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Morbern Blog Articles

Vinyl vs. Polyurethane: Which is Better? Part 1

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There is a lot of information out there about polyurethane as an upholstery cover, but not so much about vinyl. Both are effective, man-made coated fabrics used in a wide variety of settings, and both form an impenetrable barrier between user and product.

So where do they differ? Here’s a look at how the two materials stack up:

Durability Vinyl has been proven to last years longer in the field than polyurethane, which succumbs to moisture loses elasticity over time.

Vinyl is not susceptible to water or moisture from occupants. That is why vinyl is used in swimming pool liners and for window frames and vinyl siding. With the correct topfinish, many vinyl fabrics feel like natural leather. Interestingly, all major automotive companies have replaced all polyurethane and most leather upholstery with vinyl fabrics.

Cleanability With the COVID-19 pandemic making it critical to properly disinfect surfaces, cleanability has become one of the most important characteristics of upholstered surfaces. Vinyl is highly cleanable, standing up to the rigors of bleach and quaternary ammonia. In contrast, polyurethane is vulnerable to many cleaning agents and disinfectants, making it more difficult to clean without damaging the material, resulting is fading, flaking and brittleness.

That cleanability, along with vinyl’s ability to serve as an effective barrier against germs, has made it invaluable for use in personal protection equipment, protecting medical professionals from some of the most virulent diseases in the world.

Adapting to Change: How Morbern Has Responded to an Evolving Market

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The upholstery marketplace is ever-changing, and that has never been more true than in the year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. John Weaver, executive vice president, sales and marketing at Morbern shares the changes he’s seen and how Morbern is evolving to meet those needs.

For those who may not be familiar, can you tell me a bit about Morbern? 

Morbern is a geographically diverse organization with sales and operations throughout the world. We have a presence in Canada, the United States, Mexico, South America, multiple countries in Europe, Africa, India and throughout the Asian Pacific.

We are primarily focused on upholstery applications—our products are PVC-coated fabrics, PU-coated fabrics and body cloth fabrics.

Morbern serves multiple markets, including transportation, marine, recreational products, commercial interiors and entertainment venues, focusing on transportation and public seating areas. You’ll find our products in automobiles, heavy trucks, tow motor vehicles (like those found in manufacturing warehouse facilities), recreational vehicles, mass transit vehicles, marine craft, cruise liners, hospitals and medical facilities, hotels, casinos, airports and personal vehicles like jet skis and golf carts. If you can sit on it, it’s a market we serve.

Of the markets you’re in, which are growing/changing the most?

All our markets are growing and changing. Customer demand and expectations for performance improvement are unrelenting, and the challenge to meet changes in expectations is continuous.

What performance attributes are key in your fabrics?

Tailor-ability is key in all our markets. Our products are primarily used in upholstery applications, so the ease of cutting, sewing and tailoring is paramount. To meet the customer’s tailor-ability requirements, our products have to meet guidelines for strength, stretch, consistency and weight.

How have these attributes changed? 

The customers’ expectations continue to increase, so our performance coated fabrics need to improve continuously. For example, in regard to clean-ability, cleaning with soap and water was enough in the past. Now, the fabric has to withstand the harsh cleaners and disinfectants (while still being soap- and water-cleanable). And with tailor-ability, previously, our product was used in low-stretch applications. Now, all parts of an application, such as a fully upholstered seat, are covered with our product. Being able to tailor around tight radii is an essential characteristic of our products.

Do you use special coatings on finishes on the fabrics to enhance performance?

Every yard manufactured is coated for the performance requirements of our customers. When a product leaves our facility, it is maintenance-free from a coating perspective, as our customers need not apply or reapply any finishes. The only maintenance required is the cleaning of the product, and that is at the customers’ discretion. And again, cleaning with soap and water is the most effective.

How have the requirements from the health care industry changed over the past couple of years?

The healthcare industry is evolving rapidly, and it has driven several new requirements. The industry called for phthalate- and flame retardant-free fabrics, so we created a full line of phthalate-free and flame retardant-free materials. The health care industry also called for upholstery that’s able to be cleaned with quat disinfectants and bleach, so we developed fabrics to respond to that demand. Finally, the desire for mildew retardant-free materials spurred us to develop a full line for use in health care.

Aside from obvious differences, like water-repellency, UV-resistance, etc., how do the performance and style needs for outdoor fabrics differ from those of indoor fabrics?

Customers expect the same quality, performance and cleanability standards, no matter where they use their materials. Our outdoor material must meet the indoor requirements –such as cleanability, longevity, durability, tailorability—and the additional requirements of UV performance (resistance to fading) and mildew resistance.

