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End use markets for nonwovens: non-stop new products complement traditional markets.


Non-Stop New Products Complement Traditional Markets

the nonwovens industry in the past year has continued its strong tradition of developing innovations suited to niche marketing; segments profiled include automotives, laundry additives, filtration, durable envelopes, wipes, medical, geotextiles, agriculture, electrical and home furnishings

From extra layers of nonwoven fabrics in baby diapers to wiping products designed for one-stop cleaning to needlepunched fabrics that help make grass grow faster, nonwovens have continued their inexorable push into new as well as established end use markets in the past year. The tide of new product introductions has not ebbed as an industry many describe as mature continues to find niches for its engineered fabrics.

The value of shipments of nonwoven fabrics in North America, which consumes more than half of the world consumption of nonwovens, is estimated by John R. Starr, Inc. to be about $2.34 billion in 1988. This is equivalent to just less than 13 billion sq. yards of fabric. The industry continues its 5-6% annual growth in constant dollars; Starr estimates place the roll goods market at $3.5 billion by 1995.

Nonwoven designed for disposable end uses accounted for about 60% of 1988 North American value of shipments, but more than 80% of total yardage volume. Sales of converted disposable end products made from these nonwovens--in segments ranging from baby diapers to medical products to industrial wipes and apparel--reached the landmark $10 billion mark in North America in 1988.

Current forecasts suggest that the volume of nonwovens sold for disposable end uses will grow at a slightly lower rate about 5% a year--than the volume of nonwovens used in durable applications, put at between 6-7% annually. These forecasts, however, do not take into account new end uses for the next few years, so for practical purposes both disposable and durable segments should maintain an almost equal pace.

This year we have focused on about a dozen end use segments that utilize nonwoven fabrics. We have chosen to look at many of the smaller--but not small--segments to give a well-rounded look at the niches that drive the nonwovens business. The larger markets, such as disposable diapers, feminine hygiene, adult incontinence and medical products (which has a few paragraphs in this article) are featured in separate issues of Nonwovens Industry this year.

Driving Home A Point: There's Room for Nonwovens

From their humble beginnings as functional felts as pads or fillers and carpet underlays, nonwovens have developed into a major component of automotive interiors and engine parts as the technology continues to catch up with the sophisticated demands of the huge automakers. The use of nonwovens in automobiles has increased primarily due to the nonwovens industry's ability to respond to performance and price demands.

The automotive industry is the largest user of industrial textiles, with growth projected from 289.5 million sq. yards in 1986 to 319.6 million sq. yards in 1991, according to Frost & Sullivan. Even more significant is the projected growth of automotive nonwovens from 8% in 1988 to 21% early in the 1990's.

Nonwovens used in automotive applications, including backings for carpets, trim carpeting and headliners, will likely increase significantly in volume during the next five to seven years. New nonwovens developments that will lead to tougher, more durable fabrics, often based on solution dyed fibers, will be important forces driving growth.

The expansion of nonwovens in automotive applications has basically followed the growth of the synthetic fiber industry and its ability to develop processing methods that keep up with the demands of the automakers. Fibers ranging from polypropylene and polyester to aramid, glass and nylon are utilized by methods as diverse as needlepunched, spunbonded, wet laid, melt blown and dry laid.

With the exception of a few areas--such as a dry laid, bonded polyester fiber for trim panel padding or a spunbonded polypropylene for seat listings--there is a misconception that nonwovens are being specified for automotives primarily because of their lower costs.

"Most of the nonwovens [used in automotives] were chosen for a combination of reasons, of which cost was not the overriding factor," F.H. Lieb, of Chrysler Motors, emphasized during a presentation at INDA-TEC in June. He pointed to examples such as the nonwoven developed for Chrysler's automatic transmission oil filter because it could be made with the unique set of properties required, namely an ability to filter out contaminants down to a certain micron rating to prevent valve clogging while still keeping enough open paths for proper oil flow.

Another example Mr. Lieb provided of a nonwoven doing the job best is the molded fiberglass headlining. Melt blown, air laid glass fibers are made into a low density mat bonded with heat curable thermosetting resins. The mat is then molded with heat and pressure to the shape, density and thickness required to trim off the inside of a roof panel.

