LVT Market Report: In spite of the many market hurdles, LVT had another year of double-digit growth in 2021 – Feb 2022

By Jessica Chevalier

Last year was a period of push-and-pull for suppliers of LVT, with demand exceeding supply, a multitude of supply chain hurdles to overcome and loads of work to be done as suppliers sought to navigate those forces. In the world’s second Covid year, homeowner demand for renovation has remained strong, and LVT, currently the most sought-after flooring, found itself both ideally positioned for growth and also amid a storm of sorts, generated by being a category still import-dominant and made from chemicals, among them PVC, in high demand and short supply. In spite of that, according to Market Insights, U.S. LVT sales chalked up estimated growth of between 12% and 15% in units and 16% to 20% in dollars-keep in mind, however, that’s against 2020, a year that lost two months due to the initial Covid clamp-down. And Shaw’s Herb Upton, vice president of residential product and channel strategy, notes that the industry’s rate of growth “continues to build on bigger numbers.”

With the price of raw materials and shipping ever rising, the cost for finished LVT products rose as well. Price increases were plentiful last year, and while, no doubt, these elicited many groans from market channel players, homeowners-generally unfamiliar with the cost of flooring-were largely undeterred, though some opted for an LVT product with fewer bells and whistles and others opted for laminate or another product altogether.

Market Insights estimates that residential accounted for 75% to 80% of the total LVT market in 2021, but the industry should see that figure shift a bit once the commercial market achieves greater normalcy over the course of this year.

Rigid LVT (WPC and SPC) is now the dominant market format. Market Insights estimates that rigid LVT accounts for two thirds of the total LVT market, with SPC being the growth engine.

IMPORTING & ONSHORING
In the last few years, many manufacturers have announced plans to onshore LVT production. Most of these players are producing LVT in other locations across the globe and see the advantages of adding U.S.-based production to serve the North American market. However, the U.S. appetite for LVT continues to rise, so imported products will still account for a big portion of the market. While onshoring will address several of the most troublesome factors associated with LVT-container shortages, container costs, extended ocean-travel timelines and port delays-the price and availability of component materials and cost of road transport (due to the trucker shortage) will remain.

“The big news [in the LVT business] is the fundamental shift in cost due to freight,” says James Lesslie, president of Engineered Floors’ commercial division. “Price points have moved up, and that has led to laminate’s growth because the value is a little better. The LVT companies that have the resources to navigate through these challenges will win in the next year-larger companies with more money to invest in inventory and logistics. It used to be easy to get LVT into the U.S.; now it’s not.”

CAN LVT BE GREENED
In December 2020, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute launched its Beautifully Responsible campaign to “inform and excite consumers that resilient flooring is a Beautifully Responsible choice for their homes.” Covered under the umbrella of this campaign are rigid core and flexible luxury vinyl, vinyl composition tile, linoleum, vinyl sheet, rubber and cork flooring.

The fact is, however, that some of these flooring types are much greener than others, and the fastest growing among them is one of the inherently least green. Much of the LVT in the market is produced using PVC. PVC is made from fossil fuels and relies on the production of chlorine. However, pure PVC can be recycled many times over. In the U.S., LVT flooring comes in many formulations-most PVC-based but some non-PVC-but, regardless, as of right now, these floors will all likely end their life in the landfill because there is no established program to reclaim or recycle them. As the rates of LVT use increase, that problem deepens. As of yet, the market hasn’t seen the first major wave of LVT removal from homes and businesses, which means now is the time to address and establish industry-wide end-of-life processes.

Doug Jackson, president of Cali, believes that the category must work on elevating its green profile across the board. “As you consider how important sustainability is to our future, the LVP category must continue to look for ways to be more sustainable,” he notes.

While hybrid mineral core and non-PVC products are available, demand for these is largely within the education and healthcare markets. These products are generally more expensive than PVC-based LVT and less durable. As of yet, the residential market isn’t moved by PVC-free options.

