Cork material is made from the bark of cork oak, which grows in the Western Mediterranean and on the Atlantic coast at an altitude of up to 1400 meters above sea level. The bark of this tree is very thick and strong. After removal, its outer layer is naturally restored for some time.
Although cork bark appears on young shoots, the first removal of the outer layer occurs only after 15-25 years. Subsequent layers, called female, or reproductive, can be removed every nine to ten years. The life expectancy of cork oak is an average of 160 years. Consequently, about 15 bark crops can be obtained from one tree.
Over half (about 60-65%) of the world's reserves of valuable raw materials are located in Portugal, where the first processing plant was founded at the time. And although other countries of the world are now engaged in the production of cork material and products from it, Portugal accounts for more than half of the world cork products.
Cork material is used in construction for heat and sound insulation, as well as for protection against vibration. In addition, it is used as a finishing material in the form of wall and floor coverings. Cork stoppers for wine bottles are made from cork oak bark. Cork is considered to be quite valuable raw material, so it is used as efficiently as possible in the production of floor coverings. To minimize the cost of raw materials for processing for the manufacture of cork is a granular cork (for example, residues from the production of corks for wine bottles).
The honeycomb structure of cork wood, which contains a huge number of closed air bubbles of various sizes, gives unique properties to this natural finishing material. They are densely compressed with each other and impregnated with a natural cork substance - suberin. Each element of the honeycomb cork structure acts as a thermally insulating component and an acoustic absorber. Therefore, cork wood floor coverings have excellent heat and sound insulation characteristics and have good cushioning properties.
When there is any effect on the cork floor, for example, short-term (pressure from the heels) or long-term (from the legs of heavy furniture), it dampens and returns to its original shape. Champagne or wine cork also works. Additional properties of the cork include water resistance (even with direct exposure to moisture, this coating retains its original appearance), sound insulation, antistatic and bactericidal properties, resistance to household chemicals, slip resistance and ease of maintenance.
So, cork for wine, floor and wall coverings, information boards are made from cork. The first and second “yields” of cork tree are considered insufficiently high quality. Such cork bark is used only for the preparation of cork chips (during processing and grinding). The third and subsequent bark gatherings have the quality necessary for the production of coatings and other products.
The bark is removed exclusively in the hot season (from June to August), when it itself leaves the tree trunk. This procedure requires extreme caution and attention from the collector. When making a circular cut on the trunk (this operation is called "create a crown") it is very important not to damage the tree itself. Then the cork is divided in the longitudinal direction using a special thin hatchet. The cork is removed with its edges, and with the help of the handle, the bark is separated from the tree at a certain angle. Then, the removed pieces of cork are laid out in the open space under the scorching sun, where they dry for several months (up to six months). After drying, they are sorted for the first time, with the result that the cork, which is suitable for commercial use, is sent to the factory.
Upon entering the production, the cork is boiled, which allows it to be given greater elasticity and strength, it is cleaned and classified in accordance with the quality of the material and the thickness of the cork sheet. Before starting to make the cork coating itself, oak bark is kept at a certain temperature in a dark room for about a month.
Let us consider in more detail the technology for the production of cork closures. The cork for champagne must withstand pressure of 5-6 atmospheres, so special trees are chosen for its manufacture. The thickening of the cork leaf directly depends on the place of growth of the cork oak - on the landscape and soil quality. The slower the tree grows, the stronger and thinner the leaf obtained from it will be. The sheet used to make corks is boiled in pure boiling water. As a result of this procedure, the softness, strength and elasticity of the material are significantly increased, most of the mineral salts and tannin, which is part of it, are removed, the volume of raw materials increases by several percent and the tube is initially disinfected.
After boiling, the material is kept in the dark for about a month, and then it is cut into strips, which, in turn, are divided into plates of the thickness necessary for cutting a wine cork. Then, on the machine, the workpieces are cut to a cylindrical shape, and the remaining perforated plate is crushed into cork granules, which are subsequently used in the manufacture of agglomerated cork.
At the next stage, a rough stopper is made, which consists of two parts: an agglomerated head (it is located outside the neck of the bottle) and the array itself (the so-called cork body, which is located on the inside of the neck) of two cork disks. On an automatic line, the head is produced by hot pressing from a volumetric proportional mixture of cork granules and glue. This technology allows you to compress the bonded granules in several directions, which provides a more snug fit of the cork.
When the head is ready, two cork disks are attached to it using semi-automatic devices and an electric furnace. In the oven, corks are dried under constant pressure for 30-90 minutes (depending on the thickness of the finished product and temperature), resulting in the so-called draft cork. This is a "semi-finished product" for the production of cork in its final form. A few days after the adhesive has completely dried, the cork is polished from the ends and sides until it exactly matches all the required sizes.
