Solid Surface Veneer
"Solid surface has always been a very expensive product for kitchens, and on the other side of the coin, you've got laminate tops which are relatively inexpensive," explained Steve. "The distance between the two was significant, so we wanted something that would be somewhere in between, and the best way to do that is to go with a veneer and laminate it to particle board. That's the approach we used."
Although other brands of solid surface veneer have not done well in the past, Travis put his mind to fixing any potential problems that might come up. First, the solid surface they use is a polyester-acrylic blend, which Travis said is much better as a veneer than a pure acrylic, which expands and contracts more with heat. Another thing they do to help "balance the product" is to put a laminate backing sheet on the side that doesn't hold the 1⁄4 in. of solid surface. But above all, they focused on the adhesive used in the lamination process, where problems with other products typically arose.
Once they had the product specifics worked out in a way they were comfortable with, it was full steam ahead.
"With our Visioneer product we never intended to compete with traditional solid surface," said Steve. "We've just introduced to the public a product that is an upgrade to laminate. It is a renewable surface, like traditional solid surface, but with some trade-offs. You're going to have a visible seam in the corner, which is much less visible than in a laminate countertop, but it is there. Also, the backsplash will be set on, so you have a seam there, and you're undermount sink is mechanically undermounted, so you have a visible seam there. But accepting those trade-offs, you have a product that retails for about half the cost of traditional solid surface."
Originally, the company used the same equipment and processes it used with its laminate to create its solid surface veneer product, but eventually they came up with new processes and modified equipment to become more efficient.
Using the special grade of contact cement, the solid surface veneer is laminated to a particleboard substrate fitted with a balance sheet on the bottom. The sandwiched sheet then moves onto a company-built core building machine that squares the sheet, applies build-down strips, creates an expansion joint to allow the particleboard and solid surface to move independently from each other, and applies hinge tape for v-grooving (see Figure 2).
The slab then moves to the v-grooving machine, which is also company built and has little resemblance to the traditional v-groover. Here the edge undergoes v-grooving, glue-up and clamping as part of the same process (see Figure 3).
At this point the Visoneer blanks are ready for fabrication using slightly modified traditional postform laminate techniques. L- and U-shaped tops are mitered in the corners for joining in the field, utilizing mechanical fasteners and joint adhesive. According to Steve, the whole production process from order to the point where the slab is ready for customization takes only six people.
"We used to have six people just building up the slabs and putting the edge on. Now that's all accomplished, including the final sanding, with one person. One person in a 10-hour day can run 50 to 60 slabs by himself. When we were running with six people we never ran 50 to 60 tops in a day. They would probably do half that.