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Needlepunched nonwovens.

an older technology that is still growing; however, some changes must be made down the road for needlepunching to remain competitive

Felts and needlepunched materials have established themselves in numerous markets through the past 25 years and have become the standard for other structures to follow. The recent successful needlepunch fabrics conference held by INDA in Charlotte, NC demonstrated the momentum and confidence of this part of the nonwovens industry.

It is obvious to one that attends such conferences and observes this industry that it is growing in the number of producers, the volume of raw materials, machinery and products they produce as well as the confidence demonstrated by the participants. This growth is the result of years of hard work and product development by machine and fiber producers and, of course, the nonwoven manufacturer. It is also deserved due to the many attribute of the products engineered.

The efficiencies, higher speeds and unique capabilities have assured this process a position in certain markets. The almost friction-free needling system, three dimensional structures and the current higher speed machines that are supposed to be running at 3000 strokes per minute are some of the assets these producers are utilizing.

These improved fabric have demonstrated that they can be used in more aesthetic as well as physically demanding end uses. Needlepunched wall coverings, automotive upholstery and flooring materials have begun to be seen as excellent textile materials rather than the "indoor/outdoor" lower end carpet or materials that were previously not satisfactory unless they were covered, coated or used as economy class nonwovens. Today there are sophisticated and high tech needled fabrics used in apparel, home furnishing or polishing that can cost more than $30 a square yard. Currently there is no major competitive material from another process.

The ability to entangle fibers vertically and at angles within a fibrous network is dominated by this process. This capability of fiber arrangement offers structure possibilities that have not been commercially available elsewhere. Although hydroentangling is sometimes referred to as using water in place of a needle to produce nonwovens, the two seldom compete.

Composites and laminates have been produced with the needling process for more than 20 years. Some of these materials were produced where more than one web and/or fabric was placed on top of one another and the layers passed through the needlepunch machine. The barbed needles entangled the fibers from each web or layer into others. Wovens, knits, nonwovens, foams and films have been used in these composites and laminates.

In addition, materials from seeds to superabsorbents have been introduced into these fiber networks to produce unique property within a fabric. Such fabrics have been used in agriculture, geotextiles, incontinent products and in filtration where carbon was contained in the structure.

Although needlepunching has been and continues to be a practical and profitable method to produce certain materials, I have concerns for this process regarding its future in the year 2000 and beyond. Despite the many improvements in equipment, machines, needles or raw materials it is a relatively slow process compared to some of the other potential competitors for its products and markets. There are producers that claim to be producing at 3000 strokes per minute and or some 20 linear yards per minute but these are not the fabrics with higher penetrations and higher selling prices. Typically, the more penetrations per inch the slower the fabric production; you may find a synthetic leather substrate running at two linear yards per minute.

This nonwoven entangling process is based on an up and down motion with physical contact of metal to fiber that comes from an invention more than 100 years old. There have been improvements, innovations and inventions that continue to offer higher outputs and higher quality. Such innovations as the "Fiberwoven" process developed by A.M. Smith, which uses angled needling techniques, structured needlepunching by Dilo and circular or tubular needling, have all been major improvements, but the basic principle remains.

There are processes such as hydroentangled that make materials that compete with needled fabrics today. Others have included wovens and knits as well as stitchbonded, carded webs and foams. Some of these have greater ability to increase speeds than needlepunching. A few spunbonded manufacturers have needlepunching in their lines today and more will install it as an off-line function. I believe that in some of these spunbonded lines needling fits well today with their pounds per hour and certain markets such as geotextiles. However, spunbonded production using air as the major vehicle in making the fiber and fabrics can theoretically reach speeds that needlepunchers have not dreamed of.

The needlepunching process will be around tomorrow and it will deliver those materials that are the "standard" for others to attempt to replace. Yet some of these WILL replace needled fabrics if major changes are not made in the next ten years. So get with it, R & D. 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 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-
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Title Annotation:Holliday Talk
Author:Holliday, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:Column
Date:May 1, 1992
Words:871
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