How was it? Results of the international exhibition of nonwovens and technical textiles - INDEX 2020

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How was it? Results of the international exhibition of nonwovens and technical textiles - INDEX 2020

INDEX2020 was marked by a general statement of unprecedented capacity growth in the nonwovens industry starting from the second half of 2020. This growth has affected absolutely all technology platforms.

For melblone technology, such growth was abrupt and short-term, explained by the desire of each country (and/or a single company) to have its own facilities for the production of strategically important material for the manufacture of SIZOD and not depend on suppliers located at the opposite end of the globe.

The technological platform "spanlace" (here we mean all types of nonwovens formed by hydro-entanglement, regardless of the technologies of primary canvas formation) was affected by the pandemic in a slightly different way. There was a huge demand for disinfectant wipes, and machine builders and manufacturers of nonwoven fabrics "spanlace" took advantage of this. This was especially pronounced in China. Basically, traditional spunlace technology was used to produce the basis for disinfecting wipes.; with the formation of the primary canvas in a dry way on a carding machine and its subsequent hydro-entanglement. Staple fibers of viscose, polyester, polypropylene, as well as natural cotton were mainly used as raw materials for this technological process.

Following the trend of sustainable development, the largest machine builders offered to the market combined technologies for the production of nonwovens "spanlace", allowing the use of wood pulp as raw materials. The main difference from the traditional "spanlace" technology was in the different ways of forming the primary web. It could be formed exclusively by wet laying wet-laid (enclosed wire) from an aqueous suspension of cellulose and staple fibers of various polymers. «Wet styling» it could be used in combination with carding and subsequent hydro-entanglement. For the integration of wood pulp into the web, "air laying" was sometimes proposed, the node(s) of which were usually placed between two carding machines with a subsequent stage of hydro-entanglement.

exhibition of nonwoven fabric manufacturers in Geneva INDEX

The technologies described above, combined in this article under the general name "spanlace", were not characterized by the spontaneity of demand for the final product compared to the technology "meltblown", and the increase in their capacities was based on a clearly verified business plan of the companies and their far-reaching plans. The reason for this is the flexibility of the described technologies in the use of various types of raw materials, the production of a wide range of materials for a variety of applications, as well as their technical ability, if desired, to produce the most "green"; canvases characterized by complete biodegradability, compostability, biodegradability, water dispersibility, as well as the origin of raw materials from "sustainable" sources with the ability to track its origin.

Results

In our opinion, the last INDEX2020 exhibition did not show anything new for professionals in the field of nonwovens who would like to see some new breakthrough product or technology. It was characterized by stating all the obvious facts and exaggerating the concept of sustainable development. The largest machine builders of the industry have not presented new concepts for the production of nonwovens, except, perhaps, increased productivity of lines using long-existing technologies:

  • The bicomponent volumetric (3D) material presented at the exhibition, produced using SM…S– technology, cannot be called something new. The presence of an embossed shaft (calender with a special 3D pattern) at the end of the line does not make this material unique and something that did not exist before.
  • Spunbond, 70% produced from recycled polypropylene and fabric scraps, is also not a "know-how", since in the "spunbond" technology, co-extruders are traditionally used to return the cut edges to the process. Moreover, it was not disclosed how viable and cost-effective this technology is on an industrial scale, taking into account the so-called "sourcing"; (sourcing) of waste used in such production: what physical, mechanical and qualitative characteristics should they have, where to take them on a permanent basis, what expensive additives additionally need to be introduced into the process to maintain the required melt flow rate, etc.
  • Installation of a standard set of equipment for the "spunlace" technology (fiber separation unit/feeder and carding machine) in front of the wet forming unit "enclosed wire" ("wetlace" or "WLS" technology) it also did not come as a surprise. This technology has been used in several Chinese companies for a long time due to the fact that it is quite difficult to form a uniform web from an aqueous cellulose-fibrous suspension simply on an inclined grid (wet laying node) (until recently, this technology was only used by European machine builders). And if you pre-form the primary web from staple fiber (a mixture of fibers) on a carding machine, and then lay the pulp on it wet in the required proportion, then at the output, after the hydro-weaving unit, you get an almost similar product that can meet most environmentally deterministic requirements. It all depends on the raw materials used.
  • Declared at the exhibition as an innovative technology for the production of materials "spanlace" from continuous elementary polypropylene fibers, again, does not pretend to be unique in any way. This technology was implemented more than 10 years ago in JSC "SvetlogorskKhimvolokno", the Republic of Belarus and since then continues to bring profit to its owner.
  • Bicomponent materials of the "high loft" type, which have excellent tactile properties and make their use in hygiene items attractive, were traditionally presented at the exhibition.
  • Custom products were also presented, the production technologies of which, most likely, were experimentally developed by special order, or were an attempt to diversify the assortment based on a small modernization of existing equipment.

One of such technologies is the placement of an airlaid node between two meltblown heads for the integration of fluffed cellulose between two polypropylene webs. The type of further bonding of such material remains up to the customer's choice. The material has good absorbent properties, but how justified is the cost of processing such a material compared to the production of more budget absorbent cloths, and what to do with production waste - all this remained outside the scope of the exhibition.

Despite the lack of novelties, the exhibition once again confirmed the main trends in the development of the nonwovens industry: sustainable development, environmental friendliness, maximum use of secondary raw materials, energy efficiency of equipment, traceability of product origin, development and support of intra-national supply chains, standardization and legislative regulation of "eco-friendly" and "non-ecological" products.

The subject of most of the contracts concluded at the exhibition between machine builders and manufacturers of nonwovens, mainly, was the modernization of existing lines, or the purchase of high-performance and more versatile lines (for processing different types of raw materials and the production of a wide range of products for various applications). Moreover, the bulk of the contracted customers were by no means new to this field of production, having relevant experience in the production of nonwovens for several decades.

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