Nylon has been the dominant fiber used in carpet for several decades. There have been fluctuations over the years where nylon, polyester and polypropylene (olefin) have gained and lost share, and while nylon still holds the largest fiber share, polyester is gaining fast, especially in the residential segment.
It’s hard to pin down actual fiber shares. Reports vary, but recently Floor Covering News reported that in 2005 polyester had a 13% market share which increased to 18% by 2009. During that same time, olefin shrank from 28% to 22%, indicating that polyester’s rise was at the expense of olefin. Recent estimates coming from Invista say that nylon now holds about 50% market share while polyester has increased to 30% or higher.
The shift in fiber is not the only change. In the residential market changes in configuration, coloration and sustainability are also taking place.
What’s happening with nylon fiber supply and demand?
In the commercial market, nylon is still king and its dominance there won’t change any time soon but it is losing market share in the residential side and there are a couple reasons for that. Nylon, as a raw material, costs 30-40% more than polyester because nylon’s largest ingredients are petroleum based while polyester PET, made from terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol, is not so susceptible. The demand for nylon chemistry worldwide has strained the supply of raw material and today nylon is a difficult commodity to source and receive in a timely manner. This has extended production times and backlogs, on commercial carpet especially, to as long as 10 weeks. As demand for commercial carpet rises, and that is definitely happening today, delivering carpet to the end user in a timely manner is becoming a problem. This is causing fits of frustration in the industry.
Besides being more readily available (a whole lot more is made globally and less susceptible to cost swings than nylon) polyester has inherent attributes which make it more resistant to staining and color loss - both important factors in carpet performance and marketing. When twisted adequately it will also perform extremely well. The extrusion and processing capacity for polyester has increased exponentially and performance issues of the past, particularly matting and crushing, have been greatly overcome by properly twisting and heat setting the yarn. The result is that while polyester’s growth previously came from olefin’s share, polyester is now taking market share from nylon too.
Wool, which only occupies 2% or less of the market, is a factor in high end goods within the luxury market and in rugs. It’s also used extensively in the hospitality market in four and five star rated hotels. The use of wool in carpet has actually increased worldwide due to the rapid development of the world’s economies.
What’s new in fiber?
Triexta (PTT) fiber (only available now from Mohawk via DuPont) is a new form of fiber which actually possesses attributes of both polyester and nylon, but according to the FTC it is neither and has been given a category of its own: PTT. It is the first new classification of fiber for residential carpet since nylon was added 1959. PTT is priced higher than PET and somewhat lower than nylon and is less susceptible to rising petroleum costs.
The preference in construction type has been shifting for some time from staple to continuous filament (or bulked continuous filament “BCF”), thus more fiber is used to produce BCF yarn as opposed to staple yarn. The primary reason for this change is that BCF takes fewer steps and is therefore less costly to produce. Staple construction is a step-by-step process requiring extrusion of the fiber, cutting, blending, drawing, spinning and heat setting. In contrast, BCF is extruded, crimped, wound and packaged at the extrusion machine.
|Mohawk's solution dyed Colorstrand|
Much of the polyester used in carpet is made of recycled content: recycled beverage containers. Staple polyester can be made out of 100% post-consumer content from bottles while filament can be up to 25%. The carpet industry is one of the largest recyclers of plastic bottles in the U.S. In fact, Mohawk already uses 25% of every recycled bottle in the U.S. and Shaw will become the largest recycler of bottles in the nation when its plant is running at full capacity. PTT adds to carpet’s sustainability story because it is 37% bio based content and it is mostly dyed with aqueous (water) based dye systems.
With all the attributes of polyester, sourcing, increased performance and additions of bio based resources coupled with the carpet industry’s ability to enhance the performance of the fiber it’s easy to conclude that polyester will continue to increase share in the residential market. It has also begun making inroads in the commercial carpet market.
I'm always interested to hear what flooring retailers and distributors are noticing from there perspective and appreciate hearing your comments here. - Lew Migliore
Lew Migliore is President of LGM and Associates, a technical consulting firm specializing in all aspects of product and installation performance and education. He is also a consultant with the Floor Covering Institute.