July 7/14, 2014; Volume 28/Number 2
By Louis Iannaco
With the development of soft carpet fibers in recent years, there’s no doubt the proliferation of these super soft yet durable yarns into the marketplace has been the major trend in the soft broadloom category. Mills continue to perfect and fine-tune their soft products while at the same time working on the next big thing.
So in addition to soft, or as a subsequent result, what else do the mills have going on when it comes to polyester? The emphasis is on making more colors available, increasing performance and developing proprietary initiatives such as odor-resistant technology and stain resistance. Executives from several of the industry’s major polyester producers recently gave FCNews details on the latest from their respective companies and the segment overall.
According to James Lesslie, assistant to the chairman, Engineered Floors, while soft continues to be the fastest growing category within polyester, combining beiges and grays—as the company does with Dream Weaver’s natural Tonal Solids collection—remains the fastest growing trend. “The unique ability to blend colors with solution-dyed fibers allows us to create new looks with an endless array of color combinations.”
Polyester continues to be a favorite with many of Beaulieu America’s dealers. In order to respond to demand, two of the mill’s most popular polyester collections, Bliss Healthy Touch and Bliss EverClean, received updates this year. “We added 84 SKUs to Healthy Touch and 54 to EverClean,” noted Matt Johnson, senior director, product management, residential division.
Both collections bring the softness and inherent stain resistance of the company’s polyester together with proprietary features such as Magic Fresh odor reduction, 3M Scotchgard and, in the case of Healthy Touch, Beaulieu America’s antimicrobial Silver Release treatment. “We plan to continue improving and expanding our polyester line in 2015,” Johnson said.
As noted, the trend toward softer fibers in polyester carpet continues and Shaw is innovating to meet that demand, said Trey Thames, vice president, residential marketing/product development. “A good example of Shaw’s latest PET evolution is the Clearly Chic Collection, introduced earlier this year. Not only a ‘super soft’ carpet, the collection is available in bold colors and features ClearTouch Platinum PET construction with a high twist yarn that also offers great performance.”
As Shaw focuses on innovative processes and sustainability, another initiative for the mill is its recently announced $17 million investment in the new Evergreen recycling facility in Ringgold, Ga., which will process both nylon and polyester carpet (see story on page 3). Complementing Shaw’s carpet recycling portfolio, “Evergreen Ringgold will create a high purity post-consumer recycled material that can be used in a broad range of applications,” Thames noted.
Investing in fiber technologies continues to be key for the industry’s major polyester producers. Mohawk is continuing what it started two to three years ago in reinvesting for the future by making considerablecapital investments with heavy emphasis on extrusion and product innovation.
According to David Duncan, senior vice president, marketing and sales operations, the mill is currently well positioned with a full assortment of next generation fiber technologies in SmartStrand as well as polyester BCF and nylon platforms. “As we continue into 2014, we believe we now have the capacity and capabilities with our patented Continuum PET BCF technology to lead the industry in the next round of polyester innovations.”
Susan Curtis, vice president, marketing and product development, Phenix Flooring, believes polyester’s continued growth in residential is due in part to advances in extrusion equipment that help create a uniform, highly bulked yarn. “Polyester has a naturally soft hand and feel,” she said, “and improved yarn bulk adds tactile value. Continued advances in polyester resin chemistry intended for bottles and packaging have improved the performance of BCF PET, making it a more flexible fiber.
“Additionally, a stable polyester supply chain with huge scale creates favorable economics for PET as carpet yarn consumes only .5% of the supply—even at half the North American residential carpet market.”
As previously noted, creating new looks through the blending of colors is paramount among polyester’s latest innovations. At Lexmark, Ed Williams, president, residential, believes the development of new patterns through the use of colors is critical when it comes to polyester and the different looks it can offer.
“We’re working mostly on pattern designs in different color combinations to give a sophisticated, toned look,” he said. “We’re also focusing on broad-based looks that will have widespread appeal. We’ve just shipped two post-Surfaces introductions—Chesterfield and Chandler Heights—that have new and fresh color the market seems to embrace.”
Larry Heckman, president, Best Buy, noted the prevalence of polyester styles continues in the marketplace because they can be produced at very competitive price points. This has helped polyester become the mainstream residential carpet choice in many markets across the U.S.
Styling has come a long way in space dying and yarn blending, Heckman said, while polyester’s natural characteristics play a significant part in providing value by being virtually stain proof with very low static build up. “Today, polyester can be extruded in ultra-soft deniers for exceptional underfoot comfort, which is in high demand.”
Best Buy’s polyester improvements have come from advances in extrusion techniques that include fiber design, enhanced yarn drawing and crimping. “This improves features such as tensile strength of the yarn and bulking characteristics for a bigger value and hand,” Heckman explained. “It also improves brightness and luster levels of the yarn which are important characteristics for better performing and better selling styles.”
The next major advancement is space-dyed solution-dyed polyester, he noted. “This is one of the biggest technological breakthroughs in polyester styling—creating crisp and bold color clarity in both jewel tone colors and cut pile berber space dye styles. Best Buy has been one of the pioneers to perfect this new process. It’s done on our new computer controlled space dye line.”
According to Heckman, the technology is a combination of applied space dyes and heat levels. The new line heats the yarn to a maximum level just below the melt point to allow dye to penetrate the fiber core, which is then quick cooled through a cooling chamber. The process is completed with saturation steam heat by a heat set unit. “The result is a rich space dye with great color clarity and crisp color bursts.”
When you have a major shift like soft in the industry, it can take retailers two years to absorb the impact, executives noted. “We are really just completing the cycle of converting their floors,” Lesslie said. “All our PET PureColor and PureColor Cashmere fibers are solution-dyed. We get excellent quality/field performance with our products, and our customer claims ratio continues to be very low. From our viewpoint, polyesters offer the consumer excellent value and performance.”
The economy also continues to play a role in the value attributes end users shop for when they make their purchases. Recent economic conditions created a shift in consumer buying trends towards value-oriented products, which has driven the increase in polyester’s market share, Duncan noted.
He specifically cited that the trend toward soft continues to maintain its relevance. Over the past year, Mohawk expanded soft into polyester with its newest collections: EverStrand Soft Appeal and Wear Dated Allure. “We took our proprietary knowledge we acquired through the development of our SmartStrand Silk and Wear Dated Embrace soft collections and used it in PET to make EverStrand Soft Appeal and Wear Dated Allure.”
Mohawk’s Continuum technology, a proprietary, intensive purification process designed to remove industrial lubricants and oily residue, “ensures Mohawk’s soft polyester carpets—including EverStrand Soft Appeal and Wear Dated Allure—resist dirt, grime and contaminants that cause other PET carpets to become dingy over time,” Duncan explained.
“Mohawk is dedicated to consumers’ needs and we’ve made significant investments in manufacturing to improve our polyester product offerings,” he continued. “Mohawk knows that consumers do not want to forego style for value and this improved technology has significantly expanded our line of PET products. Now, we offer a variety of fashionable PET styles and textures.”
Polyester has seen tremendous growth over the past five years, Thames noted, “evolving from a ‘nice value alternative to nylon’ to a strategic component of every carpet manufacturer’s overall product offering.”
Improvements in heatset and twisting technology have helped improve PET’s overall performance and the economic downturn made the value proposition that polyester has always provided even more attractive, he explained. “Our strategy is based on providing the best polyester product lineup for value, performance and color/style versatility. This is no different than what we do in nylon. As the world’s largest producer in both fiber types, Shaw responds to changing trends by providing our customers with products that meet their needs.”