European laminate flooring industry Going from strength to strength with quality and innovation
15 January 2013
Looking ahead to 2013, the moods of the EPLF members are quite varied. The stable situation in Germany is good news. But looking at foreign markets, the EPLF is hoping that the situation in southern Europe will improve and the association has great expectations of the expanding markets in Turkey and South America. Exports to China, especially in the premium sector, are also increasing significantly again, showing that European quality and innovation are in demand the world over.
"Laminate is and remains a success story. But we view the individual markets very differently," says EPLF President Ludger Schindler with regard to current developments. "The situation in Germany is stable. Debt crises and economic fluctuations in southern Europe continue to affect laminate sales. But overall the Euro zone is slowly recovering. Turkey is the second largest market by volume in Europe. Exports to South America are showing a positive trend. We are even selling more to China." The sales by EPLF members in 2012 amounted to approx. 460 mill m2.
Laminate: a product with unlimited options
According to the EPLF, overall economic trends in Germany are being partly shaped by the middle class who continue to invest in lasting values, such as their own property. Replacing flooring is at the top of the list when it comes to medium- and large-scale modernisation work This is where the EPLF believes the laminate industry has the solid foothold it needs in order to invest in the long term in further development of its ranges. Clearly, the German market demands a lot of the quality and look of products. "The EPLF members will continue to set standards for the development of the entire industry," says Schindler, "as innovations always produce their own economic cycles. This will also be noticeable at Domotex." Examples of the distinct innovation of European manufacturers are product features such as experimental pine looks, dyed or altered surfaces, the used look, dark oak decors or particularly long rustic boards with all-over prints.
Image change amongst architects, positive developments amongst tradespersons
As part of the "Flooring Deluxe" key area, Hall 9 at Domotex will feature an exhibition of high-quality parquet and laminate flooring. "Concept Rooms" innovatively present flooring for the trade fair visitors.
Volkmar Halbe, Chairman of the Market and Image Committee of the EPLF, says: "Domotex is a good platform for the high-quality products of EPLF members. Laminate's market share has continued to grow over other types of flooring for a number of years. This is due to its unique product characteristics: laminate is durable, easy to care for, easy to lay and offers infinite design options. It is the last of these characteristics that many architects are now becoming aware of. The EPLF puts a clear emphasis on consistent promotion and awareness-raising. We are therefore delighted that the 'Concept Rooms' in Hannover will demonstrate the many designs available from high-quality laminate flooring."
"The target groups of tradespersons and the DIY enthusiasts amongst end consumers need new forms of presentation," says Volkmar Halbe. "Then the innovative impetus from Domotex can be translated into active market development on the ground." In the new "Meeting point for manual trades" area, DIY enthusiasts amongst the visitors to Domotex will, for example, find information on the latest trends in laying techniques.
Halbe: "The tradespersons sector in particular is developing very well at present. Premium end customers, for example the affluent over-50s, don't want to lay their own flooring. Floor specialists offering a complete service will benefit will from such customers and small commercial properties. Both DIY enthusiasts and tradespersons can of course benefit from the ease of laying laminate. Over the last few years European laminate flooring manufacturers have done a lot of work in this area which has distinguished them positively from cheap providers."
Good for the environment and sustainability
Environmental requirements continue to grow in importance in the building trade. As Halbe knows only too well, laminate scores well in this respect: "By definition, laminate is an ecological product because it can offer a perfect wood look and long-lasting quality without actually using rare timbers. Sustainability is however about more than gaining eco credentials or compliance with environmental declarations, to which all EPLF manufacturers are of course committed."
According to the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nachhaltiges Bauen (German Sustainable Building Council), sustainability revolves around three factors: ecology, economy and socially sustainable solutions – for example where and under what conditions production takes place. Halbe: "Here the EPLF association members have very strict requirements for themselves which they need to communicate to the end customer. It must be clear to consumers that they can help keep jobs in Europe. They are therefore also opting for the more sustainable product."
Advances in standardisation
For Dr. Theo Smet, Chairman of the Technical Committee of the EPLF, there is a direct link between the association's standardisation activities and market development: "The response of the EPLF members to the generally tough economic conditions is a clear commitment to technical quality, the development of innovative products, further transparency in terms of technical features and work on complete laminate flooring systems. This means combining laminate flooring with what lies beneath them, e.g. taking account of underfloor heating and cooling, soundproofing, cleaning, care and environmental aspects."
The research and development work done by several companies is matched by the association through ongoing standardisation work in Europe and around the globe.
Due to the amendments to the mandate M119, which had been initiated by the EU Commission, the Technical Committee CEN TC 134 (Laminate, Textile, Resilient) has started the revision of the EN 14041. The purpose is to integrate hazardous materials and ecological aspects into the CE labelling, especially considering indoor air quality, VOC emissions and potentially hazardous substances. The technical committee is working full speed and will submit the draft shortly. It will also include all necessary adaptions in order to adapt the current CPD (Construction Product Directive) to the future CPR (Construction Product Regulation).
At CEN level, the EPLF is working at committee level on other important projects. EN 16094 - test procedures for determining resistance to micro scratches – was published in January 2012. The draft standard FprCEN/TS 16354 for underlay materials has been submitted for public scrutiny. The draft describes the requirements and test methods for loose underlay materials for laminate flooring and establishes a standard assessment system for these important system components. Further standardisation projects include the revision of the standards for laminate floor coverings EN 13329 – thermoset resins, EN 14978 – electron beam-hardened acrylic surfaces, and EN 15468 – direct printing. Finally the issue of drum sound continues to present the EPLF's technical experts with many methodical and physical challenges.
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