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French flair with Gerflor

International vinyl flooring specialist Gerflor have their manufacturing base in Tarare, France. It’s a place where history meets innovation and creativity head-on in a seamless blend of technical harmony.

Tarare, with its 10,865 inhabitants lies just 35 kms from Lyon in the south eastern corner of France. A land where the Beaujolais reds meets the Beaujolais whites in a pleasant green pastoral setting. Perfect in fact for a factory setting and it’s where Gerflor manufacture their Tarasafe range of vinyl safety flooring. The city was founded in early 12th century as a priory of the abbey Tarare Savigny.

The history of the town is linked to the textile industry, mainly muslin with the town owing its development and international reputation down to the hard working endeavours of the inhabitants. It’s no wonder that Gerflor sited their first factory in this stunning spot.

Gerflor brought its first homogenous product to market way back in 1937 when the first 999 call was made and Sir Frank Whittle tested the first jet engine.

For more than 70 years and in more than 100 countries, Gerflor is recognised as an expert and a world leader in its field thanks to technical, decorative and eco-responsible added-value solutions specific to each market application. It’s been a path of development and unsurpassed growth.

The Gerflor factory seems to seep out naturally from the side of the surrounding Rhone Alp hills like a mild, green, warming mist; more an enhancement to the natural vista than a disturbance. The low – lying factory units which are dotted about the property provide a milieu that doesn’t fight against its surroundings. It’s all very well organised, with trucks delivering basic material and taking waste away which then gets re-cycled. It’s a harmonic non-vicious circle.

The factory sits in 20 hectares which houses the production facility and the holding areas for stock, The 600 staff on site are split 80% in production with the other 20% in HR, Marketing, Administration and Communications.

The factory itself has a clean, almost clinical appearance which is nicely contrasted by the locale. A mild stainless steel labyrinth of offices that are linked to the factory power the communications teams, the marketing and design gurus, together with administration. It’s like a French hive of nimble honey bees busily going about their tasks. And it’s evident there’s a collective responsibility about everything they do.

Back in 1960 Sears Catalogue proclaimed about vinyl floorcoverings: “All gloss and glow, no hard work!” How right they were.

With more than 70 years’ experience, Gerflor’s expertise in safety flooring is unrivalled. The Tarasafe vinyl safety flooring range is available in over 80 finishes.

Using mineral crystal particles, rather than the industry standard carborundum, Tarasafe, with its improved performance, is easier to install, lighter and more flexible to handle. It is 100% recyclable and contains recycled materials.

Tarasafe provides permanent slip resistance, meets HSE guidelines and has a group T (K5) wear rating, ideal for heavy traffic commercial use.

The range has a maximum hygiene rating meeting the EN Standard 22196 for anti- bacterial activity (E. coli – S. aureus – MRSA) (3) returning >99% levels of growth inhibition and anti-slip performance R10.Suitable for a wide variety of uses requiring the highest levels of slip resistance, hygiene, performance and aesthetics and comes with a 12 year warranty.

Tarasafe is a hugely popular choice for a host of environments; education, healthcare, leisure, hospitality, housing and in any applications that require slip resistance to be maintained. It is easier to handle and comes in a lighter weight allowing fitters to have up to five times more blade life than before. Hot welding is also made simple for a water impervious finish.

As well as registering a Grade C in the barefoot ramp test, the safety flooring recorded >36 in the wet pendulum test using a 55 slider. It meets British and European standards for fire retardation and electrical conductivity, a new generation of safety flooring that achieves a balance in both being easier to clean and also maintain. It’s a family of products where safety is the byword, delivering a flooring product that does exactly what it says on the tin… or the roll if you prefer.

The manufacturing process for Tarasafe safety flooring is born out of years of research and product adjustment to offer a product that delivers on all fronts.

The first stage in any great product is the R&D. This is an area where Gerflor excel. All the original testing is done at Tarare which includes the famous pendulum and ramp tests. At Gerflor they have a large department dedicated to these endeavours to ensure that all their products match up to and exceed the industries guidelines and standards. It’s literally a number of rooms filled with boffins. They pull, stretch, grind and generally bash everything to within an inch of its life. It’s all about constant subjection to the rigours that safety flooring will have to endure. They even have a wheel chair test which runs at 50K cycles to simulate that kind of activity.

Once a safety product has been developed and tested, then it’s down to mass production with the factory working seven days a week with three shifts a day producing Tarasafe and other vinyl products.

At Tarare, a constant flow of large lorries arrive every day with the raw material which then gets loaded into huge silver silos that seem to sweep towards the French sky like some elegant grey fingers positively pointing to the future. These cathedral-like structures veer upwards and onwards in a gesture that almost says that this French company is making a concerted effort to be the very best at what they do.

