According to INDA’s recently published North American Nonwovens Industry Outlook report, in terms of tons, the Home & Office in furnishings category accounted for 10% of the North American nonwoven demand in 2019. “While 10% may not seem large, the largest category only accounts for 14% of the demand,” says INDA’s director of Market Intelligence & Economic Insights Brad Kalil, who authored the report.
From 2014 to 2019, INDA estimates the Home & Office Furnishings category expanded 3% annually, in tonnes. The category’s growth is forecast to slow to 1.6% annually from 2020 through 2024. “This is due to the slower economic growth in 2020/21 and the lackluster growth in ‘Office,’ which includes all nonresidential spaces,” he explains.
Of the four categories within Home & Office Furnishings, the largest is upholstered furniture accounting for 36% of the tonnage demand, followed by floor coverings at 32%, and bedding at 17%.
According to INDA’s report, nonresidential construction spending growth will be significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it may take longer than six years for private nonresidential construction spending to reach the pre-pandemic level of 2019. The commercial building sector (office, retail and other commercial structures, and hotels) is expected to be the hardest hit.
But, Kalil says there is reason to be positive about home furnishings sales. “Much of this good news for the home furnishings industry is based on housing sales,” he says. “Housing sales have been positive and are projected to continue increasing through the forecast period. As a result, home furnishings sales will grow, as much of the industry is boosted by consumers looking to fill their new homes with—or in existing homes, replace—upholstered furnishings, bedding, and related furnishings products.”
Further, as housing values increase, so does investment in the home, he adds. “Those who are staying put are now spending on those projects they may have delayed during uncertain economic times. Home furnishings spending is based upon what the consumer can spend; in the case of furnishings this relates to the Real Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) durable goods spending, which grew 6.4% annually through the historical period and is forecast to expand 2.9% through the forecast period.”
One area where nonwovens are becoming increasingly popular in homes and offices is on the wall.
An important factor helping nonwovens grow in wallcoverings is the market’s request for products that are environmentally sustainable, according to Anna Brikh, product manager BU nonwovens, Ahlstrom-Munksjö. Both consumers and professionals are paying much attention to their ecological footprint, she adds. “Although the biggest share of the market is still PVC-coated wallcover, more and more consumers are looking for more eco-friendly and natural wallcoverings. In this aspect, nonwovens printed directly have an important advantage. Being free of PVC and other harmful substances, they represent a new eco-friendly alternative to the PVC products.”
Ahlstrom-Munksjö offers a wide range of nonwovens for the wallcovering industry and continues to improve its two brands, Ahlstrom-Munksjö WallStar, an option for premium and luxury wallcoverings, and Ahlstrom-Munksjö WallWise, which offers the widest range of value-for-money nonwovens, designed to bring the paste-the-wall advantages of a real nonwoven at an affordable price.
The company’s range of Premium grades, WallStar Facing UltraBulk, has recently been enriched with a new heavy weight nonwoven, with high opacity and thickness. It also benefits from a high tear index, fitting with U.S. Type II requirements, Brikh explains. “It also includes recycled synthetic fibers, allowing us to propose a truly sustainable alternative to PVC-coated products,” she adds.
The company’s WallStar Digital range of ultra-matte nonwoven wallcoverings for digital printing has been expanded with a new product: Antique 147. Antique 147 is an ultra-matte nonwoven with a light-fibrous surface effect that adds depth and richness to printed designs. “It’s very soft, textile-like touch delivers improved handling and ease of installation,” Brikh says. “Antique 147 is the best choice to create classy and elegant interiors.”
Meanwhile, the WallWise range has been enriched with nonwoven backing materials. “Finally on the market, a truly qualitative paste-the-wall and strippable nonwoven backings at affordable price,” Brikh says.
The wallcovering industry is driven by fashion and design, she adds. “Consumers want their own unique product with eye-catching appearance.”
The trend of consumer personalization led to the recent development of digital wallcoverings, which are printed digitally via inkjet/laserjet. “Besides consumer interest, this trend can be explained by printers’ demand for the flexibility, lower investment and better profitability of digital printing,” Brikh explains.
