At present, the developers of a new wood fibre technology are engaged in a publicity campaign in the industry. The technology is described as a new procedure for manufacturing hard floor coverings, whereby a powdered mixture containing saw dust, binding agents and other additives is applied to a core and printed. The supplier claims that the new technology will “completely replace laminate flooring within ten years”. EPLF, the Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring, which is an umbrella organisation for leading companies in the European laminate flooring industry, is somewhat sceptical about bold statements such as this one.
Ludger Schindler, president of EPLF and managing director of MeisterWerke, explains: “So far, the European flooring industry has come up with a multitude of innovations. Wood fibre technology may well be another of these that can also be used outside the flooring industry – for wall coverings or furniture fronts, for instance. But we on the EPLF board think it’s unrealistic to claim that laminate flooring will be pushed out of the market.” EPLF managing director Peter H. Meyer puts forward another possible reason for the advancement of the “powder fraction”, as he calls the supplier of the new technology: “The reason behind the current PR campaign may be that the supplier is hoping to gain new marketing potential for licence contracts.”
Dr. Theo Smet, head of EPLF’s Technology Working Group, finds the idea behind the technology interesting. But he thinks that it’s still early days for the method of using powder coating to manufacture flooring. For this reason, he believes that it will be years until it is ready to market, as high investments in research and development of products and machines are required. He explains that to date, there have been no convincing examples of the decorative impact or durability of powder-coated flooring. He therefore thinks it is more appropriate to talk about a technology trial as opposed to a fully-developed innovation.
EPLF’s technical experts believe that wood fibre technology may give rise to a new product group in its own right, which, due to its characteristics, cannot however be equated with laminate flooring or comply with the regulations contained in laminate flooring standards. Laminate floors with natural-looking wood finishes – which account for at least 95% of the total turnover on the market – is now produced using premium, established and sophisticated technologies. The manufacturers and their suppliers feel that they have an obligation to their customers to satisfy this quality standard. EPLF is therefore of the opinion that wood fibre technology-based products may fit better into the low price segment and perhaps into non-wood finishes.
The laminate flooring industry is an innovative sector and is always open to new developments. One only has to think of the many different production techniques for laminate flooring that exist (such as DPL, PDL and ESH) and offer a variety of interesting applications. They provide companies with the chance to progress and stand out from the competition. “Against this backdrop, wood fibre technology perhaps has a chance of becoming a new technique in the manufacture of hard floor coverings. But it certainly won’t be the only one. Value for money remains the key factor in all of this,” explains Volkmar Halbe, member of the EPLF board and managing director of Parador. Either way, the European laminate flooring industry is in a good position and can stand up to any challenge the competition has to offer.