| Nonwovens manufacturers are looking to expand their materials’ role in the wall covering market. While nonwoven-based substrates currently comprise only 3% of the world’s wallpaper market, industry estimates peg growth in this segment near 20%. Nonwovens are increasing their share of this market—at the expense of paper, vinyl and woven substrates—as manufacturers produce wetlaid materials at higher weights.
Moreover, nonwoven-based wall coverings are quicker to hang and easier to remove than many of their principal competitors. The materials need only to be pasted and applied and not soaked like many wall covering styles. Additionally, the material is stable and without seam separation, giving the appearance of one continuous material rather than several strips.
Consumers also favor the bulkiness and durability of nonwovens, which give them superior strength and tear resistance, as well as breathability which prohibits fungus growth between the wall and its coverings.
Benefits to manufacturers include: eliminating the need for coatings or PVC in the final product. Also, nonwovens can be made in a variety of textures, opening up limitless design options, particularly in the consumer market.
“Although the wallcovering market is still dominated by paper-based products, nonwovens have grown in popularity as they are easy to handle, have no seam separation and are easier to remove therefore making redecoration quicker and simpler,” explained Gavin Gauld, general manager of Ahlstrom’s wall covering product line.
While Ahlstrom might be largest producer of wetlaid nonwovens for the wall covering market, increased interest is being generated in the segment by key nonwovens producers. Industrial specialist Hollingsworth & Vose, Walpole, MA, recently entered the market with its Holltek line, and Brattleboro, VT-based FiberMark—mainly through its European operations—conducts considerable business in the market. Additionally, many nonwovens manufacturers, recognizing the growth potential of this segment, are well poised to enter this market when conditions are right. In fact, nonwovens’ penetration in wallcoverings has proliferated so greatly in recent years that IGI, the International Wallcoverings Manufacturers Association, Brussels, Belgium, plans to break out nonwovens as a product category in its industry surveys beginning next year.
Currently the majority of growth is in Europe where nonwovens represent close to 10% of wall covering substrates. This is where nonwovens has its roots in wall coverings. In the 1980s the substrates began replacing glassfiber products in Scandinavia. This trend continued into other parts of Europe, mainly France and Germany, and more recently in Russia and the U.S. In North America, nonwovens first entered the market as a replacement for cotton scrim. Since then, the role has broadened significantly.
“The offering has become wider and it has become more specific to the end use application,” Mr. Gauld continued. “There has been a constant stream of innovative developments to meet changing wall covering needs.”
Hollingsworth & Vose, Walpole, MA, entered the wall covering market earlier this year after being approached by companies interested in developing direct printable wall coverings. To achieve this, the company reportedly relied on existing technology that it had been using in other business areas.
The result of these efforts are side-by-side line introductions—one for commercial and one for residential. HollTek substrates are direct printable wetlaid nonwovens featuring permeability and direct stability. A key feature of these products is that they are direct printable and do not require PVC coating materials. PVC materials have long been controversial in building applications because they burn badly and are difficult to work with during manufacture, according to Jim Vogt, director of sales and marketing for industrial specialties, Hollingsworth & Vose.
“A lot of the talk when we started reaching out to wallcovering suppliers centered around PVC-free products,” he said. “At the same time, manufacturers do not want to sacrifice the dimensional stability that PVC provides.
H&V’s wall covering products are able to achieve these things. Another important feature is breathability. The wetlaid substrate is air and water permeable and does not support the growth of mold and mildew on walls. These build ups have been blamed for sick building syndromes, high insurance rates and other complaints in the commercial market.
Meanwhile, residential applications are not as demanding as commercial wall coverings, but this market is still challenging for nonwovens producers. In recent years, wall covering penetration levels have dropped significantly in both Europe and North America. This shift has largely been caused by problems in wall covering application. Conventional wall coverings are often characterized as being hard and messy to hang as well as challenging to remove. The composition of wetlaid nonwoven-based wall coverings, however, has made this process easier.
While wall coverings using nonwovens tend to be about 20% more expensive than traditional materials, manufacturers feel that the ease of application more than makes up for this premium. HV has already formed an agreement with York, PA-based wall paper supplier York Wallcoverings, to develop finished products using its wetlaid technology. This partnership has already yielded strong results for both companies, and printing technology continues to expand the breadth of nonwovens-based product offerings.
“The wall covering business needs something new for it to be successful,” Mr. Vogt explained. “We hope that these features will allow the industry to regain some marketshare.”
Despite this innovation, concerns over training professionals do exist. Wallpaper hangers—both professional and amateur—are used to the pre-paste system of application and need to be educated on the merits of the dry strippable method.
Still, H&V feels the time is definitely right for it—and nonwovens in general—to increase their role in the wall coverings market. “My personal opinion is that the commercial side is anxious for a solution to the issue of air permeability,” Mr. Vogt explained. “The whole issue of mold inside of walks is a topic that you wind lots of discussion over.”