Let’s face it: we live in a world that’s become overrun by acronyms. Acronyms make sense as a time saver among insiders in closed environments, such as employees in companies, but the overabundance of them these days—to me as an old duffer—is a bit over the top. Sure, the old standby acronyms, FBI, IBM, NASA, IRS and LBJ are ones that everybody knows. If you have to stop and think about what an acronym means, it’s just not worth it.
The floor covering industry is not immune to this trend. The multilayer flooring category is overrun by them—LVT (luxury vinyl tile), WPC (wood plastic composite), SPC (stone plastic composite) and the like. Thankfully, Philippe Erramuzpe, member of the board at Multilayer Flooring Association (MFA) and chief operating officer at USFloors, has agreed to help us clear up the confusion. This conversation in its entirety is available at floortrendsmag.com. Just click on multimedia and then on podcasts. The following are some excerpts of that conversation.
TF: The MFA was formed to establish standards to help consumers and industry players gain a better understanding of this fast-evolving category. Are LVT, WPC and SPC the main types in this category?
Erramuzpe: For the time being, those are the products in the category, but there will be additional products in the future. That’s because the category is growing very fast—much faster than we have seen in any other category.
TF: Talk about luxury vinyl tile and how it evolved.
Erramuzpe: The MLF has really wanted to control rigid core type products and today we are talking about WPC and SPC. Previous to that, of course, LVT was introduced as a glue-down version in tiles and planks. Then it evolved into a floating floor with a locking system applied at the perimeter of the planks. These types of products, however, fall under the auspices of another association: the Resilient Floor Covering Institute.
TF: Would it be fair to say that all LVT is similar?
Erramuzpe: We consider LVT to be anything that is flexible that is not engineered over a substrate. Anything that is rigid today would be classified as either WPC or SPC.
As for the properties, there are two basic factors: first, the thickness, and secondly, abrasion and wear resistance. So, when we talk about a glue-down product, they are generally about 2 mm to 2.5 mm with the wear layer going anywhere from 6 mils to 20 mils and, of course, they are offered at different price points.
Looking at SPC and WPC, they are totally different animals. WPC, for example, much like LVT, has a top layer, where SPC does not have a top layer at all. Only a film is applied over the substrate and then a wear layer.
TF: Let’s look at WPC, wood plastic composite.
Erramuzpe: When we originally developed this product and decided to get into the vinyl category, we wanted to offer a product that was different. We were looking at the category of LVT and began by evaluating its shortcomings. First among its shortcomings was the fact that the product was prone to telegraphing and many of the comments we heard were that floor preparations were not ideal and that telegraphing would be evident. As a result, many consumers were not satisfied with the product. Our reaction to the problem was to mount the product itself on a rigid core in an effort to deal with the telegraphing. We looked at some of the products that had been introduced in Europe, where the construction was basically an LVT on top of an STS board with underlayment of some type attached to the back. This product was performing quite well and eliminating the telegraphing; however, STS was not the right substrate because it was not waterproof. We felt that many were buying LVT because it was waterproof and was a solution to many problems related to moisture in the home.
We continued to look for a waterproof substrate with the idea that it would definitely be a winner. When we were looking around in China, we came across WPC, which was a product developed for outdoor decking. We found a version of WPC which we felt could be the perfect substrate to create what we now call WPC product. It took a couple of years to develop the product, beginning with a 50% PVC [polyvinyl chloride] and 50% calcium carbonate and a foaming agent. This performed quite well at the time and contained some wood dust as well. Today, most everyone has eliminated wood particles from the composition, but since the product has had so much success in the market, we decided to keep the acronym of WPC to really define what this product is all about.
Beyond its core, the product was constructed with a layer of LVT on top, and in our case at USFloors, cork attached to the back. It is a product that is more complicated to make because it requires the manufacturer to be vertically integrated and be able to produce the LVT, and as a result, it is quite capital-intensive because it requires a calendaring system and presses for the PVC backing and the wear layers.
TF: If we were to look at a variety of WPC products from various producers, I have to imagine the properties of products would differ.
Erramuzpe: That is true, and that is why the MFA came into existence. We really wanted to establish standards. Products can look good and look right but at the end of the day no one would know what the specifications of any given product were and whether that product would be safe. We wanted as an association to create a specification program, which will be voluntary, but as companies join the program and get their products certified, a compliance program would be put in place. As products comply with the standards, there will be a label available for application on literature, merchandising and packaging. The association will also communicate with retailers and end users to create peace of mind for purchasers.
TF: Talk about this SPC category and its makeup.
Erramuzpe: Today, WPC is an ideal product for residential applications and for light commercial applications as well. SPC, which is the newest entry in the category, introduced about two years ago, has a totally different core. The core itself is about 70% calcium carbonate about 25% PVC with no foaming agent, making its core very solid. It’s really a solid polymer core and on top of the core there is not a layer of WPC anymore but a wear layer is fused directly onto the core in a one-step process. As a result, it is a product that is much less expensive, easier and less capital-intensive to produce. One piece of equipment can actually make this product.
We attempt to separate WPC and SPC. They actually complement each other. WPC is more for the residential environment, while SPC would be more for the commercial environment because it is so dense. It is not prone at all to indentation.
TF: Talk about the growth you are seeing in SPC.
Erramuzpe: SPC is growing quite well and quite quickly now, and the reasons are two-fold. A number of newcomers are jumping on SPC. There are fewer manufacturers of WPC in China than of SPC because SPC is so easy and inexpensive to produce compared to WPC. Because SPC is less expensive, many newcomers are coming into the category.