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Historic needlepunch developments.

a look at the needlepunching process from its historical origins through current day developments

The following is excerpted from the Winter 1992 issue of INDA JOURNAL OF NONWOVENS RESEARCH.

Nonwoven felts are one of, if not the, oldest forms of fabric. Resources say that the Mongolian tribes of Asia were early users and that reference to felt materials is contained in the writings of ancient Greeks and Romans. The feltmaking process may have been rediscovered by a Benedictine monk during an eighth century pilgrimage from Caen to the shrine at Mont-Saint-Michel. During the journey, the monk placed some grease wool, plucked from a wandering sheep, in his sandals to relieve his tired, painful feet. At the end of the day, he examined the wool and noted that the fibers had interlocked into a matted fabric due to the working action of his feet against the sandal and the presence of heat and moisture. The discovery is said to mark the birth of felt-making in the western world and resulted in the monk Fuetre being named the patron saint of the felt industry.

The development of a mechanical process for producing felt is dated 1820 and has been attributed to J.R. Williams. The transition from interlocking fibers by working the scales on adjacent fiber surfaces against one another to working the fibers by a scaled external member in the form of a barbed penetrating device occurred during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This transition has been made possible by the development of mechanisms and machinery to produce needled nonwovens in a factory environment. The development of needlepunch machinery and technology has been an evolutionary process highlighted by innovation, technological genius and product creativity.

Fundamental Review Of The Needlepunch Process

The basic elements of a needlepunch machine (needleloom) consist of a web feeding mechanism, a needle beam with a needle board and needles, a stripper plate, a bed plate, and a fabric take-up mechanism. The fiber web (sometimes carried or reinforced by a scrim or other fabric) is guided between the metal bed and stripper plates, which have openings corresponding to the arrangement of needles in the needleboard. During the downstroke of the needle beam, each barb carries groups of fibers, corresponding in number to the number of needles and number of barbs (up to 36) per needle, into subsequent web layers a distance corresponding to the penetration depth. During the upstroke of the needle beam, the fibers are released from the barbs and interlocking is established. At the end of the upstroke, the fabric is advanced by the take-up and the cycle is repeated. Needling density is determined by the distance advanced and the number of penetrations per stroke.

Machinery And Fabric Development Innovations

Early work on implementing the idea of mechanically interlocking fibers by pressing a fiber mat and relocating groups of fibers with the aid of an external element was carried out in a mill in Windsor, Ontario, in 1874. Very likely, rasped nails hammered through a flat wooden board mounted on a crankshaft served as the needling mechanism. Based on this work, the first commercial needlepunch machine was fabricated in 1889 by William Bywater, Ltd. in England. The machine was designated the Windsor Loom.

Early applications included the production of jute underlays for carpeting and spring padding for mattress and furniture from sisal, jute and coarse animal hairs. Another early Bywater machine design operated in the upstroke mode and used large nails to pull coir fibers through burlap scrims for use as bed spring covering. The first felting needles were most likely made for Bywater looms by Needle Industries in the U.K.

James Hunter Machine (now Morrison Berkshire) produced the first U.S. needle loom in 1900. The product line included fabrics for horse blankets and saddle pads. Hunter looms were used to produce heavy fabric for overcoats and winter jackets during the early 1940's. The application was a need-driven one and came about in response to a request to provide protection from the New England winter for a group of POW's. Fibers were obtained from tailor's clippings, yarns and sterilized used garments. Heavy webs were made on a garnett, needled and fabricated into limited-use winter jackets.

The quest for new markets for synthetic fibers and the development of finer felting needles in the 1950's literally brought needled nonwovens out of hiding and into the limelight. Attempts were made to make fibers with surfaces similar to wool and hair for use in the traditional felting process, but more suitable fabrics were made by needling and heat treating high shrinkage fibers.

Fundamentally the latter approach was more practical and was verified through fabric shrinkage studies of traditional and needled felts. The work focused on SAE felts and demonstrated that the shrinkage of wool felts during fulling is a fabric compaction phenomena due to fiber movement brought about by turning, twisting, bending and stretching without any appreciable fiber shrinkage or change in fiber diameter. The same compaction could be achieved with needled nonwovens made from controlled shrinkage (50-75% of length) fibers. In addition, fabrics with superior physical properties were made, due to increased interlocking resulting from the shrinkage of individual fibers upon initial heating.

