New innovations in the manufacturing process
By ANDREW JACKSON MARKETING DIRECTOR EMEA Shaw Contract.
CARPET tiles offer a wide range of colours, textures and design possibilities with new innovations introduced in the manufacturing process. Loop pile designs continue to grow owing to investment in edge tufting technology.
For example, the ColorPoint tufting machine uses an Infinity pattern attachment which produces carpet tiles with multiple colours, multiple pile heights, and various textures and tip-sheared effects with no limits and scale of patterns.
In the UK, one in three contract carpet tile products are now multi-level loop designs which have virtually replaced the previously popular cut pile designs which are less hardwearing.
Carpet tiles are specified for most commercial environments including offices, hospital and schools and it’s important to specify according to the wear demands of any installation.
Depending on their construction carpet tiles are suitable for light commercial use (BS EN 1307: 2014 Overall Use Class 31) through to heavy commercial use (BS EN 1307: 2014 Overall Use Class 33).
Health and wellbeing has become an increasingly important consideration in the workplace.
As a result, specifiers – both designers and occupants – have become more interested in the contribution that flooring can make to issues such as acoustics and indoor air quality as well as and to the use of healthy building materials both externally and internally.
They also look for evidence of manufacturers demonstrating a proven degree of environmental responsibility in what they produce and the sustainability of their operations overall.
The manufacturing process
The manufacturing process involves a series of stages and figure 1 is a process drawing of what’s involved in producing a typical carpet tile. In this case the process described is the production of the Shaw Ecoworx carpet tile. However, the process follows a similar set of stages when bitumen backed tile are produced.
The Shaw Ecoworx tile process combines a nylon 6 face pile with a thermoplastic polyolefin-based backing or alternatively a cushion backed option known as Ecologix. Various cushion backing polymers have been introduced by several manufacturers.
Cushion backings are designed to improve both acoustic performance and underfoot comfort which are clearly potential and so in this context can offer benefits over resilient hardflooring alternatives.
Other commonly available backings for carpet tiles include modified bitumen compounds such as the newly launched Taskworx range from Shaw Contract in the UK.
Nylon 6 is the face fibre of choice for carpet tiles owing to its hardwearing properties and resistance to chemical attack.
Polypropylene and nylon 6:6 options are also available but less commonly used.
Nylon 6 fibre is turned into yarn through a variety of processes designed to give the desired look and feel of the finished product. The yarn is then fed via a process known as warping into the tufting process in which computer controlled tufting machines stitch yarn into a primary backing layer.
After this a latex layer known as the performance coat is applied to ensure maximum tuft bind.
A first layer of the Ecoworx thermoplastic polyolefin compound is then applied, followed by an additional reinforcement layer to give dimensional stability. A final layer of Ecoworx polyolefin is then added to give additional stability.
A key chemicals treatment added to carpet tiles is a fire retardant. This is necessary to provide fire resistance to meet the required EU standard for fire classification (BS EN 13501:-1:2007 +A1:2009). This addition is subject to annual quality control inspections in order to maintain the CE mark under BS EN 14041:2004.
The tiles are then die cut after and packaged for distribution.
In the manufacturing process, as a result of much focused effort, the production of carpet tile manufacturing waste has been much reduced. In the case of the major manufacturers the amount of waste material sent to landfill has been reduced to is almost zero.
Key manufacturing considerations
The key area of cost control faced by manufacturers is in the price they have to pay for materials, as is the case in any raw material procurement. Shaw Industries, the parent company of Shaw Contract, has improved its control over this by acquiring major nylon manufacturing capability (vertical integration).
Other manufacturers rely on rigorous procurement practices and by forward buying. Not only can these decisions have a key impact on the cost and consistency of the finished product, specifiers are increasingly scrutinising where the raw materials themselves are derived from.
The other major area regarding manufacturing operational cost improvement has been made in energy usage. Investment has been made in more efficient drying ovens and in augmenting energy supplies with the sustainable and renewable energy sources. As well as cost benefits these improvements have also produced positive environmental outcomes.
It’s clearly important the carpet tiles are produced to a standard specification which is consistently delivered. The complexity of the raw materials used and the processes involved requires strict adherence to sound quality assurance and environmental management practices. It’s therefore good specification practice to seek evidence that manufacturing is carried out in facilities which hold ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 Certification or equivalent.
Testing and certification
Key performance certification include the EN 1307 and EN 14041 Standards previously mentioned which set out critical considerations such as wear classification and fire ratings as well as tests for dimensional stability under BS EN 986:1995. Others include electrostatic propensity, castor chair resistance and luxury rating.
These are normally to be found and clearly stated on the product specification together with manufacturers’ guidance on installation methods and product warranties.
