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Nonwovens: a progressive industry.

Do you remember noting that a particular child grew significantly since the last time you saw him or her, while the parent or someone that sees the child everyday has not noticed? Our industry has grown and changed dramatically in the past few years and many of us within it don't fully appreciate this evolution. Some of the changes have not been favorable to a particular few, but viewing the industry as a whole, most have been for the best and are both positive and impressive.

Dry Laid Nonwovens (Carded and Air Laid). Webs and fabric-like structures were made with textile type cards more than 50 years ago. Although they were primitive and some used waste or substandard fibers, they provided the direction and confidence for the nonwovens of the future.

In the 1950's and 1960's, fiber, carding equipment and bonding were selected to allow improved performance characteristics and the "carded" web made its profound place in history as well as the marketplace. Parallel to random fiber orientation, crosslapping, sophisticated chemical bonding, the ability of additives, thermal bonding, fiber blends and higher production capabilities

have all contributed to its success. This has been the work horse of our industry for the past 30 years and continues to be the leader. It also continues to dominate many markets and accounted for more than 1.7 billion pounds of fabric worldwide in 1991.

Needlepunched Nonwovens. The concept of needlepunching is more than 100 years old. However, the two major product innovations that brought needlepunched nonwovens to the forefront were the indoor/outdoor carpets and synthetic leathers of the 1960's. Today we find sophisticated and high tech products made from this process ranging from exotic filters to tubing for vascular prosthesis.

Process innovations include the technology to produce three dimensional products, totally enclosed counter balanced-quadra punch, counter rotating drives, circular looms, extreme widths and a multitude of needle designs. These capabilities can be used with the advantages of carding and other processes. Needlepunching can also combine, perforate, density and add other properties to various materials including wovens, knits, films and foam. This major player in the nonwoven industry produced more than 700 million pounds of fabric worldwide in 1991.

Spunbonded Nonwovens. This polymer to fabric process was primarily developed through the technologies of manmade fiber production. The first commercial spunbonded fabrics were made in the 1960's and like other nonwovens, were not too successful in their beginnings. This situation has changed dramatically. Today spunbonded technology is not only a dominant force in nonwovens, but it has pushed competition aside in numerous processes and products, including wovens and knits. There were more than 900 million pounds of spunbonded material produced worldwide in 1991, having grown from a capacity of some 230 million pounds in 1981.

Melt Blown. There were principles of this process used in making glass and mineral wool many years ago. However, the basics of the process as we know it today were begun in the 1950's. in the 1960's we saw insignificant commercial production but significant research and development. In the 1970's melt blown became a legitimate child of the nonwoven industry with products such as "Thinsulate," sorbents, filtration media, composites and laminates.

Melt blown's ability to make fiber less than one micron in diameter continues to excite developments and new product concepts. This process had less than 25 million pounds capacity in 1981 and has grown to more than 100 million pounds in 1991 worldwide.

Hydroentangled/Spunlaced. This approach to web and fabric making goes back to the 1950's. It has primarily used carded or air laid webs as its base or raw material. Recently, however, it began using webs from nearly every fiber to web process, including wovens and knits. This high pressure water jet approach to moving fibers can offer a multitude of characteristics from entangling to surface interest and from integrity to density. It has shown continued and dramatic growth during the past 10 years.

Hydroentangled fabrics have received major attention from the nonwoven community as well as many end users because of their "textile-like" properties, such as drape and hand. In 1991, there was a capacity of more than 150 million pounds worldwide and additional manufacturing lines are being added.

Wet Laid. it is difficult to date the beginning of this nonwoven process due to the similarities in its origin to papermaking. Most would probably agree that the use of longer and/or synthetic fibers and the design of machines to produce materials with water formation methods different from paper began in the late 1950's. This approach has demonstrated many advantages in uniformity, speed and other capabilities regarding the manufacture of nonwovens. However, it has required large capital investments with committed marketing and that has discouraged some of its growth. There were more than 250 million pounds of wet laid nonwovens produced in 1991 worldwide.

Scrim. The manufacture of open fabric-like structures using filaments and/or yarns was commercially developed some 30 years ago. These materials have seen widespread use as tape reinforcement, stabilizing needlepunched materials, tissue reinforcement and many sanitary and disposable products. Although this method of web and fabric making has proven its validity in numerous applications and processes, it has not received the recognition it deserves. This little known giant produced almost a billion yards of material in 1991.

Tow This process came from developments in cigarette filters in the 1960's. The first successful products were highloft for filling and insulation markets. Today tow fabrics continue to make excellent materials for these markets as well as others like heavyweight fabrics for geotextiles and lightweight fabrics for filtration and high quality end uses. This process could be much more successful when the proper quantities and qualities of tow are available. Nearly 100 million pounds of tow products were produced in 1991 worldwide.

Stitchbonded. The concept of stitching fibers together is believed to have been invented in the late, 1940's. it has seen many innovations and continues to evolve. Pile fabrics, yarnless bonding, various patternings and the addition of other fibers/yarns/film/materials in the structure have contributed to the ability of this process to produce unique materials to meet end use applications. The stretch material using an elastomeric yarn has been one of the more interesting fabrics in recent years and show great promise. Although stitchbonding has not enjoyed the growth that some of the other nonwoven processes have, it is a viable process for making many unique fabrics and structures.

Nonwovens now literally go from head to toe. They are in your hat and in your shoes, they are under the carpet and in the roof they are underground and over crops and are used in aircraft as well as in ships at sea. The recent economic conditions have demonstrated that most nonwoven manufacturers have continued to fare well while many other businesses have not. We have come a long way in 20 years, but I believe the best is yet to come.
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Title Annotation:reflections on the last 20 years
Author:Holliday, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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