Flexible polyurethane and latex foams promise cooler, more comfortable beds, and more customized sleep
By Betsi Robinson and Barbara Nelles
These days, suppliers of foams and latex to the mattress industry say they are intent on developing bedding components designed to enhance the sleep experience for the consumer. Top goals include finding the best ways to provide outstanding comfort and support—whether in mattresses, toppers or pillows—and, of course, regulating temperatures to keep sleepers cool and comfortable.
Suppliers have used this year’s big trade shows, including Interzum Cologne last spring in Cologne, Germany, and the more recent Summer Las Vegas Market in Las Vegas, to highlight product innovations. We’ll take a look first at what’s new in latex and then turn our attention to some new things in polyurethane and memory foams.
Latex rises—to the top of the bed
Arguably the biggest trend in latex foam for bedding is its growing importance as a mattress cushion layer. During the past few years, latex suppliers have introduced a range of contoured, convoluted, perforated and smooth sheets of latex that are meant to improve pressure relief, facilitate airflow at the bed’s surface—and add cachet to innerspring and polyurethane foam beds. Suppliers also have added new ingredients, such as graphite, phase-change material and gel, to enhance that comfort story—and that cachet.
Indeed “just a touch of latex”—as little as a ½-inch quilting layer—can be all it takes to make a good bed even better, and command a higher price point, of course.
New takes on Talalay
Talalay latex is gaining a more public profile thanks to its proponents’ marketing efforts, which tout the companies’ improved, energy-efficient manufacturing processes and vigorously promote their 100% natural latex offerings, without additives or fillers.
Vita Talalay by Radium Foam, with headquarters in Maastricht, Netherlands, has placed a major focus on educating consumers about the advantages of its Talalay latex, especially its 100% natural Talalay latex, says Ila Farshad, Vita Talalay manager of business development.
“We work with our customers to get the message out to consumers about the advantages of Talalay latex,” Farshad says. “And the strategy is working. Our sales volume is way, way up, year after year, and our distribution now is global.” The latex supplier proudly announced at Interzum Cologne that its Natural latex collection earned Cradle to Cradle Silver certification from the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute in the Netherlands.
“Consumer interest in health and wellness and ‘100% natural’ plays an important role in driving sales of Vita Talalay Natural and in our long-term marketing direction,” says Cees Zielman, Vita Talalay general manager.
The company produces five types of latex in nine comfort levels using the Talalay production process. The Natural collection is made solely with the sap of hevea brasiliensis, the rubber tree. Other collections, including newer Intuition latex, which contains microencapsulated phase-change material, have a percentage of petrochemical-based content.
One way Vita Talalay hopes to educate and introduce consumers to Talalay latex is through the launch of an attractive latex pillow collection with five silhouettes, for every sleep position. Pillow borders are covered in a soft, white double-knit ticking and vented with gray spacer fabric. “We want manufacturers to brand these pillows with us,” Farshad says. A new customer- and consumer-facing website, VitaTalalay.com, launched in May.
Shelton, Connecticut-based Talalay Global unveiled a unique offering at the Summer Las Vegas Market: Talalay latex cores and toppers infused with copper. The new latex is part of the company’s Talalay Mineral collection, which also includes graphite-infused Talalay latex.
“When we first introduced Talalay Graphite, we saw tremendous customer and consumer engagement,” says Ken Hinman, Talalay Global executive vice president of marketing. “Based on the success of the first product, we decided to expand the line into other areas with additional minerals. Our manufacturing partners have been very interested in using components featuring natural minerals. Through these introductions, we are helping them develop proprietary products that give their brands an edge in the marketplace.”
The company says the addition of copper to already highly resilient Talalay latex creates an exceptionally durable mattress that will not break down and take body sets. In a news release about the new product, Talalay Global makes an array of health claims about the copper-infused latex, from reducing restlessness and improving sleep to easing arthritis and rheumatism. The company also says Talalay Copper has greater dust-mite resistance and antimicrobial properties than other types of latex.
Dunlop producers have worked hard in recent years to perfect vulcanization and foaming processes that yield a consistent, durable product.
Latex supplier Arpico, a Richard Pieris Natural Foams Ltd. company, specializes in 100% natural latex and GOLS-certified organic latex—with no fillers and no synthetic latex. The vertically integrated company, which has headquarters in Maharagama, Sri Lanka, owns rubber tree plantations and nearby manufacturing facilities and has 40 years of experience producing Dunlop-process latex for bedding.
“There is a big demand from innerspring bed makers to have some latex in the mattress,” says Januka Karunasena, Arpico chief executive officer. “Manufacturers are using latex as a quilting or a comfort layer in 10 millimeter to 5 centimeter heights. They see great value in being able to say there is latex in the bed.”
Recently, Arpico made significant capital investments in its production capacity for mattress components and introduced continuous-sheeting latex in various heights, Karunasena says. “We now have an 80-container per month capacity with two production lines—one for block and one for continuous sheeting, which is a highly consistent topper latex that is not sliced from a block, but is poured onto a bed, vulcanized with steam and dried.”
Dunlop latex supplier Latexco, with world headquarters in Tielt, Belgium, repositioned itself as a “comfort company” in 2013 when it diversified and added a line of polyurethane foams called Flo Fom. The launch followed the 2012 introduction of Latexco Pulse, a latex produced via the patented SonoCore process. This energy-efficient method yields latex with “excellent ventilation;” a uniform and open-cell structure; and superior durability and tensile strength, the company says.
