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Innovations in nonwovens.

as the nonwovens industry has grown in the past 25 years from an infant to a giant, innovation has been the standard of the day; the industry of tomorrow relies on the innovations of today

New fabrics, laminates and composite materials using nonwovens have proliferated in the past few years and today an expert cannot keep up with what is available, much less what is being developed. About 25 years ago, someone very familiar with nonwovens could give a cursory glance at a nonwoven fabric and tell you how it was made, what fiber and binder it contained and probably the company that made it.

There are nonwovens produced today that are of the "Old School" and are doing well in serving their customers. They probably contain rayon fiber, an acrylic binder and are made on a card with few electronic marvels attached to the production line. This type of manufacturing line has been the backbone of our industry for many years.

In some ways it seems ironic that this rather simple principle of arranging fibers into a web and bonding them in that position continues under all that "stuff" that has been added during the last few years. The steel armor, electronic gadgets and apparatus, complicated air containment and filtration systems, detection devices, waste or trim removal, quality control instruments, trimming, slitting, computers, pipes, wires, signs and even packaging equipment have camouflaged the guts of the working parts. Oh well, so is progress. This period of our history has seen the cost of the basic equipment get smaller each year when compared to the total investment of a manufacturing operation. Progress and process improvements have demanded more complicated controls to make the end use fabrics for much of the marketplace and they cost time and money. Today a card/bond manufacturing operation would cost probably three times that of 25 years ago and is probably three times as complicated. Our industry, for the most part, has continually progressed in producing more efficiently and maintaining quality products. While accomplishing this, we have managed to improve, invent and innovate raw materials, machinery/equipment and converting as well as the products themselves.

The vast array of nonwovens currently available is incomprehensible. It would be difficult to collect all those in just one category and we can forget organizing and describing them because later versions will have replaced many of the fabrics before you have finished the task.

One who is considered an expert in nonwovens today is very careful in inspecting a fabric and does not give it a "cursory glance" when asked to describe it or its manufacturer. A so-called carded web may contain four or more fibers of different characteristics, two or more methods of bonding and it may include chemicals and additives. It could have been finished with a method that changes the appearance and properties of the fibers as well as their original configuration.

The hundreds of patents issued regarding nonwoven processes and products give some idea of the many innovations that have taken place in the recent past. However, there are many changes and improvements that are not patented. Every category of nonwovens has been affected. We have seen polymers and fibers developed that expand the fabric's ability to stand higher temperatures for one market, more bulk or wicking capacity for another market, compression resistance, static discharging, selected attraction and many other characteristics for various other applications.

Equipment Suppliers Play Role

Equipment and machinery improvements have brought numerous advances to our producers. Fiber opening and blending that gets us out of the typical textile used equipment category and offers excellent control of the fibers is now available. Higher speeds of 3000 strokes per minute in needlepunching, extrusion and die designs in spunbonding and melt blowing that offer more control and versatility as well as higher production rates, new bonding methods and systems, laminate and composite capabilities are only a few of the innovations and improvements that have become available to us.

There is also better communication and understanding between the machinery supplier and the producer and this has generated additional improvements. The nonwoven producers have become more technically capable and knowledgeable of the raw materials, equipment, chemistry market needs. In short, the nonwoven producer is in a better position to utilize all those things available to him or her to continue to improve his or her business.

Having considered all of these marvels and innovations, are we capable of arranging fibers exactly where we want them and can we secure them there in a fabric? Is this a feasible approach to nonwoven fabric making? The Jacquard weaving loom could accomplish this feat more than 100 years ago. While it continues to be a viable process and business, it has never endangered the existence of other forms of fabric making. There are nonwoven products made today with costly and time consuming control of arranging fibers and they too have found niche markets that demand this detail and control and are willing to pay for it. However, before such infinite control becomes the rule rather than the exception in nonwovcns, we will need even more innovation. We can conclude that knowing it can be done is the first step and making it feasible follows.

It will take years to organize, understand, evaluate and select the optimum raw materials, machinery/equipment and processing abilities currently available to the nonwoven producer. Meanwhile, other developments will have taken place. This situation offers continued improvements in product; and growth for our industry. If the nonwovens industry did not invent or create any innovations for the next 10 years, it could continue to progress by applying those that are available today. Our industry has proven itself in many ways during its growth from the infant it was 25 years ago to the giant it is today. It will no doubt continue to grow through its proven abilities in innovations on and off the manufacturing floor.

Tom Holliday is a well known consultant to the nonwovens and textile industries whose column on a wide range of nonwovens-related topics appears ever-y other 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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Title Annotation:Holliday Talk
Author:Holliday, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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