The many-sided mat

6th of December 2016
The many-sided mat

The whole point of a mat used to be simply to trap the dirt. But in recent years a plethora of safety mats, industrial mats, non-slip mats and anti-fatigue mats have flooded the market. Ann Laffeaty asks matting experts whether specialisation is a trend and finds out about the very latest matting products.

It is generally agreed that the main function of a mat is to capture dirt and debris from people’s shoes and prevent these from being tracked into a building.

But today’s mats are being used to fulfil a whole host of other functions as well. There are now industrial mats designed for soaking up swarf and oil from the factory floor; there are rubber mats for absorbing liquids in kitchens and bars, and anti-slip mats for use as a safety aid around swimming pools. There are anti-fatigue mats to reduce the strain of standing and electrical safety mats to reduce the risk of shocks.

So is specialisation an industry trend? Or are purpose-specific mats only a small part of the market?

“Specialisation is definitely growing in line with increased demand,” says CWS-Boco product manager Maren Schulte. “Take for example the CWS industrial mat which was developed at the request of a customer who was looking for a solution that could withstand vehicle traffic. It is a similar story when it comes to print quality where customer requirements are also becoming more demanding.”

She says mats can fulfil a number of different functions. “Dust control mats primarily reduce dirt and dust and therefore help to cut building cleaning costs,” she said. “In public areas, mats prevent people from slipping during the wet months and this helps to improve safety. And a smart-looking reception mat plays a part in projecting a positive company image. It is like a calling card.”

However, standard mats are CWS’s best-sellers since they can be incorporated into any interior. “We are also seeing a rise in demand for customised logo mats which is a reflection of a greater desire for tailored solutions,” says Schulte. “We now offer additional colours and a higher resolution that provides the mat with the look of a textile photo.”

Other products in the CWS range include shaped, anti-fatigue, scraper, industrial and alu-profile mats. According to Schulte this reflects an increasing trend towards specialisation – while at the same time, mat quality is improving.

Driving development

“Companies realise just how flexible mats can be and are doing their bit to drive forward development,” she said. “Meanwhile, new fabric blends are helping to increase the capacity of mats to absorb dirt and moisture. The result is a rise in the quality of all-round mats as well as more mats that can cater for specialist applications.”

An increasing focus is being placed on sustainability, adds Schulte. “There is an emerging trend to use pile made from recycled materials,” she said. “This means for example that old bottles or fishing nets can be used to make the pile of a floor mat.  Manufacturers are continually testing new materials that have either been designed to perform existing functions more effectively or to create new, specialist functions.”

US matting consultant Robert Kravitz agrees that increased sustainability and more effective matting are among today’s trends. However, he is less convinced about specialisation being on the increase.

“The matting industry is very old and like many facets of the professional cleaning industry, until recently has changed very slowly,” he said. “What does appear to be happening is that an increasing number of companies are manufacturing mats – but they all appear to be making similar products.”

He says anti-fatigue mats, anti-static mats and bi-level mats have been among the major advances in the past 50 years. “Bi-level mats are designed to let the moisture and soil fall beneath the surface so it does not collect on the bottom of the shoe,” he said.

Like Schulte he has noticed an increase in the number of mats made from recycled products such as plastic bottles. “So far these have been met with mixed results since some do not last as long as traditional mats while the performance of others is not quite up to scratch,” he said.  “However like any new technology, these ‘eco’ mats are certain to be improved.”

He believes an increased interest in sustainability has provided a boost for the matting market in general. “In the past, mats were often not even a consideration for building managers until it rained outside,” said Kravitz. “Now they are viewed as a ‘must have’ every day of the year to protect the health and safety of building users.

“As a result, manufacturers are putting more time and resources into developing more effective matting systems that prevent contaminants from entering a building. Essentially this was consumer-driven – a need was born and manufacturers looked to find ways of addressing it.“

Among the more specialised mats on the market are anti-static, slip-resistant and antibacterial mats, he said. “Anti-static mats are installed in electrical and mechanical areas where delicate electronic equipment is used,” said Kravitz. “Static electricity can damage electronic components and the shock it produces can potentially cause an accident. These mats are designed to prevent the build-up of static electricity by removing the static charge.”

