Moisture-barrier properties in fabrics and sustainability concerns top one expert’s list of important industry developments.
By Donna Visioli, Ph.D.
Part I of a series by speakers at the Advanced Textiles Conference 2010. Part II covers developments in auxetic materials, Part III addresses electrical conductive nanocoatings and Part IV covers the potential of nanomaterials in creative applications. Part V examines the push for sustainability.
What are the newest, most exciting or intriguing developments in advanced textiles?
Some of the most exciting developments exist in the area of fabric composites with tailored properties, such as coated fabrics. A composite is a material formed of distinct components, one that has properties different from each component alone. As such, a structure in which a fabric has been coated or made part of a laminate is a composite. The fabric can be woven or nonwoven; the coating can be polymeric, ceramic, or metal; and the resulting composite can be flexible or rigid. Developments in flexible composites seem especially interesting.
Who is driving new developments, the researchers or the market?
The real challenge for successful new developments is to identify new market needs and focus on meeting them. Market trends currently driving innovation include environmental issues related to product end-of-life concerns, more durability to outdoor exposure for both military and sporting applications, improved resistance to chemicals, and advanced aesthetics (including printing by a variety of methods). Flexible composite structures that offer product protection as well as human comfort are also an area of increasing importance. Moisture-permeable composite structures, when used for garments or protective structures such as tents, provide people with greater comfort by preventing humidity buildup, while also providing protection against environmental factors.
What is the market demanding, and how is your company responding?
Market segments with a growing demand for specialized fabrics include building and construction, furniture and household goods, geotextiles, and protective clothing. DuPont is developing specialized polymers based on ethylene copolymer technology for flexible composites. We believe our developmental polymers, which include Entira™ Coat, Entira Smart, Entira Breathe and Entira Luxe, address unmet needs in these market spaces. All of them are halogen-free, which simplifies recycling, an important concern. They meet growing requirements for improved durability to outdoor exposure and can be printed by a variety of common methods. In addition to being suitable for post-melt compounding recycling, these ethylene copolymers have advantages for converters in that they are compatible with most converters’ current processes and equipment (such as blown or cast film, or extrusion coating) and have favorable processing properties.
Are new technologies finding their applications and markets? If so, where is the most robust growth occurring, or likely to occur, in the near future? If not, what’s holding up the implementation of new technologies?
We expect growth in our developmental technologies because they provide new and innovative solutions. The most exciting match between market need and technology is the capability to provide tailored water/moisture-barrier properties. This applies, for example, to future protection of equipment that currently is being damaged in storage by mold or rust. Entira Breathe is highly permeable to moisture vapor but is impermeable to liquid water and resistant to many common solvents and chemicals. This makes it suitable for use in protective garments and in covers for equipment to protect against corrosion or mold growth. The high moisture permeability of Entira Breathe enables flexible composites for shelters so that the buildup of humidity inside the shelter can be reduced.
Entira Smart is called a “smart”’ vapor retarder because its moisture permeability responds to humidity—it is a moisture barrier when humidity is low and a moisture permeator when humidity is high. Moisture inside a building can lead to rot and mold if the moisture gets inside a wall, but a smart vapor barrier reduces these moisture-related problems by allowing the moisture to escape. Furthermore, by keeping interior humidity in the comfort zone, energy efficiency improves.
In applications involving outdoor or chemical exposure, Entira Coat acts as a durable adhesive despite stresses and has good adhesion to a variety of substrates that can be tough to bond together. Because it does not yellow in the presence of light, it offers improved durability during outdoor exposure. Moreover, the ability to accept UV-printable inks also enhances the utility of Entira Coat as a surface layer in graphics applications.
Entira Luxe offers a soft-touch surface with good resistance to scratching, making it suitable for furniture or household-goods applications. Its soft touch and printability enable use in a variety of flexible composites.
What new products or processes are being developed now that will have the most profound impact on the way in which end-product manufacturers do business tomorrow?
Those that will have the most far-reaching impact will address societal megatrends related to environmental issues and growth in developing countries. Reducing environmental footprint all along the value chain is no longer just a desire; it is now a business reality. The way in which this footprint reduction is implemented will have a profound impact on our industry. Developing flexible composites that are more easily reused or recycled, and producing the composites using energy efficient processes that have a smaller environmental footprint (like reduced-solvent emission), will become imperative in designing new products. Developing countries are undergoing a period of unprecedented growth, including new capital investments. This will have a tremendous effect on how business is done. Advancements will need to be driven by a global community, not simply translated from American- or European-based parent companies, offering new opportunities to product manufacturers that are nimble.