Retail education: The real science behind WPC

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FCNews Ultimate Guide to WPC: July 17/24, 2017

By Bill Treiber

 

The emergence of WPC (wood plastic composite) core flooring into the LVT and LVP product sector has accelerated in recent years. In this article, I explain what WPC is and how it differs from other products in the market.

Though it may be defined differently depending on the person/company you ask, WPC cores are basically a mixture of thermoplastics, wood particles/ fibers and other added materials like stone. These components are generally combined above the melting temperature of the thermoplastic and then mixed with different polymers to make various WPC products. Most likely the first product you saw in the building profession that used WPC was decking material. Today, a full array of products can be seen in the market—including flooring.

The most commonly used plastics for this type of application are polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE). Next to PE, PP is the second most widely used plastic in the world. PP is lighter, stronger and stiffer than PE. However, it is also more brittle. This factor makes its use in WPC products very low.

Polyethylene is the most common plastic used for consumer goods, but be aware that there is more than one variation of PE. There are also linear low-density PE and very low density PE, which is seldom used due to flexural weakness. Polyethylene, when used in WPC, is mostly high-density PE. Polyethylene has a high resistance to wear and withstands the effects of weather, chemicals in the sulfuric acid families, as well as nitric and hydrochloric acids. It is also highly resistant to oxidation—a common concern for exterior products.

Product attributes. The use of WPC in commercial products is growing rapidly. For many years only extruded products were available. The main reasons for extruded plastics are their ability to produce products from recycled plastics that otherwise cannot be recycled. In essence, it offers an alternative to pure virgin thermoplastics more commonly used in injection molding processes. Being that its composition is tightly extruded recycled plastics, fibers and polymers, the product is not only environmentally friendly but structurally sound—thanks in no small part to the heating and melting of the components at very high temperatures. With such a solid product, temperature changes that would normally affect other materials do not impact WPC. This enables the use of radiant heat with WPC products without worrying about adverse effects from the warmer temperatures.

The most notable characteristic of WPC is its waterproof qualities. The product’s well-known resistance to water damage makes it superior to other products found in high moisture exposure areas such as bathrooms, kitchens and entryways. This inability to attach water particles to itself also creates an antimicrobial product, thereby eliminating potential for bacteria to grow.

Ongoing developments

The future looks bright and strong for WPC’s application to the flooring industry. The ability to finish flooring products with a LVT or LVP wear layer and use WPC as a core backer creates endless options. Currently 7.5mm- to 8.5mm-thick WPC floors are most common. Look for WPC floors to fluctuate in thicknesses from 5mm to 12mm. With the desire for more recycled product choices, WPC provides a viable option going forward in the product niche. When looking about at all of the positive product attributes, it’s safe to say that WPC flooring is here to stay for a while.

 

Bill Treiber is technical sales and education manager for Artistic Finishes (Moldings Online). He began his career in the lumber industry and built a strong sales record in wood flooring distribution for more than 15 years.

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