Ahlstrom-Munksjö sees that the wall decoration market is showing a positive dynamic, in particular digitally printed wall décor. “In fact, due to the global pandemic situation, the consumers are encouraged to spend more time in their homes, and, of course, they want to make these places more comfortable, functional and, of course, as reflecting their personality as possible,” she says. “Changing wall decor is a good way to achieve these goals. And, digitally printed wallcoverings are the best choice to personalize your living space. This is why we believe that this market will continue booming.”
Another specialist in nonwoven wallpapers is Felix Schoeller Group. The Osnabrück, Germany-based manufacturer develops base paper for nonwoven wallpapers and wall liners, combining raw nonwovens production, coating and digital printing from one source.
Speaking to the benefits of nonwovens over standard wallpaper material, Michael Avermann, product manager Digital Wallpaper, Felix Schoeller, says nonwovens have the advantage of being much easier to work with, and provide perfect handling, soft-touch feeling, they are dimensionally stable, and have excellent dry strippability.
Nonwovens and digital printing also offers the opportunity to produce wider webs, which makes it easier to apply due to less seams to bring together, Avermann adds. “Therefore nonwovens have more and more focus on interior design.”
Felix Schoeller considers wallcoverings to be a growing market for nonwovens. Alexandra Tovar, marketing manager Nonwovens at Felix Schoeller, says the wallpaper market is an interesting and diverse market influenced by current home and living trends. “Just in the times of Covid, you can see how people invest in the house and interior and they are, e.g., faced with the challenge of integrating home office spaces in their living area.”
Even before Covid, more and more social life took place at home, for example, based on the trend homing and cocooning, she continues. “All these points lead to an increased demand of quality wallpaper that helps people to beautify their home—but also in public areas like hotels & restaurants, wallpapers are increasingly used as design elements to beautify the walls.”
Sustainable Solution for Mattresses
With many consumers becoming more comfortable shopping online, especially during the pandemic, direct-to-consumer brands have been performing well in the home furnishings market, especially online mattress brands. Totowa, NJ-based Precision Textiles has observed this trend in recent years and in response to the boom of online mattress sales, the company developed a new nonwoven textile designed as cleaner alternative to fire-retardant (FR) socks currently used in roll-pack mattresses. The company’s patented EcoFlex is a glass-free, chemical-free barrier designed to tolerate the rolling and packaging required for boxed beds.
“As the industry continues to embrace the growing boxed bed trend, we seized the opportunity to develop a more effective and cleaner FR solution to help our manufacturing partners deliver high-quality sleep solutions,” says Keith Martin, vice president of Precision Textiles. “As a glass-free, chemical-free barrier, EcoFlex changes the FR game with its streamlined application process and skin-friendly materials proven to hold up and retain its FR efficacy.”
EcoFlex, OekoTek Standard 100-certified, is made with inherent FR rayon. The stitchbonded nonwoven offers four-way stretch and recovery that resists breakdown when tested on rollators or rolled for packing. Designed to be laminated to the underside of mattress ticking, EcoFlex eliminates the need to apply FR socks in the manufacturing process.
“Online sales of mattresses have skyrocketed, and we don’t see the trend going back,” Martin says. “We think that consumer confidence to order a mattress or a piece of furniture online has gotten to a point, especially with the pandemic, that we’re not going to see a reversal of that. It’s not going to go back to where it was and it’s going to continue to trend the other way. The numbers that we read say mattress sales and furniture sales online just continue to increase and increase, so we’ve made a very concerted effort to develop and design products that fit into that market segment, e-commerce mattress sales.”
As part of the EcoFlex range, the company also recently introduced the EcoFlex EZ-Fit Cap—its first application that “fits” over the foam core of a mattress like a fitted sheet. The new product is also easier for production employees to work with and enables manufacturers to have greater flexibility in the type of ticking they use.
EcoFlex EZ-Fit Cap features elasticized edges, easily slips over the top of the foam core and fits securely around the mattress core. Martin says the EcoFlex EZ-Fit Cap helps streamline bedding manufacturing—one person can apply the cap in half of the time that it typically takes two employees to apply a sock, lessening production time.
