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Opportunities for nonwoven fabrics in the industrial protective apparel market.

Opportunities For Nonwoven Fabrics In The Industrial Protective Apparel Market

The U.S. market for nonwoven fabrics in industrial protective apparel applications has emerged as a significant business opportunity for nonwoven producers. Sales of nonwoven roll goods targeted for this application are expected to be slightly under $100 million this year. Healthy growth at an annual rate of 10% or more is expected to continue well into the 1990s.

Although often referred to as a single market, in reality this business is a collection of highly diverse applications that have widely varying specifications.

Almost half of the value of nonwovens consumed in the industrial protective apparel market are roll goods sales for chemical protective apparel (Figure 1). Chemical protective clothing requires various types of barrier fabrics that protect workers by resisting the penetration and, in some cases, permeation of hazardous chemicals. Asbestos abatement apparel is the next largest industrial market for nonwovens. Disposable coveralls are mandated for asbestos abatement workers, but the barrier performance of the fabrics is not prescribed. Clean room apparel must protect sensitive products from contaminants shed by workers and, in many applications, must protect workers from hazardous materials handled in clean room operations.

Protective clothing is also used in industry to protect workers' clothing from heavy soil and stain exposures involved in their operations. The size of the market opportunities for nonwovens, the growth trends and the existing market and competitive structures vary considerably among these market segments.

The Diversity of Applications

Each protective apparel application represents a balance of priorities between the barrier and other protective features of the material, the comfort and aesthetic appeal to the wearer and the cost per use of the product. Figure 2 illustrates the relative advantages of the three types of nonwoven fabrics that represent the highest volume materials that are used currently for industrial apparel. The shaded regions within each triangle represent the advantaged features of Du Pont's "Tyvek," Kimberly-Clark's spunbonded/melt blown/spunbonded composite (SMS) and lightweight spunbonded polypropylene fabrics.

The rapidly growing hazardous waste management industry offers numerous examples of diverse protective apparel needs. This industry segment can be segmented by functional application, such as hazardous site remediation, hazardous waste incineration, controlled hazardous waste landfill management, hazardous waste transportation and environmental assessment. Each of these segments involves a different mix of people and activities that determine the protective apparel usage trends and purchasing behavior.

The protective clothing requirements are based on the nature of the hazardous substances to which workers could potentially be exposed. The hazards are varied, even within the functional segments of the industry. For instance, remediation workers at a uranium mill tailings site typically need only particulate protection from radioactive soils, whereas workers remediating a mixed radioactive and toxic chemical government waste site may need protective clothing that is impermeable to hazardous vapors.

The level or degree of protection required for workers is determined by the type of hazardous environment that the workers are expected to encounter. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has selection guidelines for personal protective clothing and equipment ensembles that describe four types of environments, classify them into levels A through D and define the respiratory, skin and eye protection required for each level. These EPA guidelines primarily determine the type of respiratory equipment to be used and the styles of protective apparel to be worn. The EPA levels do not specify the degree of protection from chemical penetration or permeation that the clothing provides.

Standardized industry test methods have been developed to classify garment materials as vapor impermeable or liquid splash resistant to a standardized battery of test chemicals. Last year, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issued standards approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) that defined certification programs for liquid splash protective suits, vapor protective suits and support function garments for use in hazardous chemical emergencies.

While the NFPA standards were developed for hazardous material spill response units of fire departments, they may influence chemical protective apparel selection in industry due to the absence of any standards specifically designed for industrial needs. The disposable garments that have been certified or are being tested for future certification under the three recent NFPA chemical protective clothing standards are made with composite materials consisting of layers of barrier films laminated to nonwoven substrates.

Garment manufacturers serving the waste management and hazardous material emergency response markets need to consider market needs and opportunities from both the perspectives of the EPA classification levels and the NFPA certification categories in order to develop and market successful product lines. Barrier fabric producers need to be concerned with the chemical permeation and penetration resistance properties, the flame retardancy, tear strength and abrasive resistance of their materials as determined by the application of ANSI/NFPA test methods.

Understanding End User Needs

Extensive end user surveys have been conducted to determine the specific market needs and priorities for protective apparel in numerous industrial and government applications. As a result, a number of unmet needs have been identified that offer opportunities for new product solutions. Effective nonwovens marketing strategies need to be designed to respond to the value orientation of the targeted end users.

The typical garment purchaser from an asbestos abatement firm selects disposable coveralls based almost entirely on price. The asbestos workers who wear the apparel clearly place the relative coolness, breathability and overall comfort of the garment material at the top of the list.

On the other hand, a project manager from an environmental consulting firm is most likely to select garments for site assessment work based primarily on the breadth of chemical protection provided by the garment fabrics. Safety directors in oil refineries are primarily concerned about the provision of flame retardant clothing for their process operators and maintenance people.

A clear understanding of the values and priorities of market segments should precede the development of nonwoven materials, as well as product positioning and marketing strategies for industrial protective apparel.

The Need for Specialized Fabric Solutions

An increase is expected in the use of specialized fabrics and composites for apparel designed to meet the needs of specific end uses. Traditional disposable and reusable alternatives do not fully meet the needs of all end users and usually do not offer the particular balance of performance, comfort and economics that was optimal for each application.

Demand is also expected to increase for improved worker protection, driven by increased government regulation, employer efforts to attract, satisfy and retain skilled workers and increased employee understanding of the need for protective clothing and equipment. Government regulators, employers and employees often have different perspectives on the selection priorities among the three often conflicting objectives of protective apparel (protection, comfort and cost).

Today's protective apparel fabrics often require end users reluctantly to compromise their ultimate objectives in protection, comfort and economics. In many market segments, dramatic growth in demand for protective apparel would be unleased if new materials were developed that more fully satisfy end user wants.


COPYRIGHT 1991 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Technical Nonwovens
Author:Hanna, Pricie
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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