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Quality control and nonwovens: the supply side.

Quality Control And Nonwovens: The Supply Side

quality control and testing equipment suppliers say nonwovens is a profitable business with good potential; despite a slow year, most believe manufacturers have developed an awareness of the need for quality

Three years ago, sophisticated quality control systems in nonwovens were, while not unheard of, certainly not the standard in the industry. Nonwovens manufacturers were skeptical of committing the kind of money required for a quality system and less than convinced of the worth - and benefits - of the systems on the market.

Today, the situation has certainly changed. All the equipment suppliers to nonwovens that NONWOVENS INDUSTRY contacted were impressed with the growth in the industry and felt it had come a long way in its use and acceptance of quality control systems. Costs have come down, more flexible systems have been developed and nonwovens manufacturers are seeing their investment pay off in reduced waste and higher quality materials in a relatively short amount of time.

Finally, while the recession has been felt in this industry just like almost everywhere else, suppliers still remain optimistic about the future and expect 1992 to be much more successful.

The Evolution Of The Industry

As the nonwovens industry has evolved - and matured - manufacturers have begun to realize the need for on-line testing and quality control equipment. A decade ago, companies were too busy keeping up with technological innovations and keeping ahead of the Jones - and the Veratecs, Dexters and Freudenbergs - that worrying about quality control and installing sophisticated testing machines was not a priority.

Now as the industry has caught up with technology and had time to work on refining existing technology and machinery, statistical process control (SPC) has gained in importance.

"There has been an impressive rise in quality control awareness in the nonwovens industry over the last three years," said John Swyers, marketing director at LFE Instruments, Clinton, MA, a manufacturer of thickness and basis weight control systems. "The nonwoven converter has escalated his quality demands and the nonwovens salesperson has begun to emphasize the value of highly uniform products at the starting point."

David Carlson, vice president at NDC Systems, Monrovia, CA, agreed, but added that there is still a learning curve to be overcome. "Manufacturers still don't completely understand the SPC concept and must be educated before business can really take off," he said. About 6% of NDC's business, which lies in web gauging systems, is in the nonwovens area.

Several factors impact this new-found desire for quality control. "It's a question of financial and environmental impact," said David Citron, sales manager at Dover Flexo Electronics, Rochester, NH, a manufacturer of tension rolls for nonwovens. "The trend toward quality control has increased as the nonwovens industry has matured," he said. "As the industry grows, it is realizing that it needs better repeatability on its products and that it must reduce its waste."

The other side of the financial coin is the economic advantages for nonwovens manufacturers. According to LFE's Mr. Swyer, equipment costs have decreased and sophistication of products has increased. "LFE has been involved in nonwovens for close to 20 years, but previously dealt only with larger clients who could more easily justify the expense of online qc systems. The question was how to make the same thing work at a smaller plant," he said. "Today the entry level costs for on-line measurement are much more reasonable and the systems are use-friendly and don't require a great deal of training or maintenance either."

"What has changed in the past several years is cost payback," agreed Joseph Pascente, president, Lixi, Downers Grove, IL, a supplier of x-ray inspection equipment. "Nonwovens manufacturers are discovering that process control can make a difference."

Along those same lines, suppliers to nonwovens have worked to make their equipment more affordable and adaptable to the smaller lines run by roll goods manufacturers. More sophisticated technology has been developed and more flexible machinery implemented to give manufacturers a quality product at a reasonable price.

Mr. Swyer said," Management is saying, 'Give me something that works, pays for itself quickly and can be expanded later.' It used to be that a customer had to buy everything brand new to upgrade," Mr. Swyer continued. "Today, thanks to new design approaches and simplified computer architecture, the smaller nonwovens producer can get a quality product at an affordable price." Also, due to technology innovations, today's quality control equipment also provides rapid turnaround to the nonwovens manufacturer who makes several products on one line, Mr. Swyer added.

Range Of Products Offered

Among the machinery suppliers to nonwovens, there is a broad range of different testing systems available. Measurements such as web thickness and basis weight as well as a host of other parameters can be monitored on-line, on a real-time basis and adjustments made right at the site of the problem. The systems aid in improving consistency, which ultimately improves quality, reducing waste and creating an overall better product. Among the products offered:

* New at LFE is the "Profitmaster Micro Plus" thickness/basis weight control system. The system combines the affordability of a single-point full sheet scanner with the control capability previously available only on larger, more expensive systems.

The system gives the operator direct access to the process control system's full database; by touching the panel's screen, the operator can call up other screens and data, tune calibration and setup values, enter commands and adjust alarm settings.

* The most recent introduction at Lixi is a portable line-scan for providing macro imaging of larger products and inspecting areas up to 18 inches wide very quickly, providing real-time x-rays of quality problems in-line. Because of the system's portable nature, it can also be used by several departments.

* One of the newer companies to get involved in nonwovens is Ohmart, Cincinnati, OH, which manufactures on-line scanning and web inspection equipment. The company has historically been involved in plastics and extruded films and is now working on diversifying into nonwovens. It has already made inroads into adult incontinence and baby diapers markets, but is targeting other nonwoven areas such as roofing materials.

Ohmart's "ConceptOne" range of on-line basis weight measurement, control and reporting systems targets small to moderately sized processors that require on-line thickness gauging at a moderate price. The systems range from basic fixed point digital display of basis weight to web scanning systems with colorgraphic profiles. Ohmart typically measures spunbonded, air laid, wet laid and melt blown webs.

* NDC's Model 8000 on-line gauging system uses state-of-the-art sensor technology and a 19 inch high-resolution color monitor with touchscreen controls and functions to control target setting and hardware modifications. The system can control from one to three synchronized scanners and boasts faster line start-up, increased yield, reduced scrap, improved quality and fast payback.

Last year the company donated more than $100,000 worth of equipment to the Textile and Nonwovens Development Center (TANDEC) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN for its experimental line. A similar line was also donated to Reifenhauser, Troisdorf, Germany for its lab line.

* Supplier Lloyd Instruments, King of Prussia, PA, is working on introducing a new series of testing machine hardware that target the higher end specifications. The software can then be changed to adapt to different systems for various configurations.

Lloyd has also been busy at the corporate level with some major changes. The company moved its operations from its King of Prussia headquarters to Greensboro, NC and was also acquired by Technitrol, a Trevose, PA manufacturer of measuring scales and electronic component parts.
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Author:Noonan, Ellen
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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