April 11/18, 2016; Volume 30, Number 21
By Ken Ryan
There are many good reasons why carpet mills have focused on the solution-dyed PET segment. It is an easy sell, offering value to the consumer and increased profits for the dealer, especially at the high end.
How is this possible? Start with the fact that almost all PET carpets are made from continuous filament fibers, which lend themselves to high speed and efficient tufting, ultimately a cost savings. Solution dying is also a very efficient way to apply color to fiber, so there is a low production cost.
“Since most carpet styles are value-measured by the amount of face yarn weight constructed in the carpet, the dealer and consumer get more bang for the buck,” said Rodney Mauter, executive vice president, sales and marketing, for Lexmark.
Susan Curtis, vice president of marketing at Phenix Carpet Mills, said solution dying creates increased opportunities to differentiate product through yarn styling and processing to develop unique looks. “This is important because a complex color development creates flexibility for the consumer. It will also match more easily with other materials in the home and will have a longer aesthetic life as the environment evolves over time.”
The major difference between nylon fiber and PET is the raw material cost. The resin, or chip cost per pound, is roughly 30% to 35% higher for nylon than it is for PET. This has to do with the expense involved in obtaining the raw materials for the resin and producing the chip. As Mauter put it: “The cost does not have anything to do with the perceived better performance because of the ‘it costs more’ mentality. Couple this with the fact that typically the largest cost component of a piece of carpet is the yarn and the balance of the carpet production process is the same, regardless of the yarn type being used.”
Another major advantage of solution-dyed fiber cited by executives is the improved color-fastness and stain-resistant properties. “PET polyester fiber is an affordable alternative to nylon that has really opened the door to providing creatively styled products at price points the consumer is comfortable with,” Curtis said. “As a result, there is more diversity and choice for homeowners in selecting the right product for their homes.”
Some mills have built their business models around the use of solution-dyed fibers to avoid the cost of dyeing equipment and processes. Although the color lies of solution-dyed (SD) carpets are typically shorter than those of piece-dyed carpets, mills are producing SD lines with 30-plus colors in some cases. Some companies have also developed multi-color looks by blending and mixing various solution-dyed fiber colors in a single carpet, with sometimes as many as six different individual colors used in a single carpet SKU.
Engineered Floors is a leader in the solution-dyed PET space. Its PureColor solution-dyed PET fiber is said to have numerous advantages, yet it’s the colorfastness that resonates most with its customers’ everyday needs, according to Mike Sanderson, vice president of product marketing. “That’s because the color will not stain, fade or wear off,” he said. “We have also been recognized for our color clarity and consistency throughout all our PureColor family of brands. This virtually eliminates concerns like side match.”
Still another advantage of PET is the nature of its very smooth mono-filament (like that of a PET water bottle) resulting in a far greater moisture- or spill-resistant attribute than the rough, cratered surface of the nylon fiber, Mauter said. “The rough surface of the nylon fiber allows for far more harboring of the spills than PET.”
Countering the doubters
Some carpet executives have said color limitations of 100% solution-dyed products are out of step with consumer demand for color choice. With solution dying, the color the carpet is to eventually become is determined at the extrusion process. As a result, small runs are not efficient or effective. “The results are a limited number of fiber colors to work with to create a carpet,” said John Sheffield, vice president, North America, Godfrey Hirst USA. “However, that does not mean beautiful carpets cannot be created. By plying two colors together or running multiple colors through the tufting process, you are able to achieve a wide range of colors and tonal colorations that are very well suited for the current consumer market.”
Proponents of solution-dyed carpets argue the vast majority of the colors selected by consumers are contained in a small medium of ranges—beige, gray and beige/gray; off-whites, tans and varying brown tones. Few selections made today in broadloom have strong color tints and hues. “Many of the SD PET manufacturers do limit their color offerings per style,” Mauter explained. “We produce a much wider color selection in our SD PET styles than some other PET manufacturers. We now produce over 50 different color combinations in our PET color assortments. To date we have few complaints about color limitations in our line.”
Godfrey Hirst was one of the first mills to offer loops and patterns in solution-dyed PET. It used this yarn system as a styling tool to create attractive patterns and tonal colorations that tied in well with a dealer base that was familiar with the company from its wool offerings. “We offered heavy weight, thick cut pile products and targeted the upper end of the retail business with this yarn system,” Sheffield said. “Our products have been very well received.”
Lexmark also has a story to leverage its success in the hospitality segment to residential. “All of our yarn—and it was entirely nylon SD—for our hospitality carpets has always been SD,” Mauter said. “So when we launched our residential line of products in 2012 our concept of the optimum fiber was solution dyed.”
Several mills market solution-dyed yarns for PET and nylon. Solution-dyed nylon provides the advantages of a pre-colored yarn, which some carpet mills prefer, with the improved wear performance and durability of a nylon fiber vs. a PET fiber.
Marquis Industries’ extrusion plant produces millions of pounds of continuous filament solution-dyed polyester and nylon. Cones of yarn are then processed in the company’s computer-controlled twisting and heat set plant. Every yarn SKU is regulated so products are made to the same high-quality specification every time.
According to T.M. Nuckols, senior director of product strategy at Invista, there are many solution-dyed nylon fibers from which to choose. “However, just because a nylon fiber is solution dyed does not necessarily make it stain resistant.” SuperiaSD is Invista’s special solution-dyed nylon 6, 6 fiber that has been engineered to be inherently stain resistant. It also has exceptional colorfastness, which means it resists fading and discoloration from UV rays and harsh cleaners. SuperiaSD is the only fiber used in Stainmaster’s PetProtect carpet program.