BY GARY JAMES
Suppliers are taking seriously demands for products that support, conform, dissipate heat—and survive being rolled and boxed
As consumers become more and more savvy about what they want in a mattress, bedding producers are constantly on the lookout for new flexible polyurethane foams to help them improve the sleep experience.
Enhanced comfort, airflow and temperature regulation remain the most sought-after features among today’s consumers, according to research conducted by FXI, a PU foam specialist based in Media, Pennsylvania. But other new technologies and benefits, including smart systems and customization, also are generating interest.
To respond to demand for more tailored sleep solutions, foam producers are stepping up their research-and-development efforts and rolling out PU foams with improved performance. The key goal: “Consumers want enhanced comfort, and our (mattress manufacturing) customers are looking for added features to help deliver that benefit, as well as tell their story,” says Diane Adams, chief marketing officer at FXI.
Managing heat and moisture
FXI has introduced several new foams that enhance comfort and help consumers sleep better. The newest is AmbiAire, a premium, specialty viscoelastic foam with a completely open-cell structure. According to the company, AmbiAire delivers 100% consistent, maximum airflow, plus exceptional comfort and conformance.
“Drawing both heat and moisture away from the body is critical for effective temperature management,” Adams says. “The high level of airflow that AmbiAire’s cell structure allows transfers both heat and moisture more quickly and effectively than standard open-cell viscos in the marketplace today. When placed within the top layers of a mattress, it delivers the best temperature management to the sleeper. Even when compressed, the airflow remains constant.”
AmbiAire also is durable and offers the comfort, pressure relief and support needed for a good night’s sleep, Adams adds.
In addition to AmbiAire, FXI has added three other PU foams to its offerings—Cyprium, VeroComfort and Climate Flow.
Cyprium is a copper-infused gel memory foam. According to FXI, the two materials work together to provide a zoned comfort system: The memory foam cradles main pressure points while the copper gel pushes back where there is less pressure to provide support. This approach creates waved zones of alternating pressure relief and support.
Cyprium also has an open-cell structure for improved breathability and greater heat dissipation when compared with traditional viscos, according to the company.
FXI’s line of VeroComfort memory foams provides pressure relief across an extended range of temperature and humidity levels while still delivering a viscolike feel with slow recovery. VeroComfort foams can be rolled, compressed and shipped, making them suitable for direct-to-consumer online retailers.
“Consumers will experience a luxurious, enveloping feel in a variety of environments,” Adams says. “Manufacturers will experience greater ease and consistency in fabrication.”
Climate Flow, a reticulated flexible PU foam composite developed to maximize airflow while maintaining structure and durability, initially was designed as a ventilated seat spacer for automobiles. However, due to its high permeability and performance in terms of temperature management and pressure distribution, FXI “is seeing more and more interest from bedding manufacturers in this product,” Adams says. Climate Flow can be used as a layer within a mattress to promote horizontal and vertical airflow, while providing a pleasant cushioning.
Going forward, Adams says, FXI will continue to work on new ways to enhance the sleep experience. Currently, it’s experimenting with sculpted foam, using the company’s proprietary Surface Modification Technology to “provide the right combination of pressure relief and support for proper spinal alignment,” she says.
Creating alternating waved zones of pressure relief and support exactly where the body needs it—envelopment in key pressure points such as the shoulder, hip, lower leg and heel but support in other areas, like the lumbar region—also is achieved through the combination of SMT and layering. “The demand for this type of intricate and performance-based sculpting and foam system layering is growing,” Adams says.
FXI also is seeing bedding makers increasingly use channels to promote airflow—not just at the top, but throughout the entire mattress. In addition, FXI is offering foams infused with more materials. Along with copper-infused Cyprium, the company sells foams incorporating phase-change materials, gel beads and gel swirls. The reason is two-fold. “One, we are always trying to improve the performance of our foams. This could be related to temperature, comfort, support or durability. New or different ingredients can help in that respect,” Adams says. “Two, the addition of some of these ingredients allows our customers to differentiate themselves and makes it easier to communicate the performance benefits to the consumer.”
To support the development of new technologies, FXI is making ongoing investments in its Research and Innovation Center in Aston, Pennsylvania. The facility is equipped with cutting-edge equipment and technologies designed to develop and improve the company’s foams.
Improved access to new technologies
During the past 18 months, Arsenal Capital Partners has been busy integrating the PU foam operations and product lines of its three recent acquisitions—Newnan, Georgia-based Elite Foam; the Foam Solutions division of HSM Corp. in Conover, North Carolina; and Pacific Urethanes LLC in Ontario, California—into a single brand and company. Now known as Elite Comfort Solutions, the company boasts a network of 12 foam production facilities nationwide and headquarters in Newnan. Since completing the acquisitions, Arsenal has invested capital in the ECS facilities to bring them up to the same standards and capabilities. Foams historically poured at one location can now be produced at all.