"The nonwovens industry did an outstanding job in cooperating with the automotive industry to develop lighter weight needled carpets during the middle to late 1970's," he added. While these needled fabrics have found uses in trunk side lining and floors and trim panel covers, among other areas, they have yet to make the in-roads into the floor covering segment.

Mr. Lieb feels nonwovens will make a serious challenge to take over at least two high volume decorative applications in the near future because of advances in needle design and in punching and finishing operations, as well as the availability of new types and deniers of fibers. The most difficult task will be to obtain at least a share of the automotive tufted floor carpet business, with up to 45 million sq. yards a year at stake. An easier target may be the napped knit nylon fabrics used as headliners; the incentive here is approximately 40 million sq. yards a year.

Sandy Stamper, of the Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac Div. of General Motors, Warren, MI, pointed out in a recent talk that several problems must first be addressed if the nonwovens industry wants to supplant conventional textiles in automobiles. These include resolving problems such as the ever present needle marks or the appearance of holes or pits in the surface.

Probably the biggest shortcoming of nonwoven products is bearding, according to the GM spokesperson. "Control of this phenomena is an essential requirement for automotive interiors. With vehicle warranties increasing, the durability of nonwoven products must increase. Thus, bearding has to overcome before nonwoven products can be used extensively."

The automotive trend for the future is in nonwoven composites, according to Mr. Lieb, of Chrysler. They will range from simple nonwoven-to-nonwoven laminates to nonwovens with plastic matrices or woven or knitted fabrics. These new composites could also lend themselves to modular assemblies. Some of these are already being used; an example is the small seat welting composite made with an outer layer of decorative woven fabric heat bonded around a plastic core using two nonwovens. The heat bonding agent is an extruded foamed polymer web attenuated into a fibrous structure, which bonds the woven fabric to a spunbonded polyester, which in turn is bonded with another layer of the polymer web to form the leg of the welting.

The future for nonwoven composites in automobiles is exemplified by the unique one-piece formed trunk lining developed jointly by Chrysler and Masland for the Plymouth Acclaim and Dodge Spirit. The part is made by extruding mineral filled polypropylene sheet and then laminating needled polyester carpet to the front surface and a spunbonded polyester fabric to the rear. The composite fabric is compression formed to fit the shape of the trunk inner surfaces.

One factor the suppliers to the automotive industry must face is the increasing cost pressures by the big automakers, according to more than one automotive industry supplier. Their increasing common practice is to "ask for" annual price reductions on parts and components ranging from 1-5%. Desirable as this may be for the automakers, they are also exceedingly difficult for most suppliers. Already the suppliers are being asked to do more development, engineering, testing and quality assurance themselves. Providing the automakers with a 2% or 3% annual price cut on a mature product will be a formidable task for suppliers.

One last piece of advice was provided by GM's Stamper: "Even when all the mentioned appearance challenges of nonwovens are solved, there is still one more. The value of the product must be perceived by the showroom customer.

"Get to know the industry. Get to know the products currently used and the needs of the automotive company's dedicated parts suppliers. Be willing to commit to development work and testing."

Softening Up A Dirty Business: Variations On A Theme

The nonwoven fabric contribution to the $3.25 billion laundry cleaning products business is in the form of fabric substrates as carrying agents for soap, fabric softeners and antistatic dryer treatments. Altogether they add up to an estimated $80 million business in 1988, utilizing approximately 600 million sq. yards of nonwoven fabrics. Frost & Sullivan estimates the market will reach 835 million sq. yards of nonwovens, valued at slightly more than $100 million, by 1992.

Procter & Gamble continues to hold more than half of the fabric softener market, while Lever Brothers with its "Snuggle" sheets has about a 20% share. Private label entries account for the remaining 25%.

Nonwovens have been invaluable in the mature laundry products segment as manufacturers search for variations on a theme to attract customers. Successful companies must have substantial capital and they seek to achieve rapid return on their investment before heading into a new product development, a primary reason fabric softener sheets and laundry additives have become so popular.

The leading fiber used in nonwoven fabric softener substrates is rayon, with 80% of the market, followed by equal uses of polypropylene and polyester. The anticipated success of detergent/dryer pouches will erode this share to eventually give polypropylene the lead.

