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Coming Clean About Vinyl

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In a post-COVID world, being clean is one of the most critical components of upholstery, particularly in commercial settings. Whether in a hotel, on a plane or in a healthcare facility, being able to properly clean and disinfect furnishings is more important than ever.

In most upholstery, fabric applications will not stand up to the rigors of cleaning required to remove viruses and bacteria. Enter vinyl.

The best surfaces for proper hygiene are solid, unbroken and impermeable, like vinyl. They serve as both a barrier between the product and user, as well as a flat surface that cant hide dirt and germs or let liquids permeate. A solid surface will always outperform a woven textile when it comes to cleanliness and durability.

And while leathers are mostly impermeable, they can’t handle the rigors of cleaners that eliminate bacteria and viruses. But vinyl can offer the style of leather, along with its impermeable qualities, with an added dose of durability that allows it to remain undisturbed by harsh cleaning products.

Topcoats are important, too. Vinyl topcoats for PVC impart critical performance properties. A coating can enhance abrasion and stain resistance, surface cleanability and provide UV resistance. They can also improve mold and mildew resistance.

But being “clean” isn’t just about maintenance techniques. That word also refers to a product’s sustainability and environmental impact, a factor that also has increased in importance since the pandemic.

Inherently, vinyl is a more sustainable product than most fabrics, because vinyl lasts twice as long as fabric does in the field. Meaning those fabrics often end up in landfills because of the need to replace them more often. And Morberns dedicated second-quality team redirects material to other markets and applications so that it is kept out of landfill sites.

Beyond that, Morbern has taken additional steps to reduce its carbon footprint and environmental impact.

Unlike other polymers such as PU, 50% of PVC (vinyl) is made up of common salt – this makes it less reliant on fossil fuel and easily recyclable. Large quantities of vinyl are re-melted into many useful products and, in contrast to silicone, numerous vinyl-recycling facilities can be found all over the world.

At the plant, Morbern uses 99% renewable hydroelectric power, and its closed-loop cooling circuits installed in 2016 reduced the company’s water consumption by more than 75%. And the water that flows out of the plant at the end of the manufacturing process is clean enough to drink.

To improve air quality, Morbern uses low-VOC (volatile organic compounds), water-based top coat finishes rather than solvent formulations. And the company installed a new coater to better control emissions and improve the air quality of its surrounding community.

Being clean—both physically and environmentally—means more than ever. And Morbern continues to innovate and improve both the cleanability of their products and the clean processes to make them.

Get to know Morbern CEO Mark Bloomfield

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For Morbern CEO Mark Bloomfield, the family business has been an integral part of his life, even prior to his 30 years of working for the company. And while many know him for his leadership of the business, there’s much more to Bloomfield outside the office.

We recently chatted with him about his personal philosophies on business and life, as well as what drives him outside the work arena.

What is your leadership philosophy, and what are the most important attributes of leaders today?

I believe that a strong leaders main role is to help his/her staff be successful. This is done by allowing an appropriate autonomy for their departments. I also strive to address issues without assigning blame, and just attack the problem itself. By the nature of my role, I usually only see the serious problems, and I am there to help address these most difficult problems in the most effective manner.

Who has been the greatest mentor in your life?

My father has taught me most of what I know about business. I am one of the luckiest executives, as I was on an executive training path starting when I was 16 years old (even though I didn’t realize it at the time).

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Two of my favorite business quotes are:

Put the right person in the right job and watch them go.”   —Unknown

In god we trust. All others bring data”  —W. Edwards Demming

What would you put on a billboard?

“Show me the data.”

What do you like to do in your free time?

I bike, downhill ski and enjoy reading. I am a bit of a tech geek, and I listen to podcasts. Pre-COVID, I enjoyed traveling, but now staycations are the name of the game.

You have several dogs—what it is about canines that you connect with?

I had three, but one just passed away. Dogs are the best. Every time your dog sees you, they react like they havent seen you in years, even if you just ran to the corner store. That kind of unconditional love – who couldn’t love that?

If you weren’t with Morbern, where would we find you?

If I had the talent? Starting left defense for the Montreal Canadiens. I love hockey. Most of the people I interact with already know I am a diehard Canadiens fan.

With the talent I do have, I would find a similar job. I truly enjoy manufacturing—working with smart people, creating physical products from ideas. In almost any commercial site, I am always looking at the seating or upholstery to see if it was made by Morbern. Once I saw a Super Bowl commercial on TV with Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander, sitting on a seat made from material I was personally involved in developing. That was cool.

Morbern CEO reflects on 30 years with the business, Part Two

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We recently sat down with Morbern CEO Mark Bloomfield to talk about how he got into the business. Today we talk with Mark about leadership, Morbern’s incredible workforce and the future of vinyl.

Read part one of our interview.

What do you feel is the biggest strength of Morbern right now?

We have an internal DNA throughout the company of always striving to do better. While we are very proud of winning Canadas Best Managed, we know we can do so much more. I maintain lists of all the projects we have to improve our business year over year, and we do this for all areas of our business—raw materials, efficiencies, yields, IT, accounting, training, environmental, HR, etc.

