The Rise of Continuous Dyeing in Carpet
When the tufted carpet industry began to boom in the late 1950’s after World War II, exhaust (beck) dyeing was the only way to dye tufted carpet. While effective for the day, it wasn’t all that efficient. The process used abundant resources and was extremely labor intensive. In response to improved efficiencies in the apparel industry a German company, Kusters, sought to bring a similar machine to use in the carpet industry. After a decade of development they debuted the first continuous dye machine for broadloom, tufted carpet at the 1967 ITMA show in Basel, Switzerland.
Wanting to bring this new technology over to the United States, shortly after the show, Barwick Corporation in the U.S. placed the first order for the new machine. At the time, this was a major capital investment at just over $800,000. Following suit, another U.S. based company, World Carpet, became the second company to purchase the machine and became first machine in production. The machine was a hit, and by the early ‘70s every major carpet mill in North America made the investment.
By the early 1970’s, every major carpet mill in North America invested in a continuous carpet dyeing machine.
While the initial cost was substantial, the positives far outweighed the negatives. The new machine was much more efficient than exhaust dyeing, processing carpet at 20 – 30 feet per minute depending on the weight of the fiber. In today’s terms, however, the machine still wasn’t quite to the efficiency levels we’re used to. The first machines required a full tail out, which meant you had to physically stop the machine to clean the area where dyes and chemicals were applied to the carpet and the dip pan where the residual dyes and chemicals rested. Then, retrieve and sew in more carpet for the color change. So at least originally, it wasn’t technically continuous at all. The custom became for companies to stockpile their warehouses with carpet and run up to 60,000 feet before tailing out and changing colors to try to make up for some of the lost time. By their standards, this solution proved efficient.
The first machines weren’t technically continuous at all, requiring carpet to be sewn in and change dyes.
As improvements developed, machines would take 30 – 50 feet to change over. And more, the modern continuous range still used significantly less water and chemicals, leaving a cleaner eco-footprint. One of the initial observations of the first continuous dye range was “an endless stream of white carpet moving through a dye range capable of rapidly shifting colors” as stated by Randall L. Patton in his work A History of the U.S. Carpet Industry.
Continuous dyeing uses less water and chemicals for a healthier eco-footprint.
Even with the addition of pressure becks in the mid 1980’s, exhaust dyeing began to become scarce. Although the cost of becks was much less, with the added labor, extra resources, and longer processing times, their inefficiencies led to their disappearance. You can find a few companies still using them, however, the number of becks in the carpet industry has decreased dramatically since the days when they were first brought over to the U.S. Now, the only advantages of beck dyeing are having the ability to dye deep, heavy shades and repair redyes. There will always be a place for exhaust dyeing, but the volume of tufted carpet will be dominated by continuous ranges for years to come. Today, with the latest upgrades and newest technology carpet can be continuously dyed at 150 – 160 feet per minute and virtually change colors within a foot or so, making it a truly continuous dye machine.
The right equipment needs the right dyes, check out our Carpet & Rug dye line.