BMK Group promotes SilentTouch as game-changer in panel industry

Based in Gaildorf-Broeckingen, Germany, the BMK Group is one of the world’s leading suppliers of surface-coated and impregnated films. BMK recently partnered with PurChem Systems of Canada to offer an innovative single-layer decor, SilentTouch, featuring an anti-fingerprint, soft-touch surface. To learn more about BMK, SilentTouch and the company’s plans for North America, Surface & Panel posed a series of questions to Dr. Stefan Woerl, head of R&D and quality assurance at BMK, and Robert Clausi, president of PurChem.

Q. What is the mission of the BMK Group?

A. Established in 1972, BMK is a family-owned company and one of todays leading suppliers of surface- coated and impregnated films. The BMK Group consists of BMK, Dekor-Kunststoffe, Interprint Samara and BMK Americas. The BMK Group continually enhances its market leadership position, extending its geographic reach and adding manufacturing capabilities that enable the company to service global markets.

Our mission is to build on our history of product excellence and technology innovation to provide the highest-quality and most reliable products and services to our worldwide customers, enabling them to build better products.

We continue to work with innovative companies and invest strongly in R&D. BMK offers technical products that are, in many cases, customer-specific, as well as providing strong and reliable technical support. We try to offer solutions that can open up new markets for our customers.

BMK is family owned and managed, which allows us to make decisions quickly and implement changes throughout the company immediately when needed. This allows BMK to be competitive and respond to customer needs in the shortest possible time.

Q. What does BMK manufacture at its four production facilities?

A. BMK is located in Gaildorf-Broeckingen, Germany, and has four impregnation lines specializing in melamine and elastic-resin impregnated products for the laminate flooring and panel industry. It is also the central research and development facility. BMK-Gaildorf focuses on overlay films and specialty products such as the SilentTouch overlay and SilentTouch decor anti-fingerprint film products. 

Dekor-Kunststoffe, or DKB, is a well-known brand in the impregnation industry. The plant is located in Erndtebrueck-Schameder, Germany, and has five impregnation lines specializing in melamine impregnated products for the laminate and furniture industry. DKB specializes in pigmented white and decor papers for the furniture industry.

Interprint Samara is a joint venture with Interprint located in Smyshlyaevka, Russia. It has four impregnation lines with an internal resin production facility specializing in melamine films for MDF and particleboard, CPL and HPL and films for laminate flooring. The facility serves markets in Russia and neighboring countries.

BMK Americas is located in Lexington, North Carolina, and has three impregnating lines serving the North American market in melamine films for TFL, pigmented white for furniture and laminate flooring. BMK Americas is the fastest-growing plant and will be expanded in the future. This facility can supply large and small run orders to our North American customers.

Q. Can you offer any numbers that would give our readers a sense for BMKs size and output?

A. BMK has more than 300 dedicated employees worldwide. Current annual global production capacity for treated paper films is more than 2.7 billion square feet or 250 million square meters.

Q. Your primary products are decor paper, impregnated paper and overlay films for the furniture and flooring industries. Please talk about your top products, how they have evolved and what sets them apart in the marketplace.

A. BMK is the largest independent supplier of impregnated papers for the flooring industry. We are always driven to reach the technical limits that are available. We offer a broad range of standard overlay films from AC3 to AC6, as well as specialty overlay films for high impact resistance, high scratch resistance, deep embossed structures and protection against scuffs and mars.

We use the newest catalyst systems available to reach short press cycles down to 8 seconds, and we ensure that our overlays work with all new upcoming press plates with the most difficult structures.

For our flooring customers, BMK offers a flooring package consisting of overlay films, with corresponding decor papers and backer films for panel balancing.

DKB is well known in the furniture industry for high quality pigmented white papers. DKB is working closely with its suppliers to achieve the maximum needed opacities by combining the latest paper technology with modern impregnation additives.

With these impregnated papers, we also offer technical service to customers worldwide with specialized products like cleaning films.

Other special products include deep-texture decors for furniture or the use of functional additives for antimicrobial surfaces. BMK Group can offer these products as synchronized papers (registered embossing) for furniture and laminate flooring.

As one of the largest independent paper treating companies, BMK has a huge advantage by being able to offer printed decors from all printing companies in the market, as well as to use different resin and paper suppliers. We use the best material combinations available to satisfy customer needs.

Q. What percentage of your business is flooring and what percentage is furniture?

A. Treated films for the panel business represent approximately 45% of the BMK Groups business, leaving laminate flooring with 50% and HPL products with 5%.

Q. Your company was founded in Germany and remains headquartered there. When and how did you enter the North American market and why? What is your strategy for competing in North America and gaining greater market share?