Fabric forming currently favors dry laid, chemically bonded webs (85%), followed by spunbondeds (although one of the leading fabric softeners recently switched to a spunbonded fabric from a dry laid nonwoven, so these figures will change). A shift in fabric forming in favor of spunbonded and melt blown fabrics may also occur depending on the success of detergent/dryer pouches.

Filtering Out The Applications For Nonwovens In Separation

Nonwovens have historically been used in an array of liquid filtration applications, most notably as needled felts for plate and frame presses and micron rated bags, spunbonded nonwovens in coolant filtration, as liquid filter cartridges and as support and drainage in microfiltration membrane prefilters. Lately, melt blown composites have been successfully introduced in numerous applications, sometime replacing well established traditional media.

The wet filtration nonwovens segment has been estimated by Frost & Sullivan to be an $80 million, 441 million sq. yard business in the U.S. alone. Projections call for growth to $91 million and 502 million sq. yards by 1992. Competition remains very price sensitive, often to the detriment of product performance. The successful participants in this field seem to be the smaller, more specialized manufacturers that can offer flexible, short run production.

Significant opportunities exist in the areas of water purification for commercial and residential use, high tech microporous filtration and centrifuge and extraction technology. In the more traditional markets of coolant systems, milk and dairy processing, cooking oil filtration and swimming pool filters, growth is not expected above 2% a year into the mid-1990's. The remaining wet filtration markets of food and beverage processing, coffee and tea filters and vessel bag filters are not expected to experience growth above 6% through 1992.

Nonwoven fabrics used in wet filtration are predominantly wet laid (60%), followed by spunbonded (20%), melt blown (12%), dry laid (7%) and needled felts (1%). Fiber use is dominated by cellulose (45%), followed by polypropylene (30%) and polyester (25%).

Lutz Bergmann, president of Filter Media Consulting, La Grange, GA, gave a paper on "Trends and Facts of Nonwovens in Liquid Filtration" at the recent EDANA U.K. Nonwovens Symposium in London. Among his comments on the market:

"Historically, needled felts have been used with egg shell type surfaces for plate and frame presses. Since needled felts are often heavier and much stronger than woven fabrics, special applications were selected whereby the longer life, or most importantly, superior performance of needled felts would justify the somewhat higher initial price.

"Approximately 10-15 years ago, spunbondeds were introduced into filtration. It is predicted that a new trend of so-called microfibers, unique, spunbonded nonwovens will play a much larger role in filtration, not limited to two or three applications as they are today. Such materials carry the potential to not only perform in liquid but also in dry filtration. It is know that the performance of some of these materials is superior not only to other spunbonded nonwovens, but also to wet laid and possibly needle felted materials.

"There is no doubt that within the last 24 months wet laid nonwovens have penetrated into a number of filtration applications. Such products have been successfully introduced into coolant filtration and basically considered because of their better performance, particularly with regard to dirt holding capacity, differential pressure and, consequently, better economics.

"Wet laid nonwovens have also successfully penetrated the liquid cartridge filtration field for hydraulic applications as well as engine oil applications. Normally, these materials are based on 10-30% cellulosic pulp and the balance polyester or polypropylene. Its greater uniformity and the fact that it can be produced at high production rates will make this particular filtration material more popular in years to come."

"As a membrane support for spiral elements in reverse osmosis and ultrafiltration, wet laid nonwovens have been used foremost in the U.S. just in the past two years. Worldwide ... this application represents approximately 3.5 million sq. yards, with consumption as follows:
 U.S. & Canada 35%
 Western Europe 32%
 Japan 25%
 All Others 8%

"One of the latest developments--microfiber melt blowns--have already penetrated filtration applications to some extent. The most visible penetration, however, has taken place with so-called micron rated bags.

"Melt blown nonwovens that are manufactured as composites offer an increased fiber surface and, therefore, a much larger dirt holding capacity as comparable nonwovens based on different manufacturing techniques.

"Liquid cartridge manufacturers in Japan are leaders in employing melt blown nonwoven media in large quantities. The current use of such nonwovens represents approximately $10 million. Some of these materials have penetrated the U.S. market, but so far not to any large extent into Western Europe.

