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Fiber - a creative raw material for nonwovens.

expanding your imagination can aid in developing new products and materials

What can one produce with paint and canvas, with wood and tools, with plastics and natural materials? If we look around us we can see what the imagination, creativity and talents of our so-called civilization has produce thus far and only speculate what the future holds. Looking around us is not so simple, as I suggested in my article in the February issue of NONWOVENS INDUSTRY. Many times we look but do not see (understand or appreciate).

Often we see a fabric or material that has properties that are desirable. We assume it is because of the process, fiber, binder, additives or finishing that was involved in its manufacture but we do not know what was contributed by any one of these. While each of these is an important factor in the outcome of the fabric, fiber continues to be the most dominant for many reasons.

Many yarn spinners, weavers and knitters have not only learned from the printed word but have developed a sixth sense about what a particular fiber may contribute to the final fabric. For years the "cotton buyer" was thought of as somewhat of a mystic because they could grade and categorize fiber by manipulating it in their fingers while carefully watching and maybe smelling it.

Today this approach is considered to be outdated, particularly with manmade fiber but some of the "human computer/testing equipment" (the brain of an experienced and talented person) can detect certain fiber characteristics faster, cheaper and more effectively than the laboratory. The practical approach then is, if the fingers and eyes suspect--send it to the lab and have the appropriate tests or trials performed.

Fibers--An Unlimited Variety

Today there are fibers with properties that challenge the imagination with all their potential capabilities. There are fibers with one or more holes that travel the length of the fiber. Other fibers have holes in the walls that can be varied in size and number. For years, manmade fibers that contain various components such as scents, deodorants, bactericides, UV inhibitors, flame retardants, metals for antistat, tracing agents and of course colors, whiteners and brighteners have been available.

Most of us are similar with the typical natural fibers used in nonwovens and the textile industry in general. However, nonwovens have bee made from many plants other than cotton, flax, jute, ramie, peat moss and the like. These include sugar cane, banana, avocado, pineapple, various grasses, milkweed and many others.

Trees and plants have also supplied the sap, pitch, tars and chemicals that have been used in making fibers. Fibers have been made with superabsorbents, biocellulose or cultivated bacteria, proteins, asphalt, steel, silver, gold, glass, rubber, urethane and various food stocks. Even seaweed, sea shells and crushed animal bones have been used. Spider web chemistry and skin can be added to the growing list. Fibers have been made of combinations of certain ingredients to obtain specific attributes such as high-modulus quasi-crystalline fibers based on calcium and aluminum oxide for reinforcing.

It is often difficult to select one of the exotic fibers that can be processed to existing equipment and made into a fabric that is a viable product. Such fibers cannot be processed on the typical nonwoven card and are not thermally bondable, as an example. Special techniques have to be developed or equipment designed or altered to process these fibers in most instances. Most of the unique fibers were not developed for the nonwovens industry but the equipment, processing capabilities and marketing approaches may be more suited to them than those in the typical textile organization.

There are fibers that stretch, shrink, elongate, dissolve or disintegrate under certain conditions, swell, melt or not melt, burn or resist heat/fire. Some are edible, optical fibers that can pipe hundreds of thousands of phone calls and TV channels simultaneously, moisture sensitive fibers that change dimensions and cross section, photochromic fibers that change color in certain light, posses electrical properties, change characteristics with temperature, reproduce sound and are used internally to repair the human body.

Microfibers In Textiles

Although microfibers have been produced for some 20 years, they have only recently taken off in the textile industry. Weavers and knitters have recognized some of the attributes of what they refer to as "microfibers" (less than one denier). These attributes include improvements in drape, hand, softness, opacity, absorbency/wicking, water repellency and care or maintenance.

The spinning (extrusion) of the filaments, cutting the filament into staple, opening, blending, carding and spinning the fiber into yarn are not feasible on typical textile equipment when the fibers are much smaller than one denier. However, the textile fabric manufacturers are adapting and innovating in order to supply the growing markets. A microdenier fabric may contain three times as much fiber for filaments as the typical one it is replacing. "Micromattique" polyester was introduced in 1990 by Du Pont and has been well received. These types of fabrics have been offered with sophisticated finishes such as subtle brushed and sueded effects to ultra light worsted looks. It is estimated that there is some 12 million pounds of polyester microfiber for the market today and the predictions are that they will continue to grow in many consumer products.

The growth and acceptance of such fibers in the more traditional textile markets will no doubt have its effects on nonwovens. Two spunbonded nonwoven manufacturers have produced fabrics with filaments less than one denier and the interest for them has been high. Melt blown and electrostatic spinning have been the major producers of microfibers in the nonwovens industry and some of these fabrics contain fibers less than one tenth of a denier. The nonwovens industry produces more than five times as much microdenier products as the remainder of the textile industry. Is there a message here? Tom Holliday is a well known consultant to the nonwovens and textile industries whose column on a wide range of nonwovens-related topics appears every month in NONWOVENS INDUSTRY. Mr. Holiday operates his consultancy firm, Thomas M. Holliday & Associates, out of his office at 25 Edgewood Road. Yardley, PA 19067; (215) 493-2501.
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Title Annotation:varying construction of fibers offers numerous capabilities
Author:Holliday, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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