Sonneborn & Rieck (S&R) believes in forming a partnership with its customers and it is this commitment that has helped the company through its first 100 years of trading. It makes good business sense according to managing director Peter Rieck, with customers getting exactly what they want. ‘We provide companies with the finishing technology which best fits their needs. We are designers of finishes,’ he said.

The company makes sure that it backs its words with action, identifying customer objectives, taking into account their equipment and seeking to combine improved quality with reductions in unit costs.

The company initially developed polishes for the furniture and piano industry. Today, it is a multi-million pound business operating on a global basis with UK manufacturing sites at Hainault, Chesterfield and Bristol, providing not only woodfinishes but some of the most advanced plastics, metal and powder coatings available to some very notable household names.

Underpinning its heavy emphasis on teamwork, service and advanced coatings technology is its large-scale investment in research and development, spending around 15% of its turnover – well above the industry average.

For the furniture industry it has meant major advances in water-based coatings, compliant coatings, UV finishes, powder coatings for wood, and a variety of stains, waxes, fillers and polishes.

At Hainault it has newly-equipped laboratories with the latest test and analytical equipment, together with a new Application Centre with £750,000 of finishing plant, including a Cefla automatic spray system with a drying tunnel which can provide either jetted air or infra red curing. There’s a roller coater, three UV curing systems – one for clear, one for pigmented finishes and one for high technology specialist applications – a vacuum coater and a spray booth.

Using this equipment, S&R can thoroughly test virtually all the finishes it develops for its customers. By replicating production conditions it avoids having to use up a customer’s valuable production time to check the effectiveness of a new finish.

Willingness to listen

This kind of investment in people, plant and technology, a willingness to listen to customers and respond swiftly to their needs, and a concern with environmental demands, has helped to make S&R one of the top suppliers to the UK furniture industry. It is already producing a new, second generation of high quality, fast-curing, water-based finishes at a time when many companies are still struggling with earlier difficulties. It has also maintained a constant search for better quality. The company is the first and only UK coatings company to obtain QS9000, generally considered the world’s highest quality standard.

It was the first company in Europe to provide a commercially-acceptable powder coating for wood and wood based products, one which is already being used by two of the biggest furniture producers in the UK. It has recently announced a breakthrough in powder coatings for wood by introducing a smooth finish; previously only textured finishes have proved suitable for commercial use.

The introduction of a smooth finish, available in an extensive range of colours, is a massive boost for this type of powder coating. It is expected to attract major interest among furniture manufacturers – especially producers of built-in bedroom furniture, office furniture, kitchen doors, shopfitting and shelving.

It is also bound to have a major impact on the rapidly developing contract panels supply sector where the pronounced advantages of single-coat powder finishes in costsaving, freedom from VOCs, and assured quality are likely to prove irresistible.

Water-based UV coatings

Exceptional clarity, higher build and fast cure are some of the key features of an advanced new range of water-based ultra-violet (UV) coatings introduced by the company. These second generation UV coatings are engineered for modern production set-ups and are fully reclaimable in production use. Pigmented versions have also been developed and a further variation currently being tested is expected to provide a special, and substantial bonus for flush door producers whose products are delivered for on-site use. These new coatings, which meet severe rating standards, are designed to meet full European ‘E’ regulations and easily meet the strictest RPA requirements.

The clarity of UV finishes prior to S&R introducing this range has been a contentious point. Until now the composition of these finishes has produced a ‘milky’ appearance, especially noticeable on some dark woods, such as mahogany.

With S&R’s new UV formulation these problems have been eliminated. ‘This second generation of water-based UV finishes is as clear as any acid catalysed (AC) finish,’ said Ken Keetley, UK marketing and sales manager for wood finishes. ‘In terms of sheer quality, this is the biggest step forward for years in UV coatings.’

Build is a strong feature of the new coatings. By comparison with previous UV products, this new system is significantly higher in solids. The effect in practical application is considerable, enough to enable a single coat to be used rather than two, so achieving substantial lacquer savings. This is especially true with recoatable foils. Overall, the appearance, which is better and more easily achieved using these new UV coatings is comparable to a high quality AC lacquer. The new finish also offers vastly improved stackability: whereas its application demands only a three-minute cycle prior to stacking at the end of an automatic line, the fastest acid AC lacquer requires 20 minutes.

Repro furniture coatings

Another major breakthrough in wood coatings has also been announced by S&R, with a comprehensive, fully water-based finishing system aimed largely at reproduction and occasional furniture manufacturers.

The new system, which took two years to develop completely, offers a wide range of major advantages compared to AC, nitrocellulose or other compliant combinations that have been in general use since the introduction of the Environmental Protection Act. The new system contains no solvents. It combines full compliance with the strictest environmental and health and safety regulations with an ease of use and performance which matches and, in many cases, outperforms any other finishes currently used by reproduction and occasional furniture manufacturers.

It is a sprayable single pack system that can straightaway be introduced into any conventional finishing operation without any major changes to plant or personnel.

The new, odourless finishing system – consisting of stain, wood filler, basecoat, matching colour, and lacquer – has good durability, excellent clarity, even on dark timbers and veneers, provides high build and good vertical hold, and offers rapid curing. S&R’s innovative, new technology has eradicated previous curing-time criticisms levelled at water-based finishes. The Jaxalac water-based topcoat lacquer used is available in sheen levels from 2% matt to 85% gloss.

The basecoat is equally rapid-curing and other parts of the system provide a similarly high performance. The water-based wood filler, for instance, has spray or rag on/wipe off versatility and is available in a wide range of wood and pastel colours. It is far faster drying than most oil-based wood fillers and over-coating can be achieved in one to one-and-a-half hours.

Responding to demand

S&R’s development of this finish has been at least partly in response to demands from some of its reproduction furniture customers. One particular problem that the new water-based system removes is the ‘scratch lines’ caused by high solids telegraphing through the final film of the topcoat.

S&R is now one of the leading European manufacturers and suppliers of advanced wood coatings for the furniture industry. With the UK having the strictest solvent legislation in Europe, the company believes it has already achieved what many other manufacturers still have to attain and is therefore in the enviable position of being one step ahead of many of its competitors.