"Microfiber melt blown nonwovens are composites in which the fine fiber is sandwiched between two layers of spunbonded or thermobonded nonwoven materials. New process technology has been currently developed to allow such materials to be manufactured in a one-step procedure.

"The latest entry of nonwovens in filtration is spunlaced or hydroentangled materials. Obviously, it is too early to predict their success and penetration; however, the characteristics of these uniquely manufactured textiles promise some very interesting features and properties.

"Stainless steel fiber composites are little known outside typical polymer melt filtration users. Stainless steel fibers--drawn into two, four, eight, 12 and 20 staple fibers--are manufactured by a proprietary process into a unique web which, in fact, is sintered together with fine wire screen media. These materials are used foremost in pleated candle configurations or disc filters. This unique, nonwoven composite is expected to show significant growth since technology to economically clean such filter elements has also been introduced in Europe. The total market in Western Europe and North America is estimated at $3.5 million just for this uniquely manufactured stainless steel web/sintered filter material."

Nonwovens Sending A Message In Durable Envelope Segment

The nonwoven segment of the envelope market exceeded 350 million sq. yards in 1988, giving it about 6% of the entire envelope business. The value of the nonwoven contribution is estimated by Frost & Sullivan to be slightly more than $100 million (converted fabric value), or more than 13% of the value of the envelope market. This reflects the added value nonwovens are bringing to this segment.

The market in 1992 for nonwoven fabric in the envelope market is expected to reach 570 million sq. yards. Roll goods in 1988 were estimated at $65 million. With growth parallel to yardage, that total should make nonwovens roll goods targeted for the envelope market an $89 million business in the early 1990's.

Recent growth in this segment has been fueled by new applications, such as padded mailing pouches and envelopes, demand by air express service companies, computer industry expansion and the demand for diskette sleeves.

Spunbonded nonwovens dominate, led by DuPont's "Tyvek" spunbonded polypropylene and Reemay's spunbonded polyester. The recent expansion of DuPont's Tyvek capacity in Luxembourg should open up new opportunities as the short supply situation evaporates.

Nonwovens Wiping Out Wovens In Limited Use Cloth Business

In a market once dominated by waste fabrics, nonwovens have once again been able to make a name for themselves through their ability to be engineered to specific applications. There is a definite demand and a rapidly growing acceptance of clean, task-specific nonwoven wiping materials in the U.S. and Europe.

The category has struggled to remove the "disposable" label from its wiping cloth products. Nonwovens are commonly used alone as wiping cloths and, in this context, are being promoted as short life or limited use wipes rather than disposables based on the simple fact that they are made for repeated rather than single use. Nonwovens currently account for about 30% of overall wiping cloth volume, well ahead of paper at 23% but still lagging behind wovens at 47%.

Consumption of nonwovens in the U.S. wipes market in 1988 reached about 1.17 billion sq. meters, with 6% annual growth projected into the 1990's. Total nonwovens roll goods sales for the wipes market were about $180 million in 1988; growth projections expect roll goods sales to reach $262 million in 1992. This market is typically broken down into industrial and institutional wipes and consumer nonwoven wipes.

A variety of nonwoven technologies are utilized throughout the wiping cloth segment; the nonwoven wipers growth is anticipated to grow more rapidly than other applications for these technologies. The fastest growing should be spunlaced, forecast to expand 25% in the wipes market and 18% overall. Melt blown, with 10% overall growth expected, should increase 12% in the wipes market and air laid (11% overall growth) should grow 15% annually in wiping cloth applications. Dry laid staple, the most mature technology, is forecast to expand 5% in the wipes segment and only 3% overall.

Major roll goods producers include Chicopee (dry staple and spunlaced), DuPont (spunlaced), Fort Howard (dry staple, air laid), James River (dry staple, air laid), Veratec (dry staple, spunlaced), Kimberly-Clark (melt blown) and Scott Paper (dry staple, air laid).

The industrial and institutional segment, which represents about a $195 million end use business, is further broken down into food service wipes, clean room wipes and other industrial wipes. The food service wipes, predominantly dry laid nonwovens designed to be semi-reusable, represent almost one-third of sales with about $55 million annually; they are growing faster than the industry average because they provide convenience and their cost per use is lower than rental linens. The total nonwovens consumption in food service wipes in 1988 approached 70 million sq. meters, which is projected to expand to 84 million sq. meters by 1992.

