The home furnishings sector is rolling out a welcome mat and nonwovens suppliers are making themselves right at home.
Remember the brightly colored chrysanthemums sprawled across the wallpaper in your kitchen when you were a kid? Fast forward to 2011. Wallcoverings have become more fashionable--the designs and patterns are aesthetically pleasing and they can even be rearranged, thanks to the increased use of nonwovens in this market.What’s more, they are easier to install, cut and remove than paper.
“The multiple surface effects of nonwovens continue to facilitate design opportunities, particularly in the high-end segment. The convergence of wallcoverings and fashion is still happening and the wallcoverings arena is continuing to attract more designers. Wallcovering has definitely become a trendy product,” said Calum Mayland, marketing manager for Ahlstrom, who has reported growth in the market with its EasyLife line.
The company claims that wallcover backings produced with EasyLife are easy to install and remove and exceptionally stable. Employing wet laid technology, the backings don’t shrink or expand when paste is applied, so seams do not separate.
One popular trend in the nonwovens wallcovering scene is wall art decorative decals. “Stickers can be put on the wall, removed and rearranged. This category is showing very strong growth,” said Mr. Mayland.
Personalized wallcovers that are digitally printed are also fast becoming the rage. “They are enjoying good growth, not only for commercial work but also for home use,” said Mr. Mayland.
Covering one feature wall in a room is a trend that gained popularity in Europe in recent years, but there is an advertising push to convince consumers to cover all four rooms, which could be a boom for nonwovens suppliers, according to Mr. Mayland.
Noting that nonwovens are stronger than paper and have greater dimensional stability, Mr. Mayland said, “They do not tear as easily when wet and do not expand, so they are much more stable. The added strength and stability means that they can be pasted directly to the wall and removed with ease,” he said.
Despite the benefits of nonwovens, the North American market has turned its back on wallcovering as consumers have opted for paint over paper. “During the past 10 years, several manufacturers have gone bankrupt, so there are less players producing. Manufacturers probably have not kept up with changing consumers’ needs. Lack of promotion may have played a part too. Consumers do not really understand the advantages of easy-to-hang and remove products,”said Mr. Mayland.
Another long-standing player in the nonwovens wallcovering market is Hollingsworth & Vose. However, the declining market encouraged this company to shift its focus away from North America and instead focus on Europe and Asia.
“The North American market continues to deteriorate. H&V withdrew from participation in this region several years ago as the number of wallcovering manufacturers declined. Although product is available to U.S. consumers, the North American producers of wallcovering have largely rejected the benefits of the new nonwovens technology in both the commercial and residential segments, sticking to vinyl (PVC) coated wovens and paper,” said Jim Vogt, director of global specialty nonwovens.
H&V’s nonwoven wallcovering business is growing rapidly in Asia and is stable in Europe.
Mr.Vogt attributed H&V’s growth in Asia to the significant improvement in the finished product quality compared to coated paper or other substrates.“Wallcovering is a preferred home decorating choice in many Asian homes and the durability, ease of installation and ease of removal delivered by nonwovens are product features that Asian customers are anxious to have in regionally produced products,” said Mr. Vogt.
Emphasizing that while the printing substrate does not directly affect color and design, Mr. Vogt said that nonwovens that print easily using digital and other modern printing technologies are being developed. “This allows art directors to select base materials that display their designs effectively while requiring shorter run sizes, resulting in lower inventory. European design continues to influence the Asian producers and consumers while North American wallcovering fashion remains stagnant,” said Mr. Vogt.
Ahlstrom is also reporting growth in Eastern Europe and China, where consumers change their wallpaper every four or five years. Growth in these geographical areas is being driven by an expanding middle class, increased construction, a growing number of interior design companies and greater brand awareness, according to Mr. Mayland.
Carpet tile tufted on Colback. Photo courtesy of Colbond.
Wallcovering is not the only sector of the home market that is undergoing a renaissance.
Homeowners have been on a wood flooring binge, but there are signs that carpet may be making a comeback. And much like the wallcoverings market, nonwovens can be credited with initiating this revival.
A long standing player in the carpet sector is Colbond. The company manufactures Colback spunbond nonwoven primary backings for carpet tiles, broadloom carpet and dust control/door mats.
“In North America and Asia, designer and end-user preference is shifting towards high-end carpet tile floor coverings mainly in commercial but also in the home/residential market,” said Harry Verbakel, Colbond’s director of sales and marketing.
“During the last few years carpet tile designs have become modernized,” said Mr. Verbakel, adding, “Carpet tiles used to try to imitate wall-to-wall floor coverings without showing the seams between the tiles.Increasingly, the seams are allowed to be seen because you have so much design flexibility in using different colors and different styles. That’s really taking off, not only for commercial, but also in residential areas. In the U.S., we see our customers pushing that a lot.”
