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In the future, what if...: a continuing look at the possibilities of the nonwovens industry in the future; 'what if's' in wet laid and air laid nonwovens and cost relationship predictions.

In The Future, What If . . . Part II Last month, I suggested that we attempt to predict some of the changes that may dramatically affect our nonwovens products and markets and our business in general. This exercise may assist us in preparing for these possible changes as well as provoke thought to create some of the innovations ourselves.

Wet Laid Nonwovens

The modified paper making machines today that were designed to make nonwovens are producing fabrics that are excellent when we compare them to what was made some 15 years ago. However, there are concepts to be explored here. Some work has been done in using fluids instead of water in this type process. They were attempting to reduce the drying and other problems associated with handling such large volumes of water to make a given nonwoven.

One such concept came from commercial dry cleaning where clothing is submerged in special petroleum fluids. A small amount of water can be added to clean or remove certain undesirables in the clothing but it is not enough to cause problems in shrinkage or drying.

Another concept in wet lay or paper making was to design chemicals and a machine that would allow a fiber to be floated on a bubble. The bubble would be moved to a specific position and then broken, placing the fiber at that location.

Airlaid Nonwovens

Airland webs may have the brightest potential for advancements in the future. Most of the work to date has been to use air in blowing or vacuuming fibers in a mass, attempting to get a random disbursement. Air doffing, cloud chambers and similar techniques have allowed significant improvements in random fiber distribution in a fabric. However, the approach to a dramatic change would most probably come by hiring a team of aerodynamic engineers from an air craft company and not by attempting to learn from the history of the nonwovens industry. One inventor believes that in the future we will see webs that have been formed by controlled, rapid minor explosions.

Manufacturers of fiberglass boats and other products have been using a gun type apparatus for over 25 years that allows them to build a better glass fiber and plastic composite. The apparatus brings together and mixes glass filaments, polymers and catalysts as they exit. It also cuts the filament while mixing and propelling it onto the desired surface or product.

Another interesting concept investigated more than 25 years ago was growing fibers. One of the approaches was similar to that of a stalagtite where a molecular chain grew in a controlled formation such as a fiber. The next step could be to connect the fibers into a structure or fabric of a specified design or pattern. With advances in other technologies such as radiation, chemistry and electronic controls, this approach may soon be viable.

We in the textile related industries tend to think of slow, evolutionary type changes. In our raw materials we have observed fibers improve in strength or absorbency. Each year we see equipment that runs 10% more pounds per hour and more automated packaging. There have been few revolutionary changes that are significant enough to awaken us as to what could happen to some of the processes or products in the nonwoven industry.

Cost Relationships

The differences in cost relationships can also be a killer if we cannot predict their coming or see them occuring. For example, some 25 years ago a package of cigarettes cost about 25 cents and the cheapest lighter cost about eight dollars. Today a package of cigarettes cost about one dollar and a lighter can be purchased to 25 cents. If we agree that there is a relationship between these two products, then we can see the dramatic cost relationship change.

Speaking of the tobacco industry, you may have also noticed that the cigarette manufacturers have done well while their market has declined to some degree. They have developed complicated systems to arrange the tobacco in the cigarette that uses less tobacco per cigarette, reducing their raw material costs. They use complicated binders to hold the tobacco fibrils in place. They also make a sheet of tobacco on a paper maker type machine with small particles of the tobacco leaf. This sheet can be cut or slit and used along with regular shredded leaf or in other tobacco products.

We have seen the steel industry ignore products and markets and the plastics industry come in and dominate them. There are many examples to learn from and there is evidence around us today to point the directions of the changes, if you know where to look.
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Title Annotation:part 2
Author:Holliday, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Previous Article:Environmental challenge forces P&G's hand.
Next Article:Production results - making it happen: setting the stage, knowing where you are, communicating, involving employees and recognizing achievements...

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