Clean room wipes have achieved at least 50% penetration in uses such as laboratories, office equipment cleaning and the electronic and aerospace industries that require low linting products. Prices are quite high for the specifically engineered nonwovens (primarily hydroentangled structures and composites) and the total market was about $50 million in 1988, with a volume of close to 60 million sq. meters. This segment is also projected to grow slightly faster than the industry average to reach 92 million sq. meters in 1992.

Other industrial wipes, which include general manufacturing, transportation/utilities, printing/publishing/graphic arts, automotive and government/school, had sales of close to $90 million in 1988, amounting to about 240 million sq. meters of nonwovens. Several technologies, ranging from card and bind webs to air laid and melt blown composites, are utilized.

The second major category is consumer nonwoven wipes, which is also further subdivided into premoistened products, impregnated pads and towelettes and disposable towels.

Premoistened wipes represent the major segment within this category, having grown more than 35% a year since the early 1970's to become almost a $300 million retail business with more than 500 million sq. meters of production in 1988. Further increases of up to 8% a year are projected, which would bring the segment to 684 million sq. meters by the early 1990's. Fueling growth is a new category of adult wipes as well as specialty niches such as household wipers impregnated with cleaning and polishing agents. The wet wipes, or baby wipes, account for 90% of the volume. Here, Scott holds slightly more than 40% of the market, Lehn & Fink has about 17% and private label entries have about 37%.

Utility and specialty wipes remain a modest sub-segment as nonwovens compete with paper products and are promotion sensitive. It accounts for only slightly more than $40 million in annual sales, with a volume of about 55 million sq. meters. Consumption of utility and specialty wipes is expected to reach 77 million by 1992.

Impregnated pads and towelettes, forecast to grow 7% a year to reach a volume of 21 million sq. meters in the next five years, remain today a relatively modest 18 million sq. meter business.

Disposable limited use towels, a segment that covers consumer roll towels, cosmetic and barber towels, medical professional towels and sport towels, are forecast to grow 10% a year through 1992, when it should become about a 280 million sq. meter business. Consumer towels made from air laid nonwovens, such as James River's "Bolt," account for about one-third of current volume (about 75 million sq. meters).

In Europe, where penetration of disposable nonwovens remains just half of the U.S. level, similar growth is expected within the wiping cloth segment. The problems of varying markets remain an obstacle; for example, the Nordic countries have the highest per capita consumption of nonwovens, comparable to the U.S., but the ratio of industrial/consumer wipes is inverted.

Total value of the industrial wiping market in Western Europe is estimated at $800 million, with nonwoven wipes accounting for only 10-15% of that.

(Editor's Note: Much of the information in this wiping cloth segment was provided by Dr. Guy Goldstein, senior vice president-international business research and development, Kayserburg Group, Beghin-Say, France, during in a recent presentation.)

The Medical Nonwovens Business: Just What The Doctor Ordered

The medical disposable products category recorded more than $1.1 billion in end product sales in North America in 1988. Adult incontinence products sold to institutions and surgical packs and gowns account for the major portion of these sales.

"The surgical gown business, and in fact much of the entire medical disposables category, has been strong during the recent past because of the infectious diseases issues and, to a lesser extent, increased surgical procedure activity," said Pricie Hanna, of John R. Starr, Inc., Osterville, MA, during a recent presentation at the Clemson University Nonwoven Fabrics Forum, Clemson, SC. "Concern about AIDS and the transmission of infectious diseases has resulted in increased sales of barrier treated surgical gowns, masks and accessories as well as isolation gowns."

It is possible, Ms. Hanna added, "that some backlash associated with hospital overspending for these protective nonwoven disposables will occur during the next year or two and result in a slowdown. However, the fundamental increased concern for greater medical personnel protection will likely continue to drive nonwovens acceptance in this area."

The medical disposables business consumes about two billion sq. yards of nonwoven fabrics of several types. Many of these are relatively high value nonwovens, so the size of the sector, in total, is actually larger than the coverstock segment from the standpoint of value shipments of roll goods manufacturers.

