Laminate flooring's quick-step makes major move in U.S.: Unilin Flooring begins production of its Quick-Step laminate flooring at a U.S. plant.Unilin Flooring's new Thomasville, NC, plant for manufacturing Quick-Step laminate flooring This article or section needs sources or references that appear in reliable, third-party publications. Alone, primary sources and sources affiliated with the subject of this article are not sufficient for an accurate encyclopedia article. makes a statement, a bold one, about the Belgium-based company's commitment to the U.S. market.
"It shows people we mean business," says Pier Huyghe, co-president along with Stefaan Vet Eecke.
Distributors and retailers already touring the highly automated plant see a connected complex of four buildings totaling 600,000 square feet. Capacity at the plant, which started operation in October 2005, is 100 million square feet of flooring yearly.
After a second construction phase is completed by 2008, space is expected to be 1.1 million square feet, with the ability to produce 400 to 500 million square feet of flooring annually. Total cost for the entire multiyear project has been estimated at $80 million.
Quick-Step embarked on the massive project to better serve its U.S. market, which it entered with imported goods in 2001. "We've had dramatic growth," says Huyghe, estimating it at 25 to 30 percent the last several years. The U.S. accounts for 15 percent of the world's consumption of laminate flooring, he says.
$1 Billion Sales Worldwide
Huyghe declines to give Quick-Step sales figures sales figures npl → cifras fpl de ventas , but when floor coverings giant Mohawk Industries Mohawk Industries is an American company that supplies residential and commercial flooring and other home products. It is one of the two largest carpet manufacturers in the world. It is exchanged on the New York Stock Exchange under the listed security MHK. Inc. bought Unilin last October for $2.6 billion, it estimated Unilin's worldwide sales at about $1 billion.
Floor Covering Weekly, in its May 2005 ReCo Market Intelligence Report, put Quick-Step as number two in laminates sales in the U.S., estimating the company had 44.3 percent market share to Mannington's 47.3 percent.
At that time, Quick-Step was still meeting 75 percent of its U.S. needs with product imported from Europe. The remaining 25 percent was supplied by a small, 50-million square foot capacity plant elsewhere in Thomasville.
Since the new plant came on line in late 2005, that percentage of domestically produced flooring has risen to about 65 percent, and Huyghe expects it to grow to 75 to 80 percent in the future.
Laminate flooring has long been a fixture in the European flooring market, but was a harder sell in the U.S. back in 2001, when Quick-Step, and Huyghe, first came to the U.S. A sates and marketing office was established in St. Louis to sell product manufactured in Unilin's headquarters, in the Belgium city of Wielsbeke.
"There's such a tradition here of hardwood hardwood: see wood.
Timber obtained from broad-leaved, flower-bearing trees. Hardwood trees are deciduous trees, except in the warmest regions. , carpet and vinyl," Huyghe says. But once it gained a foothold, "people accepted it with open arms."
Early on, laminate laminate,
n a thin slice of porcelain or plastic fabricated in a dental lab, which is cemented to the front of the teeth to cover gaps, whiten stained teeth, or reshape chipped or broken teeth. may have been a fall-back choice for many customers who would have preferred hardwood but couldn't afford it, he says. But now, innovations in design and performance make it a positive choice rather than a negative one, he says.
"More and more, I'm convinced laminate flooring is becoming its own category," Huyghe says."
Fastest Growing Category
Market estimates seem to agree with Huyghe, showing laminates growing at a rate more than double the three other large floor covering categories. Mohawk's 2004 annual report estimated growth at 3.0 percent for carpet and rugs, 7.0 percent for ceramic tile, 20.9 percent for laminate and 7.9 percent for hardwood.
Laminates still have a way to go, however. Floor Covering Weekly's analysis of the 2004 floor covering market, published in July 2005, gave broadloom broad·loom
Woven on a wide loom: a broadloom carpet.
broad carpet and area rugs area rug
A rug that covers a limited area of floor space in a room. a 62.3% share; ceramic, 12.5%; hardwood, 10.5%; vinyl, 7.9%; laminates, 6.2%, and rubber, 0.6%
Quick-Step promotes its flooring, most of which comes with 25-year guarantees against wear and moisture damage, as family friendly.
"It fits modern lives," Huyghe says, citing easy care and durability.
With the introduction of manufacturing innovations that mimic the texture, as well as the appearance of wood and stone, Quick-Step is also emphasizing fashion and appearance. "It's become so attractive, it offers possibilities people never had before," Huyghe says.
He points out flooring made to look like wenge, the dark-colored wood from Africa. "Who can afford real wenge?" Huyghe asks rhetorically. The wide range of authentic-looking laminates, he says, "makes people so excited. They can have fun in decorating."
Quick-Step considers its product middle- to high-end, and its distributors sell it exclusively through specialty flooring stores. Suggested retail prices for Quick-Step products range from $2.99 to $4.39 per square foot.
Shortly after Quick-Step opened its St. Louis sates office, the company bought the 50 million square foot capacity plant in Thomasville, where it began U.S. production using the DPL (Digital PowerLine) An earlier technology for transmitting a 1 Mbps data signal over electric power lines from Nortel Networks. It was developed in the late 1990s, but later abandoned due to implementation difficulties. See broadband over power lines. (Direct Pressure Laminate) method that it continues to use today.