KEEPING ON WITH INNOVATION
Keeping LVT at the front of the flooring pack and in demand in the market isn’t just about the pragmatics of availability but also about innovation. LVT can chalk up a good amount of its success to the fact that its products are waterproof and heavily marketed as such. While the average customer doesn’t need truly waterproof flooring, the perception of “indestructibility” resonates.

But the other flooring categories are taking notes and innovating to create, for instance, laminate and hardwood products with impressive durability and water-resistance stories.

Harlan Stone, CEO of HMTX, says that there are four pillars of LVT innovation: the core, the printing of the visuals, performance (acoustic mitigation, comfort underfoot) and installation. In his estimation, over the last handful of years, the industry has made significant strides in adding value in the areas of performance and installation, and the next stage of innovation will likely focus on core and aesthetics developments.

TARIFF CHALLENGES REMAIN
With so much upheaval in the supply chain, the 25% section 301 tariff on Chinese-made LVT concerns took something of a backburner for some importers in 2021-not because they are any less painful but because there were simply so many balls in the air to juggle. “Tariffs have been dwarfed by the change in freight rates,” says Lesslie. “Freight is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

Ben Elliott, senior product manager for commercial LVT at Tarkett, notes that in light “of the raw material and container increases, the tariff is such a small percentage that it doesn’t feel as impactful as it did in 2020.”

Ultimately, however, these tariffs do have a negative impact on the LVT category, as they are passed along to the end consumer, which raises the average selling price of LVT, reducing its competitive edge against other flooring categories.

In spite of the fact that other challenges may be keeping LVT manufacturers up at night currently, critics of the tariff are still fighting to have it lifted. HMTX’s Stone, a leader in the fight against the tariffs on imported LVT through the American Consumers & Workers Justice Coalition, reports, “We are pushing very hard for reinstatement of the exempted products, and we believe we are gaining traction daily. We have no idea when someone will make a decision, but … it would be wise to relieve some price pressure and this tax on consumers.”

Flooring, including LVT, was exempted from the tariffs in November 2019-retroactively rebated back to September 2018-and reinstated in August 2020.

THE RISING PRICE OF RAW MATERIALS
Shaw’s Upton says, “Globally, we have seen historic increases in PVC. This has flattened out in Q1 but is still historically high, up 120% from its low 18 months ago. This is a tight-supply product, especially in North America, and there will not be any incremental capacity coming online for 18 to 24 months. Between the [PVC needs] of the builder market and U.S. infrastructure [upgrades], it will be in high demand. There are 15 billion pounds of PVC produced annually in North America, and around 40% of that goes into piping and tubing. This year, we anticipate some flattening in price, but no decline.”

Notes Adam Ward, vice president of resilient for Mohawk, “PVC is the biggest discussion point because it’s the most used. But plasticizer and fiberglass are also used and have the same impact.”

RIGID DEMAND CONTINUES
Gluedown flexible LVT remains the go-to product for the commercial market, especially anywhere there are rolling loads, which can damage or break the locking systems on click-together flooring. However, with the commercial market less active than residential, Tarkett’s Elliott characterizes flexible LVT’s activity as “stable or slight growth.” Flexible LVT with click systems is utilized in multifamily, as those products are generally less expensive than rigid click products.

With residential currently the driving force of the market, the rigid category is bustling, driven by demand from both the renovation and builder markets. While the heftier WPC entered the market first, SPC is now in the lead due to being less expensive as well as thinner and lighter. In fact, SPC is making headway in some commercial applications, such as hotel rooms, and there has been some chatter around demand for gluedown SPC. Indeed, a few companies with whom we spoke offer such a product, but gluedown SPC, which can offer more acoustic mitigation than flexible, requires a very flat subfloor, so installation can be challenging and time-consuming, limiting demand for the product.

PRODUCERS
In 2021, Shaw completed phase 2 of expansion at its domestic SPC plant in Ringgold, Georgia. The more than $20 million development added over 50 jobs, and a third expansion is planned, though a timeline has not yet been released.