John R. Starr's most recent forecast is that medical disposables end product volume will grow at, or slightly above, the rate of the industry as a whole through the mid-1990's. "This growth is likely to be realized despite the maturing of some major segments and despite certain technological innovations, that may obviate the need for some nonwoven products," Ms. Hanna said. "Counter balancing this factor will be new medical applications for advanced nonwoven fabric types."

(Nonwovens Industry will feature an in-depth look at the medical disposables market in its November, 1989 issue).

In on the Ground Floor; Nonwovens Dig Into Geotextiles

Even though many insiders in the geotextile industry agree that expansion has slowed from the 10-12% growth rate of only a few years ago to the 7% mark of 1988, many companies are still boasting of banner years. One explanation for geotextile growth may come from some new-found outlets for nonwoven and woven materials.

One such market is maintenance of the country's aging railroad system. According to Frost and Sullivan, an estimated 8.5 million sq. yards of geotextiles went into railroad maintenance in 1988.

Another impetus for growth has come from the federal government, where stronger requirements on hazardous waste containment have fueled expansion for liner, containment, drainage and filtration geotextiles. As long as the environmental issue continues to rain on Capital Hill, the geotextile industry will stand to benefit.

"At the moment, the nonwoven geotextile industry is very strong," said T.G. Collins, national sales manager for Wellman Quline, Charlotte, NC. "Paving geotextiles have dropped off a bit, but the rest of the market is doing very well, particularly heavyweights. Lighterweights are not as strong.

"The use of heavier, stronger weights has been increasing, mostly in landfill use where heavier, thicker, puncture-resistant nonwovens are needed," he added.

Conversely, Thomas Stephens, director of geotechnical products for Mirafi, Charlotte, NC., in a paper given at this year's Nonwovens Fabrics Forum in Clemson, SC, said, "The characteristics of the products will be toward lighter weights."

According to Mr. Stephens, worldwide estimated shipments in 1988 totalled 565 million sq. yards for use in the construction industry, 290 million sq. yards of which are in the U.S.

In drainage and filtration, 50 million sq. yards of non-wovens were used. About 95 million sq. yards were consumed for stabilization and reinforcement. Wovens dominated this segment with 75% of the market share. For erosion protection, 37 million sq. yards were used, with wovens and nonwovens virtually equal in this market. About 80 million sq. yards of nonwovens were used in asphalt overlays; another 16 million sq. yards of geotextiles were used in pond underlinings.

While the actual projections for the future vary, the outlook is good. The industry is still locked in its division between wovens and nonwovens, with roughly 70% going to nonwovens and the remainder to wovens.

Mr. Stephens predicted that more than 300 million sq. yards of geotextile materials will be sold annually by 1990 in the U.S. and more than 355 million sq. yards by 1995. But for Mr. Collins these figures are too conservative; he expects even higher sales. The Frost and Sullivan study is also optimistic, forecasting that geotextile expansion from 351.7 million sq. yards in 1988 to 547.2 million sq. yards worldwide by 1992.

Looking towards the future, Mr. Stephens said that "today's challenge for the major geotextile manufacturers is to increase contractors' and engineers' understanding of the functions and benefits of geotextile materials. The history of the geotextile industry has proven that as construction costs escalate, geotextiles have actually become less expensive to utilize and it appears that this trend will continue."

Mr. Collins noted another possible trend in the geotextile future. "In the future, we see a steady trend of nonwovens replacing wovens in the erosion control market, primarily because of their better flow and puncture resistance."

A Growing Contributor To Modern Agricultural Field

Since nonwovens entered the horticultural picture in the early 1980's as row covers, they have expanded their acceptance in a traditionally conservative field due to performance in areas ranging from frost and insect protection to growth enhancement. The basic end use functionality of nonwovens in agriculture is that they hold heat around plants, transmit sufficient light for plant growth and keep insects from landing on the plants.

Row covers, defined as a flexible transparent covering that is installed over plants for the purpose of enhancing plant growth and yield, have proven to be a natural for nonwovens. The fabrics are able to be engineered so lightweight that they are referred to as "floating" row covers. They are placed over the crop at the time of seeding or transplanting; as the crop grows the cover is pushed upward without any damage to the crop. They have been able to replace traditional plastic row covers, which need to be supported with wire hoops.

