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The next game changer

May 1st, 2014 / By: / Industry News

The continuous development of advanced nonwoven processing is opening up many new applications.

Were you aware that a water-repellent coating developed for military fabrics by the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence is now being employed to coat approximately one million smart phones every month? And even smarter—that just a teaspoon’s worth of that chemical is sufficient to coat about 600 of them?

Or that fabric-encased springs for mattresses will soon be incorporated into new running shoes, to be available in thousands of European stores this summer?

When a conference gets the content right, you come away with a lot of knowledge and new ideas, and that typifies the Nonwovens for High-Performance Applications conference held in uber-expensive Cannes, France, on March 5–6.

The value of disruption

A key focus at the event was on disruptive processes, and plasma nanocoatings from U.K.-based P2i have already been widely influential since their introduction a decade ago. The technology is now being employed by major sports brands for making clothing and footwear watertight, in addition to mobile phones and medical equipment. Nick Rimmer, P2i applications director, explained that the coating, applied in a roll-to-roll process, is too thin to block the pore structures in breathable materials, ensuring that a fabric’s bulk properties remain unchanged. It can be used to generate the highest levels of water and oil repellency, and the company is currently focusing on improved filter media.

Commercial nanofiber coating systems are also being manufactured by FibeRio® Technology Corp., McAllen, Texas. Enhanced barrier properties can be imparted to items such as medical nonwovens for surgical gowns, due to the high surface area that results. The company’s Forcespinning® technology, said R & D project manager Olivier Guichon, works on the principle of molten materials or solutions being rotated at high speed inside spinnerets and then being jetted out and attenuated in air. The key benefits of the system lie in its simplicity, versatility, productivity and low operating expense.

Bonding and laminating

No less influential is the ultrasonic lamination technology of Germany’s Herrmann Ultraschalltechnik GmbH & Co. KG, which has the ability to bond dissimilar materials and also to laminate heavy materials. There is no warm-up time with ultrasonic bonding systems, sales director Frank Weber pointed out, so they are immediately available for production, keeping energy costs low. There is no melting of the fibers outside the specific bonding area, so no drying time is required and no additives are needed. Herrmann has recently installed a new pilot line at its plant in Karlsbad, Germany, for initial sampling at speeds of up to 800 meters a minute.

Reliant Machinery Ltd., based in Bedfordshire, England, has sold roughly 22,000 laminating machines since its formation in 1969, with its Powerbond HPC system an industry standard. International sales executive Wilson Oricchio provided case studies of many products successfully manufactured on the system, which can compress and laminate in a single pass, making it ideal for densified, high-performance insulation, among other applications.

There are growing opportunities for laminated materials in aircraft interiors, Oricchio said, with OEM manufacturers like Airbus and Boeing specifically looking for improvements in the design of their seating for weight savings, improved aesthetics, lower cleaning costs and greater durability.

When different nonwovens are combined using laminating systems, they create seating and furnishing materials with technical properties tailored to meet those kinds of requirements.

Thermoforming

Geiss AG in Germany is going a step further by thermoforming nonwovens into shaped components and parts for industrial usage. Some of the products displayed by CEO Manfred Geiss, such as the formed center part between aircraft seats made from nonwoven glass fiber with a PEI matrix, look far removed from a textile product, but are being thermoformed at a temperature of 250°C (482° F) in just two minutes.

At Norafin Industries (Germany) GmbH, Mark Jolly, head of R & D, and his team have developed heatable nonwovens that can be employed as the reinforcing structure of composite parts. Their intrinsic value lies in being evenly heated from within when inside a mold with thermoplastic resins, with a significant reduction of the time and energy required. Norafin is also exploring other uses for these spunlaced and needlepunched materials, including as de-icing layers in wind turbine blades as well as heatable clothing.

Packaging potential

Conference chair George Kellie, CEO of Kellie Solutions™, Cheshire, England, U.K., identified a number of key areas in which there is significant growth potential for performance nonwovens, especially in packaging. The ability of these materials to be recovered or recycled, along with their strength and product personalization capabilities, is driving progress in this field. Spunbonded materials account for more than 50 percent of all packaging nonwovens, since they are strong, durable and also isotropic, with equal strength in both directions of the material. Their scratch resistance is useful in the transportation of electronics, painted car parts and other sensitive items.

