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Ideas for nonwovens in the 1990's - part 2: some thoughts on the relative importance of fibers, binders and machinery in filling nonwoven needs and opportunities in the future.

Last month discussed my inability to predict the future and how I was willing to share that disability with fellow members of the unwoven trade. This month I again set out to "wake" or provoke a few of the suppliers, producers and users in our industry with words of wis-dumb.

In my article last month, I attempted to make you believe that fiber, your basic raw material, will become more important in the coming years, that fibers will be more complicated and selecting the proper ones will be more difficult, that the variety of fibers available will increase and many will present a significant task in learning how to process and use properly to take advantage of their properties and that more nonwoven producers will produce certain fibers internally in spunbond and melt blown operations. Nonwoven producers will also produce more staple and filament fibers for carding, spunlace, scrims and filling processes.

Recycling--A Source For Raw Materials

Reclycled paper has received a great deal of attention over the past few years and much of it has been "positive" in the eyes of the industry as well as with the consumer. Can such an impression be brought about in the nonwovens industry? The answer depends primarily on the nonwovens industry. Meanwhile, recycling of plastics such as polyester will continue to grow, producing more fiber along with recycling of internal fabraics from trim or waste and other fiber based materials.

Many companies today are looking at recycling for a number of reasons. Most have faced the hard reality that the costs of getting rid of waste is growing at an increasing rate and the predictions are that things will get worse. If the higher costs don't get your attention, then the laws, regulations and bad press surely will. The obvious answer is "sell and ship" everything you make at a point. Numerous approaches are being studied by different companies.

Converters may combine nonwovens with wovens, foams, pulp, film or other materials such as binders or coatings. Their converting generates trim, scrap and waste and methods to utilize it are underway. They have a complicated task, but some are attempting to formulate the amount of different fibers using fibrillated films or ground foams as the lower melting media that performs as a binder to produce a new nonwoven material. In certain situations, a company may buy additional ingredients from outside to balance the formula or improve the fabric made with the recycled materials. A simple solution for the converter can be to have a positive relationship with a company that is effective and efficient in recycling the waste that it generates.

In the future, binders will not just be glue to hold fibers together. Chemical binders, as we refer to them today, will become more of an "additive" in that they will bring other attributes to the nonwoven material or advantages in manufacturing. We have seen this coming for some years where binders with additives have provided fire resistance, moldability, color, stiffness, resistance to compression, abrasive and cleaning capabilities and other properties. The successful binder producer of the future will be able to provide the solution to a problem in the fabric or fill the need of a product or market. Binder producers are working on these concepts today attempting to provide wickability or quick wetting, biodegradability, healthcare attributes and filtration needs.

The application methods of binders have improved significantly in the past 20 years and we will see this trend continue. This will occur in chemical or wet systems as well as dry, powder or solids that will be used. Most of the industry believes that the wet systems will continue to lose market share to dry systems. If the companies producing and marketing wet systems don't get off their rear ends and offer advantages over dry systems, then indeed these predictions will be admitting their own demise. The present dry systems cannot offer the abilities of the wet systems. The wet approach can include many additives as mentioned above. Will the producers of dry binders be able to provide some of these abilities in the future? You can bet your blue, fire resistant, molded, wrinkle resistant hat that they will.

Machines and Equipment

Each year we have witnessed improvements in production facilities within our industry. Higher carding speeds, improved fibver handling, web controls, monitoring and recording apparatus and even packaging and handling of nonwovens have steadily progressed. The coming years will see this evolution continue along with some revolutionary changes.

Needlepunching will be able to compete with spunlace through innovations in machine and needle function designs. Rotary needling or a similar approach to replace the up and down, start/stop motions of fiber entanglement will be developed. This may even be used in conjunction with spunlace. Spunlace will continue improving by reducing current problems and attaining higher production speeds. Air and fluids other than water will also be used in spunlace manufacturing.

The levels of waste and off-quality materials presently generated will not be tolerated in the future. Raw materials, machine capabilities and fabric design must be made to reduce those materials that are not marketable at a reasonable profit and virtually eliminate waste that cannot be recycled.

Today there is virtually no finishing by nonwoven manufacturers internally and only a few companies that finish nonwovens as roll goods by printing, heatsetting, shrinking, coating, laminating or whatever. Finishing will become more important for nonwovens in roll goods or fabric form and in end use products. Corrections or modifications to the fabric will be accomplished by the nonwoven roll goods producer off-line by various types of equipment, additives and chemistry.

Preparing For The Future

The nonwoven manufacturer of the future should have a chemist and fiber technologist that can understand the complications and capabilities of the new and growing number of complicated raw materials. They must also be able to communicate with the market place to convert the needs and opportunities there into products that are within the abilities of the nonwovens manufacturer.

Marketing will have to be performed with all factors in mind. Top management should control marketing and marketing should guide manufacturing in making "smart" products. These products must have reliability and value perceived that provide the better profits while improving the image of the company.

The NIH (not invented here) syndrome could be a deadly disease. Nonwovens companies must recognize their position in the ball game quickly and not wait until the last few minutes to make a grand and dramatic play that may fail.

To put it simply, management must recognize, coordinate and direct the assets of the company better than ever before. It will become more dangerous for the top management to be accountants, lawyers and salesmen that do not understand the basic capabilities and limitations of raw materials and manufacturing. Top management must understand and appreciate the chemical and physical processes and handling involved to produce these smart products in the future.

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 2 Edgewood Road, Yardley, PA 19067; (215)493-2501.
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Title Annotation:Holiday Talk
Author:Holliday, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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