Shaw, the largest U.S.-based supplier of LVT products, offers flexible LVT, WPC, SPC and hybrid mineral core products. In addition, the company offers a gluedown rigid product called Purview with a tongue and groove for mainstreet and commercial applications. The company’s rigid LVT products go to market under the Shaw Floors, Coretec and Philadelphia Commercial flags.

In 2021, Shaw rolled out PVC-free LVT products, Coretec Advanced Plus and Shaw Floorté, which feature mineral core platforms; these offer a waterproof product with good scratch resistance and come with a 15-year residential warranty. The company also has PVC-free options on the commercial side.

At January 2022’s market, Shaw launched products under its Coretec and Shaw Floorté lines featuring an integrated pressed bevel, which adds a new level of realism to wood-look LVT products.

Shaw estimates that, within the next 12 months, 20% to 25% of U.S.-consumed LVT will be domestically made and notes that its own production is on par with that rate. In addition, the company will continue leveraging partners that are within the U.S. or moving here, as it is keen to continue diversifying its supply base and optimizing its supply chain for different countries of origin.

Over the course of the last 12 months, Mohawk transitioned its full LVT portfolio to SPC, which coincided with a complete relaunch of its SolidTech and Pergo LVT products in June and July. In total, 80% of the company’s LVT offering was transitioned to SPC, and that, of course, required an update of product samples and a re-education of customers.

At its Q1 2022 roadshows, the company introduced a new embossed-in-register line called Real Plank made in its Dalton, Georgia plant and under both its Pergo Extreme and SolidTech brands. The products feature a more natural-looking bevel, advanced colorations and designs with more realism. In addition, the company launched its antimicrobial treatment called CleanProtect for laminate, hardwood and LVT, which had previously been available on porcelain.

In December, Mohawk subsidiary Unilin entered into an agreement with I4F to obtain the right to sublicense mineral core patents. Mohawk Group already has its PVC-free Pivot Point, but the Unilin agreement expands its options.

Mohawk combined its laminate and LVT design teams to provide one unified voice in hard surface.

The company sources LVT products domestically and from overseas but notes that its domestic-made products are growing faster than the imports. The company’s LVT manufacturing process was designed to be highly automated with a continuous line requiring a lower labor quotient than production of other flooring types.

In 2021, CFL Flooring reports that it grew at a rate of 50%. The company has invested close to $100 million in the U.S., including a facility in Calhoun, Georgia that will soon employ around 300 individuals, a number that will likely double in the next couple of years. In Calhoun, CFL purchased 63 acres of land and built facilities of 700,000 square feet with plans to expand to 1.4 million square feet.

The rigid core facility opened early this year and has started shipping product, with more than 90% of raw materials sourced locally. The company stocks its mid-range standard SPC lines from its Calhoun factory to reduce price fluctuations and the working capital requirement for our customers. In addition to Calhoun, the company has production facilities in Vietnam, China and Taiwan.

Over the past couple of years, the company has focused on developing differentiated hybrid product solutions, including its Novocore Q, which addresses both sound transfer and reflective sound issues; its PVC-free Tenacity brand of engineered stone; and finishes like its Purecoat matte coating and its Scratch Shield Max coating. The company’s main focus is rigid core vinyl.

The company believes that the growth within resilient flooring will come from offering a more diverse portfolio of products, including those that address particular challenges. Its lines for FirmFit will feature larger designs for fewer repeats. In the coming year, digital printing will also play an increasingly important role in the future of new material flooring as it enables wider design and embossing flexibility and can be applied to a broader range of materials. On top of that, digital printing will help eliminate certain elements such as films or wearlayers, reducing its carbon footprint and the total amount of PVC used, as well as reducing the impact of supply chain strains on our production.

In addition, Tenacity is produced in partnership with Waste2Wear: Innovative Textiles Made from Recycled Plastics, and together the companies developed Net Plus, a backing and underlayment for hard surface flooring made from recycled plastic bottles. CFL has recycled over three million plastic bottles and counting since its launch in 2019.

