Carpet: Innovation continues to drive evolution of PET

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July 6/13; Volume 30/Number 2

By Ken Ryan

For the last 10 years PET has been gaining market share over nylon on the strengths of PET’s value proposition: Retailers were able to sell consumers on lower-priced carpet that still offered quality.

Today, PET has become the largest fiber in the industry, commanding 45% of the residential market. Overall, including commercial and residential, polyester has 35.5% of the market compared with 22% in 2010.

“PET is a lower-cost polymer compared to nylon 6 or nylon 6,6,” said T.M. Nuckols, senior director of product strategy, Invista. “However, 10 to 15 years ago most PET in the carpet industry was staple fiber and used in basic cut pile constructions, and nylon was the preferred fiber based on durability and versatility. The improvement in extrusion technology over the past five to 10 years allowed BCF PET to become a more versatile option across many construction categories. This, along with the increase in nylon raw materials in the late 2000s, has allowed the fiber to gain a significant share of the market.”

Seth Arnold, director of brand marketing for Mohawk, said a combination of price and value with color and style have been instrumental in polyester’s rise. “The obvious trend influencing the market has been price. Price-conscious consumers are looking for a value, and polyester provides that, so price has been the factor driving polyester. Color and style are No. 2.”

Brad Christensen, director of product management for Shaw Floors, noted that the availability of a wide variety of styles and price points in PET “have allowed consumers to find a style to meet their design needs within their budgets, and that is driving the increased demand.”

Solution dye enhances category

One of the biggest developments in PET’s growth is the movement toward solution-dyed product. Solution dye is not a new innovation but companies—mainly smaller mills—are investing in it today and adopting their own solution-dye models. By doing so, these entities avoid the large investment in dyeing capacity and reduce water consumption. In some cases, commercial mills that are familiar with managing a solution-dyed nylon product offering have entered the residential segment with solution-dyed PET.

“PET, specifically solution-dyed PET, continues to make inroads into mainstream retail show floors as the variety in styles and colors continues to grow, [with more] offerings available,” said John Sheffield, vice president, North America, Godfrey Hirst USA. “With very little product problems, retailers are becoming more comfortable showing the products that still provide an excellent value for consumers.”

Sheffield added that solution-dyed carpets offer a host of performance attributes not found in piece-dyed carpets such as color fastness, cleanability and manufacturing efficiencies, which essentially mean lower cost.

“Solution-dyed fibers and yarns have also leveled the playing field for manufacturers,” he said. “PET chip pricing seems to remain close regardless of the volume purchased. This allows smaller manufacturers to remain relatively competitive.”

Mike Sanderson, vice president of product market at Engineered Floors, said solution dye is continually enhanced and perfected with many styling options available.

Manufacturer innovations

The most dramatic manufacturing innovations in PET are in styling, executives said. The visuals that are being developed today are coming about thanks to more sophisticated tufting machines creating unique patterns and styling. The mixing of colors to create subtle patterns and a more extensive breadth of offerings have also brought PET on par with nylon.

“We continue to innovate within our manufacturing practices: manipulating fiber cross sections, researching optimal twist levels and denier count, and employing new heat set technology to lock in twist,” Christensen explained.

Engineered Floors has enhanced its PureColor fiber system for polyester so it can capture a wider variety of colorations and combinations within tweeds, accents and tonals that was once reserved for nylon products.

Stainmaster Essentials, Invista’s PET offering, was developed based on performance criteria and product specifications. “We are continuing to look at opportunities to improve this offering and provide meaningful differentiation to the retailers who embrace this program,” Nuckols said.

In early 2015, Phenix Flooring launched new carpet styles using its proprietary ColorSense technology, an inventive process that delivers carefully blended distinctive color and an overall balance of tone. The company employs this technology with its SureSoftSD PET solution-dyed polyester carpets.

“This supports our belief that quality goes beyond a well-made product and addresses the aesthetic sensibilities of our consumers,” said Susan Curtis, vice president of marketing and product development. “We leverage these technical advances of BCF PET into well-styled, affordable residential carpet products. We are working on new constructions that highlight the natural clarity of color, stain resistance and comfort underfoot that polyester delivers across all styling categories.”

Curtis said that consumers today, especially younger generations, are generally more fiber agnostic and look for products that deliver desired styling and value. “PET polyester products have performed well for some time now and satisfy those needs.”

Marquis Industries’ (formerly known as Best Buy) extrusion plant produces millions of pounds of continuous filament solution-dyed polyester and nylon. Cones of yarn are then processed in the company’s computer-controlled twisting and heat set plant. Every yarn SKU is regulated so that products are made to the same high quality specification every time.

Tailored by Lexmark—one of the hottest products of 2015—is created with tufting equipment that develops patterns with higher levels of definition than a standard cut loop machine; it also varies the density in a single piece of carpet. These two characteristics deliver more sophisticated looks with a level of depth and dimension not previously possible.

Mohawk has differentiated its PET lineup by providing what Arnold called “the most comprehensive assortment” of patterned carpet within polyester. “We have done some exciting things with color blending using our SmartStrand fiber together with our EverStrand fiber to provide interesting tonal colorations that have been some of the best selling colors in our line.”

EverStrand, Mohawk’s premium PET fiber, is made with Continuum, a process that takes premium PET from the highest-grade polymer, strengthens the fiber and removes dirt-attracting residue with a multi-step purification system.

Many executives note the core strength of PET is its resistance to staining. The purification process of Continuum helps Mohawk produce polyester carpet that is easier to maintain while increasing impact resistance from wear and tear.

Shaw’s Clearly Chic Collection plays to the soft trend that continues to be popular among consumers. “This represents a significant advancement in technology over the years, allowing us to use a proven high twist yarn that creates incredible softness while maintaining high performance standards,” Christensen said.

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