A. BMK and DKB have always supplied containers of overlay, backer and furniture white to their North American customers. The customers demand high flexibility and short lead times for the flooring designs, and to import them from overseas takes about four to six weeks—too much time. The demands for overlay, backer and TFL papers can be well planned in advance, but décor papers need a shorter lead time. Therefore, it was a must to have production in the U.S. closer to our North American customers.  

In 2018, the BMK Group acquired a treating facility in Lexington, North Carolina, from one of the largest flooring producers in the U.S. to supply the North and South American markets.

Since acquiring the facility, we have improved the technical capabilities by installing an additional treating line that enables us to treat small runs. These enhancements give the Lexington facility maximum flexibility for our customers.

Our sales and technical support for North and South America is now based at our BMK Americas facility in Lexington, as well.

Q. Laminate products have been dominant in Europe for many years, and now they are gaining a larger market share in North America. What is your outlook for the growth of laminate products in North America?

A. Laminate panel products have been dominant in Europe because they are less expensive and more efficient to produce and more environmentally friendly than traditional wood veneer panels with particleboard or MDF cores.

Printed decor papers, which can be made from recycled paper, offer a virtually unlimited range of designs and solid colors, are treated on impregnation lines and produced in exact-sized sheets or rolls.  These technical papers are treated with heat-activated resins that bond to the core panels during the pressing process and do not require additional adhesive layers. The pressed panel surface can be register embossed (EIR) for realistic looking panels.

Q. What developments or innovations in laminate products are you most excited about? Which hold the greatest potential to advance laminates in sales and market share?

A. SilentTouch technology is a significant step above traditional impregnation resins like melamine and urea. PurChem Systems, our friends in Canada, developed and produces the proprietary resins and additives, which are available worldwide. SilentTouch resins are designed to work with transparent overlay paper, printed and solid-color decor papers, and further technical papers using standard impregnation lines.

SilentTouch decor features include:

  • Closed, easy-to-clean surface
  • Anti-fingerprint surface
  • Flexible, elastic surface
  • Soft-touch haptic that feels like natural wood and wood veneer
  • Surface that feels warm to the touch
  • Patented sound-absorbing elastic surface
  • Elastic high impact surface
  • Less wear on press plates, cutting and milling equipment
  • Deep embossing for natural wood-panel look
  • Consistent pressing parameters
  • Long-treated film shelf life
  • No plasticizers or other harmful substances

The environmental and health aspects are two of the many advantages of SilentTouch products. Since they are elastic and warm underfoot, they are perfect for children’s rooms. They have no unpleasant vapors or odor pollution, and they offer cozy warmth. Straightforward cleaning and care lead to a high degree of durability.

SilentTouch-treated films in roll or sheet form will be competitively priced compared to natural veneer panels and cost significantly less to produce on short cycle or continuous press lines.

Q. Please discuss the origins of SilentTouch and explain exactly what it is and the properties that make it special.

A. Originally developed for the flooring industry, the SilentTouch resin was designed to be tough and elastic and completely compatible with standard impregnation equipment and short-cycle press equipment and milling lines for click-type panel joining systems. 

Flooring products made with SilentTouch technology were originally developed to improve the acoustic properties of laminate floors and make the floor surfaces sound and feel like traditional wood floors. Today, after further improvements, it is positioned and competing against plastic films in the flooring industry, with the advantage of using short-cycle press technology and with the features offered by press plate technologies.

The first SilentTouch laminated flooring product was developed and launched in 2014 by premium flooring producer MeisterWerke in Germany and launched at the DOMOTEX international floor show, where the product won the Innovation Award for Best New Product. 

Q. As SilentTouch moves from flooring to furniture, how do you expect it to be received and possibly change the game in the laminate furniture industry?

A. This will be a real game-changer for the panel industry. With the experience gained from the development of a flooring product first, we expect an easy transition to laminated furniture and HPL industries. 

In June 2019, Christoph Menier (managing partner of BMK Group) visited PurChem in Toronto to discuss the possibility of developing an anti-fingerprint surface for the architectural surface and panel industries. Soon after that meeting, PurChem and BMK started to develop several new products together, including SilentTouch decor (anti-fingerprint single layer printed or solid decor paper for the panel industry) and new developments to the standard SilentTouch overlay.

After six months of production trials at BMK facilities in Germany and production press tests in flooring plants across Europe, North and South America, we were finally ready for the launch of this exciting technology.

In December 2019, we (Woerl and Clausi) made a presentation in San Diego to an audience of architects, designers, panel and HPL producers, and others. There was a huge interest in the SilentTouch decor product after we circulated pressed-panel and HPL samples to our audience that had perfect transparency and did not leave any fingerprints.

We also look forward to using the SilentTouch decor on new panel substrates such as plywood that are now evolving in the market.

Q. If you would be willing to share, please tell us the names of some of your top North American customers.

A. BMK group currently supplies some treated film products to nearly every panel producer in North and South America.  As such we plan to introduce the SilentTouch decor treated films to all of our customers.