Recently other testing has become more frequently requested by specifiers. These include the determination of thermal resistance under ISO 8302:1999 which is used to determine the carpet tile’s compatibility with underfloor heating systems which are becoming increasingly popular.
There’s also an increase in the testing of carpet tiles for volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions under EN ISO 16000 series which are the recently harmonised EU testing methods.
This follows the introduction of regulations and labelling requirements in some major EU markets such as Germany, France, Belgium and Finland and the likely inclusion of this in future EN 14041 CE mark requirements. VOC measurements are also a component of many green building certification schemes and the requirement to provide specifiers with VOC information is now common practice.
Information is increasingly requested by specifiers regarding the acoustic performance of carpet tiles.
Here the testing involves assessment of Impact Sound Insulation (dB) under EN ISO 10140-3:2010 and Sound Absorption under EN ISO 354:2003 (αw).
This is because of increasing use of carpet as a sound reduction material in a room where targeted acoustic performance is desired. As an indication a carpet tile can be expected to give an impact sound reduction of over 20dB with a standard backing and over 30 dB with a cushion backing.
UK building standards also set out the need to ensure there’s sufficient visual contrast between flooring surfaces to enable people with poor eyesight to progress safely around a building. BS 8300-2:2018 states there should be 30 points of difference between surfaces and sets out a test method for assessing the Light Reflection Value (LRV). It is now common for manufacturers to state the LRV for each and every carpet tile in their collections.
In most construction projects, building materials are evaluated and selected based on performance, aesthetics and cost. With ”green” or environmentally preferable products, these traditional selection parameters are expanded to include both health and environmental impacts. For designers and specifiers this increasingly requires a working knowledge of:
- Relevant health and environmental impact issues associated with different material types;
- Government, industry, and third-party standards for green products, where they exist; and
- Available green products in the marketplace, including their specific green attributes, performance characteristics, appearance, and costs.
This demand for environmentally preferable products has been client driven and building owners and occupiers increasingly look to building certification schemes such as BREEAM and LEED to help.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Available for virtually all building project types, from new construction to interior fit-outs and operation and maintenance, LEED provides a framework that project teams can apply to create healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings.
In the UK the most common approach is to have a carpet tile assessed under the BRE Environmental Profile System which rates carpet tiles on scale of A-E and which contributes uplifts under the BREEAM Scheme for the better performing products.
There’s now a wide choice of BRE A-rated carpet tiles and this should be seen as a normal performance requirement by the specifier. Shaw Ecoworx tiles all achieve and A or A+ rating under this scheme as do the Taskworx bitumen-backed Rapid Select range for example.
While building certification schemes have been driving change, the focus has also turned to health and wellbeing for building occupants. Material wellbeing is a key consideration.
The International WELL Building Institute delivers the WELL Building Standard, the first to be focused exclusively on the ways that buildings, and everything in them, can improve comfort. This and initiatives such as the UK’s Ska Rating (the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) environmental assessment method, benchmark and standard for non-domestic fitouts) helps landlords and tenants assess fit out projects against a set of sustainability good practice criteria.
This in turn is driving further analysis. The BRE’s Environmental Profiles scheme is the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology in which sophisticated and powerful databases build up information on a product’s environmental impacts and report them in a standard format known as an
Environmental Product Declaration (EPD)
EPDs have now been harmonised across the EU and are being introduced under EN ISO 15804 to which the BRE Environmental Profile Scheme will soon convert. Once EPDs are well understood and used by specifiers further innovation is likely in the linking of this data with Building Information Modelling (BIM).
Individual carbon reduction initiatives are being undertaken by most manufacturers. However, the key phrase today in environmental strategy planning is for products to aspire to meet a ‘circular economy’ model. Relying on system-wide innovation, it aims to redefine products and services to design waste out, while minimising negative impacts, underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources.
Many leading manufacturers of carpet tiles have signed up for this concept and are using the Cradle to Cradle certification model and rating system as evidence of this commitment.
Cradle to Cradle certification of products help specifiers choose products that deliver points to building certification schemes and provides an ongoing continuous improvement programme and continuous scrutiny in terms of product health and safety.
This is alongside a commitment to the targeted introduction of greener energy sources and responsible stewardship of water and land used for manufacturing.
• Shaw Contract has been a leader in Cradle to Cradle design and certification for several years. This approach and that of other manufacturers ensures due consideration has been given to the environmentally responsible design, manufacturing, use and recycling at end life of the products.
• Shaw Contract is part of Shaw Industries Group, which is the world’s largest carpet manufacturer. Shaw has multiple carpet manufacturing facilities in the USA as well as a carpet tile manufacturing facility in China, and has recently announced the acquisition of Sanquhar Tile Services a carpet tile manufacturer based in the UK.