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A better (nonwoven) fabric: how a manufacturer can determine the most important characteristics of his nonwoven.

A Better (Nonwoven) Fabric Each year we observe significant advances in the world of nonwoven fabrics. These are made possible through the availability and use of new raw materials in fibers and binders, new equipment and developments and innovations in manufacturing. So we will give credit where credit is due. There are many sophisticated and complex materials today that were designed to meet the needs of specific end uses. However, some of us believe that the best is yet to come and of course, the marketplace wanted it yesterday.

There are several nonwoven fabric manufacturers that claim their fabrics are the strongest textile material by weight, another states its nonwoven will hold/absorb more water than any woven, knit or paper and still others claim their product surpasses other textiles with regard to other various characteristics. It is not the intention here to dispute any claim, but maybe to place a bit of light on the fact that "It ain't all been done yet."

What Is Better?

It is difficult to select a single characteristic of a nonwoven and state that it is the optimum one to capture those elusive customers and markets. The nomenclature or term that may be the more profitable one today, however, would probably be "aesthetics." This brings us back to that phrase we have heard so many times--"more textile-like." This is a difficult comment to interpret. Converters or end users have different desires or ideas they are attempting to communicate when they make this request.

One of the major selling obstacles the nonwovens industry continues to encounter is the comparison to wovens and knits. It may be obvious to state that there is one major difference here. Typically, wovens and knits use yarns in interlaced or looped structures and nonwovens use a fiber-to-fiber relationship in constructing the fabric. While this may be obvious, it deserves more thought and research than most of us have given it if we are to achieve the "better nonwoven." Wovens and knit fabrics can allow the yarns and the fibers within the yarns to move within the structure. I refer to this as "working fibers." This fundamental difference offers many advantages in attempting to include many of the aesthetic properties we have become accustomed to in textile fabrics.

A few of the stitchbonded, hydroentangled and scrim nonwovens have used yarn structures that have "working fibers" and give us some direction in things that can be done. However, some of these also have negatives such as poor durability or appearance. The majority of nonwovens are bonded thermally, chemically or physically and restrict the fibers from virtually any movement. So we begin to look to bending and stretching of fibers and other methods of obtaining the properties we would get with working fibers.

A yarn can be a very complex component and the designer, the engineer and the artist have used many of its seemingly endless capabilities to create fabrics that have pleased kings, satisfied industrial needs and delighted consumers for a thousand years. There is much to be learned from the fiber-to-fiber relationships in yarns and how they perform within a fabric where they are not bonded. It is interesting to note that most of the nonwoven scrims and similar materials that use yarns today bond the yarns chemically and often the scrim is bonded to a laminate, which further restricts its movement.

Fiber is the primary building material in constructing the ideal fabric and it continues to amaze me that few nonwovens manufacturers don't utilize the possibilities that selecting the proper fiber could offer. There are literally hundreds of combinations of fiber characteristics available today and still others that could be made available if demanded. Fiber diameter, cross section, crimp type, length, finish and its chemical/physical properties combined in a given manner can offer the perfect building block or it can present an obstacle course in attempting to make the better nonwoven.

Combining the nonwoven processes has been another method of attempting to make the better nonwoven. Having been one of the first to work in the combining of spunbondeds and melt blowns in 1970, I have seen many unique products made with this approach. There are others that have yet to achieve their place in the market. Continuous filament tow combined with staple fiber, carding and air laying with melt blowing and other combinations offer great potential for the better nonwoven.
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Author:Holliday, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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