An Interview with Jean Claude Chabot

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Since 1996, Jean Claude Chabot has been an integral part of the Morbern team. Currently vice president of process improvement at Morbern, and formerly vice president of manufacturing operations, Chabot is a trained chemist with a long history of shaping Morbern’s products and processes.

We recently caught up with Chabot to learn more about his experience and the role of chemistry in Morbern’s products.

You speak French and English—how did you become bilingual? 

I was born and raised in French Québec in a multiethnic neighborhood. I learned the basics of English in high school, but when I joined the Canadian Armed Forces Naval Reserve, I was immersed in an English environment. Because lives are at stakes in a military environment, there cannot be any miscommunication, so English was the only language spoken. The learning curve in that environment is at warp speed.

Speaking the language of another group allows one to be exposed to their history, their art and their culture, and provides a vehicle to connect personally to people who otherwise would stay foreign to you.

What other lessons did you learn in the Navy? 

The Armed Forces is a mini-society were everyone has to count on each other for a common goal—the goals are often impossible to achieve by one person alone and require a group effort. No jobs are futile, and every job is equally important.  But the most important thing I learned is that you can vigorously debate your ideas with your leader during the preparation phase, however, when a decision is made, the job has to be carried out, and it’s not the time to argue.

What sparked your interest in chemistry? 

Science and understanding how things work have always been passions of mine, even from a young age. Two chemistry professors in college opened my eyes on the impact of chemistry in today’s world.

What role does chemistry play in the development of vinyl?

Chemistry defines the performance attributes of an article and the process parameters that must be observed for a product to process efficiently. However, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, statistics, finance, sales and regulatory roles are just as important.

Do you have a favorite product youve developed? 

The bulk of my career with Morbern was in production management and process improvement, and during that time my group developed the original automotive product lines for Ford and General Motors. My favorite endeavors are ones our customers are not necessarily aware of—I get the greatest pleasure in streamlining production operations, correcting problems, maximizing utilization of raw materials and reducing waste.

What drove you to spend most of your career at Morbern?

I am a faithful person, and I feel a sense of responsibility for Morbern’s success as a business and as a corporate citizen. Morbern provides an intellectually stimulating environment—members of my group have been selected for their creativity and excellence, and it’s very stimulating and challenging to be around them. What keeps me going is the satisfaction of the small successes realized every day.

What are the biggest changes youve seen since joining Morbern?

The biggest change is the reduction of cost for acquiring and manipulating data. Sensors and software to manage large databases are more accessible today. It’s not unusual for a factory of our size to capture and control 1,000+ variables spread over several processes.

How do you translate high-level scientific concepts when talking to non-science-based teams?

As a young chemist, I remember giving a technical presentation to an audience composed of technical and lay people. I could clearly feel the interest of the technical members and the complete boredom of the others. I quickly learned that technical people will mentally fill in the gaps in a conversation where the level of language is more suited to the lay person, but the opposite is not true. You have to ensure the concepts are clearly explained with words that are meaningful to your audience.

If money was no object, what would we find you doing?

I’d hire help for housework, yard work—I wouldn’t even change a light bulb. I’d be more available for my family and spend more time with my grandchildren.

Morbern’s marine market expert Lynn Prouty talks boats, Lake Michigan and the importance of resilience

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How long have you been in the marine business?

I have been in the industry for the last 25 years.

What attracts you to it?  

As a child, our family would spend every weekend on our family boat traveling and fishing the waters of Lake Michigan visiting the coastal ports throughout the Great Lakes.

Boating is an outdoor lifestyle that encompasses all of my favorite things in life: sun, sand, surf, family, and activities on the water. Whether my feet are in the sandy beaches along the fresh water of Lake Michigan, in a kayak floating down the river, or fishing offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, I am relaxed and having fun.

Do you live near the water?

Currently I live in Grand Haven, Michigan, along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

How did you get started?

My mother worked in the industry as a sales representative and designer starting in the early 80s and ask me to come on board to assist her with projects in the late 90s.  At that time, we had the greater market share of marine manufacturers as our customer base. From our studio in the small cottage town of Grand Haven, we developed design packages every model year for both fabrics (bedding, curtains, and pillows) and interior and exterior upholstery vinyl (provided by Morbern).

How are Morbern’s marine vinyls superior to other products in the marketplace?

As a member of the Chemical Film and Fabric Association, Morbern helps define “superior” quality standards for the vinyl industry. What differentiates Morbern’s product from our competition is that we manufacture in North America and our product development team is in house.