Making and rolling vinyl is like making ‘pasta’. Mind you, very clever ‘pasta’ indeed. The factory floor where Gerflor make Tarasafe is a whirring, humming mix of huge machinery that is constantly turning to produce the levels of production that are required. It’s a bright, cheery environment that has no place for complacency.

Vinyl is manufactured using the calendering process. Pre-mixed pellets (the size of gunshot) are fed into a dry blender, and then mixed and spread onto a heated conveyor belt. The pellets contain small pieces of PVC plasticizers, to make the PVC more malleable, and the colouring pigment. That’s the simple equation.

At Gerflor a fibre sheet is the starting point which is then fed into the process where the plastisol is added. Once the automated process is underway, the pellets are heated and softened, as part of the gelation process, before the homogeneous substance passes through a series of rollers, which press it into a sheet of the requisite thickness. This is where it looks like giant rolls of pasta about to be rolled out.

Large rollers the size of a badminton court drop on the granules that are required with particles added at the third stage. And this is where the business end of the safety element is added. The ongoing process then moves onto the oven for expansion. Once cooled Tarasafe can then be embossed and rolled on further to the curing element of the production to finish off with the varnishing.

These giant pasta-like rollers also stablise the product, so it won’t lose its new shape once it has cooled at the end of the production line. The product is then spooled onto the ‘mother roll’ with all waste lost through the manufacturing process recycled back into new products.

There’s no doubt that in the factory alongside all the computer controlled quality testing, the human eye is still beaming over the production process to ensure the final required quality is always there. The factory floor is like NASA in a ‘high techy’ kind of way and the levels of cleanliness are on the point of being surgically clean. No mess, no clutter and above all no danger. Safety is paramount at all times.

The Tarare factory did however have to make some compromises with space for the Tarasafe production process in that they had simply run out of room. So they had to make a bend at the end of the production process to accommodate the last element of the manufacture; the cutting and rolling.

Once the product is finally at the end of the whole lengthy process (about the length of a football pitch) it’s pulled onto rolls and then cut to size for the customer. Every roll is perfect. Gerflor even dovetail the beginning of the joint where the roll starts to avoid any unnecessary pressure on the start of the roll as they wind on more material. Very clever, as it avoids blemishes at the beginning of the roll.

It all sounds simple. But that’s far from the truth. They, like any talented professionals, just make it look easy.

Alexis Arnoux, Product Manager, Gerflor based in Tarare comments, “The UK market, due to its dominating position all over the world on safety products is our main focus to develop our safety ranges.” He also adds, “At Gerflor we always look forward to the future to offer new solutions which will meet and surpass the needs of the market.” Alexis also comments, “The safety market is all about technical products which are now moving towards more and more decorative finishes, so our challenge here is to anticipate the decorative trends including the technical values of all safety flooring products.”

Safety as mentioned is a huge part of the ethos at the Tarare plant. After all they are making a safety product! It’s easy to see as a visitor that safety comes first with Gerflor. They do take a loving approach to their work on the factory floor. There is a zero tolerance policy towards accidents and all the production staff must wear their safety gear or go home. No exceptions. It’s a good rule and one that works.

Re-cycling is a huge issue for Gerflor. Sustainability is key for them. Making less and less of a footprint seems to be the order of the day. You can almost hear the clang of approval as the eco stamps in Brussels thud onto the relevant forms due to this company’s efforts to keep the planet clean.

A green environment is always of concern these days and how long have we all been banging on about re-cycling? Any flooring manufacturer worth its lentils needs to be clear about their commitment and environmental vision. Gerflor seem to have that issue of control taped.

Gerflor is at the forefront of the manufacture of 100% recyclable, sustainable floorings: it only uses harmless raw materials in its production processes, its production sites like Tarare are ISO 14001 certified. Almost 100% of Gerflor’s production waste is recycled and its products are amongst those with the lowest VOC emissions world-wide.

Philippe Magro, Gerflor’s Sustainability Manager in Tarare, France says, ‘’product ranges need to be developed with a view to optimising the environmental impact at every stage of the product’s life. It’s a commitment we all need to make to ensure that the green revolution doesn’t lose pace or focus’’.

Philippe finally comments, ‘’There is nothing better for the environment than to extend the life of flooring products, even in high traffic areas’’.

There is no doubt that this business is so in tune with its future as the production process for Tarasafe safety flooring is further developed by Gerflor.

There is a real sense of pride in the Gerflor team at Tarare. It’s not brash, or bombastic; just quiet professionalism and confidence in the products they are developing and manufacturing. Like the French rugby teams who have flair, passion, and are very exciting to watch. One just drools at the anticipation of what’s to come next.

Learn more about Gerflor solutions; ask for a free sample or contact us to speak to a specialist today by calling 01926 622 600.

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