Mannington Mills realized strong double-digit growth in the LVT category in 2021, despite the challenges plaguing the market, including multiple price increases in raw material and operating costs throughout the year. The company offers both rigid (SPC and WPC) and flexible products.

Mannington expanded its Microban technology to its premium Apex offering last year and announced a new beveling technology called CraftedEdge that it will deploy in its Adura Selling System.

Though rigid LVT is selling better than flexible and SPC is selling better than WPC, both WPC and flexible also saw double-digit growth last year. The company’s Adura Selling System features visuals available in any of the three constructions: Adura Max, Adura Rigid and Adura Flex.

Mannington’s designs are developed in-house by its design department, led by Terry Marchetta.
While the bulk of the company’s LVT products are designed in the U.S. and sourced from Asia, Mannington operates two LVT facilities in Georgia: a rigid LVT facility in Calhoun and a flex LVT facility in Madison.

Tarkett NA offers gluedown flex LVT for residential and commercial use; SPC in residential and launching into the commercial market this year; and looselay LVT with a pressure-sensitive adhesive for commercial use (discontinued in residential). The company entered the rigid category a bit later than some and has never offered WPC products.

Tarkett manufactures products in Florence, Alabama; domestically produced flooring is primarily commercial. It complements its domestic offering with sourced products from China and Japan. The company’s sourcing-versus-making strategy is driven by the fact that the residential LVT market is so price sensitive. Prior to the cost of containers rising so greatly, China provided a cheaper source for these products.

Over the past year, supply chain constraints have posed the greatest challenge for Tarkett’s LVT business. These have been, according to the firm, extremely challenging for business management with regard to planning, pricing and inventorying alternate products. “Having domestic manufacturing did help,” reports Ben Elliott, senior product manager for commercial LVT at Tarkett NA, “but it didn’t solve it all.”

In 2022, Tarkett will add its Techtonic urethane across a large portion of its resilient portfolio, mostly on the commercial side. In addition, the residential side of the business will introduce a grout-able LVT that offers a different take from what’s currently on the market and is expected to perform better, according to the firm.

While Tarkett’s European division offers a PVC-free product, which utilizes recycled windshields, the company hasn’t rolled out a PVC-free LVT in North America yet, though it is exploring both current demand for PVC-free products as well as the value proposition and green story necessary to make one succeed. The company notes that while costs for PVC are high, the strong demand has negated the impact of that to some degree.

With regard to visuals, Tarkett’s design team, some of whom came to the firm as part of the Centiva acquisition, analyze trends and create visuals through both in-house digital printing and via sourced films.

Tarkett is currently exploring new offerings of automation in the market and looking to adopt some new systems this year. In part, the company hopes these technologies will mitigate both labor shortages and the rising cost of labor.

Engineered Floors (EF) serves both the residential and commercial markets with its LVT offering, including rigid click products for the residential market and flexible products for both markets. EF’s LVT products go to market under the Pentz Commercial mainstreet brand, Dwellings builder brand, Dream Weaver residential brand and EF Multifamily. EF’s J+J contract commercial brand also sells LVT.

In August 2020, Engineered Floors announced that it would convert its Seretean building in Dalton, Georgia into an LVT factory. The facility will not come online in 2022. Currently, the company sources its residential products from Vietnam and China and its commercial products primarily from Korea.

In addition, in November 2021, the company became the first U.S. manufacturer to purchase a Hymmen Jupiter Digital Printing Line. Simultaneously, the company signed a license agreement with I4F for digital printing technologies. The company plans to digitally print all LVT flooring produced in North America using new materials.

In 2021, EF saw growth in both its rigid and flexible products. On the rigid side, business has been brisk in the multifamily and retail sectors; flexible has seen strong activity in multifamily. EF’s LVT products are made using a continuous lamination process that protects against shrinkage, and the company believes this quality and its styling are driving growth.

