Just in case you thought the carpet industry was sitting around letting the world pass it by while hardwood and ceramic beat the pants off of it, think again. Never before has there been so many advances in technology and styling as there is today.
Most people outside of Dalton, Georgia have never seen a carpet mill and have no idea what goes on inside of one. Even if you’ve had an opportunity to see carpet manufactured you most likely wouldn’t understand exactly what you’re looking at. The most significant developments currently affecting the styling of carpet is in tufting. When it first began, tufting machines were limited to making carpet that was not very elaborate. Solid colored nylons, straight row stitched, with or without some patterning in them. I remember as a kid the short tight woven wool Frieze carpet we had in the living room, the “good room” that we weren’t allowed into and that was only used on special occasions, Christmas being one of them. In the rest of the house we had gold, sculptured Dupont 501 nylon carpet and in my room a blue, needle punched, flat carpet. As the industry moved along we got into graphics constructions which gave us the ability to do diamond patterns and more elaborate designs. This technology brought with it some challenges for the manufacturer and the installer.
Carpets that use a step over stitch construction have an inherent tension built into them widthwise. Any gain or loss of moisture in the nylon yarn can cause expansion or contraction in the carpet width contributing to buckles and wrinkles. This construction also frustrated more than a few installers who have glued this type of carpet to a substrate only to come back the next day and find that it shrunk a quarter of an inch at the seams. Another challenge the installer had was trying to “run a row” that is, cut a straight line in the carpet to make a cut in the length or width. With step over stitch, especially on Berbers, it was inevitable loops were going to be cut contributing to fuzzing at the edges. More than a few claims were filed for this problem.
The manufacturer was challenged with getting enough latex into the yarn bundle to prevent filament slippage or fuzzing of the surface and with tuft bind problems, both caused, in part, by the heavy amount of yarn on the backing of the carpet. Unitary backed carpets, with high step over stitch construction, wouldn’t make 100% contact with the substrate therefore it was impossible to achieve 100% adhesive transfer, causing installation failures. And secondary backings applied to carpets with heavy ribbed backings wouldn’t have 100% of the secondary glued to them instigating delaminating problems, especially at the edges. We’re moving away from these problems with new tufting technology.
What the industry can do today with styling is staggering. No place is this more evident than in the commercial carpet arena. Patterns with circles, squares, rectangles, angles, floral patterns, you name it, are being tufted without ever having to shift the needle bar. Every one of these patterns can be accomplished with equipment that tufts the yarn in a straight row. The machines that make this possible are intricate and expensive mechanical and computer operated marvels. The individuals at mills that operate these machines producing these magnificent looking carpets are not just mechanical geniuses, they’re daring adventurists. Anything your mind can envision, they can make a tufting machine produce. And most of this technology is not coming from the largest manufacturers. The smaller, more specialized the mill, the more technologically advanced they are. They don’t have to be concerned with economies of scale and fast, continuous, processes. The more elaborate the work the greater the chance that one of the bigger mills or highly styled carpet producers is having a small mill, tucked away in a corner, make the carpet. This is where all of the excitement in the industry is.
There’s no reason to believe that this styling technology won’t affect the retail sector of the business. It inevitably will. You, as a retailer, can compete on a level never before thought of by being able to work with a smaller manufacturer or specialty tufter who would be happy to reproduce any pattern a customer of yours walked into your store with. Does she have a fabric she’d like the carpet to match with the same color? The pattern and the color can be matched, in fact, if you e-mail it to one of the smaller specialty mills by 10:00 am, it would not be impossible for them to be tufting it for you by 2:00 pm, and that’s no exaggeration. It will cost you more but nothing is impossible for these folks. And you thought only hard surfaces could give you this kind of uniqueness. Whatever pattern you can make with a hard surface, a tufting machine can duplicate with any kind of surface texture you want. We are entering a new era of carpet construction, much of it spurned by consolidation, the computer age and mans trips to the moon. Get ready for very exciting times.