Laminate flooring was invented in Sweden, based on previous experience in the furniture sector. HPL laminates with a woodgrain surface were used and these were specially equipped with aluminum oxide particles in the overlay sheet to provide increased wear resistance. In 2000, this high level of wear resistance became generally accepted as wear class 34 in the new European standard EN 13329. Since its inception, European laminate flooring has been setting the criteria all around the world for the many generations of laminate to follow.
The first direct laminated flooring (DPL, direct pressure laminate) was introduced. This brought laminate floor coverings out of the high price bracket to became products that were accessible to everyone.
The good price-performance ratio of European laminate ensured its global success and was also the reason why more and more manufacturers became involved with laminate and its continued development.
From 1996 onwards, click systems revolutionised the way European laminate floors were installed. They provided more solid and secure connections for the individual planks and made the floors altogether more durable.
The new click systems also led to a change in the product structure: European laminate floors were increasingly being made with an MDF/HDF substrate. This resulted in laminate planks becoming thinner overall. All these advantages helped European laminate gain more ground in the renovation market.
The use of loose or integrated underlays to reduce footfall noise considerably improved the acoustic characteristics of laminate floors. At the same time, the use of underlays was a crucial step in the concept of the system. In 2013, with the active collaboration of the EPLF, the technical specification CEN/TS 16354 for underlay materials was adopted. This specification gives detailed and standardised data on dimensions, mechanical and thermal properties, sound, fire and emissions behaviour plus moisture and ageing resistance – the basis of a future EU laminate underlay product standard.
A significant leap in quality for the surface appearance of European laminate floors took place with the development of synchronous pore printing (EIR). While DPL laminates still had a relatively smooth surface, the sensory impression was now enhanced with a realistic appearance and a tangible feel. Wood textures and realistic “V” grooves heightened the feel of real wood.
This new technique helped European laminate become the master of the rustic furnishing style, and the increasingly popular tile effects could be made to look even more realistic.
Indirect gravure printing (i.e. direct printing) was used as a fast production process for high-quality multi-colour printing. For the first time, the decorative surface could be applied directly to the HDF substrate using four-colour printing – without decorative paper. This brought more warmth to the plank surfaces, reduced the electric conductivity and increased the authenticity both in look and feel.
European laminate manufacturers developed longer planks, whilst avoiding repeats in the decor pattern. Using innovative printing technology, they introduced a genuine feeling of country house living to an interior. These larger planks showed the attractive wood effects with their natural colouring and textures to their best advantage. The new click systems allowed even the extra-long sizes to be installed quickly, with secure and tight-fitting connections. Laminate collections made in Europe were complemented by new, slimmer planks, providing even greater scope for interior design
Sustainability has been a priority amongst European laminate producers since the 1990s. One of the really pioneering achievements of the EPLF was to publish the first EPD for laminate floors back in 2008. This serves as a basic document for sustainable building and offers effective support for architects and planners. It also acts as proof that European laminate has superb environmental credentials.
From the point of view of the environment and sustainability, European laminate producers have been offering leading product ranges ever since then, thereby causing a shift in awareness within the market.
European laminate manufacturers are setting new standards in production through the use of industrial digital printing. This technology enables a faster reaction to customers’ wishes and allows new decor trends to be made in smaller batches as they can be produced economically. Different sizes can now be achieved more easily, and collections can include a far greater variety of colours.
Digital data transfer also enables a switch from centralised to decentralised production with less investment in cylinders, reduced set-up times and minimal storage costs. In this way, digital printing has opened up the possibility of new business models for the future.