For agricultural purposes, spunbonded polyester and polypropylene are the two most commonly used nonwovens. Agricultural nonwovens normally range in weight from 17-20 grams. sq. meter (0.5-0.6 oz. sq. yard), but can be as heavy as 51 grams sq. meter (1.5 oz. sq. yard) for extreme frost protection. The nonwoven covers are available in widths from two-16 meters (six-48 feet); generally, the wider the material the more efficient its use.

Currently the use of nonwoven fabrics in any segment of the agricultural market is less than 1%, according to an estimate by Gary Anderson, of Reemay, Old Hickory, TN. He estimated about one million pounds of nonwovens are currently used for crops ranging from broccoli and carrots to onions and tomatoes. "In other applications, for instance plastic film for mulch, the current use of vegetable crops alone is more than 50 million pounds a year and growing," Mr. Anderson said.

According to Otho Wells, of the Dept. of Plant Science, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, the first thought of row covers elicits a frost protection concept. In a recent paper on the subject given at IDEA '88, he said that only the heaviest nonwovens (51 grams sq. meter), however, offer any significant frost protection. Therefore, lightweight nonwoven covers cannot be used for frost protection alone.

"They [nonwovens] are better used to enhance growth and yield of crops," Mr. Wells added. "The incremental temperature increases at night may be small, but over a period of three to five weeks the accumulative affect can be quite significant." Crops that respond best to nonwoven covers are those that respond to high temperatures, such as strawberries, cantaloupes, cucumbers, squash, beans, tomatoes and peppers.

It became apparent after original research efforts that insect control was also a major benefit of nonwoven roll covers, Mr. Wells said. "Not all insects are controlled, but those which fly onto the crop are excluded. The benefit in reality is two-fold--insects are controlled and control is effected without the use of pesticides."

Mr. Anderson, of Reemay, agreed that the use of crop covers is growing rapidly, "but so far have not made a dent in the vast acreage in the U.S." The use of these covers will grow slower than many observers think, he added, because it is new, at least in the U.S. "Producers have to keep after the market, work closely with the universities and make new and improved products at lower prices."

Mr. Wells felt the challenge for nonwovens, producers is to develop a fabric that would be cooler on a hot day and at the same time provide greater heat retention at night. "Nonwovens for agricultural use need UV stability for reuse," Mr. Wells added. "Presently the cost of nonwovens is at the marginal point of the cost/benefit ratio and a second use of the same material would greatly increase the efficiency."

Current Opportunities In Electrical Applications

The dominant factor involved in the design and selection of electrical insulation is heat resistance. All efforts involved in improving insulation concern either lowering the heat or making the insulation more resistant to the heat that is present. It is in the latter area that nonwovens have satisfied a need as a component in electrical insulation applications.

Total nonwovens sales targeted for electrical applications are approximately $45 million, with annual 9% growth expected to bring sales to $60 million by the early 1990's. Electrical end uses are now almost 5% of the durable nonwovens market, a share that will basically hold steady in the next decade.

"Electricals is a very specialized segment of the total nonwovens market requiring, in most instances, high quality of product, purity of ingredients and, in some special cases, use of high performance fibers and binders," said consultant Albert Hoyle in a paper on the topic at the TAPPI Nonwovens Conference in May. Among Mr. Hoyle's other comments:

"Present electrical insulation materials are comprised of three ingredients--plastic film, nonwoven mat and resin system. Plastic film alone, especially polyester, is an excellent insulation material. It has, however, very little resistance to tear propagation once a tear is started by a sharp object.

"A nonwoven mat, on the other hand, due to its open fibrous structure, offers virtually no electrical insulation value. But it is extremely resistant to tear propagation, cut-through, abrasion and puncture. It also has some degree of stiffness, which is enhanced by the addition of the bonding resin system.

"The third component, the resin system, is used to bond the film and the mat together and increases the stiffness of the composite by doing so. In high temperature applications, the resin also acts as a protective coating on the film.

"A laminate of these three ingredients thus exhibits the best characteristics of its individual components.

"Nonwoven mats contain two types of ingredients--main or carrier fiber, which could be one or a blend of fibers, and binder fiber, having a melting point lower than the carrier fiber.

