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In the future, what if....

In The Future, What If . . . changes in binder chemistry, the disappearance of baby diapers as we know them, greater acceptance of melt blown fabrics and unique new technology for feminine hygiene products are all `what if's' the nonwovens industry must answer in the next few years We spend a considerable amount of our time and effort planning for the future in the nonwovens industry. Some of us have learned from experience that we must expect changes in nearly every aspect of our businesses. Most of us have the scars to prove it.

I am not aware of anyone today that is the recognized expert in reading the "tea leaves" of the nonwovens industry, but we all must take a guess at what may happen in certain areas since our income may depend on how well we are prepared for the inevitable changes. After we have predicted the change, the next important question is "when will it occur." This second question is often more difficult to predict.

In any case, let's take a shot at some of the things that may dramatically alter your future in the nonwovens industry. One of the tools we use to predict the future is to observe current concerns, minor alterations and the like. We accumulate information that demonstrates a change in thinking or actions that we expect to accelerate and result in major changes.

Changes In Binders

One of these concerns has been demonstrated by the changes in binders for nonwovens in the past few years. We have observed the growing use of dry and thermal bonding methods and the trend away from wet/chemical binder systems. Even the growth of spunlaced or hydroentangled fabrics falls into this category of getting away from chemicals.

I believe there are two primary aspects here to consider before predicting the future: the "fear of the unknown" and the availability of safe/feasible chemical binders. Most producers of nonwovens cannot maintain an awareness of all the binders that are available and the numerous regulations or laws that may relate to the disposability, applications and processing conditions, as well as the end use requirements. They believe it is easier and more simple to go with the non-chemical binder systems.

The capabilities of chemical binder systems are beginning to be overlooked by nonwoven producers. I believe we will see a significant change back to this approach in the coming 10 years. There are many properties that can be obtained, processing advantages and other capabilities that chemical binder systems will offer while reducing the fears and concerns regarding their use. In the past few years, we have seen the manufacturers and suppliers of wet and/or chemical binders introduce new and improved products and attempt to demonstrate and educate the nonwovens manufacturer as to their advantages. This will not only continue, but we should see the effects in the next five years.

We have seen man-made fibers come into and dominate the fabrics in the nonwovens industry. In recent years, however, we have seen major interest and significant growth of natural fibers such as cotton, pulp, wool and even peat moss, among others. I predict this trend will continue and we will see man-made fiber producers offer products that work well with them, such as superabsorbent fibers, polyester and polypropylene that have special wicking characteristics and others.

Goodbye, Baby Diapers?

Some years ago, I suggested that a baby diaper, as we know it today, will no longer exist. It may not contain any product that will be considered a nonwoven.

I suggested that a foam could be made that was a superabsorbent itself and capable of performing the tasks required of a diaper without other materials and little conversion. Foams can be produced with various cell sizes, wall thickness and open or closed cell structures, as well as having a skin much like a loaf of bread. I can visualize a given size and shape of foam "bun" made of a superabsorbent foam that could be cut in half lengthwise, giving us two diapers. The open cell foam would be against the body and the crust or skin side of the foam would perform as a breathable barrier.

Foams have been developed that are superabsorbent, but the details of and the feasibility of producing a diaper from them have yet to be commercialized. If such a concept proceeds, we will obviously see other end products such as bandages, sorbents and filters made in a similar fashion.

The Melt Blown Future

Melt blown materials have fascinated many nonwovens producers and end users with their ability to contain micro fibers and the possibility of three dimensionally forming and the like. However, many have lost their enthusiasm when they see some of the other characteristics of melt blown materials. These include low strength, fiber size and shape variation, the amount of energy consumed per pound of production and so on.

However, I have seen melt blown fabrics with significantly improved uniform fibers that produced a web comparable in strength to carded webs made with typical rayon staple fibers.

In the future, we will find new polymers, improved equipment design and processing that reduces energy costs and other developments. These will make melt blowing capable of making fibrous materials that will compete directly with other fabric making processes. It will also allow melt blowing to be used in combination with other fiber processing methods within the same manufacturing line. More than one polymer or additive may be used within a single process and one of these may be a binder that can be triggered when desired.

A Feminine What If

What if we develop an intermediate or pre-disposing device or container that would begin to break down or change the chemistry of a given product.

A feminine product may be sold with a "dis-posal" bag included in the package. After the product is used it would be placed inside this container that is designed to "act" on the contents. Obviously, the feminine pad would have to be manufactured to work in conjunction with the dis-posal bag. Therefore, the nonwovens used in the pad may have to be changed for different reasons than the reasons we select them today.
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Title Annotation:changes in nonwoven fabrics industry
Author:Holliday, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Jun 1, 1989
Previous Article:Nebraska passes anti-diaper legislation.
Next Article:Growth and expansion - more than just the right equipment.

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