Morbern has two proprietary developments that set us apart. The first is our legendary leather-like topcoat, Allante.  Many have tried to knock it off over the past 20 years, but have not been successful. The second would be our new Splash construction, a four-way stretch premium upholstery vinyl, offered in several patterns: Bayside, Surf, Sandpiper and Voyager. This product allows the customer (manufacturer) to use one construction across multiple applications.

What have been the biggest changes in the marine business since you started in the industry?

In the ’80s manufacturers were very engaged in working with vinyl suppliers to create products and colors that were exclusive to their brand. For instance, Baja boats would require a fresh palette of color every year. Many colors were considered custom, but Morbern would be challenged to set the bar in color and design from year to year.  As a result, the number of skus we offered in our stock program was much larger than what we offer today.

After the recession of 2008, marine manufacturers streamlined their color packages to the customer. Instead of offering 12 different base color upholstery packages, they may only offer four (white, gray, tan and taupe). The accent colors were reduced from 25 to six.

Probably the biggest change in the past 10 to 15 years would be the versatility and flexibility we offer the customer. They still want to play a creative role in developing the interiors and exterior seating, but they are now looking for products that will give them a competitive edge. From better tailorability to a softer hand, new grain options and special finishes, Morbern has done a great job of dialing in on the key variables and creating product lines to address them.

How has the pandemic affected the marine business?

In 2020, when faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, Morbern had to shut down its manufacturing for several weeks. Fortunately, we were deemed an essential business and allow to reopen. As many manufacturers did, we had to pivot from our standard production processes and try to fulfill orders with limited staffing. This created challenges as we started to experience a surge in demand from several of the markets we supply: marine, automotive, heavy truck and recreational vehicles. We have added shifts and employees in Canada to meet the increased demand.

Describe your perfect day on the water.  

Warm sunshine, a slight summer breeze and calm waters, sounded by family and friends.

Do you have any favorite cocktails you like to drink on the boat?

When I’m a passenger (not driving), I enjoy a hard seltzer during the day and a glass of wine for an evening cruise.

Which of your accomplishments with Morbern are you most proud?

In this industry resilience is a must for survival.  My mother brought one of the biggest companies in the industry to Morbern back in the 80s. That was Brunswick Boat Group with Sea Ray being their largest brand. She retired 10 years ago and a year later we lost the Sea Ray business to a low-end competitor.

After two years, I was able to close on the Sea Ray business again.  Understanding what Sea Ray’s needs are today and being able to assist in developing new products and programs to set them apart from their competition is probably among my personal best moments.  However, the development on the new Splash product in collaboration with our product development engineers and new sales team has been our great win in the past five years.  I cannot accept all of the credit, but I am proud of the contributions I have made in the success of the program.

John Weaver Interview, Part Three

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John Weaver, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Morbern has been with the company for 12 years. We sat down with him to talk about the challenges and opportunities in the vinyl upholstery industry. In part three of our three-part interview, we look at innovations and the future of coated fabrics. Read parts one and two

What advances in automotive, marine, RV and contract industries have been made possible by vinyl?

Advances in PVC coated fabrics have significantly impacted many markets.

Something we often take for granted is cleanliness in public spaces. You can spend time in arenas such as airports, hospitals, hotels, lobbies, casinos, restaurants—just to name a few—with confidence because the PVC coated fabric you are sitting on, or touching in any manner, is easily cleaned and cleanable. It doesn’t have nooks and crannies to hide germs and its impermeable surface means nothing leaks into the seat itself.

In the world of automotive, Morbern’s vinyls offer the ultimate in cleanability and comfort.

Fully perforated material on seating surfaces allows drivers to ride in comfort through the vehicle’s ventilation system.

The latest in cleanable technology allows for easy cleaning in restaurant interiors, as our lifestyles have us on the run. In offices, Morbern’s cleanable technology makes the denim staining (denim dye transfer) on seats a thing of the past.

What do you wish people knew about vinyl?

It’s a safe choice for upholstery and has many daily applications.

It’s cleanable–from small everyday stains like mustard or BBQ sauce to serious healthcare environment staining, Morbern’s vinyls incorporate technology to keep surfaces stain-free and cleanable.

It has longevity–its durability means less replacement.

It is affordable–it is a low-cost upholstery option.

What should we expect from the vinyl industry in 2021?

Morbern is an active member of the Chemical, Films & Fabric Association. The CFFA is rolling out a Health Care Coverstock Certification program in 2021. The intent of the program is to provide customers confidence when purchasing and using material with the CFFA Certificate Logo. This is part of Morbern’s Market Leadership initiative to ensure confidence and peace of mind to all our customers.

