By Steven Feldman
Viken, Sweden—Valinge has long held the reputation as a company that develops and licenses mechanical locking systems for the flooring industry. The heavily licensed 2G and 5G systems are today’s flagbearers.
Valinge has always prided itself on its legacy of innovation and technology, which is still 90% of its business first and foremost. But a new factory here has put Valinge on the manufacturing map—primarily as a way to get its new inventions into the market, but also to potentially distribute its innovations downstream if manufacturers are slow to pull the trigger on prospective licenses.
“Right now we don’t have our own distribution channels so we are not selling to the end consumers,” said Lennart Thalin, region manager, North and South America. “We have a setup where we can manufacture product for potential licensees as an OEM producer and provide startup volumes, but we are also looking for distributors of our unique floor based on the Woodura powder technology.”
Consider it part of the evolution and growth of the 26-year-old company founded by Darko Pervan, widely credited as the initiator of laminate flooring during his Perstorp days. After departing Perstorp, Pervan established Valinge in 1993 to develop new product concepts for flooring, then license and produce them—mechanical locking systemsas the most commercialized. ““Before, the lab line mainly used to produce prototypes for development,” Thalin said. “Now we want to produce big volumes of these innovations to the market.”
To support this evolution, Pervan about a year and a half ago took on a minority partner in Kirkbi, the private equity firm which holds a 75% stake in the LEGO company among its portfolio. The benefits were threefold: an infusion of capital, the ability to tap into Kirkbi’s broad expertise and the opportunity to leverage a well-known brand.
The proof is in the pudding. Valinge boasted sales of $131.3 million in 2018 with more than 200 employees. What’s more, the company has invested more than $87.5 million in new technology over these last two years.
One of the byproducts of these investments has been the production of its innovative wood-powder-based surface technologies, branded Nadura and Woodura. This is the business unit where Valinge uses production as part of the commercialization. “The licensee can either buy the final products from us or produce them by themselves,” said Sebastian Vrbanc, head of Surface Technology & Industrialisation. “However, we can also push that further on in the value chain.”
Nadura, introduced a few years ago, is used as the top layer of a new flooring category based on recycled wood powder combined with binders, hard particles and pigments. Those ingredients are dispersed onto a board then pressed in a short cycle press or continuous press. “The result is an extremely durable floor that provides wear and impact resistance that is superior to traditional floors; it’s robust and everlasting,” Vrbanc said.
Valinge believes the Nadura surface offers a better aesthetic when compared to other types of flooring that are designed to mimic the real thing. “Since we are scattering the powder dynamically, we have no repetition at all—which is a huge problem with the laminate industry,” Vrbanc said. “And we can get extremely good-looking textures by utilizing different types of press plates. That’s why we call it hard as stone, warm as wood.” As such, Valinge positions Nadura as an alternative to laminate. “We don’t think it will replace laminate, but from a technology and price standpoint it’s possible [to cut into its share.]”
The Woodura technology, introduced in 2018, offers nearly the same construction as Nadura except Woodura has a 0.6mm sliced wood veneer on top. The wooden surface is pressed under high temperature onto a fiberboard that has been coated with wood powder. The result is called hardened wood flooring and has a surface that is three times stronger than traditional wood flooring.“It is also a sustainable alternative since 10 times more flooring can be produced from the same amount of lumber compared to traditional engineered wood flooring,” Vrbanc said.
Nadura and Woodura are just about the surface and can be applied on top of any type of core. “We have just chosen to put them on HDF right now since it bonds very well to an HDF and the chemistry is very good for it,” Vrbanc said. “It’s a floor using Woodura technology.”
What about SPC? “In the United States waterproof has become extremely important,” he said. “We can apply Woodura on any type of waterproof core. It doesn’t have to be SPC. You cannot direct press on an SPC. You need to have a two-step production process where you actually first create thin sheets of Woodura and then you glue it to the core.”
Thalin believes hardened wood flooring will have appeal both residentially and commercially. “We see it as a residential product because of the long, wide planks. You can very easily afford it compared to traditional wood floors. But from a contractor’s point of view, you can install it in areas where you traditionally can’t have wood because of indentation. Given that it’s three times harder than wood, you can install hardened wood flooring in office buildings and light commercial. It speaks to performance.”
However, the hope is that a wood manufacturer may see the potential of flooring with Woodura as the future of hardwood flooring. “We have been having discussions with wood producers that are willing to make the investment and shift their production from traditional wood flooring to hardened wood flooring,” Vrbanc said.
Going forward, when Välinge works on new inventions and improvements to existing technologies, the innovations must be better, more cost efficient and more sustainable. “Those three boxes must be checked,” Thalin said. “When it comes to Woodura we are definitely there.”Other technologies
Valinge has a couple of other technologies about which it is currently excited: Liteback
Liteback is billed as a core technology for LVT, SPC, rigid core and WPC that reduces raw material consumption during production and makes transportation of product more efficient and improves overall sustainability of the products utilizing Liteback. The technology involves cutting out material from the backing during the production process, thereby reducing the weight of the final product with up to 20% while not affecting the performance of the floor. The material that is removed is recycled back into the production process, thereby reducing material consumption up to 20%. With lower material consumption, the floors can be thicker and still consume less material, in turn opening up for a greater freedom of choice in terms of deciding preferred locking system. With lighter products, every shipping container can be filled with more flooring, in turn lowering carbon footprint by reducing the number of required transports. “When you take out 15%-20% of air in a container you can have 15%-20% more material,” said Per Josefsson, director, Plastic Floor Technology.. “That’s dollars. So you will have a savings in material and the shipping costs. And the consumer will have a lighter product installed. “We estimate a manufacturer using this technology can save up to $2 per box.”
In addition, Liteback has proven to provide all the benefits of a typical product while maintaining product appearance and quality. ACTiO2
A floor with ACTiO2 integrated in its lacquer layer enables a natural photocatalytic process to take place when exposed to daylight or indoor light that generates active air-purifying particles. This allows harmful emissions, bacteria and unpleasant odors to be broken down, thereby improving indoor air quality. And because it is embedded in the lacquer, ACTiO2 remains active during the entire lifetime of the surface.
ACTiO2has been marketed commercially as Pure Genius by Lauzon Hardwood Flooring. After a two-year exclusive expired, Valinge will soon be more aggressive in offering the technology via license to other manufacturers. “We wanted to add it to our own products first,” Thalin said.