Wherever you are sitting or standing right now, there’s bound to be at least one nonwoven fabric in your midst. Teabag or coffee filter, maybe? An air conditioning filter. Lens tissues, bleach wipes, diapers. Surely a face mask or seven.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic certainly pushed awareness of nonwoven fabrics to the forefront, we’ve had our eye on this growing market segment for years. Why? Because pressure-sensitive adhesive tape is often used to make or convert these textiles into usable everyday items.
Here’s our take on how non-wovens will continue to evolve and play a distinct role in the convenience economy.
What Is Non-Woven?
Nonwoven fabrics are the simplest and oldest textile fabrics. Neither woven nor knitted, as the name suggests, non-woven fabrics are broadly defined as sheet or web structures bonded together by entangling fiber or filaments (and by perforating films) mechanically, thermally or chemically.
They are flat or tufted porous sheets that are made directly from separate fibers, molten plastic, or plastic film. They are not made by weaving or knitting and do not require converting the fibers to yarn.
Typically, a certain percentage of recycled fabrics and oil-based materials are used in non-woven fabrics. The percentage of recycled fabrics varies based upon the strength of the material needed for the specific use. In addition, some nonwoven fabrics can be recycled after use, given the proper treatment and facilities. For this reason, some consider non-woven a more ecological fabric for certain applications, especially in fields and industries where disposable or single-use products are important, such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and luxury accommodations.
How are Nonwoven Fabrics Made?
Non-woven fabrics are made in two main methods: they are either felted or they are bonded. Felted non-woven fabric is produced by layering thin sheets, then applying heat, moisture, and pressure to compress the fibers into a thick matted cloth that will not ravel or fray.
There are there main methods of manufacturing bonded non-woven fabrics: Dry Laid, Wet Laid & Direct Spun.
- In Dry Laid Non-woven Fabric manufacturing, a web of fibers is laid in a drum and hot air is injected to bond the fibers together.
- In Wet-Laid, a web of fibers is mixed with a softening solvent that releases a glue-like substance that bonds the fibers together, and then the web is laid out to dry.
- In Direct Spun, the fibers are spun on to a conveyer belt, and glues are sprayed on to the fibers, which are then pressed to bond. (In case of thermoplastic fibers, glue is not required.)
How are Non-Woven Fabrics Being Used?
Nonwoven fabrics penetrate a wide range of markets including medical, apparel, automotive, filtration, construction, geotextiles, and protective. Day by day the use of non-woven fabric is increasing and without them, our present life would be incomprehensible. Indeed, nonwovens play an integral role in the convenience economy.
Basically there are two types of nonwoven fabric: durable and disposal. Around 60% of nonwoven fabric is durable and the other 40% is disposal. These specialty fabrics are engineered to provide specific functions such as absorbency, sterility, liquid repellency, resilience, stretch, softness, strength, flame retardancy, cushioning, thermal insulation, acoustic insulation, and filtration. These properties are often combined to create fabrics suited for specific jobs while achieving a good balance between product use-life and cost.
Most notably, non-wovens are being used in the following industries:
- Health & Hygiene. Diapers, feminine hygiene, adult incontinence, wipes (personal care, fingernail), cosmetic facial pads, consumer face masks.
- Geotextiles and Construction. Soil stabilizers and roadway underlayment, erosion control, canal construction, drainage systems, geo-membrane protection, sand infiltration barrier for drainage tile, landfill liners, insulation (fiberglass batting), weather-resistant house wrap, potting materials for plants.
- Industrial. Carpet backing, primary and secondary, packaging where porosity is needed, industrial wipes, composites (marine sail laminates, table cover laminates, chopped strand mat), flooring, backing/stabilizer for machine embroidery.
- Automotive & Transportation. Gasoline, oil and air filtration, tarps, and transportation wrapping.
- Acoustics. Acoustic insulation for appliances, automotive components, and wall-paneling, sound attenuation
- Apparel. Interlinings, insulation and protection clothing, industrial workwear, chemical defense suits, shoe components, backing/stabilizer for machine embroidery.
- Medical. Isolation gowns, surgical gowns, surgical drapes and covers, surgical masks, surgical scrub suits, caps, medical packaging: porosity allows gas sterilization, gloves, shoe covers, bath wipes, wound dressings, drug delivery, plasters, medical face masks, disposable clothing (foot coverings, coveralls), cleanroom wipes, filters used in the pharmaceutical industry.
- Packaging. Meat packaging (absorbent pads), shopping bags, mailing envelopes, shipping supplies.
- Furnishing. Pillows, cushions, mattress cores, and upholstery padding, batting for quilts in comforters.
- Household. Filters, ie. air, water, coffee, tea bags, vacuum bags; food prep wipes, household wipes, surface cleaning.
Specialty Tapes for Nonwoven Fabrics
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So Why Non-Woven and Why Now?
Nonwovens are innovative, creative, versatile, adaptable, essential, and decomposable. This type of fabric is directly produced from fibers, so there is no need for yarn preparation steps.
The manufacturing process is short and easy. Where it takes 6 months to produce 5,00,000 meters of woven fabric, it takes only 2 months to produce the same quantity of non-woven fabric. Moreover, the production cost is low. Besides, nonwoven fabric exhibiting specific properties such as higher strength, breathability, absorbency, durability, lightweight, retard flames, disposability, and more.
Of course, we can’t ignore the global impact of COVID-19. Demand for hygiene and medical products made of non-woven fabric (such as surgical caps, surgical masks, PPE, medical apron, shoe covers, etc.) has increased 10-30 times in different countries.
According to a report from “Research & Markets”, Global Nonwoven Fabrics market accounted for $44.37 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach $98.78 billion by 2026. That’s a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.3%!
It’s safe to say that nonwovens have opened doors of opportunity for everyday convenience. Just like Henry Ford made it possible to own a car and the Wright brothers to fly, nonwovens have revolutionized several industries, now being in hundreds of products which would otherwise be too expensive or not feasible to manufacture at a profit.
As a supplier to this evolving and critical industry, we are watching trends and working closely with our non-woven customers as they adjust to changing markets and introduce new products to the market. Every time a new nonwoven fabric is introduced, tape often has to be tested and reevaluated to ensure stickiness. Indeed, the chemical nature of the non-woven fabrics must be considered when choosing the right tape to splice, tab, and core start a roll. With technical innovations happening regularly, solving this problem is a collaborative effort.
If you are searching for a new tape for your non-woven application, or are having challenges with your specific splicing, tabbing, or core starting project, please reach out. We love to solve tape challenges!