Mr. Verbakel explained that most of Colbond’s European customers specialize in tiles, whereas its U.S. customers also make broadloom as well as carpet tiles. “They are driving this trend.We see carpet tiles increasingly meeting the design demands of customers. They like to have a unique floor in their apartments and carpet tiles facilitate that. It’s an upscale offering,” said Mr. Verbakel.
In Asia, where many people live in tall buildings, the market for carpet tiles is growing versus wall-to-wall carpeting. “As Asians move up and have more wealth, they don’t follow all the steps that Western Europe and the U.S. did. They skip a few steps and will go directly to tiles. The other thing that is going to push this trend is that in the carpet industry there is a move toward 100% sustainable products. Many people in the industry are working to make carpets recyclable so that you can close the loop like cradle to cradle. In the end, you want to minimize the carbon footprint and the environmental footprint you leave behind,” said Mr. Verbakel.
Mr. Verbakel acknowledged that one challenge in being green is replacing the latex used to bind the yarn and the backing. “You have to lock the yarn. This latex is very difficult to replace because latex has a few other functions. It adds weight but it also gives some anti-electrostatic properties and FR resistant components are being added to it. These functions all need to be replaced by something else. The best suited carpet solution to finally become a sustainable product is a carpet tile much more than broadloom. We expect that within two to three years there will be 100% sustainable carpet tiles on the market. That will really boom as soon as the first developments come into the market. They will be a great success and everyone will want to have them.”
Nonwovens have also found their way into the window treatment segment of home furnishings.
Colbond also sells Colback into decorative areas. Colback is a bicomponent nonwoven with a polyester core and a nylon-6 skin, which can be glued and colored very easily. “We have customers that use special versions for the manufacture of window blinds and other home market products,” said Mr. Verbakel.
H&V is also experiencing growth in the window treatment segment. “The window treatment business is primarily a domestic market for us and has regained growth following the recession. The North American alternate window treatment market (cellular shades, vertical blinds, roller shades) and more broadly home furnishings was significantly impacted by the economic downturn. Markets for home improvement, recreational vehicles and the hospitality markets have all been slow to recover,” said Mr. Vogt.
Pointing out that consumers are beginning to buy again, Mr. Vogt said that manufacturers want a product line that represents the latest in technology and fashion. “New hardware systems combined with changes in fashion represented by new materials and colors have led to nonwovens, combined with films, foils and woven fabrics, dominating this segment,” said Mr. Vogt.
Nonwovens are also turning up in skirt liners as well as window treatment headers.
Precision Textiles offers fusible and sew-in skirt liners, which are the backing on the bottom of sofas and chairs. The company also supplies fusible liners that are interior components, which are mainly heated mattress pads that go into the RV market.
Precision also supplies buckram, which are the header materials used at the top of curtains or valances. “It’s a very stiff nonwoven that doesn’t have any kind of adhesive on it. It is usually slit to narrow widths and the curtain fabric itself around the material would be the header of the curtain,” said Keith Martin, industrial business manager.
The skirt liners and buckram headers are specifically intended to give body and support to the textile goods at a low cost,” said Mr. Martin.
Working At Home
Nonwovens are also turning up in home offices.
Sandler sells nonwovens for partition walls. Ulrich Hornfeck, vice president of sales, logistics and purchasing said that Sandler nonwovens offer excellent sound insulation.
“With these materials, a pleasant atmosphere can be created at work as well as in the home office. Sandler sawaform and sawatec nonwovens offer outstanding mechanical characteristics, especially rigidity, resulting from their fine fiber structure. With their very good acoustical properties, they allow for quiet rooms, even where a number of people share a large office, without absorbing all sounds. A pleasant noise level is created which is conducive to productivity and enjoyment at work. These materials are also flame resistant and self-extinguishing. The raw material polyester has already proven itself in the apparel industry. It induces no itching or scratching and is resistant to the growth of mold and infestation by dust mites. Sandler nonwovens for partition walls are also suitable for persons suffering from allergies. These materials are also breathable and produced without any chemical additives. Therefore, they are both odorless and free from toxicological risk,” he said.
As the carpet industry seeks to please consumers who are becoming increasingly concerned about the use of sustainable products in their homes, manufacturers are forming partnerships across the supply chain that willenable them to expand their sustainable offerings.
Colbond recently partnered with Aquafil, a European market leader in carpet yarn manufacturing, textile yarn production and polymer engineering aimed at enhancing the environmental sustainability of the carpet industry.
Colbond will use Aquafil’s Econyl, post-industrial and post-consumer recycled polyamide-6, to extend its range of environmentally friendly carpet backings with Colback Green. A substantial and growing part of Econyl is generated from carpet waste.
“The product is our latest innovation and another milestone on our way of the continual further improvement of the environmental sustainability of Colbond’s products and processes. Aquafil is a pioneer in the recycling of polyamide-6 waste and has invested significant funds in the development of dedicated industrial plants. With its Econyl process, the company has closed the loop of carpet waste recovery by using carpet yarn as the primary raw material for polyamide and finished BCF (bulked continuous filament) yarn.
