The Backing Business: Reports on Propex, UTT, Mattex, Etex, Dow and more
By Calista Sprague
While the carpet industry was fairly flat last year, not all carpet backing producers experienced the same lull in activity. Residential carpet sales were slower than commercial sales, so backings production in the large vertically integrated mills were hit harder than the producers of specialty backings for commercial carpet. The total flooring market was up about 3% in units last year, driven by hard surface business, so most producers of hard surface underlayments also posted positive growth.
Differentiation seems to be the key to success for many manufacturers. Universal Textile Technologies further developed a niche for its bio-based products, and Dow tapped into growing interest in attached cushion for modular tile. Some relied on innovation, like Propex, which solved the problem of backings showing through carpet tile fibers, and Schluter, which developed new products to enhance ceramic tile installation, while MP Global found traction this year with its radiant heat film.
For 2015, some companies are banking on high expectations for a strong year, investing heavily in new production facilities. Mattex, for example, has invested in a new backings plant in Georgia, and Bonar is investing in Asia’s growth market. If this year lives up to its promise, based on leading economic indicators, the whole flooring industry could enjoy a significant uptick.
DEVELOPMENTS IN BACKINGS
Dow experienced a growth year in 2014, reporting that end user interest in its attached cushion products, especially for modular tile, has helped spur an estimated 5% to 8% increase in sales of cushion products. Next year the company hopes for continued growth at double the rate of GDP. Dow is best known for its polyurethane products, the Enhancer and Enforcer backings made for broadloom, carpet tile and artificial turf.
In Europe this year, Dow launched a new process that reduces the amount of heat required to produce turf. Dow says that less heat significantly reduces the amount of shrinkage of the yarn, making the final product more durable, and generating less heat also reduces manufacturing costs and minimizes the company’s environmental footprint. The process will be presented at the Grass Yarn and Tufters Forum in Vienna, Austria in February.
Universal Textile Technologies (UTT) has also experienced growth last year, and all signs point to an even better year in 2015. The company benefits from its bio-based products, which are mandated for government purchasing for appropriate applications when available and reasonably priced. The trend toward sustainability continues to grow, shifting more demand toward products like UTT’s BioCel and EnviroCel polyurethane backings with 60% to 85% green content, including recycled and soy-based materials.
UTT’s new lightweight laminated backings have been “a tremendous success,” maintaining high performance aspects while reducing the weight of some products as much as a pound per square yard, which is significant for reduction of transportation cost and for ease of installation.
UTT’s business is done mainly in the commercial and hospitality markets, but it has made forays into the residential market and expects to see continued growth in that sector in 2015.
Longtime producer of polypropylene Polybac and Actionbac, Propex continues at the forefront of backings innovation, releasing a whole new product line as well as two new line extensions.
Eos, the industry’s first eco-only secondary backing, is set to launch this month, made of at least 90% post-consumer recycled PET with a standard warp and tape construction for use in commercial and residential broadloom. And Eos Soft is a woven secondary backing with a fleece cap for extra comfort and sound insulation. The product will be marketed to mask subfloor imperfections, avoid damage to walls and woodwork during installation, provide flexibility for ease of installation, and promote energy insulation.
Propex introduced branded woven polyester backing for carpet tile in 2011, made from up to 85% post-consumer PET, and will rebrand the product this year. Thanks to a terrorist group with the same name, Isis will now be called Artis. Two extensions were recently added to the line as well: Artis FLW and Artis Matte.
Face fiber weights continue to drop across the modular tile industry, and the sheen of a traditional backing may catch the light and show through. Artis FLW, which stands for Fiber Locked Woven, came to market in 2014 with a fiber cap that gets needled into the backing. The low luster of the fiber cap helps keep the backing from showing through the face fibers of very low weight carpet tile. The cap is 100% post-consumer recycled PET, pushing the overall backing to more than 90% recycled content.
Brand new for 2015, Artis Matte now puts the backing through a process that dulls the face surface to help camouflage the backing in medium weight tiles. Propex is currently seeking a patent for the new technology.
With the addition of Artis, Propex has enjoyed an extended customer base, which it hopes to expand even further in 2015, thanks to the Artis extensions and new Eos line.
Best known in the flooring industry for its line of spunbonded nonwoven carpet backings, called Colback, Bonar operates facilities and regional offices around the world, including a facility in Asheville, North Carolina. In September 2014, Bonar announced plans to construct a Colback manufacturing facility in Changzhou, China. Production of 60 million square meters (645 million square feet) of the backing on a single production line is set to start in 2016 to meet the high demand of the Chinese market, and the facility will be built with room for a second line.
In cooperation with Desso and Philips Lighting, Bonar recently created a translucent plastic backing to be used with a light transmissive carpet by Desso and a 12mm LED unit from Philips. The result is Luminous Carpets, which display LED messages and symbols that can be typed in via the Internet and changed in real time for wayfinding, news and other information dissemination.
Styron, the world’s largest producer of styrene butadiene (SB) latex for use in carpet, paper and performance applications, will officially change its name to Trinseo in February.
The global firm reports that business in Europe has been more sluggish than hoped due to the slow economic recovery, but sales in Egypt and Turkey have been strong for the past year, especially for woven carpet.
Styron also notes a reversing trend in backings between vinyl acetate ethylene (VAE) and SB latex. Several years ago, especially in the U.S., companies began favoring VAE for its perceived ecological benefits and lower material cost. However, this year, Styron says that the trend is reversing back to SB latex for its superior binding capabilities and due to falling prices of key monomers throughout the year. Styron also points out that VOC levels for both SB and VAE are the lowest they’ve ever been.
