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Hydroentangling or spunlacing - by any name the process is all wet; the prospects for a highly capital and technology intensive nonwovens process remain bright in the 1990s as the markets expand and know-how becomes more widespread.

Hydroentangling Or Spunlacing--By Any Name The Process Is All Wet

the prospects for a highly capital and technology intensive nonwovens process remain bright in the 1990s as the markets expand and know-how becomes more widespread A rose by any other name still has thorns on it. So it is with many of our nonwoven processes, one of them being the area of entangled fiber fabrics. There are several processes such as felting, needlepunching and spunlaced that entangle fiber by one method or another and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

The "spunlaced" or "hydroentangled" fabrics and processes have received much attention during the past few years. I estimate that some 200 million pounds of these fabrics were sold in 1990. In most instances, they deserve this recognition and interest. Some of these fabrics have achieved many of the properties of woven and or knitted fabrics that many end uses demand. One of the major attributes has been aesthetics, where appearance and feel have exceeded most other nonwovens and even the contemporary wovens and knits.

Exactly What Is Hydroentangling?

These materials are fiber structures in which the fibers have been entangled by high velocity streams of water. They may or may not contain binders. The typical hydroentangling nonwoven fabric manufacturing line has a card or air laid machine that delivers a web of fibers to the hydroentangling apparatus. This apparatus, using the high velocity streams of water, rearranges, moves and entangles the fibers, changing the web into a fabric with integrity and other properties. Chicopee and Du Pont are credited with the pioneering and the development of this process during its early stages in the 1960s. However, many other companies have made interesting and productive innovations, particularly in the past ten years.

The appearance of softness is physically encountered and appreciated in many of these fabrics. This attribute alone has allowed them to capture segments of certain markets. Apertures, holes and voids can be created within the fiber networks to present attractive appearances, such as lace. These holes can also offer physically advantageous characteristics for wipes or absorbing. Hydroentangled fabrics are found in hundreds of various end uses; some of these are listed in Table 1.

Table 1

Apparel, Disposable Hospital Garments
Apparel Interlinings Incontinence
Applicators Gauze
Automotive Laminates
Bandages Liners
Battery Separators Mattress Pads
Bedspreads Molded Plastics
Coating Substrates Pillow Tickings
Composites Pipe Wrap
Cosmetics Pultrusion
CSR Wrap Roofing
Diapers Shoe Linings
Drapery Linings Sorbents
Dust Ruffles Sponges
Filtration Table Coverings

Flame Resistant Substrates Veilings
Floppy Disks Wall Coverings
Health Care Wipes

The advantages of hydroentangled nonwovens also include less fiber breakage, which results in less fiber fall-out in the finished product. This attribute is important in numerous applications such as medical, filtration and clean room products. The fibers in the fabric are in effect washed during processing, where the fiber producer's finish can be removed. Chemicals and additives can be added during this wet operation as well. These fabrics offer excellent adhesion for fusibles and coating or laminating. Another advantage is that fibers of various types can be intimately blended in the process, or two or more webs can be combined.

The disadvantages of hydroentangling slowed their growth, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s. Large capital and technological investments were required. There were lines installed that cost well over $20 million. The slow speeds and production problems of some of these made it difficult to find markets where a profit could be made. In addition, it took significant experience and know-how to produce consistent quality fabrics. The water that was recirculated gave considerable filtration problems and, of course, there were the problems associated with handling wet materials. Weight range limitations and other obstacles were also encountered. Patents and equipment availability have also discouraged some of the potential producers.

Some of the so-called disadvantages of this process in one end use application can be an advantage in another. As an example, the elongation, distortion or lack of stability in these fabrics may cause baggy knees in a pair of trousers. However, this characteristic of the fibers moving within the fabric also allow it to be molded or formed without rupturing or significant loss of strength.

Some of the more recent innovations demonstrate the potentials of this process. Melt blown microfibers have been entangled in scrims or webs, staple fibers have been entangled in elastomeric structures to make stretch fabrics, binder fibers have been blended during entangling and later activated to offer shapeable or moldable fabrics and many other combinations have been produced to offer unique properties. Hydroentangling equipment has also been used to alter or finish wovens, knits, nonwovens and other materials.

As significant advances are made in the equipment and processing capabilities of hydroentangling, it appears this nonwoven process will continue to be one of the faster growing and more successful. Each year more lines are installed and more competitively desirable materials are offered in the market.

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 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:Jul 1, 1991
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