Fully Integrated Manufacturing
Then Quick-Step bought a Mount Gitead, NC, MDF (1) (Main Distribution Frame) A wiring rack that connects outside lines with internal lines. It is used to connect public or private lines coming into the building to internal networks. and HDF (Hierarchical Data Format) A file format for scientific data that is developed and maintained by NCSA. Governments and research organizations around the world use HDF for archiving and distributing collected data.
HDF - Hierarchical Data Format plant, making it the only U.S. laminate flooring maker controlling the entire manufacturing stream. "You don't control all your own materials just for price," Huyghe says. "We do it to be sure of what we're getting."
Once it had all the raw materials for large-scale production of flooring, moving to the new Thomasville plant was a logical step for Unilin, Huyghe says.
tr.v. com·put·er·ized, com·put·er·iz·ing, com·put·er·iz·es
1. To furnish with a computer or computer system.
2. To enter, process, or store (information) in a computer or system of computers. , robotics robotics, science and technology of general purpose, programmable machine systems. Contrary to the popular fiction image of robots as ambulatory machines of human appearance capable of performing almost any task, most robotic systems are anchored to fixed positions and automation drive the new plant, which runs three shifts and has more than 200 employees. Even the forklifts are computer-equipped, so that operators can scan and record the toads they transport from one department to another.
"We never buy just the machine off the shelf," says Huyghe. Quick-Step designers custom-tailor equipment to their needs.
Vits paper saturation equipment starts the manufacturing process, applying computer-mixed melamine resins melamine resin
A thermosetting resin used for molded products, adhesives, and surface coatings.
Noun 1. melamine resin to paper bearing flooring designs. After the saturation is completed under high heat, the paper is dried and cut into segments that are transported by forklift to the press room.
On the conveyor belt conveyor belt
One of various devices that provide mechanized movement of material, as in a factory. Conveyor belts are used in industrial applications and also on large farms, in warehousing and freight-handling, and in movement of raw materials. feeding the Wemhoner press, the sheets of paper are robotically laid atop HDF substrate and a bottom sheet of resin-treated paper. A clear top coating of paper treated with melamine melamine (mĕl`əmēn'), common name for 2,4,6-triamino-1,3,5-triazine. Melamine is a trimer (see polymer) of cyanamide, H2NC≡N, and is synthesized from calcium carbide. and aluminum oxide aluminum oxide: see alumina. , for durability, is laid on top, and the substrate and paper sandwich goes into the press. Pressing at 450F melts the resin and melds the materials together.
To create the uneven surface that gives the flooring its wood or stone feel, up to 40 pressure points in the press' top or caul caul (kawl) a piece of amnion sometimes enveloping a child's head at birth.
1. A portion of the amnion, especially when it covers the head of a fetus at birth. plate serve as a mold. They are programmed to strike the clear coating in various patterns. They can create random nicks or cuts, called nonregister embossing embossing, process of producing upon various materials designs or patterns in relief by mechanical means. The material is pressed between a pair of dies especially adapted to its hardness and the depth of the design needed. , or they can make cuts that follow the printed grain, called register embossing.
Like, It's Groovy groov·y
adj. groov·i·er, groov·i·est Slang
Very pleasing; wonderful.
To create an aged Look for several products, including Quick-Step's Country collection, the pressure points create the more pronounced waves or grooves that hardwood acquires through wear or hand scraping (1) Extracting data from output intended for the screen or printer rather than from original files or databases. For example, Web pages formatted in HTML are often scraped. .
Saws rip the pressed flooring vertically into boards or units to be installed. The boards are tongue-and-grooved on sides and ends to achieve Quick-Step's patented, glueless Uniclic fastening system. They then have to pass human inspection before heading to the packaging department, where the boards are shrink-wrapped and packaged. "Every board is inspected by human eyes," says Janet M. Byrd, manager of auxiliary services. She adds that sometimes those eyes are even assisted by cameras.
New SAP integrated software Separate software components or applications that have been combined into one package. See integrated software package. ties together manufacturing and sales data. "Our whole process is monitored and controlled through one system," says Huyghe. "We have perfect knowledge of our product flow. If a customer is calling, we always know where every order is, and how Long it will take."
Huyghe thinks the main impact of the new plant will be seen in quicker delivery. When product is imported, he says, "it's four weeks on the water at a minimum. It can get stuck in customs.
"What it [the new plant] is going to do is make sure we have better service. People are going to see a dramatic effect," Huyghe says. "We anticipate deliveries to be made within one week from the time an order is placed."
Quick-Step has no plans to try to make 100 percent of its product in the U.S., he says, but will instead strive for a balance. Most research and development is still done in Europe, "but we have huge input in that," he says.
From the start, Quick-Step has been thinking ahead to the second phase of construction scheduled by 2008. Some exterior walls were built of metal so that they could be moved to accommodate the expansion to 1.1 million square feet.
The exact timing, Huyghe says, depends not only on market demand but on developments in the industry. Before the company invests in new technology, he says, Quick-Step's designers want to make sure it's going to be adequate for the future.
It is a future he has high hopes for. "Laminate flooring really is just beginning in the U.S.," he adds.