Three Decades of Flooring Innovation
By Piet Dossche, John Rietveldt, David Oakey, and Roger Farabee, Floor Focus
2022 marked a big milestone not only for IDO Incorporated but also for the flooring industry. Developments over the last three decades in construction, design and chemistry have transformed the flooring industry significantly and continue to evolve as time goes on.
In the August/September 2022 (30th Anniversary) issue of Floor Focus magazine, veteran flooring industry leaders share their knowledge of the latest innovations in resilient flooring, locking flooring systems, carpet tile, and laminate flooring categories. This overview gives us a perspective of the humble beginnings of the flooring industry to its’ current innovative state.
By Piet Dossche, founder, US Floors & the Coretec brand
Resilient has been a flooring category for a long time but really got popular with consumers due to three developments and bundled innovations.
First, the print films and decors improved substantially in clarity and authenticity, mimicking the “real floor look” perfectly! The consumer embraced this new look and welcomed it into her home. Secondly, the invention of WPC and rigid core made resilient look and feel no longer as a flimsy plastic floor but like a real flooring plank or tile, which could now be installed over imperfect floors. And finally, as a result of this rigid core construction, all the installation techniques developed for laminate and engineered wood, as well as the surface textures like embossing and bevel enhancements, could be applied, improving the authentic flooring look even further.
The growth of LVT during the last nine years, ever since Coretec pioneered this new rigid core technology, has been exceeding everyone’s expectations. LVT now accounts for more than 20% of the flooring market, good for over $7 billion at wholesale, with a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of more than 25% over the last five years!
As the second largest flooring category behind carpet, LVT is now in every channel of distribution in residential and commercial, in big box and specialty retail, as well as online. Its popularity and consumer acceptance keeps growing, with no limit to further expansion in sight.
All this triggered a rapid and continuous innovation in new types of rigid core flooring, with an emphasis on aesthetics and waterproof first, coupled with focus on performance in scratch, sound and enhanced comfort.
The genie is out of the bottle. There’s no turning back. The best is yet to come!
By John Rietveldt, founder & CEO, I4F
The first mechanical locking system was Valinge’s 2G, which was developed in 1993 by a former Pergo employee and licensed to Alloc for laminate flooring and to Kahrs for wood flooring. This development is what allowed laminate flooring and the whole glue-less floating floor concept to take off. Without the development of mechanical locking systems, the laminate category would never have become so popular.
In 1997, Unilin developed its angle-angle Uniclic locking system for its Quick-Step brand of laminate flooring. It was around that same time that LVT producers started experimenting with using locking systems.
Sometime around 2005, Classen developed its Megaloc fold-down with plastic strip system, and Valinge introduced its 5G system. In 2009, 14F introduced its one-piece drop-lock system, which allowed manufacturers to increase their production speeds. It was also easier for installers to use.
As rigid LVT systems were developed, the share of flooring that used locking systems grew more rapidly.
Not only did these mechanical locking systems eliminate the need for adhesives, but they also sped up the time it took for professional installers to install flooring and opened the door for DIY hard surface installation.
The latest developments are focused on making the seam water resistant.
By David Oakey, founder, David Oakey Designs
Carpet tile is by far the biggest change in the carpet industry. In the ’70s, there were two mills in LaGrange, Georgia-Milliken, and Interface-pioneering the new product category. Back then, it was fusion-bonded, a slow, expensive process. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, new tufting technologies led to the option of tufting carpet tile, and this suddenly changed carpet tile’s growth. It changed the cost structure, leading to a product more com parable in pricing to broadloom. That’s the biggest change.
It was around 1992 when we really started to use tufting machines to make competitive products in the marketplace. We started to not design it to look like broadloom. We let the seams show-quarter· tum and parquet. And new tufting technologies could hide a seam or make a seam show or make a transitional product.
At Paul Hawkens’ suggestion, I read Janine Benyus’ Biomimicry, about learning from nature. We had a workshop with Janine and her team around 1998, where she asked, How would nature design a carpet tile? We started to think about how everything we see outside is different in color and design, and everything we make in a synthetic way had a sameness to it. So we said, let’s try to design a product where each tile comes out a little different in color· and design. The result was Entropy, the first random placement tile, released in the market in 2000.
Interface uses this design process maybe 60% of the time. Where we use it, a lot is in residential Flor products, where the tiles often go randomly on the floor in different ways.
In 1992, carpet tile was largely used in corporate and open offices. It could go up in elevators; tiles could be replaced. But the design aspect needed to change to go into other segments-residential, hospitality, healthcare, and education. The technology of tufting pattern into the product enabled carpet tile to go into these other segments and grow.
It’s all up to the mills now to take it to the next level. I believe we have the technology, the capability, to make it look like an Oriental rug, an abstract painting-there are no limitations on design and color. I see no reason why carpet can’t grow through design and marketing.
One more thing: I think our industry, through consolidation and integration, has taken as much cost as possible out of making our products. Now, we’ve got to start to design great product and market it. I don’t think we’re going to be able to make the product any cheaper.
By Roger Farabee, former president of North American wood products, Mohawk Industries
While laminate visuals have been continually enhanced, the process has, more or less, stayed the same. But as technology has evolved, it has allowed for a greater level of detail or real ism, and that’s what sells a product. The more laminate looks like the real thing, the more appealing it will be. There is nothing more important in the selection of one product over another.
Most of today’s laminate is still produced using the rotogravure method, which is the equivalent of stamping an image onto a piece of paper. The better the etched image to be overlaid, the better the result will be, and in this case, that starts with capturing the details of a piece of wood, which is the majority of what is still used for laminate. It’s really about finding the right number of elements so that you don’t have to do a lot of modifications. That requires judgment, taste and an understanding of how well that will translate through all the processes the product goes through to get the desired result which is just as important as the technology. Today’s technology can capture more of the image’s details than 20 years ago. And there have been new advancements in the actual engraving of the print cylinder, with some producers moving from the standard chemical etching to laser engraving, creating crisper visuals.
There is also more nuance through color. The standard four-color rotogravure printing has evolved to five-color printing-sometimes custom color printing or some metallics-not only on the typical decor paper, but on semi-transparent decor paper that can be added on top to create some special effect.
However, the biggest advancements are happening now as more producers go to digital printing. Some companies, Unilin for one, have gotten patents for processes in which a primer is applied to the decor paper before it’s digitally printed that enhances the colors and realism. And while many have come up with ways to introduce more plank visuals to a single rotogravure run, digital offers a whole new world without those limitations. Nature doesn’t repeat itself; each board is unique.
We’re also seeing advancements in 3D digital printing, in which the texture can be printed instead of applied via press plates. Producers are looking at edge treatments and how they can make those look more realistic as well.
As better processors come along and better digital processing software allows producers to capture and realistically create more of the original than before, the category gets ever closer to the unlimited natural variety of a piece of wood, and that opens up the audience to customers who may only have considered hardwood in the past.
Piet Dossche, founder, US Floors & the Coretec brand; John Rietveldt, founder & CEO, I4F; David Oakey, founder, David Oakey Designs; and Roger Farabee, former president of North American wood products, Mohawk Industries
**To view this publication in its entirety, click the full digital issue here.