“With our broad and deep industry position, ECS is uniquely qualified to provide e-commerce, retail and original-equipment-manufacturer customers with the most advanced technology solutions in the polyurethane foam market today,” says Matt Anderson, vice president.
In addition, the integration of Elite Foam, Foam Solutions and Pacific Urethanes into a single entity gives bedding producers and e-commerce retailers new options for serving their markets, Anderson says.
“We have the ability to support national programs from a variety of locations, with reduced lead times for orders and much faster ship times,” he says. “And our customers have access to all of our products, including specialty high-tech foams, from any one of our pour sites.”
ECS’s flagship product is CoolFlow, an advanced memory foam designed to provide viscoelastic properties without relying on cell tightness to achieve its slow recovery rate. In fact, the open-cell nature of CoolFlow enables it to relax more quickly in response to body heat, providing greater comfort and support, Anderson says.
“We’re investing a lot of money and time in this area to develop new industry-leading formulations in memory foam with enhanced open-cell architecture and breathability,” he says. “We’re also infusing our memory foam with new densities and combinations of gel and hyper-conductive materials that allow us to offer very tailored feature-benefit presentations.”
ECS’s line includes several PU brands with infused materials. They include CopperGel Visco, which combines the hyper-conductive, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties of copper with the cooling support of gel; and LumaGel, which combines the performance characteristics of visco, micro-aluminum and gel for pressure relief, cooling comfort, and improved durability. The company also makes Energex, which provides the pressure-
relieving advantages of viscoelastic along with the faster recovery times of latex.
In addition to those brands, ECS is bringing PU foams to the marketplace that feature surface infusion technology. This technology, which applies phase-change materials to the struts of the foam without cutting off airflow, improves the thermal conductivity of the substrate foam by more quickly dissipating heat away from the source. Depending on the product grade, the thermal infusion layer on the surface can absorb as much as 30 times more heat than the same amount of visco, ECS’s research has found.
These days, foamers and bed producers alike are looking at every place in a mattress where foam can be used to identify new ways to improve the sleep experience. In the past, the upholstered layers got the most attention but now “everyone is investing in every area of the bed, from the core support and quilting layers to the toppers and side rails,” Anderson says. “There’s not a single component that we’re not looking at. Each area has its own role to play.”
Whether it’s a highly breathable foam with a hyper-conductive aspect that dissipates body heat, a foam with improved durability or a foam that provides more comfort, “we’re helping our customers bring all the technologies to bear so they can best leverage them across every aspect of the bed,” Anderson says. “At the end of the day, we want to do all we can to help consumers sleep cooler and have a more comfortable, restful experience on a bed that lasts for many years.”
One area ECS is exploring is quiltable foams.
“We’ve gotten a lot of requests from our customers who are seeking ways to bring the specialty story up to the surface of the mattress,” Anderson says. “By having a deployable technology in the quilt, we’re able to offer a strong feature-benefit set with a very attractive cost proposition.”
Also in the spotlight are dual-action phase-change materials. In this approach, two different phase-change materials, each with its own activation point, are integrated into a foam layer to respond to the temperature needs of separate sleepers or even the needs of a single sleeper.
“Dual-action PCMs can provide a desirable range of temperature for each side of the bed or the feet or torso of a sleeper, with different activation points for each region,” Anderson says.
ECS also offers a comprehensive line of specialty foams for use in molded pillows, toppers and other sleep accessories that incorporate similar technologies as its mattress foams.
Quest for constant improvement
Carpenter Co.’s newest PU foam is Flair. Designed for comfort and support, Flair has three times the airflow of comparable materials, provides greater support thanks to its bounce factor and is extremely durable, says Dan Schecter, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Richmond, Virginia-based company.
Other products Carpenter recently has added to its PU line include Serene Foam and Aurora. Serene Foam is a memory foam substitute that adjusts to individual body contours, providing support that memory foam doesn’t, according to the company. Plus, because the material doesn’t envelop the user, it doesn’t cause the heat buildup often associated with memory foam.
Aurora, on the other hand, is “comfort pure and simple and gives any sleep surface a plush feel,” Schecter says. “This material is wide open, resulting in significant airflow.”
These new foams enhance the comfort and support of a mattress, are low odor and are different from any other material on the market, Schecter says, adding that Carpenter offers a breadth of other foams used in mattresses, furniture, consumer products and other applications.
“Carpenter Co. is always improving our chemistry to evolve our materials and create new materials,” he says. “We also are always improving our production methods because continuous improvement is a foundation of our company.”
