Needlepunched: Investments in needle-punched nonwovens continue

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Needlepunched: Investments in needle-punched nonwovens continue

Equipment suppliers report an increase in orders for this technology, which allows the production of versatile and economical nonwovens.

Despite the slowdown in the first months of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, investments in needle-punching equipment have increased over the past 12-18 months. The needle punching market has been demonstrating steady growth rates for many years and is flexibly responding to disruptive economic changes such as the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic prevailed for about six months from its beginning, when investments in new production lines or their modernization were stopped. At the beginning of the pandemic, major automakers suspended production of cars due to low demand for them, a shortage of microchips used in cars and the rising cost of raw materials. However, six months after the start of the pandemic, orders for needle-punched complete lines began to arrive to machine builders at an accelerated pace and soon exceeded the level of orders before the pandemic. The automotive industry has suffered quite a lot due to the pandemic and the supply chain crisis, but in other markets, such as, for example, the construction industry, the consumption of needle-punched materials has recovered already in 2021. Projects that were postponed have returned to the agenda with increased demand, especially in segments such as air and dust filtration, as well as road and infrastructure construction due to the numerous government subsidies available in developed countries. The needle punching sector itself has benefited from the unstable market situation over the past 12-15 months by increasing the number of new complete lines and equipment units ordered. It is the smaller initial investment compared to other technologies, as well as the versatility and flexibility of needle punching technology that allowed it to gain popularity and enter markets, starting with such application segments as interior items and artificial leather substrate and ending with filtration, geotextile and automotive.

North America

According to INDA, the Association of Nonwovens Manufacturers, needle-punched products accounted for 23% of North American capacity (in tons) in 2020. Over the past 10 years (2012–2021), the average annual growth rate of needle punching production capacity in North America was 4.1%. Production lines were added to meet the growing demand in a wide range of end-use applications, primarily in the automotive industry, home and office furniture components and filter materials. Over the past 10 years, the production capacity for needle-punched materials, which some consider "old" technologies, has increased with an average annual growth rate exceeding the growth rate of the so-called "newest" technologies "spunmelt" (spunbond and spunbond/meltblown composites). Part of the reason for the discrepancy in growth rates is that in the pre-pandemic period, there was a tendency to close and transfer lines "spunmelt"; from North America to other continents, while previously stopped lines for the production of needle-punched cloths, resumed their production along with the appearance of new lines.

The general trend in the sector of needle-punched fabrics is the production of lightweight materials, without any compromises regarding the strength of the material and the uniformity of its density and thickness. As for the fields of application, there is a growing demand for needle-punched technical products in the segments of filtration and felts for paper machines. A significant part of needle-punched nonwovens is used as a substrate for artificial leather, as a carpet covering, covering ceilings, dashboards, trunks in the automotive industry, and also as sound insulation. In addition, the use of needle-punched nonwovens is increasing in the field of hygiene, geosynthetics, construction and agriculture.

BontexGeo

The company specializes in the category of geotextiles. BontexGeo uses staple fibers for the production of needle-punched nonwovens, which can also be subjected to thermal fixation, depending on the application and customer requirements. The main applications of nonwovens include separation/filtration layers used in the construction of roads and railways. Heavy-duty BontexGeo nonwovens are also often used for protective purposes, such as protecting waterproofing membranes or as a substrate for the main coating when reinforcing coastal zones. There are other special products for domestic and agricultural applications.

Freudenberg Performance Materials

Freudenberg Performance Materials, one of the world's largest manufacturers of nonwovens, is installing a new line for the production of needle-punched fabrics at its site in Slovenia. Production is scheduled to start in July 2022. The main task of the company is to install modern equipment for the development and production of new products in such areas as automotive, geotextiles, construction and filtration.

Bondex Inc.

In 2021, the American manufacturer of nonwovens Bondex Inc. expanded its production facilities to increase the production of needle-punched nonwovens in South Carolina. The new line, delivered by the well-known machine builder DiloGroup, was designed to meet the growing needs of the air and liquid filtration market, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other industries. Bondex needle punching technology from DiloGroup is made with an emphasis on the uniformity of fiber distribution and maximum savings of raw materials, which allows it to work with staple fibers of various types, different tones and lengths in a wide range of surface densities. The layout of the line includes the following technological stages: loosening and mixing of fibers, carding, cross-laying, stretching, needle punching and finishing.

Asten Johnson

Asten Johnson Company plans to invest $40 million over the next two years in the construction of a facility for the production of needle-punched nonwovens in Texas.

Asten Johnson is focused on the production of needle-punched nonwovens for growing markets, including for the weight reduction of cars and the production of composite materials.

Yanpai Filtration Technology Co., Ltd.

