We’re on our way back from a trip to Viken, Sweden, and Valinge Innovation’s Expo 2011 along with a chance to see the company’s new R&D Center. The trip couldn’t even be dulled by the assault of the mystifying Charles de Gaulle airport. What were they thinking anyway?

But back to the mission, which was to get a reading on the newest and hottest products and novel ideas coming from a unique and innovative company. It didn’t take long to realize that the new product and advances weren’t the half of it, and those new developments came in bulk.

Here’s a list of what was featured at this event: Powder Production; Digital Powder Printing; Powder Backing; Wood Fiber Floor Production; ACTiO2 Technology; Lamella Core Material Saving; Surface Stretching Technology; 5G-C (2011); 5GS-2D; 5G Press Loc; 5G Glued Tongue; 5G Vision System; Strip Part - Clips Locking; 2G Zip Loc; and LVT Locking Systems.

At the top of my “I really need to understand this” list was wood fiber technology and all of its moving parts. Aside from the actual powder itself and its make-up, other topics include how it’s blended and applied, and then there’s the digital printing on the powder and how that process is being further perfected. Then there’s the pressing and profiling of the boards. Just taking the digital printing process by itself is an amazing story of development.

Another feature at the Expo I have to mention was LVT and the work the company has been doing in this hot segment. It appeared that the prime reason many guests took in the Expo was to see firsthand the company’s new LVT locking system, and from where I stand I would say it will have a major impact on the industry.

Not to diminish anything from this event, but my real takeaway was the sense of innovation. Ask 100 different people to define innovation and you’ll probably get 100 different answers. When I first came into the floor covering industry generations ago an extremely learned industry man told me that much of the innovation practiced at that time was, to use his words, “Stardust in a different key” or “the same wine in a different bottle.”

However, in this case we’re not talking about stardust. This form of innovation involves sitting down with clear-cut goals of ending up with a specific technology, or products/processes that will furnish the company’s licensees a marketplace advantage. This advantage could be in the form of lowered costs, by yielding never-seen-before products or product elements, or perhaps improving the installation process.

Behind the vision at Valinge is the imagination of Darko Pervan, Valinge’s ceo. At the core of Darko’s matrix are the licensees and the value of those partnerships. By the way, did I mention that the company’s licensees have done much better through these difficult times than non-licensees?

Ever aware of the glacial speed at which the evolutionary process travels, from idea to commercialization and manufacturer buy-in, it is Darko’s vision that Wood Fiber Floors will be the next big thing in the flooring industry, brought about by the increasing cost of raw materials and the ever-present pressure to reduce costs.

The Expo was the vehicle by which more licensees and potential licensees could not only get a close-up at the new ideas at this innovation factory in Viken, but also to get a peek at the inner workings of the company that makes it tick. Once a visitor has the opportunity to see the brand, this new R&D center and to talk with Darko, I feel pretty confident they will feel as I did. It’s a chance to look into the future get a glimpse of what the floor covering industry of tomorrow will look like.