EF has U.S.-based design teams that work hand-in-hand with its manufacturing partners to create aesthetics. There are separate teams for the residential and commercial collections.

Cali, which started as a bamboo flooring provider and entered the LVT market about five years ago, was purchased by Victoria PLC in 2021 after being posted for sale mid-year. Victoria is a significant player in Europe’s flooring industry. Doug Jackson, president of Cali, believes the Victoria-Cali marriage to be ideal, giving Cali a “solid foundation and a permanent home with a company that is in the same industry as we are.” The acquisition provides Cali with additional opportunities for product development and supply chain diversification. The company’s products are currently produced domestically and in Asia, and Cali is eyeing Europe as a possibility as well, as Victoria has a production footprint there.

With regard to aesthetics, the company leans into its West Coast roots, creating products with a coastal influence.

Cali offers seven LVT product lines, all SPC except for a new WPC line called Legends. The products all feature an I4F locking system and come with 50-year residential warranties and, with wearlayers a minimum of 20 mil, also have commercial appeal. Almost all products feature an attached pad. The company will add new colors and textures to its LVT lines in 2022 as well as domestic capacity. In addition, Cali will introduce its first laminate products this year.

Cali products go to market via limited distribution, and retailers must adhere strictly to its MAP policy. All Cali products are sold under the company’s brand.

Huali Floors USA got its Chatsworth, Georgia SPC plant up and running in Q4 2021 and officially began making and shipping product last month. Leadership is still managing through issues related to the tight labor pool, particularly in staffing the night shift. The plant is OEM-focused. If customers desire any products other than SPC, those come from China, where the company has the capability to make anything PVC-based.

As many OEM providers do, the company leans into its partner customers’ wants and needs in order to determine its product direction, then consults with its China team to determine how to best achieve the request.

Moving ahead, Huali USA plans to expand into more length and width options as its Chatsworth facility gains steam and may add the capability to produce different cores as well as accessorial adds-ons, such as embossed-in-register and pressed bevels.

But right now, the company is focused on making sure that it is meeting all expectations for its customers. One of the biggest challenges is that raw materials suppliers are lagging in production for their own reasons, and that can slow down finished flooring production. Removing this noise from the supply chain will be one of the major focuses of 2022, according to the firm.

Founded in China in 1984, Novalis opened its Dalton, Georgia-based SPC factory in August 2020. Across its manufacturing footprint, the company produces “A to Z LVT,” from peel-and-stick to dryback to looselay products. The company goes to the residential market as NovaFloor and to the commercial market as Ava. While Novalis does purchase from some OEM suppliers, it makes the bulk of its products in-house, and that allows it to effect change faster.

The company has found demand for its U.S.-made SPC plants to be insatiable and fields calls daily from those seeking supply, but has remained committed to making sure that its products go to market through key customers and brands. Under Ava, the company launched Fave with its best-selling colors, and demand has been strong.

In addition, the company has introduced metric sizes under multiple brands, including a meter by quarter meter (10”x40”) format. These come in non-wood visuals, such as porcelain and concrete. At NeoCon, Ava launched Strm, a carpet tile visual that offers users a textile look with the durability and maintenance characteristics of resilient. The company has also introduced more color options and accents, which address the needs of K-12 education clients, among others.

To create its visuals, Novalis partners with independent artists and buys their intellectual property. It also employs the advice of end users. The company notes that, with LVT now not an accessory project on jobs but the principal square footage, it is incumbent on the material to provide the design aesthetic that designers and end users are seeking.

The Dixie Group experienced another good year of growth for its Trucor LVT in 2021, which included the launch of its U.S.-made rigid LVT Applause Collection. The company offers rigid core SPC and WPC as well as flexible gluedown vinyl in a dryback format.

This year, Dixie is launching the Trucor Boardwalk collection of SPC, featuring a pillowed edge profile, as well as Trucor Prime Pinnacle WPC, which is 12” x 94” and 12mm thick.