The market of needle-punched nonwovens is also expanding in China. In February 2022, Chinese filter media manufacturer Yanpai Filtration Technology Co., Ltd., announced that it would increase the production capacity of needle-punched materials at its facility in Tiantai, China, through investments in four complete lines from Andritz. The new lines will be put into operation in the period from the third quarter of 2022 to the third quarter of 2023.

Andritz will supply four specialized needle punching lines for the production of high-quality needle-punched filter felt. The lines will allow Yanpai to achieve the most up-to-date technical characteristics in terms of product quality and equipment performance. Carding machines and cross stackers will be manufactured at the Andritz plant in Wuxi, China, including 8 PRO 25-80 aXcess cross stackers to control the uniformity of the web weight, 16 eXcelle needle punching machines will be supplied by the Andritz Asselin-Thibeau division. Yanpai is one of the leading Chinese manufacturers of non-woven filter media for air purification and dust protection, as well as filter fabrics used to separate the solid and liquid phases of various substances.

Huafon Microfiber Co. Ltd.

Huafon Microfiber Co. Ltd., China recently ordered from DiloGroup three complete modern high-performance needle punching lines for its new plant in Qidong. All these lines consist of high-performance DiloTemafa fiber mixing systems, special mixed fiber feeding systems for DiloSpinnbau carding machines, high-performance carding machines, high-speed DiloMachines transverse stackers with a special air supply system for the best performance and uniform layering, as well as numerous needle punching machines with Hyperpunch technology. The Twinflow system ensures the formation of a uniform canvas, while Webguide and the stacking system provide excellent quality of the canvas with clear edges. All lines are equipped with CV1 system to obtain the best uniformity of the final product. Huafon Microfiber Co. Ltd was founded in 2002 and is currently one of the largest manufacturers of artificial leather substrates made of two-component fibers of the "islands in the sea" type. DiloGroup delivered the first complete needle punching line to Huafon in 2003, and by now Huafon has ordered more than 20 needle punching lines.

Technological advances

Although the needle punching technology is considered to be quite mature, equipment developers continue to innovate to improve the quality of the canvases that are produced on their lines.

DiloGroup

Dilo has achieved success by focusing and specializing in the important sector of needle punching technology, where customers increasingly rely on comprehensive solutions that include efficient interfacing of fiber preparation and dosing equipment, carding machines, cross-stackers and various types of needle machines. The working width of Dilo equipment varies from 0.6 to 16 m, the available needle density is up to 10,000 needles/m/needle holder, and the productivity reaches about 150 m/min. Recent innovations include a new needle arrangement, the "8000X" design, which provides a smoother needle-punching surface with almost no stripes and unwanted patterns. «8000X» provides an even distribution of stitches with less dependence on the advance in one full stroke of the needle holder compared to the classic random arrangement of needles. In addition, Dilo's latest research works are focused on a completely new technology of web forming and needle punching. At the heart of this technology is a topologically diverse 3D distribution of the mass of the fibers of the web due to the controlled placement of fibers. This three-dimensional web forming technology allows you to obtain a targeted change in the density of fibers on various sections of the web and place the fibers directly where they are needed. Thus, at the output, a finished billet is immediately obtained for subsequent molding, which provides additional strength and rigidity to the final product, as well as increased sound insulation or protection in those places of the final product where they are needed.

Andritz

Over the past 18 months, Andritz has committed itself to developing new technologies and equipment to improve the appearance of the surface of needle-punched nonwovens, as well as to increase the productivity of its lines. The PA.3000 cylindrical pre-needling machine, using the Andritz needle-punching technology with elliptical motion, allows the production of 6.75 m wide webs at a speed of up to 18 m/min. In addition, the Andritz company has upgraded the SDV-2+2 double-bore needle punching machine and now offers its customers stand-alone or in-line technical solutions characterized by great versatility, as well as with improved quality and uniformity of loops, which meets the most stringent requirements of the automotive industry. Another constant demand in the needle punching products market over the past few years has been the desire to increase the productivity of the line with greater uniformity of the web weight. Andritz's response to this market demand was the launch of the ProWin automatic web weight correction system in order to improve CV% compared to the previous generation ProDyn system, as well as a 15% increase in the final speed of the equipment.

Autefa Solutions

The quality of products on the needle punching lines of Autefa Solutions is constantly monitored and improved with the help of a 3-level control system for the uniformity of the web weight. The scanner determines the distribution of the weight of the material, while the control system corrects the profile in the transverse stacker and in the feed section to the carding machine. The Topliner cross-stacker in combination with the WebMax profile management system prevents an increase in the weight of the fabric in the edge zones. WebMax profiling is also integrated into a 3-level control system, which ensures the same profiling of the web in both the longitudinal and transverse directions. In addition, Autefa's Stylus family needle punching machines can process all types of fibers. They are designed to meet the required line performance and achieve the required speed by adjusting the number of drive modules.

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