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Learning and growing in nonwovens.

end uses continue to expand the nonwovens industry; as an example, synthetic leather provides opportunities for nonwoven inroads

This issue of nonwovens industry looks at some of the various end uses where we find nonwovens. The major ones may demonstrate the volume and growth of nonwovens, but these do not tell the whole story. There are hundreds of products that use nonwovens today and it would be impossible to determine all of these uses that reveal the versatility and capabilities of nonwoven processes and products. I listed many of these in my Holliday Talk column in the December 1992 issue of nonwovens industry, but as I stated then, you simply cannot find them all. Even if you did, by the time you attempted to organize your list, more would have been introduced.

Why do nonwovens continue to grow, to replace other products and why are they selected to be used in new products? There are many reasons and they range from lower investment to higher yields. They are the "in" process for textile-thinking people. Nonwovens have been given good press in many publications. As an industry, we have become a recognized force in many ways by the government, institutions. OEM's, fabricators and converters as well as colleges and universities.

However, I believe the outstanding reason that underlies all of those listed above and others is the versatility and overall capabilities of the raw materials, processes and talent in our industry. Having had the pleasure of working with many nonwoven producers, I have witnessed the ingenuity, creativeness and productivity of the people and processes of our industry.

To fully appreciate the capabilities of our industry, one must have witnessed some of the products being developed and observed their beating a path to the door of success in an end use market. Some of the historic ones such as floor covering materials, synthetic leather, disposables, healthcare and home furnishings products demonstrate the frustrations in first learning how and then educating the market or users. You may be reminded of the situation where a particular person is told something cannot be done and he immediately begins work on it.

You Can't Fool Mother

Nature ... Or Can You?

Synthetic leather is an interesting and educational market and/or product situation regarding nonwovens. I think nearly every approach that could be thought of has been tried to produce a product for one or more of the leather markets (including wovens and knits).

To appreciate the beauty of real leather is the beginning of developing a product to replace it. I have said that leather is the best nonwoven ever produced. If you look at leather in a microscope, you will think you are looking at a nonwoven. However, if you select two particular samples, you may find each an excellent arrangement of fibers but one very different from the other.

Leather may be defined as an omnidirectional, natural nonwoven type fibrous mass in sheet form. Nature has accomplished many things in leather that man has not been able to duplicate. These properties include a random microfiber structure that is very compact and dense yet has permeability and moisture absorbtion-transmission, can be wet formed and stretched and has multidirectional strength and dependability. Many substitutes have been proven more acceptable in given end uses from athletic equipment to a razor strap. However, I know of no product that has all the true properties of leather made by any process today.

There have been four major approaches to producing synthetic leather during the past 25 or so years:

1. Wovens and knits that are napped/sheared, laminated or coated and finished.

2. Nonwovens impregnated, laminated and/or coated and finished.

3. All plastic (no fiber) where polymers are extruded giving an open cell-like structure and then finished.

4. Collagen (leather fibers) are bonded in a structure and finished.

Typically, these processes include embossing, dyes/pigments and tricks of the trade. Most of these are not permeable. Those that are permeable have been called poromerics.

To further explore and learn from these products, we see that synthetic leathers have been made from combining the above processes. There have been laminates and composites where a woven substrate was used inside of a needle-punched nonwoven and a layer of foam then placed on top. A film is then adhered to this and embossing and finishing follows. Needle-punched nonwovens have been the preferred fabric for many years because these materials have more of the properties associated with leather.

Many types of fibers with different configurations have been used in an attempt to copy Mother Nature. "Ultra Suede" was the first commercially successful suede nonwoven to use microdenier fiber. These smaller fibers in the range of .1 denier gave the appearance and hand of true suede leather. Typical textile equipment could not process fibers this small.

In recent years we find that several products have been made with melt blown microdenier fibers that may be made from a stretch polymer such as urethane. This nonwoven fabric may then be saturated with urethane as a binder, a breathable or microporous film laminated on top and finished.

Many of those that have attempted to develop a product to replace leather have fallen into a rather obvious trap. The word or nomenclature "leather" is like "nonwoven," it covers a broad range of products with an extreme variety of properties among these and there are significant differences within each category.

Typically one may think of cattle when referring to leather. What kind of cattle, where they were raised, what they ate and many other factors influence the hide. The hide may be split into three layers and each layer is different. How the hide is processed and finished is also a factor. Therefore, you would probably be much more successful in attempting to define what end use requirements are needed rather than attempting to copy or duplicate this elusive giant.

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 other month in Nonwovens Industry. Mr. Holliday 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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Author:Holliday, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Words:1034
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