Four specialist presentations were on the agenda at the meeting in Mondsee: Heike Schlosser of Surteco Decor GmbH and Ralf Lerner of Dakor Melamin Imprägnierungen GmbH gave a presentation entitled: “One in Motion – Trends and Applications“; Carsten Brinkmeyer of Hymmen GmbH Maschinen- und Anlagenbau presented “Floors with Digital Visual and Haptic Effects – the Laminate Flooring of the Future? – An Account of the Current State of Technology in the Production of Digital Surfaces Combined with Digital, Synchronous Textures”; Salvatore Figliuzzi of Interprint GmbH presented information on: “Transform – a Changing Society – How does This Influence Interiors and Flooring?”; and Friedrich Meyknecht of Selit Dämmtechnik GmbH spoke on “The new generation of laminate underlays – Twinfoam Technology Optimizes Opposing Product Properties”.
Acting as deputy for EPLF President Ludger Schindler who was unable to attend due to illness, Vice-President Paul de Cock summarised the concept of the Laminate 2020 forum: “We live in a world that works endlessly on new developments. This is why it is good for our members to exchange views on trends and essential changes at an early stage, and have direct access to the know-how and pool of ideas of all supporting members of the world’s largest association of laminate manufacturers. Laminate 2020 is not about general presentations on technological developments, it is about specific proposals and lively exchanges between ordinary and extraordinary members within the EPLF. It is about the future of laminate.”
Progress in the Technical Working Group
Standing in for Convenor Eberhard Herrmann, Dr Theo Smet reported on ongoing activities being carried by the EPLF Technical Working Group. The EU-sponsored “Chair Castor Test” project is underway and initial tests are already being carried out. The test procedure used so far is to be modernised as it is 50 years old and totally outdated. In collaboration with the IHD (Institute for Wood Technology) in Dresden, a test procedure will be developed by August 2018 that will include a testing device suitable for use on floor coverings laid as floating installations with various locking systems, as well as on glued floor coverings, whilst taking underlay materials into account as a general principle. Additionally, several EPLF member companies are currently trialling a new testing device for the small ball impact test. On the subject of “deeply-textured surfaces”, the EPLF has proposed an annex to EN 13329 at CEN level. The new test methods for deep surface structures resulting from the pilot project successfully completed by the EPLF are to be integrated into this standard. The EPLF has also proposed an addition to EN 16511 in order to take into account the latest findings on the large ball impact test, and to withdraw in future the “B Method” as used to date in the microscratch test.
The EPLF is currently achieving success with its professional involvement in the new EU Ecolabel for furniture and floor coverings made from wood, cork or bamboo; the new version came into effect at the end of January 2017. The EU Ecolabel is recognised as an EU environmental label in all European Union member states and also in Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, and therefore gives a clear signal on an international level to end customers who wish to contribute to the reduction of environmental pollution by buying eco-friendly products. European quality laminate flooring complies broadly with the criteria for this product label, which is why the high-end laminates made by EPLF member companies will be able to apply for the EU Ecolabel in the future.
EPLF regional sales still inconsistent
At the Members’ Meeting, Max von Tippelskirch, as Convenor of the Markets and Image Working Group, presented the first EPLF quarterly figures for 2017: Global sales of laminate flooring produced in Europe by EPLF member companies during the 1st quarter of 2017 showed a slight downward trend compared with the same quarter of the previous year, but regional development continued to show the usual variations. Compared with the same quarter of the previous year, Western Europe was the only regional market that was weaker overall, whereas Eastern Europe remained relatively stable, North America demonstrated considerable growth, and South America and Asia registered double-digit growth. But a quarter does not represent a whole year – there are still a lot of opportunities and there is a lot more work to be done.
EPLF Innovation Manifesto adopted
Amongst other things, it was certain tendencies towards substitution in the Western European core market that prompted the EPLF Executive Committee to launch a special Association initiative last year – a new strategy paper formulating the self-perception of the Association and defining the guiding principles for future activities. The EPLF Innovation Manifesto was officially presented to and adopted by members in Mondsee.
Paul de Cock describes this EPLF initiative as follows: “Laminate is the flooring that has reinvented itself time after time across 40 years. Without the commitment of the European laminate industry and its suppliers, there would be no silent laminate flooring, no click systems, no synchronous pore printing and no digital printing. Our current products reflect Europe’s leadership in innovation. Constant innovation is manifested in tangible benefits for our customers – and from these we can derive development potential for our laminate floors, thereby securing our leadership claim into the future. We want to create momentum for the European laminate of the future and this is a major focal point of the work carried out by the EPLF. Our aim is to set in stone our future claim for European laminate.”
These ten propositions form the basis of the EPLF Innovation Manifesto:
1. European laminate producers have experience.
2. European laminate producers have courage.
3. European laminate producers are close to their markets.
4. European laminate producers foster competition.
5. European laminate producers support qualification.
6. European laminate producers promote dialogue.
7. European laminate producers guarantee standards.
8. European laminate producers create market presence.
9. European laminate producers have team spirit.
10. European laminate producers guarantee sustainability.
Each of these is listed and explained in detail in the document, which is due to be introduced to the public during the course of the year.
Paul De Cock continued: “The high standards we set for ourselves and our products define the significant lead that we have created over non-European competitors. By taking these ten points seriously and working hard every day to put them into practice, European laminate will remain what it justifiably is today: flooring that is fit for the future anywhere in the world – and the best laminate in the world.
Sustainability and social responsibility as goals
In order to implement its goals, the EPLF has been involved for a long time in the key issue of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) with potential regulations and voluntary commitments at European association level. From the Technical Position Paper of 1996/97 up to today’s EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations), the EPLF has rigorously upheld its sustainability strategy with a high degree of continuity. That is why, when we consider this within the EPLF, it is logical to expand and future-proof this strategy at the next stage through a collective, voluntary commitment to compliance. Victoria Neuhofer (Neuhofer Holz) had introduced the criteria of the UN Global Compact initiative to members of the Markets and Image Working Group, calling it a new and promising approach. Members decided that the EPLF should approach the UN bodies to explore the possibility of an appropriate solution for our association.
It was also decided that a minor amendment should be made to the German name of the EPLF Association, from “Verband der Europäischen Laminatfußbodenhersteller e.V.” to the shorter version “Verband der Europäischen Laminatbodenhersteller e.V.”.
The EPLF Working Groups will meet for more sessions throughout the year. The next major Association meeting will be at the invitation of extraordinary member Välinge Innovation Sweden and will take place on 16 and 17 May 2018 in Viken, Sweden.