“By sourcing polyamide produced in Aquafil’s innovative “Econyl” process, we can now produce a 100% sustainable Colback primary backing,” said Mr. Verbakel. “And by using rPA-6, derived from carpet waste, in the production of carpet yarn and carpet backings, the first recycling loop has been created for the face side of carpet tiles and broadloom carpet.”
Shaw Industries and DAK Americas created a joint venture company, Clear Path Recycling, LLC, to produce recycled polyester (RPET) from post-consumer PET bottles. Shaw, the world's largest carpet manufacturer and leading floor covering provider, and DAK, the second largest PET resin and largest polyester staple fiber producer in the Americas, will both use the RPET material as a feedstock to enhance the value and sustainability of their individual offerings.
“This joint venture investment represents an important strategic benefit to Shaw's PET filament product lines,” said Vance Bell, CEO of Shaw. “The recycled content manufactured in this facility, combined with Shaw's patent-pending BCF manufacturing process, will allow us to significantly enhance and expand our innovative Clear Touch BCF family of products. This venture will contribute toward the company's 25% energy intensity reduction pledge announced in 2008, as the use of recycled PET containers employs less energy compared to the production of virgin materials.”
Hector Camberos, president and CEO of DAK Americas said, "The joint venture allows DAK to deliver on the growing requirements of both its PET resin and polyester staple fiber customer base for products with recycled content.”
This joint venture will reduce the use of landfills and improve internal process economics for Shaw and DAK. By recycling 280 million pounds of PET bottles, over one million cubic yards per year of landfill space will be conserved. The energy savings related to the Clear Path Recycling, LLC operation will save approximately 2.5 trillion BTUs of energy annually, which is equal to the amount of primary energy necessary to power 18,000 U.S. homes per year, according to Energy Information Administration data.
In the wall partition segment, manufacturers who are searching for products that offer acoustic benefits are also looking for products that are environmentally friendly. “Sandler nonwovens for partition walls are 100 % single-polymer materials and are therefore fully recyclable. Our polyester materials are certified “Confidence in Textiles” and are tested for harmful substances according to Oeko-Tex Standard 100. Recycling of raw materials is another focal point in this sector. Polyester also demonstrates its sustainability in this respect. Not only is the product made of polyester recyclable, but the raw material is also recyclable,” said Dr. Hornfeck.
As nonwovens head home, what innovations will we likely see in the future?
When it comes to wallcoverings, Mr. Mayland anticipates that digital printing will experience rapid growth. “Consumers will utilize several decorating products, including wallcover, wall art and digital murals, instead of relying on a single product category.Predicting that sustainability will continue to become even more important, Mr. Mayland pointed out that Ahlstrom’s wallcoverings are made with fibers from sustainably managed forests. “All wallcover plants are Chain of Custody certified with FSC and/or PEFC. Eighty-two percent of Ahlstrom's fibers are from renewable resources.They are made in plants with an ISO 14001 certificate for Environmental Management. The environmental impacts are continually reduced in manufacturing.For example, a 15% carbon footprint reduction occurred in the Malmedy plant in 2010, which is a 30% reduction in CO2 direct emissions. The company achieved zero waste to landfill from its Osnabrück and Ställdalen plants.For our other plants, we had a 56% reduction in waste to landfill from 2009 to 2010,” he said.
H&V’s Mr. Vogt envisions that more sustainable choices will be available in the future. “We continue to answer customers’ call for sustainability in our choices of raw material utilizing recycled natural and synthetic fiber, which can provide an edge to manufacturers seeking a green product line in response to market demands,” he said.
H&V is betting on continued growth in the wallcovering segment in the future. The company recently announced the expansion of its manufacturing operation in Suzhou, China. “Incorporated in those plans is a larger commitment to the wallcovering market segment both in capacity and technology,” said Mr. Vogt.
Colbond’s Mr. Verbakel is also optimistic about growth in the home sector. “Development of new environmental sustainable nonwovens is underway and also new production capacity will come onstream later in the year. Colbond has committed itself to serve the floor coverings industry worldwide and will invest in capacity expansions when and wherever needed.”
Acknowledging that the home market was affected by the worldwide economic crisis, Mr. Verbakel said the market has started to recover. “Growth is still modest and slower in North America than in Europe, but we have seen our business and our customers’business pick up last year and into 2011. There will be continued growth, especially in NAFTA, Asia and South America with carpet tiles continuing a major role.”
Perhaps Mr. Verbakel summed up the future of nonwovens in the home best when he said, “I strongly believe the application of nonwovens is still growing. Nonwovens have been growing a lot in disposables, but the durable nonwovens will grow more and more, not only in technical applications, but they are also finding their way into peoples’homes.”