Elkhart, Indiana
September 1996


The Nickell Moulding Company entirely converted from VOC (volatile organic compound)-based wood finish coating systems to water-based systems in 1993. They are among a select few in the wood finish industry to have made a successful 100% conversion to water-based finish coatings.


Nickell Moulding is a leading manufacturer of high quality wood moldings. The company operates two plants, one in Elkhart, Indiana, and one in Arkansas. Nickell Moulding's Indiana plant employs approximately 110 people. The company's quality reputation and design innovation has created great demand for its products. Nickell Moulding's strong market presence is responsible for the development of a new high-fashion, premium quality, product line titled Benchmark.


Nickell Moulding uses water-based coatings for 100% of its wood molding product's finish coatings. The standard, high value product line involves the application of a three-step finish process: stain, sealer, and topcoat. The new Benchmark product line addresses the highest market price-point and its premium quality finish requires six (or more) steps.

The manufacturing process starts with raw, wood plank lumber, which is sorted and indexed. The sorting and indexing maximizes the usable yield of the wood by categorizing the wood by color, grain, knot, and damage quality. This categorization allows joined, molded pieces to match in shade and grain type. The sorted and indexed wood is then stacked by category. A ripping operation follows; this procedure cuts the wood into rough-cut widths and lengths. The wood then moves to a multisequence molding operation which shapes the planks into intricate molding designs. Nickell Moulding has fine-tuned the molding operation to optimize the use of water-based coatings in order to achieve a quality finish. The company found that manipulating the molding cuts and planing angles in the molding process reduced grain rise and stain variation in the coating process, which is performed in a subsequent operation.

The stain is applied with automated equipment which feeds the wood moldings to a three-head spray unit. Excess coating is removed from the molding's grooves and channels via air knives. The excess coating, as well as 90% of the overspray, is captured, filtered, and recycled into the staining process. The stained moldings are then fed to the water-based sealer application where high-speed sanding disks smooth the stained surface just prior to the sealer application. Sealer is applied using a four-head HVLP (high volume, low pressure) spray system. An electric eye operates the spray guns automatically; the overspray is captured and recycled. The moldings then move to an oven staging rack and are fed continuously into a natural gas-fired oven, which operates at 110( to 130(F (dwell time of 2.5 minutes). The moldings are then fed back through the head of the spray coating process, where the topcoat is applied, using the same four-head HVLP spray gun process as employed in applying the sealer. The moldings are then fed back through the oven for an identical 2.5-minute dwell time. The finished moldings are then stacked as finished goods for shipment or are sent to the foiling shop for application of optional design treatment.


Preceding their conversion to water-based coating systems, Nickell Moulding used the industry standard--VOC-based stains, sealers, and topcoat finish coating systems. The VOC-based stains used were typical, low-solids systems composed of 98% VOCs and/or HAPs (hazardous air pollutants). The sealers and topcoats were generally between 33% and 40% solids and were also comprised of both VOCs and HAPs. If Nickell Moulding had not converted 100% to water-based systems, its 1995 VOC and VOC-HAP emissions would have amounted to 110,700 and 41,860 pounds, respectively. Thus, Nickell Moulding's use of water-based coatings prevented the emission of 152,560 pounds (76 tons) of pollutants into the air during 1995, alone. The new water-based coatings now used by Nickel Moulding's employees meet and/or exceed all the performance characteristics of the VOC-based system. The new system (which has resulted in decreased hazardous compound use) is competitively priced, reduces fire hazards, and increases worker safety.


Nickell Moulding's water-based system costs more per gallon than standard VOC-based systems. However, its applied cost is more economical than the VOC-based material because the water-based material contains a greater amount of coating solids than typical VOC-based material on a volume-per-gallon basis. Therefore, one gallon of water-based material will, typically, coat a greater surface area than standard VOC-based systems. The increase can be from 10% to 50% depending on solids content increase in the water-based over the VOC-based coating. Overall, Nickell Moulding is saving approximately $81,000 per year in raw material purchases by using water-based coatings rather than VOC-based systems.

Thus, the total, estimated, annual savings to Nickell Moulding, as a result of the water-based conversion, is $133,500 per year. This savings generated a very favorable payback for the various equipment changes/purchases required in order to properly convert to water-based system. The equipment changes entailed improved heat capacity and air flow in drying ovens, automated stain and sealer topcoat application equipment, automatic scuff disk sanding machines, and router tooling improvements.


Nickell Moulding is one of a select few in the wood finishing industry who have converted 100% to water-based finish coating systems. The conversion was not easy and not without risk. The company spent many months trouble-shooting and revising its manufacturing system as new problems arose consequential to the change. The water-based system caused increased grain rising so the company had to install costly automatic sanders. However, the company learned that by modifying its molding cut process, it could reduce grain rise. Nickell Moulding also discovered that out-of-date, nonhazardous, water-based paint inventory can be more expensive to discard than hazardous, VOC-based coatings because the water-based material is much lower in BTU (British thermal unit) value. However, the company purchased centrifuge equipment which separates the solids from the water, rendering the material suitable for release to its local sewage treatment plant. The solids are collected and discarded as a low volume, nonhazardous waste. Another money-saving benefit is the fact that VOC-based cleaning solvents are no longer necessary because the water-based materials and equipment are reduced and cleaned with water. This has dramatically reduced waste costs as compared to VOC-based materials. Furthermore, water-based coatings are nonflammable; hence, Nickell's insurance company has reduced its insurance premium charge.

As new production issues arose, due to the conversion to water-based coatings, Nickell Moulding methodically addressed them with sound business answers. Today, the company, which once emitted 152,560 pounds (76 tons) of VOCs and HAPs into the air, has achieved reductions of over 80%. The company's employees are more satisfied because their exposure to hazardous compounds has been dramatically reduced and their working environment is safer. Nickell Moulding made the commitment to a 100% conversion to water-based coating systems and has never looked back.

The company now saves approximately $133,500 per year--a direct result of the water-based conversion. Nickell Moulding tracks all water-based paint usage and records the emissions stemming from the small concentration of VOC solvents present in the water-based coating. The overall VOC emissions are so low that the company is exempted from the rigorous regulations of the new National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). Nickell Moulding's leadership and example demonstrate the monetary and environmental gains which can be realized when companies exercise the will and commitment to succeed.

Nickell Moulding Company's pollution prevention achievement was acknowledged by the state of Indiana when the company was awarded the prestigious Governor's Award for Excellence in Pollution Prevention in July 1996. 3 (c) Purdue University Research Foundation, 1996