Armstrong World Industries has launched a new generation of ceiling systems that will enable dramatic advances in the design and flexibility of commercial interiors by allowing the integration of sound and wireless systems into the ceiling plane without them being visible from below.

Called "i-ceilings," the first two offerings in the company's new portfolio of products and services focus on two growth industries: wireless communications and sound systems.

The i-ceilings Wireless Systems feature a special antenna panel that has a suite of antennas embedded in the ceiling panel to enable in-building wireless connectivity for voice and data.

''This helps increase employee mobility and workplace effectiveness by providing occupants with clearer, more reliable wireless telephone use, and with easier access to the Internet and data networks, regardless of where they are in a building,'' a company spokesman says.

The i-ceilings Sound Systems feature a sound panel that delivers sound masking, paging and music simultaneously as one speaker. ''This helps increase workplace effectiveness by enhancing speech privacy, which is a vital concern in both open and closed plan offices,'' he says.

''The antenna and sound panels both look just like ordinary ceiling panels so that they blend in with the overall ceiling. This makes the interior space more aesthetically pleasing by eliminating unsightly speakers and surface-mounted antennas.''

Stephen Senkowski, president of Armstrong's building products operations, says the introduction of i-ceilings represents a significant change in the ability of a ceiling to deliver added value to a building's owners and occupants. "By integrating technology and design, the ceiling becomes a vital part of a building's infrastructure,'' he says. ''A ceiling can now do much more than just cover the plenum. The result is high performance interiors that enhance comfort, aesthetics and workplace effectiveness.''

Senkowski notes that the development of i-ceilings was the result of Armstrong going out to the marketplace, listening, and responding to unmet market needs.

It also required a strong partnering perspective since these new lines rely on outside strategic partners to make the concepts a reality. "This new portfolio of interactive ceilings now positions Armstrong for growth far beyond ceilings alone,'' he adds.

Armstrong claims to be the world's largest manufacturer of the acoustical ceilings used in commercial applications. The introduction of i-ceilings continues its long history of innovation that includes such advances as the introduction of Fire Guard ceilings and what is considered to be the industry's first ceilings classified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for acoustical performance.

Armstrong Holdings is a leader in the design, innovation and manufacture of floors and ceilings. Based in Lancaster in the US, Armstrong has 18,000 employees worldwide. In 1999, Armstrong's net sales totalled more than $3.4 billion.