Dixie does not offer a wholly PVC-free product, though its Trucor 3DP (direct digital print) has only a small percentage of PVC in the SPC extruded core, with no PVC film or PVC wearlayer, for a low volume of PVC overall.

The company’s current program of U.S.-made rigid core makes up less than 10% of its offering, with the balance produced in China, India and Vietnam. The company hopes to add to its U.S.-made portfolio in 2022.

In 2021, Karndean Designflooring was able to gain new business as a result of having product available when customers needed it, and the firm experienced growth across all its luxury vinyl formats: gluedown, looselay and rigid core. For instance, if the company has product in stock in one of its U.S. warehouses, it will ship the product longer distances than it generally would to make sure customers are not waiting for its regional stocking strategy to stabilize, which adds cost and lead time to the process. As the entire industry experienced, certain links within the supply chain-including obtaining space on cargo ships, port congestion and freight rates-challenged business last year, and Karndean expects that to continue throughout 2022.

Last month, Karndean began introducing new aesthetics to its Korlok Select and Reserve ranges to capture the returning preference toward mid-tone and dark, warm woods. In addition, later this year, the company will be completely revamping its Knight Tile 12 mil range, including a new easy-to-install gluedown and rigid chevron design, and will be introducing new commercially driven Opus 20 mil visuals.

As part of a global entity, Karndean’s products are manufactured in locations centrally located in Asia to support its U.K., U.S. and Australia/New Zealand businesses.

In October 2021, MSI entered into the LVT manufacturing business with the acquisition of RokPlank, based in Cartersville, Georgia. The factory operates under the name Premium LVT Manufacturing and enables MSI to produce its Everlife LVT domestically. The company plans substantial investment in the factory to continue to grow production capacity.

In addition, the company introduced a PVC-free, hybrid rigid core line, called the Everlife Smithcliffs Collection, featuring a dense and thick core, with a pre-attached 2mm closed-cell pad that mitigates sound transmission. The product also has a proprietary wearlayer called CrystaLux Ultra that is highly scratch-resistant, according to the firm. In addition to its hybrid rigid core line, the company offers traditional gluedown and SPC rigid core products.

As some of the large retailers did amid the supply chain challenges of 2021, MSI chartered its own vessels to facilitate shipments of its products to U.S. customers. This enabled the company to keep its distributors stocked with product and generating sales.

MSI is based in Southern California and privately owned by the Shah family.

Armstrong is working to create a clear value story for consumers, who can be overwhelmed by the number of LVT products on the market. The company believes that the attributes of rigid core products can be challenging for consumers to differentiate; building clarity into the offering includes looking at the full portfolio of options and making sure it makes sense as a whole and homing in on what design consumers are seeking at each product level.

Like many, Armstrong has been working to diversify its sourcing amid the supply chain challenges in an effort to make sure that its customers are getting what they need when they need it. On the flexible side, the company has been able to rely heavily on domestically produced products. In addition, throughout 2021 and into 2022, Armstrong has been bringing a more segmented approach to its offering, both going direct with customers where appropriate and working through distribution channels. Key to this, the company believes, is having separate offerings for each channel, rolling out a strategy that allows its distribution partners to sell through its signature line and making sure to provide a value story that allows for it to operate effectively and efficiently.

In 2021, the company rolled out a quick-ship program for commercial LVT and some domestically made residential LVT; the company plans to grow that program this year. In addition, it introduced its MedinPure PVC-free commercial sheet product, made at its own factory in China.

This year, Armstrong will introduce domestic heterogeneous commercial sheet product, hoping to circumvent some of the struggles around the acquisition of sheet products, which has been particularly problematic due to container issues.

While all of its SPC currently comes from abroad, the company is working to improve its flexible LVT supply capacity in the U.S. through its plants in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Stillwater, Oklahoma; Kankakee, Illinois; and Jackson, Mississippi. The company also has a plant in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania that makes printed film.

In July, Armstrong celebrated the opening of its new headquarters in Lancaster. This includes a technical center-housing the company’s product development, innovation and engineering teams-a corporate office and a showroom.

