Feb. 17/24 2014, Volume 27/number 21
By Louis Iannaco
During the last few years, soft fiber has been all the rage in the carpet segment. Ever since Invista’s launch of Tactesse, a growing number of players have thrown their hats into the soft fiber arena. However, the one constant during this time of “softer is better” has been the perception that softer means less durable.
Long before the soft movement reached the homes of consumers, carpet manufacturers knew they would have to provide soft products that wouldn’t crush or matte. Whether it was testing their products via in–house or third-party foot traffic, using higher yarn twists or changing fiber’s molecular structure, mills continue to make durability a top priority.
At Shaw, where its Caress carpet features the mill’s Anso nylon, Trey Thames, vice president of residential marketing and product management, said Shaw spent a great deal of time researching, testing and modifying its “super soft fibers” before launching them. “Caress was subjected to walk tests rather than a traditional mechanical (Hexapod) test. Having people walk all our styles and measuring their actual foot traffic gave us confidence Caress would perform in consumers’ homes.”
James Lesslie, assistant to the chairman at Engineered Floors, said to ensure its Puresoft Cashmere carpets perform, the company inserted 20% additional twist levels in its soft carpet fiber versus its traditional fiber, giving the mill one of the highest twist levels in the industry in both its traditional Puresoft fiber and Puresoft Cashmere fiber.
In addition to the higher twist, Engineered Floors also has its Puresoft Cashmere styles undergo a battery of walk tests. This takes place at an independent lab using people, not machines. “Carpets aren’t tested with machines in the real world; they’re tested by people walking on them,” Lesslie explained. “For us, the way to ensure our performance is to rely on ‘real world’ testing on all our soft styles.”
At Beaulieu America, the idea behind its latest soft offering, Perfection, is to provide the perfect balance between softness and durability. As Matt Johnson, senior director of product management, said, the mill does just that with its Nyluxe fiber. “Every time you go down in denier per filament, you have a trade off in durability, so you get softer and a little less durable. We believe Nyluxe has that sweet spot.”
In addition, in order to have that durability, Beaulieu, like Engineered, has twisted its yarn very tight, keeping a narrow gauge and fairly low pile height.
According to Johnson, there is a lot of high pile height that feels like cotton in the industry. “That’s why we’ve pulled ours down, like a commercial carpet, and made it all 1⁄10-gauge. We’ve over-twisted and over-engineered it to make sure any soft nylon product you get from Beaulieu performs like anything else we have.”
Danny Wade, Beaulieu’s executive vice president of research and development, explained the reason behind the fiber’s strength is because Nyluxe 8dpf luxury nylon has 275 individual filaments in each fiber bundle. “And when combined with a twist of 6.6 turns per inch, you get not only softness but durability.” Like Shaw and Engineered, Beaulieu also walk tests its Nyluxe products for appearance retention. “On a rating scale of one to five,” he said, “with five being no change, Nyluxe products rate 4 to 4.5.”
Seth Arnold, Mohawk’s residential brand director, said from the start, SmartStrand had a “different” molecular structure and was a fiber that would perform “remarkably well. It can absorb and deflect the crushing/matting other fibers had and can do it at the level of softness well beyond what we’d seen in polyester and nylon.”
Even though the industry, including Mohawk, has brought soft nylon and polyester to market, neither of those “holds a candle” to the durability of SmartStrand Silk, Arnold noted. And when it comes to nylon, Mohawk is using the same type of technology it used to create Silk. “We use our Wear-Dated fiber and have two times the fiber of an ordinary soft carpet. The yarn’s density is wearing better than some unbranded nylons.”
With Mohawk’s new Continuum process, Arnold said the mill has been able to get a higher grade PET polymer because of the bottle resins that have to be built at certain FDA-approved standards. The mill had noticed a greater tensile strength in these fibers that it could build through its Continuum process.
“We have a big advantage with polyester with Continuum as it provides the guarantee that you’re going to get the highest performing soft polyester available,” he explained.
Invista engineers a unique fiber “cross section” in its soft Stainmaster products, according to Gary Johnston, senior marketing manager. “Cross section is the shape of the fiber. We’ve patented the fiber shapes we engineer specifically for each particular fiber application. For example, our soft products utilize a unique cross section so they’re able to deliver and perform well when tufted into a soft carpet.”
Johnston noted while the company has a specific denier it uses to provide soft shape and feel, it also contributes to the carpet’s ability to maintain its original shape. “Much of that stems from the original Tactesse fiber cross section we used early on. In fact, with Tactesse, we were the first to introduce a true soft fiber in the market.”
Since then, in order to enhance its product, the company has gone through many different processes and revolutions of fiber technology. As a result, Invista’s TruSoft carpet is “fantastic when it comes to touch and hand,” he noted, “but what’s most exciting is its durability and ability to stand up to household use/family activity.”
At Dixie, where the mill uses TruSoft fiber in its soft products, Dan Phelan, vice president of marketing, residential, said the company starts with premium type 6,6 nylons from Stainmaster then adds its own tufting and finishing expertise. “It’s our experience,” he concluded, “using higher stitch rates provides not only a better finish, but also better performance.”