i4F continues to broaden its capabilities beyond locking systems to include digital printing technologies—a key focus area for many of its licensees. The company recently entered into a patent partnership with Hymmen, a leading global digital printing systems provider specializing in flooring, in a move that gives i4F exclusive licensing rights for all Hymmen’s digital printing patents and technologies for flooring production including Hymmen’s award-winning Digital Lacquer Embossing (DLE) technology.
This partnership represents an important addition to i4F’s comprehensive digital printing portfolio, which already includes market-leading technologies from Classen, Kronospan and Benchwick. “The ability to produce high-quality, digitally printed flooring has become strategically important for the future of our industry,” said John Rietveldt, i4F’s CEO. “i4F believes that Hymmen not only has the most innovative and highest quality technologies, it also maintains a fiercely strong IP position. This latest addition to our patent cluster concept reinforces our promise to licensees to receive the world’s best, most cutting-edge technologies in the industry backed up by a robust patent protection infrastructure.”
In addition to its exclusive licensing rights, i4F will work in close collaboration with Hymmen to promote digital printing opportunities in the flooring industry and will represent Hymmen on future patent protection-related issues. “i4F is the perfect match for Hymmen as we share the same passion for innovation and continuous development within the global flooring industry,” said René Pankoke, CEO and president of Hymmen. “i4F is recognized as the technology leader in the flooring industry and will support us on developing and further expanding the market for digital printing.”
Reginald Tucker, FCNews’ managing editor, recently sat down with i4F’s Rietveldt to discuss the broader ramifications of the deal as well as how digital printing will play a more crucial role in the future of flooring innovations. Following are excerpts of that discussion:
Can you talk about the synergies between i4F and Hymmen?
Hymmen knows how we go to market and the way we want to grow market share. Therefore, they were pleased that we could help promote them and the technologies they offer to the market. One of our strengths is the manner in which we approach the market and how we communicate meaningful capabilities to customers.
At i4F, we are in the intellectual property (IP) business. Hymmen, in my opinion, is the best manufacturer of digital printing machines and also has an enormously strong IP position. They have put a tremendous amount of effort in registering all their inventions, including the machinery, processes and products manufactured by their machines. We are helping them by ensuring their IP is properly represented and, where necessary, enforced in the market to avoid others taking advantage of Hymmen’s IP. We will monitor that and take action where appropriate.
With the new capabilities, will that cover different facets of digital printing, such as the ability to print directly onto the surface of a product as well as the design layer?
That is correct. But our initial focus will be more on direct printing on the board. It’s important to note that there are several layers, such as some primer layers, before you get into printing.
Initially, i4F plans to focus primarily on PVC products, which entails the whole family: LVP, LVT, WPC, rigid core. Will that be eventually expanded to ceramic tile, for example?
Ceramic tile manufacturers have long been using digital printing and screening technologies in their product development. But that technology, is, of course, different than the technology used to print an image on a board. For laminate, there are several manufacturers that are already using digital printing as a part of their assortment. In the case of Classen, for example, they combine digital printing with another technology called LLT (liquid laminate technology). This basically entails combining the digital printing process with the impregnation process. There are also some other technologies we are looking at that could be utilized on wood flooring in the future.
Historically, i4F is better known for its strengths in patents and technology development partnerships on click and locking systems. How does this latest partnership fit into your overall growth strategy for the company?
When the company started, our main focus was locking—which is still our core business. But over the last few years, we have engaged with several different partners—more recently Hymmen—to explore opportunities to grow market share. Together with the manufacturers we have partnered with, we currently represent approximately 3,000 patents. In order to manage that in a way we can get growth from all the technologies, we have grouped them into clusters. At present, we have six clusters, including digital printing. If we really want to have a successful, long-term growth strategy, we need to keep adding clusters and new technologies.
One of the new technology areas we have identified is to have grout lines on SPC panels. With traditional products, you can see a line in the middle between the two panels. But with the new technology, you don’t see a line because we basically press it on one side of the panel so you don’t see that there are two panels. It’s a seamless transition from one panel to the next…
(To read the full story, see the Feb. 15/22 print edition.)