Precision Textiles has become incredibly proactive at removing all of the FR chemistries from any of its products, especially for mattresses, Martin says. “For a third of your life you’re sleeping on a mattress. The last thing you want are FR chemicals inside that mattress, so we’ve made a huge stride for a number of years, especially recently, to make sure every single product line we manufacture we’re doing our absolute best to remove any FR topical treatment there is.”
The company says it’s keeping ahead of a growing trend of states tightening FR chemical regulations in consumer products. By constantly upgrading its portfolio of chemical-free FR solutions for quilted mattress panels and borders, FR filler cloth, FR sock, cap and laminated FR solutions, it is helping its customers before they encounter situations that could impede their production.
The first state to regulate these materials was California, whose legislature passed Assembly Bill 2998 in 2018 prohibiting the sale of mattresses, upholstered furniture and juvenile products containing FR chemicals. The Massachusetts government enacted a similar law, Amendment S.2988, in December 2020. The International Sleep Products Association is also tracking two new proposed bills in Georgia and Delaware, which are expected to recommend similar guidelines.
Precision Textiles develops a number of products that meet these regulations, including EcoFlex.
“We’ve always been ahead of the curve regarding FR chemical regulations. We expect that other states will follow these states’ lead, so we encourage our customers to get ahead of this trend before it becomes an issue,” says Martin. “We have been manufacturing products without harmful chemicals long before states began regulating their use, and as more and more states begin to implement new legislative regulations, our team is constantly monitoring the policies that may affect our customers.”
Meanwhile, for consumers who prefer to shop for a mattress in person, Precision Textiles came up with a novel solution for retailers to utilize as they began to reopen stores during the pandemic. Last year the company developed the first individually packaged hygienic mattress testing kit for use by retailers to deliver peace of mind to consumers shopping for new mattresses. Part of the company’s SlumberShield branded line of mattress and pillow protection, each individually sealed kit contains a mattress and pillow sheet that retail sales associates can use when consumers rest test mattresses in the store. Consumers can lay on the sheet during the mattress trial, once used, it can be disposed of with the trash.
The testing kits include a one 60-inch by 40-inch disposable flat mattress cover and one 15-inch by 20-inch disposable pillow cover. The saturate-bonded nonwoven is made of an anti-microbial polyester-rayon blend that is soft to the touch, does not crinkle and does not impact the feel of the mattress or pillow.
Martin says the mattress test kit became a very strong seller for the company. “We pivoted really quickly and they did fantastic.”
Bouckaert Invests in Acoustical Panel Market
As more offices and workplaces open up during the pandemic, companies that previously had open layouts may look to nonwoven acoustical panels to provide separation between desks as well as optimal acoustics.
This space is new for Bouckaert Industrial Textiles (BIT), which announced last year a big investment in the acoustical panel market with the purchase of several pieces of new equipment, which will be installed beginning in April.
While it had experience with acoustics in automotive applications and other markets, Bouckaert first began fielding inquiries about acoustical panels about four years ago. At the time, a potential customer asked about acoustical panels made out of a polyester bicomponent material; previously they were importing this material from Asia. The customer was looking for a made in the USA polyester acoustical panel to replace fiberglass that’s typically used.
Bouckaert had the technology to develop a heavy and dense thick felt, such as a 45 oz., 3/8th inch thick product, or a 144 oz., two-inch thick product. “It’s not a difficult product to make in terms of the concept, but you need to have the technology where you can build it right,” says Alex d’Anjou, business development manager of BIT.
After receiving several more inquiries about this type of material within a short timeframe, as well as seeing major office furniture companies developing innovative products with it, BIT officially entered the polyester acoustical panel market two years ago as a U.S. manufacturing alternative to Chinese imports. “We were the only people making the material in the U.S., and as far as I know, that’s still true,” d’Anjou adds.
While BIT sees competitors in the U.S. trying to make the same material, it doesn’t believe they are set up to run heavy weights. “Once you start getting to half inch, an inch or even two inches thick, there aren’t many companies out there that can do it,” d’Anjou says.
