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Spunbonded nonwovens in the 1990s.

Spunbonded Nonwovens In The 1990s

The spunbonded process has had an interesting history and should have an even more interesting future. We have made references in the past to the spider spinning its continuous filament to make a web, which can be classified as the first nonwoven spunbonded web. The extrusion of glass into nonwoven batts has been around longer than most of our readers. All of these predate the fabrics we now refer to as spunbondeds. These later man-made versions of polymers/fibers raised their heads in the commercial markets during the 1960s and few, if any, recognized that they would change the future of textiles in this world.

Today there are more than 50 producers of spunbonded fabrics producing in excess of 500 million pounds a year. These fabrics are made from polymers that include polypropylene, polyester, polyethylene, acrylic, cellulose, elastomerics and various others along with numerous additives. The processes have become almost completely automated with higher production rates, higher quality, better yields and more versatility with each passing year.

The U.S. companies were the first to engineer the fabrics and successfully market spunbondeds into major markets and large volume end uses where many of them became the standard. During this period of the 1960s and 1970s, the number of companies entering the field and the increases in production capacities also occurred in the U.S. However, during the 1980s the major portion of new entrants and most of the increases in production were in other countries. The hundreds of patents on both processes and end uses have followed a similar pattern. Today the interest and activity in spunbondeds continues on an international basis.

Spunbonded fabrics are used in a multitude of end uses that vary from shoe materials to hats, from road beds to aircraft components and from underwater to space vehicle filtration.

One of the problems in defining the markets for spunbondeds has been to categorize and organize this large and diverse end use situation so that marketing and distribution systems can reach them. Many of the spunbonded producers have had a small sales force that was not capable of understanding and working with the inquiries it received outside of the major market areas. Only a few of these producers have set up an effective system of distributors or "reps" to find and develop the thousands of potential new end use markets for spunbonded materials.

Today's Products

Most of the spunbonded materials sold today are polypropylene or polyester and are "generically" similar. These materials have been designed to process well as a raw material or polymer through the spunbonded fabric manufacturing system, to convert efficiently for the fabricator and satisfy the end user.

In other words, the typical spunbonded producer today looks at one of the major markets for spunbondeds such as diaper coverstock and wants to be competitive (similar) while making a profit and maintaining a growing business there. There are a few producers that have decided not to make a product for this highly competitive situation. Some of these have included cellulose fabrics, micro fiber fabrics, elastomeric fabrics and multi-polymer fabrics. Unfortunately, some of these unique products have not been very successful and have discouraged other producers from following or developing the great potential for spunbondeds.

Potential Spunbonded Improvements

The potential for improved and unique spunbonded fabrics is enormous. Some of these innovations include:

*New and different polymers

*Additives with a polymer

*Fiber cross section variations

*Crimped/curled filaments

*Cut or staple like fibers

*Additives after extrusion

*Unique filament collection apparatus

*New bonding systems - chemical, physical


Each one of the above is in effect a category with many subsections. As an example, finishing could include operations on and off the spunbonded manufacturing line. The subsections might include napping, brushing, secondary bonding, breaking of bonds, printing, compacting, chemical additives and washing. However, as we have said, most of the spunbonded producers follow the "Major Market" approach and want their manufacturing to produce the same product day after day with the minimum expenditures in R&D, down-time and market research/development.

Spunbonded In The 1990s - The Future

No doubt, many of the present producers will continue to follow the present marketing approach. However, there are several producers that are making unique products and others developing them. The unique products will be the ones that will open the doors to new markets and produce higher profits if managed properly. They will guide the future of spunbondeds into end uses that are currently demanding properties not found in spunbonded fabrics.

A better understanding of the new market needs will be required as well as different marketing/sales efforts in order to penetrate and serve these opportunities. Meanwhile, the evolution of growth will continue for spunbondeds through the 1990s at some 10-15% a year. Some of the innovations will be incorporated and the products will improve. After all, who can do a better job?


Apparel - disposable and protective Coverstock - diaper, sanitary Durable papers and packaging Filtration Geotextile and agriculture Home furnishings - carpet, bedding Insulation - electrical and thermal Interlinings and facings Medical/healthcare Roofing and building products Scrims - support and reinforcing Substrates-coatings

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 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)493-2501.
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Author:Holliday, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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