Experts: Solution-dyed fibers take maker share from nylon
Sept. 16/23 2013; Volume 27/number 11
By Ken Ryan
When the economy went south in 2007, consumers either removed flooring as a purchase priority or sought value unlike ever before; fiber systems’ market share perfectly illustrates these situations. According to FCNews research, nylon went from a 59.8% share of the pie in 2007 to 48% in 2012 in terms of volume. Interestingly, 11% of that number was gobbled up by triexta, with polyester mainlining about a 25% share.
The popularity of polyester carpet fiber has been nothing short of remarkable as manufacturing advances in fiber extrusion, specifically solution dying and twisting/heat-setting technologies, have created an exceptional yarn that has won over consumers. While nylon still offers advantages in terms of performance, resiliency and durability, polyester offers stain resistance and bang for the buck.
“Today’s consumers are looking for excellent value, not cheap products, and polyester carpets are providing this for the marketplace,” said John Sheffield, vice president of North America, Godfrey Hirst USA, which only entered the polyester market about two years ago in response to demand.
James Lesslie, assistant to the chairman, Engineered Floors, told FCNews the new polyester fibers are providing consumers with exactly what they want: excellent value and softness combined with performance. “The natural stain resistance of polyester combined with the economics are primary drivers to the growth of the fiber.”
Flooring executives track polyester’s resurgence to at least five years ago, evolving from a “nice value alternative to nylon,” as one put it, to a strategic component of every carpet manufacturer’s overall product offering.
“If you look at the worldwide marketplace in synthetic fiber, polyester is around a 90-billion-pound market and nylon is approximately a 15-billion pound market,” Lesslie said. “Solution-dyed polyester continued to experience strong growth in the first quarter of 2013 at the expense of nylon and polypropylene.”
Ed Williams, president, Lexmark Carpet Residential, said in the last five years polyester carpet fiber use has grown from about 20% of nylon sales to more than half the size of the nylon market.
Mark Clayton, president and CEO at Phenix, said five years ago polyester made up 5% of the fiber used in residential carpet manufacturing; “today it represents 35% to 40% of fiber used.” (That number includes triexta, which was estimated to be 11% of the market in 2012).
What is driving the shift?
The success of polyester, and why it makes a lot of sense for many applications, is due to a combination of factors, according to Brad Christensen, manager, residential polyester marketing, Shaw Industries. “First, improvements in heat-set and twisting technology have helped improve PET’s overall performance and, therefore, reputation. And second, the economic downturn made the value proposition that polyester has always provided even more attractive.”
Others agreed that recent economic conditions created a shift in consumer buying trends towards value-oriented products, which has driven the increase in polyester’s market share.
Williams said PET/ bulk continuous filament (BCF) fibers have been “a clear winner” in driving polymer, “and this growth has come during a depressed market and can be explained because of its value against nylons. At the same time, there have been manufacturing changes such as higher twist levels in yarn manufacturing and better tufting constructions that have increased performance against nylon.”
Clayton said there are three fundamental reasons polyester has grown in use for carpet application. “Originally, polyester was produced as a spun or staple product that required blending and therefore subject to manufacturing inconsistencies,” he explained. “State-of-the-art extrusion assets have allowed for the development of BCF fiber. These improved extrusion assets are at the core of polyester’s growth, enabling highly bulked product and enhanced uniformity, which are desirable characteristics for carpet fiber.
“Additionally, improvements have been made to the polyester resins from which fiber is extruded. Continued positive developments, such as lighter weight, greater flexibility, stability and strength, and better clarity have all translated into benefits in fiber properties.
“The cost spread between polyester and nylon resin is positive to polyester. The carpet industry uses approximately 700 million to 800 million pounds annually, against a total usage by all end users of 150 billion pounds annually. This allows for polyester resin to be sourced competitively and consistently and enables development of products that deliver affordable value.”
Innovative companies step up
The R&D departments of the major players have been working overtime to create the best polyester product that can deliver value, performance and color/style versatility. Christensen said Shaw has “worked tirelessly” to develop a low denier (soft) PET fiber that will also meet performance expectations. “Another exciting development for us is our new dyeing technology that will yield visuals never before seen in PET,” he said.
Lesslie said Engineered Floors “is perfecting polyester carpet fiber performance and softness and utilizing solution-dye technology to manufacture all of our products. This adds another layer of performance (bleach and fade resistance) to the polyester carpets.”
Extruding its own solution-dyed PET fiber, Lexmark is using the material to manufacture higher styled products traditionally seen in nylon fibers. “This has given the consumer higher fashion looks at more moderate pricing,” Williams said. “We are working on the development of more products using more tonal colorways instead of solid color offerings. These products will also feature patterns and textures in the mid- to higher price points.”
Godfrey Hirst has added “well styled constructions and beautiful colors” to its Easy Living @Home collection, Sheffield said. “With quality products, the consumers can find the values without the need to sacrifice style.”
At Phenix, Clayton touted the company’s modern extrusion assets, which, he said, have enabled the manufacturer to capitalize on the improvements to and evolution of polyester fiber. “We are able to manage the complexity of solution-dyed color with a high number of SKUs and the sensitivity of white or natural yarns.”
Developments in PET
PET is a vastly superior product today than it was 10 years ago, experts said, thanks to manufacturing advances in fiber extrusion. “Properly built, there is very little difference in the performance of the products in the heavier weights and proper constructions,” Sheffield said. “We believe the solution-dyed approach to polyester gives the ultimate value in carpets today.”
Lesslie said new styling trends with soft polyesters would reach the market in the next 12 months. “Customers are continuing to move to tonal solids as opposed to solid color carpets to take advantage of the ease of maintenance those colorations provide in the home.”
Manufacturers believe the latest developments will continue to push out softer fibers. “Soft handle PET will be the next push by the industry in relation to this fiber,” Sheffield predicted.