The felt material is made on a carded, cross-lapped, needlepunch line, which needs to be very uniformly and cleanly blended, so that it has an even color and a smooth surface. Finally, it goes through a heated press, and BIT is uniquely set up to compress the surface uniformly. But to improve its efficiency even more, BIT made a nearly $2 million investment in a double belt press oven. “We made this purchase eight to nine months ago, but we’ve also been making improvements to our blending, needling, and carding equipment, so that we can make it higher quality, more consistently as well as making it faster and improve our capacity,” he adds.
Polyester acoustical panel materials are replacing desk dividers made of acrylic or wrapped fiberglass, a more traditional cubical style. With the latter option, most are made of resin-bonded fiberglass, which have chemical resins, according to d’Anjou. BIT’s acoustical panels offer a greener option—they can be made with 60% recycled materials. “Architects and designers are starting to move away from fiberglass from a clean and green standpoint. They’re realizing that the ‘new car smell’ isn’t actually good for you. Those are actually harmful VOCs that are being released from the material,” he explains.
Another reason polyester acoustical panels are seeing growth is because it is a more flexible material. A fiberglass panel used as a desk divider needs to be wrapped with a fabric, whereas an acoustical panel can be produced in one step, in the color and size desired, d’Anjou explains. The base felt that polyester acoustical panels are made from is also moldable, and customers can build it into any shape, which can’t be done with fiberglass.
Bouckaert sells the acoustical panels under its own brand name “Poly-Sonic,” white-labeled, or as roll goods for customers to mold shapes from.
The addition of the brand new double belt press will allow BIT to double its production capacity of polyester acoustic panels. It will also significantly improve the quality of the PET sounds absorbers with increased stiffness and exceptional surface quality.
In the third quarter of this year, a new carding production line will again double BIT’s capacity. This will also improve quality by more consistently blending fiber, and therefore color, throughout the acoustical panel.
Low & Bonar Acquisition Boosts Freudenberg’s Carpet Business
With the acquisition of Low & Bonar last year, Freudenberg strengthened its performance materials business, including in the home textiles market. Freudenberg’s proprietary spunlaid technology, as well as Low & Bonar’s unique Colback technology, are used in high performance primary and secondary backings for industrial tufted carpets and carpet tiles. These nonwoven backings provide high dimensional stability, reliability and offer precise pattern repeat, exceptional lay-flat characteristics and constant surface uniformity, as well as non-fraying edges.
“Low & Bonar’s two-step process solution gives us greater flexibility and allows us to tailor our solutions to customer requirements even more individually,” says Dr. Frank Heislitz, CEO, Freudenberg Performance Materials. “At the same time, customers can choose from a broader portfolio of innovative, high-performance materials.”
Sustainability, such as through a high share of recycled PET usage, as well as constantly improving energy efficiency are two important growth factors in this market, the company says.
“Architects, home furnishing companies and construction companies are requested by their customers to use components and products with low environmental footprint. In this matter, Freudenberg engineers work continuously to decrease our manufacturing footprint and help our customers to improve their handprint. We incorporate more and more recycled content in our carpet backings,” says Dr. Heislitz.
Additionally, people want to live and work in healthier indoor environments, and Freudenberg’s carpet backings are manufactured without chemical binder.
Customization and aesthetics are also influencing the growth of nonwovens in homes and offices. “People want to create their own atmosphere at home and demand more and more aesthetics in workplaces and commercial areas as well,” Dr. Heislitz explains. “The compatibility with digital printing is a key feature for products used in homes, offices and hotels today. Due to our unique polyester spunlaid technology, Freudenberg carpet backings offer the necessary dimensional stability required by digital printing machines for carpets.”
Further, Freudenberg believes carpet tiles are the ideal flooring solution for the modern workplace. Nonwoven carpet tiles provide excellent acoustic performance, and provide handling flexibility. Tufted carpet tiles that incorporate Freudenberg backings are also easy to clean and extremely easy to install thanks to the non-fraying edges.