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The road ahead for nonwovens.

The Road Ahead For Nonwovens

For more than 20 years now, we have witnessed the continued growth of nonwovens on a worldwide basis. Each year we see nonwovens in many additional end uses. In some of these, the nonwoven replaces a woven, knit or other textile. In others it may replace a film or it may be found in a new product that did not exist before and probably could not have without the use of a nonwoven.

The fundamentals of most of the nonwoven processes provide them with certain advantages over many others that would compete with them. When these are utilized, it is difficult to stop their growth and success. Many of the nonwoven processes contain the more advantageous capabilities of their competitive counterparts without the disadvantages. Fiber selection in nonwovens is certainly one of the major advantages as compared to most weaving and knitting operations. Off qualities, waste or trim can often be put to more profitable uses than in other textile processes.

The Finishing of Nonwovens

Finishing of nonwovens has been a weak area for the industry in general as compared to textiles, films, papers and other competitive products. However, this is changing as our industry matures and begins to recognize the importance of this portion of the process.

Many nonwovens manufacturers, fabricators and dealers are now becoming more capable of altering and improving their fabrics. This trend will continue as those marketing nonwovens observe that in many markets they cannot sell their product because it lacks a quality that could have been added in their plant. They will also want the other advantages of higher profits, unique fabric characteristics and the physical/esthetic improvements that may accompany certain types of finishing.

The Combining of Nonwovens

This area is similar to finishing and in some ways could be included in that category. As an example, laminating could be accomplished in a finishing operation. In any case, laminates and composites have been growing in size and importance for some 20 years.

Another similarity to finishing is that a nonwoven felt may not meet market needs as it typically would come from the manufacturing line. However, if a scrim of yarns or support structure is placed within the web before it is needled, it will meet the stability, strength or other end use requirements needed.

These and many more opportunities offered by combining nonwovens insure that this area will continue to grow and new concepts will be developed.

The Nonwoven Processes

Last month I discussed how spunbonded would continue to be the major growth area for additional manufacturing. I have also written that melt blown would be the other giant in the years to come. These polymer-to-fabric processes have many advantages over other nonwovens manufacturing, including complete automation, high production/capacity. versatility, selection and control of raw materials.

These polymer-to-product processes, which include extruded webs, foams and others in addition to spunbonded and melt blown, will evolve and give birth to processes with even more capabilities and advantages. We have seen the signs of things to come with the combining of a spunbonded that is a fusible web or an elastomeric fabric and melt blown fibers coating a surface.

The carding machine lives on and will no doubt continue to do so. It offers many advantages, such as lower capital investment, rapid changes in running conditions, lower technology and cost in maintenance, the capability to run as well as blend many types of fibers and it is versatile in its abilities to be changed, modified or even moved. Cards are being sold today and major developments are being undertaken to improve their operation and the products they will produce. They are, in effect, building their own future.

The other nonwovens processes we associate with the card or random web laying machines such as needlepunching, high loft, spunlaced and stitchbonded fall into a similar category as the card. Each of these processes, which normally rely on the card to supply its web, has done well. I predict that will continue to grow at a similar rate as they have for the past five years: Spunlaced will, of course, get the lion's share of the attention.

Wet laid nonwovens continues to be hampered by the "GIANT" problems - the giant capital investment required, the giant order for the long, continuous runs, the giant water problems; some companies even move with the speed of a giant in responding to their markets and their environment.

However, this giant is progressing and it is difficult to slow a giant even when it is moving at a moderate speed. We may see a more favorable growth in wet laid nonwovens when the water entangled fabrics are further developed and if some of the current concepts and activities are commercialized.

Today and Tomorrow

The nonwovens industry of today is so dynamic that nothing will seriously impact its growth. Legislation or consumer rejection of "disposables," raw material problems, dramatic end use market swings, changes in product characteristics or improvements in competitive process will be painful to some nonwovens suppliers, a benefit to others.

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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Title Annotation:Holliday Talk; looking toward the 1990s
Author:Holliday, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Dec 1, 1989
Previous Article:Reducing the pain.
Next Article:Glass fiber nonwovens in Japan.

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