In 1953, virtually all papermaker felts were woven fabrics made from 100% wool. Studies initiated by Albany Felt, Huyck Felt and James Hunter in the U.S. and similar corroboration among European feltmakers and Bywater demonstrated that drying felts made by needling fibers to a base fabric were more functional and more energy efficient. The prospects of this new product application encouraged the development of wider machine working widths for endless belt needling. The drive design change that resulted also permitted an increase in production speed when applied to narrow-width looms.

In 1954, Hunter constructed and delivered a 90 inch endless belt needle loom. This innovation was followed in 1958 with a 250 inch machine for the production of papermaker felts. Also during the late 1950's, needled synthetic fiber products were introduced to the home furnishings and apparel markets in the form of blankets, suedes and outerwear. Development work on suedes involved processing subdenier fibers, a challenge that has resurfaced again in the past few years and ultimately resulted in the development of ultrasuede. Needled blankets, however, were the most successful commercially at the time and spurred the development in the early 1960's of new products and machine designs.

Another event that affected needle-punch progress in the late 1950's and early 1960's was the anticipation of a major shortage in the world supply of leather by the mid-1970's. Thus, several efforts were launched to produce a porous leather substitute in the form of a polymer-impregnated needled fabric, the most notable being Corfam. Needlepunch fabric made from heat sensitive polyester was the "core," so to speak, of the product concept. Following thorough opening, the fibers were processed into randomized batts and lightly needled top and bottom. The fabric was then shrunk by about 60% on an area basis. Following passage through a coagulation bath of urethane polymer, washing, drying, splitting and coating, the fabric was coagulated again, dried, finished and embossed.

Increased productivity capabilities brought about by the development of wider, high-speed looms and the addition of multiple needleboards, as exemplified by the Fehrer modular design and the Hunter multi-board machines of the latter 1960's, expanded needlepunch applications in the areas of fleeced carpet backings and geotextiles. Floor and wallcovering applications likewise expanded with the advent of the forked needle and structuring looms for rib and velour products in the early 1970's. The introduction of the Asselin rotary tacker in the mid-1970's caused many needlepunchers to re-examine pre-needling practices and Dilo's Rontex concept for producing tubular needled structures provided new niches for specialty applications.

Highlights of the 1980's include the introduction of Dilo's new "Di-Lour" and Fehrer's "Super Looper" systems for producing structured fabrics and the implementation of loom modifications to accommodate brittle fibers such as glass and ceramic. Of major significance over the past 15 years has been a virtual doubling of machine stroke rates and a quadrupling of needleboard density capabilities, the advent of extensive computer control on nearly every new needleloom and the glamour associated with witnessing this old, simple, unsophisticated technology becoming a vital part of space exploration and the aerospace era.

The Present Status Of The Industry

The needlepunch business in the U.S. today is a diversified and viable part of the nonwovens industry. In excess of 250 companies use needlepunch machinery for a variety of product applications including automotive, apparel components, blankets, carpeting, carpet padding, coating substrates, filtration, furniture, geotextiles, insulation, roofing substrates and wall coverings. An indication of the extent of product diversification among North American needlepunchers is shown graphically in Figure 1. As illustrated in Figure 2, U.S. needlepunch production levels were anticipated to approach 200 million pounds and 725 million square yards in 1990. [Figures 1 & 2 Omitted]

Needlepunchers in the U.S. are supported by a strongly competitive group of machinery and component suppliers who work to provide meaningful technical service and effective product and process development. Machinery producers including Asselin, Automatex, Dilo, DOA, Fehrer and Morrison Berkshire offer more than 50 basic needlepunch machine models, 25 paperfelt machine configurations, 15 structuring machine models and 10 specialty fiber and product machine designs. The three felting and structuring needle suppliers--Foster, GrozBeckert, and Singer--can provide thousands of different needle designs. Fiber and auxiliary chemical producers make a wide range of specialty materials specifically for needlepunching.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Nonwovens Technology
Author:Vaughn, Edward A.
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Developing a turnkey nonwovens spunbond line.
Next Article:Needlepunching in Latin America.

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