Mattex has four Middle Eastern facilities and until recently has sold only primary polypropylene backing to the U.S. market. Last year, however, the company made a substantial investment in U.S. manufacturing. A brand-new $60 million facility in Eton, Georgia is now set to produce polypropylene primary and secondary backings and polyester primary backings. Already in full production, the secondary polypropylene backing line represents a new technology for Mattex, utilizing its new open end spinning equipment. The firm’s polyester woven primary backing equipment is in the final testing stages, and Mattex hopes to go to market with the new product during the first quarter of 2015.
The TR Polymers Group, a division of Textile Rubber & Chemical Company, makes latex, polyurethane coatings, adhesives and other chemical products for the flooring industry, but it is best known for its polyurethane cushioned backings. The company produces and attaches cushioned backings for carpet manufacturers: KangaBack, KangaHyde and KangaGold for residential use and higher density KangaTrac and Epic for commercial installations. Currently the Dalton, Georgia based company is heavily investing in new R&D strategies, personnel and equipment, with plans to unveil new technologies related to both residential and commercial attached cushions in 2015.
Etex America produces woven polypropylene primary and secondary backings in Saudi Arabia, but its biggest market is the U.S., where the backings are applied to both rugs and broadloom. While not a banner year, Etex reports growth in 2014 and anticipates a stronger year in 2015.
UNDERLAYMENTS AND SPECIALTY SYSTEMS
Schluter Systems makes a wide variety of products to improve ceramic tile installations. Homeowners are most familiar with the Schluter Shower System, components for showers that include customizable polystyrene trays for shower floors, and Kerdi, a waterproofing membrane. The system also offers several drain options, including its very popular linear drain that allows for use of larger tiles on shower floors.
The company’s best known flooring product is an uncoupling membrane called Ditra. In addition to uncoupling, the product provides waterproofing and vapor equalization and supports load. In the spring of 2014, the company introduced Ditra Heat, which performs all the same functions as Ditra, and also incorporates electric heating cables for in-floor heating. The product has been well received, at least in part due to the fact that the cables snap into the uncoupling layer, adding no additional height, which makes for smoother transitions and eliminates the need for leveling compound.
Schluter also makes profiles—metal strips to secure and camouflage cut tile edges while adding a decorative metal detail. A new product, Scheine-Step-EB, launches this year, designed to protect tile edges on stairs while covering the subassembly with an attractive 30mm metal strip. The stair nosing profile also improves safety with a slip-resistant surface and increases visibility. The product is appropriate for both residential and commercial applications, and matching end caps and connectors are available.
Many of Schluter’s products have green attributes, such as Bekotek, a modular screed system for hydronic heating systems (an extremely efficient heating option) that the company says is easier to install and much lighter weight than competitors’ products. Also, the company’s buildings are green. Its facility in Montreal, for example, incorporates hydronic heating and runs at less than 25% of the operating cost of comparable buildings in the same neighborhood.
An underlayment for laminate and other hard surface floating floor installations called QuietWalk put MP Global on the map back in the late 1990s. In 2005, the company added QuietWarmth, a recycled fiber electric radiant heating system, and more recently MP Global worked with manufacturing partner Calorqiue to develop QuietWarmth Film.
Arguably the easiest radiant heat system to install, a 0.16” film using conductive ink technology is rolled out between the QuietWalk underlayment and any floating floor, and then wired to a thermostat. The low voltage film disperses fast, even heat, consuming up to 50% less power than traditional radiant heating systems. It can be cut with scissors to fit any space and, since the film is so thin, it does not add height to the floor.
After initial difficulties in marketing to floorcovering distributors, who saw the electrical component and thought it was more of an HVAC product, and to HVAC distributors, who saw it as a flooring product, MP Global finally found a channel through larger retailers for the DIY segment. In 2015 the company expects a big year for QuietWarmth Film, which has now found favor among flooring distributors as well.
At Surfaces, MP Global will show a version of the film for traditional ceramic tile floors with a peel-and-stick adhesive on one side and fabric on the other, creating a waterproof, anti-fracture membrane. Installers peel away the paper backing and stick the film to the subfloor. Thinset can be troweled on immediately and the tiles set on top.
MP Global reports that 2014 was a strong year, with some record months, and the firm is currently focusing efforts on expansion in the commercial market, working with architects and designers to get its underlayments specified by, for example, touting QuietWalk’s sound deadening qualities, which are useful especially in the multifamily market.
UPDATES FROM THE MILLS
In July Beaulieu introduced MaxxBac for a new collection of Hollytex mainstreet commercial carpet tiles. The new product was created to meet the needs of dealers looking for high styling with a more affordable backing system. MaxxBac includes a non-woven primary layer; an advanced polymer precoat to prevent fuzzy edges and bond the fiber to the backings; a modified bitumen core for stability against moisture and temperature as well as improved flammability; and a polyester felt backing.
The four MaxxBac modular tile styles are CRI Green Label Plus certified and PVC free. They feature lifetime commercial stain and backing performance warranties, and three of the four are Class 1 rated, making them marketable for installations with no sprinklers in the building. (Normally a more expensive fiber is necessary to achieve Class 1.)
Other Beaulieu carpet tile lines continue to be backed with OmniLoc modular, its premium backing system, which is made with 40% post-consumer recycled content and weighs 40% less. The power used to manufacture OmniLoc is 100% renewable green energy as well.
Mohawk has developed a new underlayment for floating vinyl floors, called ActiveSound, which helps eliminate gapping, telegraphing and other damage caused by uneven substrates. A foam core makes the product highly pressure resistant to support heavy furniture, while still assisting with leveling and noise mitigation. An innovative GripTec surface prevents the floorboards from sliding to protect the floor from opening joints.
ActiveSound is suited for use in moisture prone areas such as kitchens and bathrooms, and its low thermal resistance allows the product to transmit heat efficiently for use with radiant heating systems.
Copyright 2015 Floor Focus