The plug diameter, according to the standard, can be from 27 to 31 mm, and its length - from 44 to 48 mm. Dimensions depend on the inner size of the neck of the bottle. Then each (!) Cork is sorted. Products are sorted manually. Each cork is carefully inspected and checked by at least two experts. One of them evaluates the smoothness of the cork surface, and the second - the conformity to the established form. This is a pretty hard job. Several million traffic jams per year pass through the hands of specialists. Automating this process is quite difficult and expensive, despite the fact that the production of wine corks takes place almost without the participation of people.
However, strict control is carried out not only at the last stage of production, but also at the stage of raw material selection, in the process of manufacturing traffic jams and at the stage of their shipment to customers. The last operation in the production of wine corks is to apply a logo to each product. Marking can be applied both to the ends and to the cylindrical surface of the cork. The cork is then glossed with molten paraffin or processed over its entire surface to facilitate insertion and subsequent removal of the cork from the neck of the bottle. In addition, as a result of this procedure, sealing cork gives properties such as tightness and moisture resistance.
Natural cork flooring comes in several types. For example, adhesive coatings are glued over the entire area of the tile to the base of the floor, and "floating" floors consist of panels that are provided with grooves and ridges at the edges and are interconnected according to the principle of a parquet board or laminate.
Joining systems for panels of "floating" floors can be glued or glueless. In the first case, they are interconnected according to the "tongue-and-groove" system, and in the second case, the panels are equipped with special profiled ridges and grooves. However, despite the different types and certain differences between them, all floor coverings made of natural cork are a construction of several layers. For their production, the so-called agglomerated, or pressed (granular) cork is used. Although the structure and order of the coating layers may vary. For example, in the case of adhesive coatings, cork agglomerate acts as a base, on top of which a face layer of decorative veneer is applied, which is made from cork or other wood species. To increase the strength of the floor, the boards can be covered with an additional protective layer of varnish or vinyl.
The production technologies for each type of cork coating - cork veneer and cork agglomerate - differ from each other. Cork veneer is made of seasoned cork oak bark, which is cut into a thin layer and carefully polished so as not to damage the top layer of the coating. The veneer is not used on its own, but is used exclusively for the production of wall or floor floating coatings. Most often, it is glued to an MDF plate or to a thin layer of agglomerate and coated on top with three layers of transparent varnish. Such a veneer performs purely decorative functions.
Cork agglomerate is made from whole layers of cork bark, as well as from residues from the production of cork. First, the crust using special equipment is crushed to the size of small granules, and then pressed. During this procedure, wood releases the substance suberin, which sticks together the granules and gives the material the necessary qualities - strength, fire and moisture resistance, mold resistance, etc. Agglomerate can be part of a "floating" parquet or adhesive coating. In "floating" boards, it usually acts as the lowest layer, and in glue it is placed on top.
Most cork coatings and other products from this material are produced in Europe. To organize your own production of corks, you will need the following equipment: cork waxing and waxing machines, cork granulation equipment, for washing and drying corks, detachable machines, cork boilers, grinding machines for cork disks, cork grinding machines, drying chambers for corks, presses for the production of agglomerated corks, presses for the production of cork products, sanding equipment for sanding cork products, machinery and equipment capping lamination, gluing machines for composite cork products, butt capping equipment, machines for producing disks from agglomerated cork, machines for soaking cork corks, for gluing and drying cork corks, for counting them, for trimming the end and polishing, for marking, for calibration and sorting (if there are no specialists who will do this manually), equipment for the production of cork washers and gaskets, punching and nibbling machines for corks, blades, saws, cutters cutters machines for cork, automatic sorting machines, machines for the production of panels and tiles of cork, laboratory drills and press.
Cork is a fairly valuable raw material, so in most cases it is not so profitable to open a specialized production (for example, only for the manufacture of corks for wine bottles). Of course, large investments are required to start large-scale production of cork products, but such production will be much more economical and profitable than highly specialized. Equipment for the cork industry is produced by companies in the UK, Italy, Spain, Germany, India and, of course, in China. It can be purchased both directly from manufacturers and through intermediaries in Russia.
Note that the production of cork products (primarily products from floor and wall cork - cork art parquet, mosaic, borders, paintings, panels, sockets, etc.) and its implementation are promising directions. Such products appeared in Russia relatively recently - no more than 15 years ago. Until now, cork coatings are not available in all regions. The capacity of this market is very large, and it is far from saturation. Some experts even suggest that cork floors may soon displace a laminate of a certain price category, which is the closest competitor to this floor covering. A quality laminate is comparable in price to cork material, but at the same time it is significantly inferior to it in its characteristics. At the moment, the Russian market is dominated by Portuguese cork flooring.
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