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Needlepunch 2004 attracts car makers: representatives of two of the world's largest automotive giants speak at INDA conference.

Representatives from two major automotive manufacturers spoke at INDA's Needlepunch Conference, held in October in Savannah, offering further proof of the growing relationship between automotives manufacturers and needlepunch producers. While needlepunch nonwovens have long been used in a variety of areas including filtration, disposable wipes, home furnishings and geotextiles, the automotives industry, thanks to increased green initiatives as well as efforts to reduce costs, has provided a strong growth area for needlepunched nonwovens in recent years.

In response to this growing trend, INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, welcomed an executive from Ford and another from American Honda at the conference, and event attendees were more than happy to listen to what two of the world's largest automotive makers had to say.

Ford's Focus

While the presentation given by Andrew Acho, worldwide director of environmental outreach and strategy for Ford Motor Company, did not provide too much insight on what automotive makers were looking for from their nonwovens suppliers, it did give them a lot to think about. Titled, "Environmental Stewardship and Recycling," Mr. Acho's presentation discussed Ford's long history of environmental responsibility, which has been rekindled in recent years through a number of initiatives.

This environmental consciousness underwent a "rebirth" in 1990 when Bill Ford approached Mr. Acho to head up environmental outreach for the company. Mr. Ford reportedly wanted the company to go beyond "just meeting" environmental regulations in a cost-efficient and customer-pleasing way. Since then, the company has, among other things, used materials from recycled soda bottles and other materials in its cars, begun the practice of using collapsible containers, started recycling water, initiated tire recycling projects and installed storm water management systems in all of its plants.

Additionally, Ford has made significant inroads in more environmentally friendly vehicles, most recently the Ford Escape Hybrid was the first, fuel-efficient sports utility vehicle available in North America. Other efforts, such as a vehicle that uses sunflower seeds as fuel, are also in development but excess costs have prohibited commercialization to date.

According to Mr. Acho, these efforts are just the tip of the iceberg and Ford will continue to strive for environmental excellence in the future. Surely nonwoven fabrics have the ability to be a part of this effort as their flexibility often requires fewer materials and can often handle biodegradable or recycled fibers.

Honda Helps Out

In her presentation, Automotive Engineered Fabrics." Unsung Heroes, Mary Dovell of Honda's research and development area discussed what she is looking for in car interior fabrics. While Ms. Dovell maintained that the final decision on fabric choice is up to Honda's design team, it is through her recommendation that this department will even consider a new fabric. A long proponent of the use of nonwoven fabrics in automotives, Ms. Dovell was able to convince designers to use a needlepunched floor carpet in the 2001 Civic DX, marking the first time Honda had used a nonwoven carpet in North America.

"Current visual applications using nonwovens are relatively few in domestic vehicles," she said. "Those that are (being used) are second string players such as carpet backings and trunk liners."

To help change this and expand the use of nonwovens in North American cars, Ms. Dovell offered audience members a few suggestions. Among these were the need for comfort, protection, strength, health and aesthetics. Because nonwovens have traditionally had a poor image and have been used in lower-end vehicles, Ms. Dovell urged the nonwovens industry to improve the feel and appearance of nonwovens to boost their reputation with the automotives industry. 'You need to do your homework," she urged. "Find out how this material fares against the competition in terms of weight, costs, recyclability and performance. Understand the automotive production process and how your material fits into that process."--K.B.M.

For more information on INDA's Needlepunch Conference and other papers presented at the event, visit www.inda.org.
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Title Annotation:International Nonwovens and Disposables Association; Ford Motor Company Ltd, Honda Motor Company Ltd.
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
Words:649
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