Over the course of the last few years, Armstrong has added capabilities in some plants to make them more flexible in what they produce. In Stillwater, which is centrally located and has historically made its StrataMax resilient sheet product, the company has invested to produce its dimensionally stable, no-acclimation-needed LVT as well as commercial sheet products. Future investment will allow the company to create additional products at that plant.

HMTX, which sells over $800 million in vinyl flooring globally, will complete its new headquarters in Norwalk, Connecticut this spring. Dubbed the “House Up on The Hill” and designed by Jason McLennan of McLennan Design, it’s on track to become the greenest building in the state of Connecticut.

HMTX’s goal with the facility is to be able to take a prototype from idea to product in a matter of hours, as opposed to months, having everything in-house-including machinery-to create physical samples. This will be the third building on the HMTX campus, with about 60,000 square feet across all three buildings and around 50 employees working in that space. The company also has an office in Calhoun, Georgia.

In addition, the company will open a domestic manufacturing facility in Pittston, Pennsylvania, on the Susquehanna River. The location, housed in an existing building, was chosen because HMTX believes the biggest market for residential renovation is in the Northeast and closer Midwest, locations in easy reach of Pittston to facilitate faster delivery and more agile supply chain dynamics. The company also believes that the Pennsylvania labor market will be less competitive than North Georgia’s.

Privately owned by the Stone family, HMTX Industries’ brands are Metroflor, Halstead, Aspecta and Teknoflor.

Nox began operating its Vietnam facility, Nox Asean, in April and plans to expand production amounts and investments over time. Although the company did face some labor shortage issues in its U.S. facilities, production continued as planned. Once the labor situation improves, Nox will expand investments across its U.S. plants as well. In addition to the U.S. and Vietnam, Nox has production in South Korea, where it is headquartered.

Nox produces looselay, click and dryback LVT as well as luxury vinyl sheet, Loom woven vinyl flooring, Lut Evereco+ PVC-free urethane tile and Supremclick+ rigid LVT.

At Surfaces, Nox introduced Loom+ with a “dual protection coating system” that is antibacterial and antimicrobial and features expansive design possibilities; EPT Shield+, a surface coating technology that provides slip and scratch resistance; and 3.5mm acoustic flooring, which, according to the company, offers better acoustic performance than thicker 5mm SPC flooring due to being equipped with Nox’s Soundprotec EMT Core technology.

In addition, the company is planning to introduce Ecorol+, a PVC-free olefin sheet flooring with strong durability and indentation recovery. The product is 100% recyclable, predominantly made from renewable material.

Portland, Washington-based Wellmade, an OEM supplier, began planning on its Cartersville, Georgia SPC (which the company calls HDPC) plant in September 2020, and it is now manufacturing product. The company-which offers vinyl, hardwood and bamboo products-had an existing, wholly owned manufacturing facility in China, so it was able to leverage that manufacturing knowledge to get the Cartersville plant online. Wellmade is already planning second and third phases to the plant, currently 120 million square feet and expected to grow to 300 million.

Wellmade will utilize some of the largest extruders in the world, capable of producing bigger sizes and higher capacities. The company’s customers drive what exactly is being made, and, at present, the Cartersville plant is capable of producing virtually any type of SPC. All the flooring that will be manufactured in the company’s first phase of production has already been sold.

Looking ahead, labor will be the greatest challenge that Wellmade’s new plant faces. The plant is running 24/7 currently but will need even more workers as it ramps up.

Wellmade has been looking at magnesium oxide (MgO) board technology for several years, and while its ownership wanted to pursue the technology, it couldn’t find a board that met its needs. However, recently, the company completed a plant in China that will manufacture MgO board, and it will start producing the flooring in China.

Wellmade has existing patents on SPC technology in China, and in April 2021, after five years of working on it, Wellmade was awarded the first of several U.S. patents on the first SPC structure that it created, with more pending.