How would you describe the Morbern workforce? 
I have enjoyed working with all the employees I interact with. Respect is important at Morbern, and I find that helps make the workplace more enjoyable. Our employees are a diligent, hard-working bunch, and a big component of our success.

What does employee leadership look like?

It is honestly seeking input from all employees, no matter how junior. Its also being willing to admit to not knowing everything, to admit when you are wrong, to show up with a good attitude and a positive work ethic, and to be respectful.

How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?

With a positive work attitude. We do not attack people, we attack problems. When there’s a crisis, we work together to fix it. We then have a debrief, and discuss how to prevent this problem from occurring again.

How did Morbern navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic?

When COVID hit North America, we used the time for R&D.  We didn’t layoff any employees, even though our sales fell by more than 50%. This R&D philosophy has driven our sales greatly, well before COVID hit.

What is your vision for Morbern and its employees over the next 10 years?

Our vision statement is To bring innovative upholstery fabrics to every corner of the world.” We feel we can export our Canadian-designed products to anywhere in the world. We expect to continue our growth strategy and to continue to search out new markets for our technology.

Morbern CEO reflects on 30 years with the business, Part One

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Growing up, Mark Bloomfield wasn’t always sure he would follow in his father’s footsteps and work in the family business at Morbern. But as he got older and discovered his passion for business, he realized the family company was the perfect place to apply and cultivate his natural business acumen. Thirty years after taking on his first full-time role with the company, Bloomfield now serves as Morbern’s CEO.

We recently caught up with Bloomfield to learn more about his history with Morbern and what he thinks makes this company so special.

How long have you been with Morbern, and what were some of your roles throughout the years?
I started in 1984 as a summer student. My first job was cutting samples for testing. For the next seven summers, I worked all sorts of entry-level jobs, including painting walls one summer. After my manager questioned my painting skills, I realized I had better get an education.

I graduated McGill University in winter 1990, and started full-time at Morbern on February 3, 1991. In my first 15 years, I worked throughout the organization—production planning, R&D coordinator, sales and marketing, and information technology. In 2004 I became vice president sales and marketing. I was promoted to president in 2008, and became the chief executive officer in 2012.

Did you aspire to become part of the business? Was it challenging joining the company as a family member?
Honestly, I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I had finished CEGEP (a post-high school program in Quebec that all students are required for university). I was graduating with a degree in pure and applied sciences, but I was looking for variety in my career. Business seemed to offer more choice than a science-based career. There had never been any pressure to become involved in the family business, but I thought that I would enjoy the challenges of a business career. Joining the team was easy. Everyone was so nice. I never felt any dislike or conflict from the existing employees at the time because of who I was.

Do you have any memories of visiting the company as a young child?
Absolutely. Every year, we had company Christmas parties and summer barbecues. I went to these every year from the ages of 5 to 12. My children also got to continue this tradition. One summer, as a young child, my family even lived in a trailer at a local campground, so my father could spend more time at the facility.

Are there any favorite stories you like to tell about the company?
There are so many, but some are personal. The company is called Morbern because MORris Bloomfield and BERNie Stein started the company in 1965. When they needed the name, Morris won first billing in the company name because a company called Bern-more wouldn’t be a good look for a textile company.

Morbern has prepared Christmas meals for families facing economic challenges for 26 straight years, only discontinuing in 2020 due to COVID restrictions. In those years, more than 1,200 families had their Christmas holiday needs and wishes provided for—full Christmas dinner, presents for the kids and holiday staples. The workforce in Cornwall has been 100% responsible for this endeavor.

Vinyl vs. Polyurethane: Which is Better? Part 2

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How do polyurethane coated fabrics and vinyl coated farbics differ? In our previous post, we examined several elements as it relates to vinyl and polyurethane, namely durability and cleanability. This week we tackle flame resistance and environmental impact.

Flame Resistance Particularly in upholstery applications, flame resistance is an important property. Vinyl is inherently flame retardant, while polyurethane offers some flame resistance and needs added flame retardants to meet the same flame retardancy as vinyl.

Environmental Impact Sustainability has become an important consideration for many when choosing materials. And vinyl is a good choice for those looking to reduce their environmental impact. Not only does it last longer—meaning it’s less likely to be discarded—it’s also recyclable, routinely processed into roofing materials and other applications.

Polyurethane upholstery is made from cross linked plastics which means it cannot be remelted and reused. Some can theoretically be recycled after consumer use, but not as feasibly as vinyl, which can be remelted and reused.

Polyurethane is made from 100% crude oil. Vinyl is made from 50% table salt, so it uses less oil to make the same weight of material as polyurethanes. Plus Polyurethane uses isocyanates in their production, a material that is known to cause lung sensitivity and asthma.

When it comes to manufacturing the majority of Morbern’s vinyls are produced domestically so they save not only time, but also money in freight fees. Most polyurethanes are made overseas resulting in more green house gases being produced by the ocean vessels which are big contributors to CO2 emissions.

Vinyl is an attractive choice for a number of applications, from medical to marine, hospitality to home office, automotive and recreational vehicles. Next time you’re looking for an affordable, durable and cleanable upholstery covering, choose vinyl and experience how this long-lasting coated fabric performs over time.

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.