"Nonwoven mats are made using either dry laid or wet laid methods or combinations of both. For electric insulation requiring medium to high temperature resistance (80-180 [degrees] C), dry laid or a dry laid/wet laid combination is used. For high to very high temperature resistance, wet laid methods are used.

Furnishing A New Opportunity In Nonwovens For Home Textiles

Three areas of the elusive home furnishings market--wall coverings, window treatments and upholstered furniture--were the subject of a series of presentations at IDEA '88 last year by both suppliers and customers. The consensus was that nonwovens must continue to overcome a few performance problems and then take on the fashion challenges in segments that thrive on diversity and constant style changes.

When nonwovens were first introduced into the wallcoverings market in the late 1960's and early 1970's, enthusiasm quickly changed to disappointment when quality and consistency problems were joined by the fact that wallcoverings with nonwoven backings did not hang as well as conventional products. Because of these problems from the initial use of nonwoven backings, Bruce Barden, of GenCorp Polymer Products said, the industry turned away from nonwovens to return to the traditional woven textile backing except in specialized cases such as distortion prone patterns.

To earn manufacturers confidence in nonwovens again, Mr. Barden advised, nonwovens must improve their consistency, the "profile" of the backing fabric and the dimensional stability. He said his company has begun marketing a nonwoven wallcovering construction for the contract market. "The total contract market is estimated to be 70 million sq. yards annually, consisting of 40% new construction and 60% refurbishing," he added. "One can easily see the potential business that is there for a nonwoven that makes the grade with both the manufacturer and the hanging contractor."

The window treatment business, where retail sales exceeded $4 billion in 1988 and are growing at close to a 10% rate, also demands esthetics as well as functionality, according to Barry Barth, of Clopay. There are several segments that have been growing rapidly overall, such as pleated, verticals and mini blinds; for the nonwovens industry, these offer the greatest potential.

The pleated shade business, a $300 million retail business, more than doubled in 1987 and 1988. "We have a continuing need for nonwoven fabrics that have different textures or surface interests," Mr. Barth said. "The curtain and drapery industry thrives on the tremendous number of fashion products they offer."

The biggest "hard" window covering category is mini blinds, which up to a year or so ago only meant steel, aluminum or vinyl. Attempts to revive this business, which has suffered from a lack of product differentiation, has led suppliers to fabric mini blinds. Mr. Barth told of one nonwoven fabric being used in this manner," a great move in the right direction for everyone."

In the window shade category, where 20 million units are sold annually, nonwoven fabric requirements include fashionable textures and opacity capabilities, the same characteristics required for verticals and pleated shades. "We have also used nonwoven fabrics as a substrate material to increase the strength and the flatness of vinyl laminates," he said.

"Nonwovens now actively participate in products that serve approximately 25% of this business," Mr. Barth added. "These products, which grew at a rate of almost 40% last year, are projected to continue growing at healthy rates. In addition, you have the opportunity to experience exciting growth in the fabric mini blind market, which currently represents one-third of the window fashion market."

Nonwovens replaced woven and knitted fabrics as the fabric substrate for coated fabrics in upholstered furniture several years ago, said Harold Kay, of Harold Kay & Associates. This area, which is enjoying a comeback as leather matching parts on noncontact surfaces, is joined by construction fabrics and various pads, ticking and stabilizers as end uses for nonwovens.

With the problems of noise, consistency and uniformity and adhesion working against nonwovens in upholstered furniture, Mr. Kay provided a "wish list" for nonwovens. Among his wishes:

"Give me a fiber/fabric that is inherently/permanently fire resistant. Give me a stain blocker fabric that can be easily cleaned with soap and water. Give me a very consistent, uniform fabric with excellent abrasion/pilling resistance, seam holding capacity, short distance tear resistance and drapability. Give me a new velvet type fabric with interesting surface effect that I don't have to wait months to get. Give me a simulated leather that more closely approximates the natural product in the area of esthetics and body comfort. Do all this just-in-time and inexpensively." [Tabular Data 1 to 2 Omitted]
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Title Annotation:includes related article on converting nonwoven liner material for floppy disks; Special Report: Markets for Nonwovens; innovative products for automotives, laundry additives, filtration, durable envelopes, wipes, medical, geotextiles, agriculture, electrical and home furnishing segments
Author:Jacobsen, Michael
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Aug 1, 1989
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