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INDA gets to the point with needlepunching conference.

INDA Gets To The Point With Needlepunching Conference

The U.S. needlepunching industry came into its own during a record setting two-day conference dedicated to the technology last month. With a number of speakers pointing to the fact that the technology is no longer viewed solely as an outlet for waste fiber, many others spoke of the advances the industry has made in needle design, equipment speeds and fiber developments.

An overflow crowd of 250 at the INDA-sponsored gathering in Charlotte. NC heard an array of international experts praise the efforts made by each link in the supply chain in developing higher tech products from what used to be solely a low tech business. The attendance of a number of needlepunchers themselves, despite the absence of a few of the larger players, served notice that the roll goods manufacturers realize they must enter partnerships with their suppliers if the business is to emerge from the next decade as strong as it is at the end of the 1980's.

Because of the success of the Charlotte gathering, INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, will hold a similar needlepunching conference late next year or early 1991.

A steering committee met at the conference to determine the direction of future meetings. Further conferences are going to make a concerted effort to attract the end users of needled fabrics, such as the automotive manufacturers, the marine industry and the filter suppliers, to name just a few.

Nonwovens Industry editor Michael Jacobsen, in one of the opening papers at the conference, estimated the size of the U.S. needlepunch market to be $325 million, with dollar growth of 7-9% expected to bring it close to $450 million early in the 1990's. Volume was 655 million sq. yards last year.

Forecasts are for the market to expand to just about 700 million sq. yards next year. All of these figures exclude heavier weight needlepunch fabrics as well as spunbonded fabrics consolidated by needling. Continued growth of 7-9% is expected through the early 1990's.

The three largest U.S. companies involved in needling to any great extent are Foss Manufacturing, Phillips Fibers and Hoechst Celanese, which rank numbers 10, 11 and 12, respectively, in the annual Nonwovens Industry Top Companies profile. Of the other top companies, only number six Reemay does any significant in-house needling; it began making its "Typelle" composite spunbonded/needled polyester or polypropylene industrial fabric last year.

DuPont, the largest U.S. nonwovens roll goods producer, did present a paper about its "Tefaire," needled industrial fabric; DuPont does not, however, needle the product itself.

James River Nonwovens, another top U.S. nonwovens supplier, recently dropped the needling technology used to make its "Fibertex" needled/spunbonded polypropylene geotextiles in Washougal, WA. However, James River's European joint venture, HJR Fiberweb, Sweden, is adding needling capabilities as part of a large new spunbonded line. The primary targeted market is the European roofing business.

Needling Cotton

It was pointed out early in the conference that the synthetic fiber suppliers have made great strides in developing fibers specifically for needlepunching. In the midst of a number of papers on the subject a natural fiber stood out as offering one of the most significant new opportunities for needlepunching.

Cotton's saleable assets include touch, absorbency, breathability, washability, biodegradability and the belief that cotton products present an image of quality and performance, according to Charles Lapidus, vice president-nonwovens marketing, Cotton, Inc., New York, NY. In today's environment, cotton is needled using textile waste and/or low grade cotton materials such as gin motes along with natural and bleached virgin cotton fiber.

Cotton, Inc's. serious development work in needling cotton started in 1988, Mr. Lapidus pointed out. "Needless to say, we had to overcome the resistance of many in the industry who felt that cotton could not be needled, probably because they never tried working with cotton." Cotton, Inc., with the cooperation of loom manufacturers and needle and machinery suppliers has produced a range of needled cotton samples.

"We are of the opinion that cotton needled developments have applications for home, furnishings, medical, industrial and filtration end uses as a 100% cotton product or as a major component in a multi-component construction," he added. Blankets and mattress pads are two potential areas.

Cotton, Inc. researchers have chosen to standardize and use one inch cotton fiber for needling applications. A high micronaire fiber is used because its denier equivalent is in the range of synthetic fibers that needlers may be running, thereby reducing the need for machinery changes in the web forming process.

"We are excited about the needling of natural cotton fiber and processing the fabric using conventional textile equipment," Mr. Lapidus said. "Conceptually, a needled fabric could be scoured, bleached and colored, if necessary, and a variety of finishes can be applied for different end uses. A single needle construction could be the basis of a group of finished products."

Mr. Lapidus added that lightweight fabrics or scrims could be part of a composite needled structure. "We have used woven cotton scrims as well as synthetic fabrics in our trials," he said. To date, Cotton, Inc's. needlepunch activities have centered in the low to medium weight range of two to 12 ozs.

Needling Marine Fabrics

Another challenge to the needlepunchers at the INDA conference came from Bruce Donaldson, of Wellcraft Marine, a manufacturer of leisure boats. With 435,000 new boats made in the U.S. each year, there is a significant demand for needlepunched fabrics and a strong need for innovative fabrics to overcome some of the problems faced by the marine industry.

"We would use your type of material to cover cockpit and cabin floors," Mr. Donaldson told the audience. "Here the challenge is to have a material that will take the abusive outdoor environment and hard use while retaining a rich, plush appearance."

In these areas the carpeting is usually glued down over fiberglass or wood. The material must follow several contours and be cut and installed on each boat as it comes down the line. Seams should not show, glue must not be seen through the material or at the seams and the carpet should not be uncomfortable to bare feet, especially in the high traffic cockpit area.

A second application for needled fabrics is a removable carpet installed over a finished fiberglass floor. This usage is put to the same demands but must be readily removable, so weight and ease of removal are important considerations. Needlepunch materials can be used as interior floor coverings and should be decorative and provide a comfortable padding to walk on.

Interiors or storage areas in fiberglass boats have uneven and rough surfaces, which require a secondary finishing operation. "What better use of needlepunch material if we could preform the material in the shapes that are to be covered?" he asked. "Due to volume and little interchangeability of parts, inexpensive molds and techniques for forming this material would be required to make it cost effective."

The use of fiberglass in boat building has opened up styling opportunities that could be filled by moldable needled fabrics. The opportunity to combine esthetics with sound reduction in a single operation is another end use possibility. "Indeed, whenever we can perform more than one function with a material we are increasing its economic value to the finished product," Mr. Donaldson added.

"Speaking for our company, the expanded use of needlepunch is welcomed by our designers and manufacturing people," he concluded. "Working together we can have materials that provide function, looks, manufacturing ease and be cost effective."
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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