This year, Latexco won an Interzum Intelligent Material & Design award for Pulse Fusion, an advancement in the SonoCore process that allows Pulse latex to be bonded to other materials—including the company’s Flo Foms—without adhesives. Currently, Pulse latex and the Pulse Fusion process are available in Europe. By year-end, Latexco will commence production of Pulse latex for toppers in the United States.
This year, Lien A, a latex producer with headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, added a new latex for toppers, which it manufactures using an improved, Dunlop continuous-production process. The company has been manufacturing latex using “a proprietary recipe” since 1987.
Lien A’s nonperforated, 1-inch sheeting latex has a very smooth surface and is “highly consistent,” says Le Phuc (Robben) Thinh, Lien A international business developer.
The company’s business in China, Japan, Korea, the United States and Russia is growing rapidly, Le says. “We ship high-quality cores, pillows and comfort layers to many satisfied customers.” The company also ships to manufacturers in northern Europe and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
In China, Lien A’s sheet latex is used in mattresses, as well as in popular latex-filled comforters. Lien A also has upped pillow production to satisfy growing demand for latex pillows in China, Japan and Korea.
Polyurethane foams take the temp down and comfort up
To create cooler, more comfortable sleep surfaces, suppliers of polyurethane and memory foams are using a combination of techniques—coring and contouring foams, adding phase-change materials and creating more open-cell formulations. They’ve also rolled out new solutions intended for comfort layers.
Elite Foam is focusing on temperature regulation by bringing highly conductive materials, such as aluminum, graphite and ceramic gel, closer to the surface of foams used in sleep products.
“We are a very creative company,” says David Wright, vice president of the company, which has headquarters in Newnan, Georgia. “We are figuring out how to address issues that consumers often cite with beds, and so often that is temperature regulation. We are taking all those technologies and figuring out how to bring them closer to the surface.” The company launched CoolTouch, but now has begun shipping the product, which brings a phase-change gel that remains breathable to the surface of the foam. Elite Foam also has unveiled LumaGel, a product infused with microparticles of aluminum.
“Aluminum is highly conductive,” Wright says. “It helps pull heat away from the surface and regulates the temperature surface of the mattress.”
HSM Bedding Solutions is developing CoolActive transitional foams, which contain phase-change material and other technologies to cool and diffuse body heat. The products are being designed to be used singly or in a layered system to create a custom temperature combination, says Rick Anthony, director of sales for the Hickory, North Carolina-based company.
“It embraces various additives that we are developing to give it performance-enhancing characteristics—in this case, thermal conductivity,” Anthony says. “The idea is to pull the heat away from the sleep surface and then disperse it so it doesn’t build back up and return to the sleep surface at a certain point.”
Anthony continues: “It’s not so much how the foam is used, it is more about what is added to it. We are focusing on advancements that have valid benefits and features, where the products are based in science and performance, not just marketing and sizzle. It’s allowing us to really put some science inside of the bed. … It is improving the sleep experience for the consumer at the end of the day.”
Vita Climate Control is a new temperature-regulating foam from Draka Interfoam, based in Hillegom, Netherlands. It features a combination of cooling elements in visco-elastic and conventional foam formulas. The company also has unveiled a new, more breathable HR foam that sales manager Dennes Need says is “30% more open cell than regular foam” for improved airflow.
Dublin-based Kayfoam offers a full line of gel-infused memory foams, including those with additional phase-change materials. This year, it rolled out a patented, surface-infused gel foam that concentrates the phase-change technology and gel to the top of the foam, where it can be most useful in keeping sleepers comfortable.
Carpenter Co., with headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, is touting two nonvisco-elastic products designed for mattress comfort layers and pillows. Thermic, which is distributed in Europe, addresses cooling issues—it contains temperature-regulating, phase-change material and also is highly breathable. But the company’s Serene product is a polyurethane foam designed to relieve pressure while remaining highly durable.
“Advancements in the chemistry have produced new foams that are not visco but still reduce pressure to elevate comfort,” says Dan Schecter, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Carpenter. “These foams are not temperature-sensitive yet self-adjust to individual body contours and have a high degree of support. … This science is the beginning of a revolution in comfort technology.”
For a growing number of mattress manufacturers, retailers and distributors, the industry’s voluntary CertiPUR-US® certification program for flexible polyurethane foam offers an effective way to allay consumer concerns about the chemical composition of their products. Here’s a roundup of the latest news and updates about the increasingly popular program:
■ This fall, CertiPUR-US is launching its first national publicity program to introduce the campaign to mattress consumers. The program will distribute news releases to newspapers and help develop feature articles for consumer magazines. The campaign kicked off Sept. 30 with both a story and ad in a USA Today sleep supplement that ran in New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.
■ Due to the latest scientific findings on the chemical flame retardants TDCPP and TCEP (“Tris”), CertiPUR-US changed its Technical Guidelines in January 2015 for flexible foam producers. You can find all program criteria, including prohibited FRs, at www.certipur.us/FAQ or in the Technical Guidelines section on the website.
■ Registered participants can access free or low-cost items such as hangtags, consumer brochures, flyers, FAQs, video files and more at www.certipur.us/tools.