2021 was a regrouping year for Congoleum, following its 2020 bankruptcy, which left it “almost on pause” until completed. Congoleum, headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey, offers several types of LVT, including traditional dryback for the builder and multifamily markets (available in a good, better, best) and also residential remodel and commercial-level products. In addition, the company has its PVC-free Cleo line-rolled out in residential first, then commercial-of gluedown, domestically made, digitally printed products, which has faced challenges in the residential market because, according to the firm, it’s a gluedown product in a click world, so the company is looking at ways to reimagine Cleo to accommodate residential click and floating installations.

Additional changes are being considered in light of supply chain issues. The company has no domestic production at all currently but is in discussions with several different domestic producers to improve its speed to market and availability.

On the commercial side, Congoleum products have appeal in the education, healthcare and workspace segments. The company uses Material Bank’s sampling program. On the residential side, Congoleum has a strong marketshare in the manufactured housing and RV markets.

Congoleum has an in-house design team that looks to many indicators-including trends on the world stage and the advice of its distribution partners-in creating its aesthetics.

AUTOMATION
As production of LVT within the U.S. is relatively new, plants have been built using the most cutting-edge innovation in the market. This is unlike the carpet industry, for example, which has been in operation in the U.S. for decades and, therefore, must be retrofitted with new machinery or processes frequently, to ease bottlenecks, costs or labor challenges.

However, Lesslie believes that “there is room for automation in this category in both distribution and manufacturing [of LVT]. We are using robotics in carpet tile production, and in LVT packaging; it makes lots of sense.”

Julian Dossche, president of Huali USA, adds, “In this market-the Covid market-trying to find good technicians who can work machines is a challenge. In addition, the chip shortage is becoming a bigger problem, and, as a result, all a producer’s control system lead times are going through the roof as the chip shortage impacts machine suppliers. The question we ask is, how can we automate enough to drive productivity but not automate so much that one issue will cause the whole factory to shut down? Also, we want to automate with enough redundancy in our systems to be flexible in manufacturing.”

He adds, “Labor and wages are increasing as the dynamics of the workforce change. A producer needs automation to make sure they aren’t making labor one of the massive cost centers. The labor market today is making us rethink how we manufacture, bring in raw materials and service the customer.”

At Shaw’s Plant RP, which currently is in the lead for annual throughput here in the U.S., the company uses automation as part of its strategy to “be cost competitive and make sure we have sustainable supply flow.” This includes both working with machinery suppliers to develop machines suited to their specific needs and developing or modifying systems in-house. Upton emphasizes that Shaw’s LVT processes aren’t just “off the shelf” or “plug and play” but customized to suit its specific needs. The company reports that its years rejiggering and perfecting its carpet production systems has been helpful in these efforts.

Jeremy Whipple, vice president of commercial business development at Novalis Innovative Flooring, notes that, for Novalis, automation plays a role in two ways. “You can bundle multiple responsibilities-packaging and labeling for example,” Whipple says. “The other relates to worker availability, which in the U.S. is a difficult situation at best.” For example, early on, LVT layers were produced separately and glued together, but advanced automation has enabled direct lamination, combining multiple steps and helping speed up the process of creating the product.

In addition, Whipple notes that automation in LVT will allow some manufacturers to scale up faster. Typically, “Standardized equipment gets you 80% of the way,” says Whipple, “then you do some customization.”

One technology currently impacting the LVT market is digital printing. Technologies like Hymmen’s Jupiter digital printing line enable LVT manufacturers to print directly on the board, rather than utilizing print films. In late January, it was announced that CFL had invested in Jupiter technology for its U.S. production. According to Hymmen, the technology provides “highly precise register accuracy. This ensures the highest levels of color stability and print quality output while maintaining printing speeds of 25 to 50 meters per minute.”


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Related Topics:Tarkett, Novalis Innovative Flooring, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Mannington Mills, Armstrong Flooring, Metroflor Luxury Vinyl Tile, Mohawk Industries, The Dixie Group, Engineered Floors, LLC, Shaw Floors, HMTX