Making an Environmental Impact

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MorGreenSustainable. Environmentally friendly. Green. Ecological responsibility. Various phrases describe the same thing, but the nomenclature isn’t important. What’s critical is the action behind the words.
Lowering a company’s and a product’s environmental impact is a long-term and ongoing endeavor. A “one and done” fix doesn’t work. Continual improvement is the mindset that drives ongoing, successful changes that result in real progress. It’s a mindset Morbern adopted decades ago. The company was among the first manufacturers of coated fabrics to completely eliminate heavy metals, and it ensures that the water flowing out at the end of the manufacturing process is clean enough to drink.

Reformulation

Some of the largest product changes in the company’s history have come in the last year as part of MorGreen—the story of Morbern’s journey toward sustainability. A significant portion of the company’s vinyls for the contract, healthcare and hospitality markets have been reformulated to lower environmental impact. The new formulas also ensure most materials contain bio-based renewable ingredients.
These new formulas are:
  • Bromine-free, No Halogenated Flame Retardants (HFRs)
  • Reach Compliant
  • RoHS Compliant
  • Non Toxic
  • No Heavy Metals
  • No Mercury
  • No Bisphenol A (BPA)
  • No Ozone Depleting Chemicals
  • No PBTs (Persistent Bio accumulative and Toxic Chemicals)

California Compliant

And critical to doing business in the Golden State, the company also developed a group of vinyls that comply with California AB2998, a bill which prohibits the sale of new juvenile products, mattresses and upholstered furniture with flame retardants.
Morbern’s flame retardant free and AB2998 Compliant products include: Abbey, Allante Free, Arc, Aristo, Bantam, Cinema, Flair, Hexx, Natural Linen, Verve, Vitality and Freedom. Additional product lines are scheduled to become compliant in the next few years.

Made Here to Work Here

The majority of Morbern’s vinyls are manufactured here in North America, for use in North America, eliminating the need for costly (and carbon filled) overseas shipping. Making products close to home helps not only the environment but eliminates costly and unpredictable delays for customers.
Want to learn more about Morbern’s sustainability efforts? Check out the MorGreen section of the website.

John Weaver Interview, Part Two

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John Weaver, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Morbern, has been with the company for 12 years. We sat down with him to talk about the challenges and opportunities in the vinyl upholstery industry. In part two of our three-part interview, we look at customer expectations and the properties of vinyl that are ideal for certain industries. Read part one of this interview

How have customers changed over the years? 

The expectations of customers, and their customers, is more demanding on faster and shorter lead times.

To meet that need, Morbern recently launched a sample fulfillment process. If a customer orders a sample by 3:00 p.m., the order will be filled and shipped that same day. This level of performance was unheard of only a few years ago. Now, it is the normal expectation. Anything less has the customer searching elsewhere to fill their needs. 

PVC coated fabrics have always been cleanable, durable, long lasting, cost effective, etcetera, but the expectation of performance has grown immensely. They must be more cleanable, more durable, more resilient. The paradigm has shifted to “whatever the consumer does to the product, it must withstand it, and retain all inherent characteristics found in the originally manufactured form.”

What industry do you feel can be most helped by using vinyl upholstery, that isn’t currently using it?  

The truthful answer is all industries, but let’s take a look at a few in particular.

In the mass transportation industry, research showed customers avoided upholstered bus and train surfaces due to the uncleanliness of the seating area. Evidence of bed bugs was reported (in the fabric upholstery).  This particular transit system switched to PVC coated fabric and no longer has bed bug concerns (they do not live on PVC surfaces). The seats are easy to clean, and be kept clean, and the decorative requirements were achieved.

The healthcare environment would equally benefit from increased use of PVC coated fabrics due to inherent bleach cleaner resistance and QUAT cleaner resistance properties (following proper cleaning instructions) of Morbern’s MorCare line of coated fabrics. Healthcare surfaces must be cleaned with strong chemicals to kill bacteria and viruses, and MorCare is one of the few upholstery products that can withstand harsh cleaners.

Private transportation is another industry to consider. The vegan leather characteristics of PVC coated fabrics adds to the already impressive story of inexpensive, tailorable, cleanable, durable and long-lasting seats in your car, truck or SUV.

A Tale of Two Transit Seats

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It was the best of decisions for the worst of bus seating covers. In July of 2018, The Los Angeles Times reported that the Los Angeles County Metro system switched their seating from fabric to vinyl. Citing years of consumer complaints, exorbitant dry cleaning bills and millions of dollars spent on fabric replacement, the L.A. Metro decided to change its subway seating from fabric to vinyl.

