On December 3, 2023, i4F crossed the 10-year threshold. In that time, the company has achieved over 3,000 patents and technologies, 200 licenses and secured 13 partners. Their drop-lock technologies remain the core of their business, however, going into 2024, there is more to come.
Each innovation is organized into six, now seven, Patent Cluster Concepts, consisting of board composition, surface finishing, digital printing, process, wall and ceiling, drop-lock, and now outdoor. The firm plans to expand each cluster to “generate new business opportunities,” according to the i4F team.
An example of a technology that the firm feels embodies its commitment to innovation is its CeraGrout—designed to look like real grout without the installation and maintenance challenges of real tile. CeraGrout requires minimal tools, eliminates the need for grout and ultimately, reduces installation time.
We reached out to the i4F team to find out more about how the company and its technologies have evolved over the past decade and what they envision for the next ten years.
CeraGrout is designed to look like real grout without the installation and maintenance challenges of real tile. Photo: i4F.
FLOOR Trends & Installation: What was the overall vision for the company 10 years ago compared to now? Has it changed or evolved? How so?
John Rietveldt, Founder & CEO: When we started out, our vision at the time was to change and revolutionize the flooring market and to make our drop-lock the leading installation system because of its ease of installation. Today, we still want to surprise our customers with new meaningful innovations.
Over the years, we have come up with more and more ideas on how to improve the world and to enhance where people work, play and live. Through our valued IP partners, we have been able to accelerate the speed and quantity of accessibility to these new innovations.
FTI: Can you point to one specific technology that has really taken off? If so, which one and what do you attribute that to?
Rietveldt: That would be our drop-lock technologies. Our 3L TripleLock technology has become a world standard. More recently, digital printing and i4F CeraGrout—providing a perfect imitation of traditional ceramics—are following the same path. Our success is definitely a direct result of tuning in to customer trends and demands.
FTI: Where do you see technologies heading with the U.S. market?
Matthieu Dekens, President: Most of the products we will see in stores over the next 10 years do not exist today. A new wave of innovative technologies will blur the lines between core materials. Digital printing and embossing will open up new, almost limitless possibilities for new decors and surface structures. Of course, ease and speed of installation will always remain a core attribute as installation becomes an increasingly scarce resource.
FTI: With the growth of domestic manufacturing in the U.S., what does that mean for i4F’s licenses?
Dekens: We have great partnerships with U.S. manufacturers, with both domestic and global footprints. Together with our licensees, we continue to reinvent the market of the future and create value for end-users that will benefit the whole flooring value chain.
U.S. manufacturers will triumph via new technologies, consumer benefits at the right price, and speed to market.
FTI: The company secured its first licensee in 2014. How many do you currently have?
David Song, Chief Commercial Officer, Asia: We have some 200 licenses covering various technologies within our innovation portfolios, and the number keeps growing.
FTI: What has been the biggest challenge when it comes to licensing the technologies i4F offers?
Song: Like in other industries, a large part of players feel safe with products and technologies they already have and are used to. Therefore, the biggest challenge is to convince decision makers to introduce new technologies and new concepts. Fortunately, the flooring industry is full of market leaders that are ready to take the plunge!
FTI: How has the locking technology design evolved since the company began 10 years ago? And why?
Eddy Boucké, Chief Technology Officer: When we started there wasn’t a one-piece drop-lock installation system on the market—only angle/angle, angle/snap and a two-piece installation solution using a plastic strip or insert. The two first methods are not the easiest to install and the 2-piece system has a few issues.
Ten years ago, the click installation market was almost 100% laminate with some engineered wood. When we started out, there was a minimal amount of LVT, featuring a click system. That market—known today as new materials, including LVT, WPC and SPC—is booming! With our one-piece drop-lock system being especially suited for this category, we believe i4F has been instrumental in the growth of the new materials market sector.
FTI: What is important for flooring installers and contractors to know about the ease of installation of i4F’s drop-lock technology?
Boucké: Most installers know how our drop-lock technologies work; however, some still try to install a drop-lock as an angle/angle or angle/snap—unsuccessfully of course, as the installation is fundamentally different. We strive to provide support and education wherever we can via how-to videos, step-by-step installation instructions, trainings and live demonstrations.
FTI: What do you envision for the next 10 years for i4F?
Rietveldt: Building further on our platform capabilities by offering an even wider range of technologies. We will stretch the boundaries and the areas we work in. We would like to bring new innovations to improve the world market that become world standards. We want to achieve this by working with great people.
Dekens: Crossing new frontiers in core materials, surface performance and decors, reinventing the market and keeping flooring an exciting, innovative, top of mind category.
Song: I truly believe that i4F as the one of world’s most comprehensive IP management platforms, possesses meaningful technology portfolios that align with a range of industry requirements. Our primary focus continues to be flooring, which constitutes our core business.
Boucké: We are spreading out and working in different fields. My belief is that digital printing and new materials like PE (polyethylene) and PU (polyurethane) will be very important in the coming years.