He says there has been an increasing number of ‘pool mats’ on the market with enhanced slip-resistance to ensure safety. “Some pool mats have antibacterial and antifungal additives to help prevent mould, fungus, and bacteria from growing on the mats and potentially being passed on to the walker,” he adds.

Two relatively recent trends in the matting market are ‘boot bath’ mats and messaging mats, says Kravitz. “The aim of boot bath mats is to prevent any pathogens from being walked into the work area,” he said. “They were originally mainly used on farms and in food processing centres but we are now finding them in cleanroom environments, laboratories and facilities where high-tech devices are made as well.”

Messaging mats have evolved from logo mats, he says. “For example, medical facilities now often place directions or instructions on their mats. These might incorporate an arrow and read, for instance: ‘straight ahead to radiology’ or: ‘left to cafeteria’, ‘right to hospital library’ and so on.”

But despite an increase in the range of mats on the market, he says the main function of a mat remains unchanged. “Moisture and soil collect on shoe-bottoms and it is the job of an effective matting system to remove this moisture and soil – both to prevent slip and fall accidents and to keep facilities clean,” said Kravitz.

Ongoing research shows just how specialised matting has become according to director of marketing for Notrax mats Giselle Dirckx. Studies are being carried out into the make-up of anti-fatigue mats by biomechanics expert Dr Redha Taiar at the University of Reims, says Dirckx.

“Dr Taiar is looking at how the material and design of a mat can affect comfort levels for people of varying weights whether they are standing still for long periods of time or walking up and down,” she said. “Using numerical modelling to illustrate how the weight of a standing worker is distributed over the anti-fatigue mat he is able to demonstrate the effect of factors such as material type, composition, density, surface pattern and engineering."

Notrax offers anti-fatigue mats that are designed to help improve posture, restore balance and prevent musculoskeletal disorders in workers who need to stand for more than four hours a day. The company also offers anti-slip mats for use in wet, dry or oily areas plus electrostatic discharge mats, Insulation matting and food industry matting with antibacterial treatments.

“Continuous research and new engineering have made mats more versatile and effective than ever,” said Dirckx. “In order to continue to provide revolutionary matting solutions we need to truly understand the problem and to use the latest technologies, smart materials and engineering processes to create a product that addresses the problems that workers face.”

According to Dirckx the company has recently seen an increasing demand for customised solutions. “Besides personalised logo creation we have also seen a rise in popularity of modular mats that can be easily adapted to any installation or adjusted on site,” she said. New from Notrax is the Master Flex entrance matting system which has an interlocking design that allows it to be easily installed by hand.

Regional manager of the Andersen Company Europe Thomas Vanden Wyngaerdt believes that today’s market has a greater understanding of the importance of matting as part of an overall commitment to health and safety. “As end users become more educated, there is an increasing demand for specialised products designed for specific needs and applications,” he said. “We are seeing a significant growth in the ergonomic mat market as well as mats for specialised commercial and industrial applications to promote the wellbeing of employees and visitors.”

Andersen offers a range of electrostatic dissipative matting to help protect sensitive equipment from damage, plus non-conductive mats designed to insulate workers and protect them
from deadly shocks generated by high voltage equipment.

Like Robert Kravitz, he feels today’s market includes a vast number of products that have been designed for the same application. “For example, Andersen offers more than 60 different anti-fatigue mats with the difference between them being very location-specific,” he said. “Most mats are made from 100 per cent nitrile rubber which makes them resistant to grease, oils and chemicals. However there are mats that have been expressly designed to perform well in wet, dry or oily environments.”

Andersen recently developed the Wet Step anti-slip mat for use around swimming pools, saunas and medical areas. These are available in various colours and have an antibacterial treatment to prevent the build-up of odour-causing bacteria.

According to Vanden Wyngaerdt, smart mats will be the next big thing in matting. “These are still a few years away but they will incorporate sensors that will enable them to be connected to other devices,” he said. “As the ‘internet of things’ becomes more affordable, mats that can be connected to the internet will provide a tremendous amount of data on traffic, moisture levels and other environmental parameters while continuing to provide all the traditional benefits of mats.”

But in the meantime, today’s market remains steady, he says. “Entrance matting still represents the largest sector of purchases within our customer base,” said Vanden Wyngaerdt.  “Most end users understand the importance of quality entrance matting, particularly in areas with inclement weather conditions.”


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