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Nonwovens – The Synthetic Fabric Group

Nonwovens – The Synthetic Fabric Group

By Susan Stansbury, Industry Consultant (contact/bio on LinkedIn)

This begins Part 2 of three articles about those fantastically creative nonwovens fabrics. I continue with spunlace and similar nonwovens, somewhat associated with paper along with extensive use of synthetic fibers including polypropylene and polyethylene.

First, a reminder… what are nonwovens?

  • Nonwovens substrates are neither papers nor wovens (wovens are textiles such as cotton fabrics). In this case, developers were trying to create an alternate textile-like fabric using synthetic fibers.
  • Nonwovens can include multiple streams of fibers, plus additives in the manufacturing process.

Nonwovens shipments, while lower during Covid-19 years, have returned to pre-pandemic levels in the U.S. and Europe, and industry growth is “accelerating in the Indian and Chinese economies, which are incorporating nonwoven textiles in a broad spectrum of applications, including geotextiles and the burgeoning automotive industry.” (Nonwovens Industry magazine)

This aspect of nonwovens is centered on spunlace (or also called hydroentangled) nonwovens. Three webs can be hydroentangled, for example, using synthetic materials on the outside for softness and strength and airlaid/pulp/tissue on the inside as an absorbent core. Keeping the pulp component on the inside prevents linting and preserves absorbency. For example, a bed pad might have an outer layer of synthetic fiber for strength with an inner layer that is absorbent. “Pad” products are promoted as having a drier layer close to the body, and inside, moisture is “locked in.”

Properties which are tested or targeted include:

  • Determination of tensile strength, tear resistance and stretch.
  • Ability to filter for products ranging from air filters to healthcare masks.
  • Hand is the way the fabric feels when it is touched–like softness, crispness, dryness, silkiness.
  • Flushability and sustainability are two issues that specialty products must address, where consumer confidence has to be earned and testing has to prove.
  • Meeting quality needs for hygiene, cosmetic, medical, construction, filtration, electronic materials, and wipes.

Summary of Properties

  • Can be embossed, printed, and incorporate a range of synthetic fibers and cellulosic fibers.
  • Strength varies, with mix of fibers & thickness; usually stronger than airlaid nonwovens.
  • Can be produced in thin or thick versions for: wipes, drapes, gowns. They can be soft to the hand. They can be “open” or closed webs.
  • These nonwovens can be apertured for eye appeal, to trap debris when cleaning and for better scrubbing ability.
  • Generally low linting (superior to airlaid in this respect).
  • Meltblown nonwovens can be very thin and layered or combined with other nonwovens.
  • Meltblown nonwovens are especially sought after for good filtering such as in masks and gowns.

Wisconsin manufacturers are major converters of these nonwovens. The state has more than a dozen companies that make dry wipers and wet wipes, in canisters, flat packs, cosmetic single-use cleansing packets, and tubs of baby wipes. In addition, converting nonwovens includes roll slitting, printing, packaging and more.

In the canister wipes segment, Rebel Converting’s X-Treme canisters feature digital high-resolution printing which allows print of any design or graphic. Labels can be sequentially numbered, have different sets of numbers on them, or include unique images. The labels are in-molded — melted into the canister for durability. Rebel Converting is one of the wipes market higher-volume producers with two facilities in the Milwaukee area.

Biax-Fiberfilm Corporation expanded its melt-blown/Spun-Blown® fabric production for the entire filtration/sorbent/insulation/wipes markets. “Our capacity in Neenah is rapidly growing to many times higher than our previous output,” says Douglas Brown. “The purchase of the former Kimberly Clark facility in Neenah, called ‘Neenah Nonwovens facility’ (now called 5K Fibres) has allowed us additional space, plus certain machine elements that assisted with fast scale up.​ The plant is a mix between conventional meltblown and new technology developed by Biax Fiberfilm and our specialty 5K Fibre ‘spun-blown®’ dies where we have developed thinner filtering materials on one hand, and very lofty nonwovens as well.”

Look for Part 3 where an overview of some specialty nonwovens, such as needlepunch, is presented.

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