 

 

But the reason they switched goes beyond the financial issue. It had just as much to do with sanitation. Everything from blood and human waste to bed bugs and lice –not to mention spilled food and beverages— was found in the seats.  It’s enough to turn your stomach.

So why isn’t vinyl installed in all mass transit systems as a matter of practicality? The fabric industry has done a remarkable job convincing mass transit designers that fabric is good and vinyl is bad, when that’s simply not the case. There’s a time and a use best fitted to each material.

In mass transit, when the product has to withstand extraordinary use from thousands of people on a daily basis, an impermeable, cleanable barrier provided by vinyl is essential. Especially in the time of COVID, you need something that can be wiped clean and withstand the ingredients from the harshest of cleaners, while maintaining product integrity.

For years, designers and architects have blindly rejected vinyl because they’ve been taught that all vinyl is bad. But the truth is that vinyl manufacturers have made big strides in reducing waste and emissions and creating phthalate-free products.

Indeed, Morbern has long looked for ways to reduce environmental impact. We were among the first manufacturers of coated fabrics to completely eliminate heavy metals such as lead and cadmium. We ensure that the water flowing out at the end of the manufacturing process is clean enough to drink. And we have installed a new coater to better control our emissions and improve the air quality of our surrounding community.

When it comes down to it, nothing does the job like vinyl. Vinyl lasts X times longer in the field than fabric, which often ends up in landfills because of the need to replace fabric often, and requires the use of dry cleaning products to keep it in service.

Vinyl’s durability, impermeability and affordability make it the best choice for mass transit seating.

John Weaver Interview, Part One

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John Weaver, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Morbern has been with the company for 12 years. We sat down with him to talk about the challenges and opportunities in the vinyl upholstery industry. In part one of our three-part interview, we look at the misconceptions around vinyl and its role in everyday life.

In your 12 years at Morbern, what have been the biggest challenges to the upholstered vinyl industry?  

The main challenge was and is education. PVC coated fabrics are the most cost effective materials for upholstery. They are also safe, stable and PVC is inherently flame retardant and resistant. Yet, vinyl is under constant attack from organizations because of chloride.

Yet, chloride, is a common compound found in everyday life. When you put salt on your French fries, you are actually putting Sodium Chloride on your fries. When you jump into a pool for a relaxing swim, you are most likely jumping into a body of water which includes chloride (chlorine). When you use a soft water softener in your home, you are most likely using chloride-based salt crystals.

What are the most common misconceptions about vinyl?

The biggest misconception is that PVC isn’t safe. But take a look at where it’s used – in some of the most critical aspects of our daily lives – and you’ll see that can’t possibly be true. From environmental protection to healthcare we trust vinyl to do very important jobs.

Landfill sites use PVC to line the floor of their sites, to protect any environmental insensitive material leaching through into the earth.

Potable water containers use PVC material. In essence, the health and cleanliness of our drinking water is assured with the use of PVC.

Blood bags and IV bags in health care facilities use PVC material. These are just a few examples of the positive and powerful impact PVC and its applications assist in our daily lives.

National Safe Boating Week

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There couldn’t be a better time to celebrate the lifting of COVID restrictions and the official beginning of boat season!  As we all pack our sunscreen and towels, and head out to our favorite lakes, rivers, inlets and oceans, we wanted to share some good safety reminders from our friends at the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

This week is National Safe Boating Week. And although we will be talking about safe boating practices all summer, we thought NMMA’s observance was the perfect time to start.

Top 12 Safety Items You Need on Your Boat

Depending on the type of boating you do and where you do it, some of these may be required or only recommended items. Either way, you can pack most of these aboard even the smallest of boats.

  1. Medical kit for cuts, scrapes, seasickness or small emergencies
  2. Anchor with line to hold your boat in place while you wait for help to arrive
  3. Bailing device or bucket to dewater and stay afloat
  4. Oars or paddles if the engine quits
  5. Cellphone to call for help
  6. VHF radio to call for help
  7. Knife to cut a line around a fouled propeller
  8. Snorkel mask to inspect what’s going on under the boat
  9. Heavy duty flashlight
  10. Skier or diver down flag
  11. Working running lights if your boat is equipped with them
  12. A way to get weather updates because things can change quickly even on a lake

For more on safety from NMMA, head on over to their feature on 12 Safe Boating Tips.  You will learn the basics to ensure you’re safe and responsible while out on the water.

Happy Boating from all your friends at Morbern!