Other new developments include the incorporation of absorbent nonwovens with active components into food packs, which can play a vital role in extending the shelf life of food and reducing food waste.

Marc Levillain, vice president and general manager of JX Nippon ANCI Inc. in Kennesaw, Ga., introduced his company’s CLAF® and MILIFE® products, which also have some useful packaging applications. The nonwovens are oriented in both machine and cross direction to maximize their performance in terms of strength and at the same time minimize weight. They are thinner in like-to-like performance terms than polypropylene spunmelt webs.

CLAF is an open reinforcement mesh film, comprising co-extruded and fibrillated films of polyethylene and
polypropylene, which processes like film: thin, flat and extremely fast. It is characterized by extreme dimensional stability with a high strength-to-weight ratio and advanced tear resistance.

MILIFE is a fine denier, cross-laminated polyester nonwoven that, as a result of its even and uniform composition and smooth surface, makes an excellent printing material. In addition to packaging, both materials are finding other niches in areas such as construction, breathable composites and agriculture.

Spring in the step

Harrison Spinks is the U.K. mattress manufacturer behind the pocket spring technology that’s currently being adopted for use in running shoes.

Consisting of a “spring inside a spring,” with the outer coil made of lighter wire to make it more responsive and the second adding support, the mechanism is encased in spunbond polyester nonwovens and has stretch in all directions. The patented system has subsequently been adapted by Johnson Controls for its ComforThin automotive seating system. “The Johnson Controls seat is thinner, lighter, more comfortable and no more expensive than foam,” said CEO Simon Spinks. “In addition, foam is difficult to recycle, so there are obvious advantages.”

For the footwear market, pocket spring inserts have been proven through testing at the U.K.’s Preston University to lead to a 10 percent reduction in peak load through the joints in the leg, which could lead to fewer injuries. Intersport International Corp. GmbH will launch new footwear ranges featuring the technology later this year.

Spinks also noted that his company has adopted an unusual business strategy after deciding that more natural fiber nonwovens were required in its mattresses: the company bought a farm. It is now growing and processing its own flax and hemp in Bolton Percy, Yorkshire.

“Both automotive and footwear are much bigger than the business we’re currently in, but meanwhile, we’re now processing our own mattress fillings,” said Spinks.

High tech, low energy use

New uses continue to be found for the superabsorbent fiber (SAF) from the U.K.’s Technical Absorbents, which has the ability to absorb up to 200 times its own weight in water and 60 times its own weight in saline, at an extremely fast absorption rate. It’s used, for example, to remove water from aviation and automotive fuels, and also by the agriculture and horticulture industries in fabrics designed for the controlled delivery of water and nutrients to different root systems.

Business development manager David Hill said that a converted SAF product portfolio now includes nonwovens, wovens, yarns and tapes suitable for a wide range of markets and applications, while patent-pending KoolSorb is designed to keep firefighters cool in the most challenging of environments by reducing wearer heat stress and fatigue while providing increased comfort and performance.

Finally, there’s already been tremendous interest in the Cosyflex™ technology developed by TamiCare in the U.K., and the videos shown by Tamar and Ehud Giloh (TamiCare CEO and CTO) at the Nonwovens for High-Performance Applications conference confirmed that it is bringing something close to 3-D printing to the disposable nonwoven finished products market. The low-energy forming process involves the spraying, electrostatic flocking and curing of layers of cellulose fiber and natural latex directly onto molds.

The layering can be controlled precisely to create graded and seamed shapes. The breathability is also engineered in, and the cellulose fibers are on both sides of the material to ensure a fabric-like drape and feel. Excess raw materials can be immediately reclaimed into the machine and re-used, eliminating waste—and unlike the converting of nonwoven roll goods, there is also no cutting involved in making the finished article, which is carried out simply by hot melt spraying and folding.

For complete coverage of the conference, visit www.intnews.com/NHPA.

Adrian Wilson is an analyst, writer and editor specializing in the technical textiles, nonwovens and composites industries. He is currently the editor of Sustainable Nonwovens (MCL Communications) and Smart Textiles and Nanotechnology (International Newsletters).

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