Schecter says today’s consumers seek meaningful technology and quality materials. “They are looking for products that do what they say they will do. … There are authentic material improvements and ‘whammy jammie’ materials out there, as well. Fake improvements, wild and unsubstantiated claims, and such will, in the end, hurt the industry,” he says.
In Schecter’s opinion, ongoing improvements in production and chemistry are making sleep surfaces more comfortable and supportive. While he can’t share specific advances Carpenter is working on, he says the company is “always looking for improved science to make better and more comfortable materials.” The company also strives for new ways to improve durability through chemistry and surface design.
“The single biggest driver of our efforts is today’s consumer,” he says. “What they want, how they want it, where they buy it, and how they perceive and define value are the key to dealing with and succeeding in the years to come.”
At Lavonia, Georgia-based Latexco U.S. Holdings LLC, which named Ben Ducatteeuw its new chief executive officer in January, 2017 has brought a renewed emphasis on research and development. A wholly owned subsidiary of Latexco NV in Tielt, Belgium, Latexco U.S. has ramped up its R&D activities and invested in automated equipment, including new boxed-bed machines, for its Georgia pouring facility.
With its ability to pour both PU foams and latex, as well as handle boxed-bed and other mattress fulfillment, Latexco is a one-stop shop for its customers, Ducatteeuw says.
“We have it all—that’s our unique selling proposition,” he says. “We can provide whatever material is needed—PU, latex or any combination—to deliver the exact softness, firmness and other properties the customer requires.”
In PU foams, Latexco’s recent introductions include COR Fom, an MDI foundation foam that also can be used as a transition layer. Designed for boxed-bed applications, COR Fom rebounds quickly and fully after decompression.
“The typical base foam will lose firmness after decompression, as well as a bit of height. COR
Fom offers a lot better performance after decompressing, with minimal firmness or height loss,” Ducatteeuw says.
The company’s FLO Fom, a hybrid of memory foam and bouncier PU foam, also is designed for use in either the core or a transition layer.
“The new sensation of medium release and medium recovery makes you feel like you’re floating,” Ducatteeuw says. “When you press it in, it feels like memory foam and when you release, it performs like an HR (high-resilience) foam.”
NEU Fom, another recent introduction, is a pneumatic foam that uses cell design rather than chemistry to deliver a balance of slow release and fast recovery. The foam cradles like memory foam but with better support and recovery.
“You can take a 4-by-4-inch sample and press it to the size of chewing gum,” he says, “and it will always come back to the same shape, size and height as it started.”
Because of the way Latexco pours its foam—using gravity-fed technology rather than a long, continuous production line—the company is well-positioned to create small batches of products for its customers, Ducatteeuw says.
“We call it ‘customized innovation,’ ” he explains. “If a customer wants to differentiate the look and feel of a foam or add special infusions or coatings, we can do that.”
Going forward, Latexco plans to take a more market-oriented approach “fully focused on customized and innovative solutions,” Ducatteeuw says. “We will further invest in our R&D capabilities. And we have just expanded our sales, customer service and marketing teams with great new talent.”
Boxed beds have foamers rethinking polyurethane
As the boxed-bed market has surged, so too have the research-and-development activities of leading flexible polyurethane foam producers.
To deliver a quality sleep experience, foams used in boxed beds must be able to roll and compress easily—and then bounce back quickly and responsively, without any degradation of comfort or support. Such foams also must be durable, so their performance holds up during both the rigors of shipping and through many years of use in the home.
“The boxed-bed growth has had a definite impact on the foam segment,” says Diane Adams, chief marketing officer for FXI, which has headquarters in Media, Pennsylvania. “This channel continues to grow and omnichannel marketing is becoming increasingly important. Creating innovative solutions and communicating the differentiation of products is one of FXI’s strengths and a value we provide to our customers.”
As the boxed-bed market has gained steam, mattress producers and retailers increasingly are turning to their foam suppliers for new solutions to meet their needs.
“Boxed beds have changed the definition of ‘durability,’ ” says Ben Ducatteeuw, chief executive officer of Latexco U.S. Holdings LLC, which is based in Lavonia, Georgia, and is part of Tielt, Belgium-based Latexco NV. “We usually think of durability as how long the mattress will perform for a consumer, but, with boxed beds, you also have to consider how durable the mattress is when it is sitting compressed in a box in a warehouse for a few months before being purchased. Will it have any firmness or density loss or loss in height due to the length of time it’s been compressed?”
After a mattress is bought and unboxed at home, there are other performance issues to consider.
“The consumer expects to open the box and sleep on their new bed as soon as possible. So, it’s very important that the foam recover quickly—and fully,” Ducatteeuw says. With new boxed-bed players continuing to enter the market, this segment is a major focus of Latexco’s R&D efforts, he adds.
