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Banner applications for spunbonded nonwoven fabrics.

Prior to the introduction of nonwoven fabrics in general, specifically spunbonded fabrics, woven or coated woven fabrics were the primary materials used for banners. This has changed significantly during the last 30 years. Today plastic materials such as reinforced vinyls, polyethylene film and spunbonded fabrics are the major participants in the outdoor banner market. This change was driven by the need for lower costs, the evolution of printing inks and printing equipment combined with a dramatic increase in the use of banners as a method of advertising.

Spunbonded fabrics have a unique role in the banner market. To understand the value of spunbonded fabrics, it is necessary to understand the manufacturing process of spunbonds relative to woven fabrics, the banner market, printing methods, competing products and their characteristics and the technical parameters needed to participate in this market.

Spunbonded fabrics have a role in the banner market due to their unique characteristics. The manufacturing process is the foundation of the spunbonded fabric's differentiation and value in the banner market. The value of spunbonded fabric is derived from the technology and capital investment. "The concept of spunbonded fabrics had as its objective the elimination of the fabrication step, typically the weaving or knitting of filaments. Thus, the idea of going from monomer or polymer to fabric in one step was envisioned as the lowest cost method to produce roll goods that were capable of supplanting existing, higher cost textile products. Almost all processes today are one-step from polymer chip to continuous filament web."(1) Thus, the low cost manufacturing process combined with the high strength of spunbonded fabrics is the basis for their value and differentiation.

The Banner Market

Large fabric displays or banners have been used for centuries. Tapestry is one of the oldest and certainly most refined form of banners. Printed woven fabrics remained the primary material used for banners until plastics entered this market during the last three decades. Although woven fabrics were once the largest factor in the banner market, their role today is primarily high end applications where draping characteristics and aesthetics are key requirements. Although the purpose of banners has remained the same throughout history - convey a message in a large format to an audience quickly - the materials, printing inks and printing methods continue to evolve.

One of the greatest challenges facing this industry today is the movement to more environmentally friendly inks and better ways to dispose of banners after they no longer have value. The composition of spunbonded fabrics, methods of production and recycling options add to their value. For a spunbonded fabric to participate in the banner market, the fabric must accept and hold commonly used silk screen inks (solvent, aqueous and UV curable inks) and electronically cut vinyl letters; images must also adhere well to the fabric surface.

There are many uses for outdoor banners. On the national level, they are used by fast food companies, beer and soft drink producers and other mass merchandisers. Regionally, local and small businesses also use banners. They are produced by the thousands and there are thousands of one of-a-kind banners. The market for outdoor banner materials is extremely competitive and technically demanding. It is estimated that $100 million per year is consumed in banner fabrics and materials.

Most outdoor banner fabrics have the following characteristics:

Excellent tear strength

Strong adhesion to the fabric or material with ink, vinyl letters or paint

Ultraviolet and moisture resistance

Ability to withstand wide temperature and humidity range

Minimum shrinkage during drying.

Simply stated, fabrics that sell combine low cost, excellent tear strength and ease of decoration. To successfully participate in this market, spunbonded fabrics must have excellent tear strength and image well, yet provide significant product differentiation to gain the market's attention.

Spunbonded fabrics for banners offer the following differentiating characteristics:

Strong fiber reinforcement in all directions

Low "total cost" material

Can be used outdoors without sewing and grommeting

No product dating (i.e. no shelf life)

Fabric accepts a broad range of commonly used inks (both solvent and aqueous inks)

Fabric accepts low VOC and low heavy metal inks

Vinyl letters adhere well to the surface.

Strong fiber reinforcement in all directions, low "total cost" fabric and the ability to use the product without sewing and grommeting are characteristics inherent to spunbonded fabrics participating in the banner market. Developing a spunbonded fabric without product dating and which can be printed with a broad range of commonly used silk screen inks including solvent, aqueous and UV curable inks is difficult and requires permanently increasing the surface energy of the fabric. Today, some ink companies produce inks specifically for spunbonded fabrics. However, most printers strongly prefer to use an ink that is multi-purpose due to the high cost of stocking multiple inks. If a fabric can be used without changing printing methods, the chance of its gaining acceptance is greatly increased.

Among the many different banner fabrics and printing methods in the marketplace, no one fabric has all the desired attributes. There are applications where one material is clearly the preferred candidate and often it is available from more than one supplier or manufacturer. Two notable exceptions are spunbonded polypropylene and spunbonded polyethylene. As in most markets, the price point of the fabric determines how willing customers are to give up any specific attribute.

Although woven fabrics have a role in banner applications, the market today is driven by cost, printing methods and environmental issues. New entrants must produce fabrics that print well using inks presently on printer's shelves and newer, more environmentally friendly inks. Identifying inks that adhere well to a fabric is easier than producing a fabric that prints well with a broad range of commonly used inks.

In a market consisting of conservatively 50,000 screen printers and 200,000+ sign shops worldwide, a new fabric must conform to the present decorating methods to gain market share. The high strength and relatively low cost characteristics of spunbonded fabrics make them excellent candidates for banner applications.

(1) Smorada, R., "Spunbonded Technology: An Historical Perspective," INDA JNR Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 26-31 (Fall 1991)
COPYRIGHT 1993 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Logan, George
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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