Elite Comfort Solutions, based in Newnan, Georgia, also is paying attention to the boxed-bed segment.
“Boxed beds are a highly valued item in the eyes of younger consumers,” says Matt Anderson, ECS vice president. “As this group grows in terms of market share, the importance of producers and retailers offering a boxed-bed option is only going to increase.”
In response, ECS has been accelerating its investments in products for the e-commerce arena, while still maintaining a strong presence in the conventional side of the bedding business. Areas of current study at the company involve heat dissipation, foam durability structures, foam firmness and comfort ratios.
“We are always looking for the next best technology we can bring to offer a meaningful step forward,” Anderson says, noting that individual e-commerce customers have their own needs in terms of how products are packaged and delivered, as well as target price points. “But at every price point, they are looking to us for solutions that help them deliver the best sleep experience they can.”
For the entire industry, this is a time of great disruption, Anderson says. And boxed beds are only the tip of the iceberg.
“The industry is undergoing an intense period of change that is reshaping every segment of the business—on the retail, manufacturing and supply sides, where the old ways of designing, manufacturing and marketing mattresses are rapidly evolving, and on the consumer side, where shopping and purchasing decisions are being made in an entirely new way,” he says.
All these forces being in flux at the same time is rare.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Anderson says. “But it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the industry to rebrand itself and find new ways to improve sleep, offer a more meaningful purchase experience and improve the velocity of the mattress-purchase cycle.”
CertiPUR-US foam certification by the numbers
The CertiPUR-US foam certification program is having a significant impact on flexible polyurethane foams used in mattresses and bedding products sold in the United States.
In just the past few months, the nearly 10-year-old program—which previously was limited to certification of slabstock foam—launched a certification program for molded foam. And with a new social media push, the debut of the Home Sweet Foam blog and the launch of a national publicity campaign, all indicators show the program growing stronger.
Here’s an at-a-glance look at the program, which is based in Rochester Hills, Michigan, and administered by the Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam Inc.:
6 — Number of foam producers already offering certified molded foams. The new foam certification officially was launched by the CertiPUR-US program in August, following a one-year beta test. Previously, only slabstock foams could be certified.
43 — Participating foam producers from Canada, China, Mexico, Vietnam and the United States.
60 — Approximate number of days it takes for a foam product to go through the certification process.
88 — Percentage of company and brand representatives who consider it beneficial to be listed in the CertiPUR-US online
consumer directory, according to a 2017 survey.
121 — Number of foam families (conventional, memory, molded, etc.) currently certified.
708 — Approximate number of bedding and upholstered furniture companies and brands listed as containing or selling products containing CertiPUR-US certified foams.
1,172 — Retail sales associates and customer service representatives who have taken the free, online, 20-minute CertiPUR-US certificate of knowledge course.
Headquarters: Richmond, Virginia
Contact: Dan Schecter, senior vice president of sales and marketing
Carpenter Co., headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, is the world’s largest maker of polyurethane foam and a leading processor of polyester fiber for the bedding industry. In addition, Carpenter produces a wide selection of bed pillows, mattress pads and mattress toppers sold by leading retailers across Canada, Mexico and the United States. From new memory foam technology like Avela and hybrid foams that self-adjust and support like Avena to traditional memory foam such as Isotonic, Carpenter’s mission is to “Bring Comfort to Your Life.”
Headquarters: Newnan, Georgia
Contact: David Wright, senior vice president
Elite Comfort Solutions, based in Newnan, Georgia, offers polyurethane foams for the bedding, furniture, automotive, medical and packaging industries. From the high airflow and convective cooling of its open-cell CoolFlow foam to the conductive cooling of its ThermaGel foam, ECS strives to advance the evolution of temperature-
regulating foams. Its latest advance, ThermaPhase Gel, features an encapsulated phase-change gel that amplifies thermal regulation.
Headquarters: Media, Pennsylvania
Media, Pennsylvania-based FXI offers a wide range of flexible polyurethane foams for bedding that are designed to deliver a variety of benefits, from pressure relief and enhanced support to temperature regulation and moisture management. The company’s line also includes highly technical foams for other applications, such as specialized pressure-relieving foams for medical use, a portfolio of automotive foams, and solutions for acoustics and filtration.
Headquarters: Lavonia, Georgia
Contact: Ben Ducatteeuw, chief executive officer
Latexco U.S. Holdings LLC manufactures mattress cores made of various materials, including natural latex, a combination of natural and synthetic latex, technical polyurethane foams, and a combination of latex and PU foams. During the production process, the company can tailor the density/firmness, height and size of its foams to meet customer specifications. The company also produces finished mattresses, pillows and toppers using latex and PU foams for its original-equipment-manufacturer customers. n