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Matthew tipper splash
24/04/2018

Nonwovens Innovation - what does the future hold?

Expert insight from NIRI's Matthew Tipper on how the industry is evolving and responding to the changing landscape

In the build up to the International Nonwovens Symposium in Rome next month, our General Manager Pierre Wiertz caught up with one of the key speakers, Matthew 
Tipper, Business Director at the Nonwovens Innovation & Research Institute, to discuss innovation in the nonwovens industry.

Pierre Wiertz:  You are joining us in Rome to examine innovation and the latest technical trends in nonwovens. What do you think is the biggest single driver of change in this area?

Matthew tipper: I’m very excited to be coming to Rome and I’m looking forward to hearing about the latest innovations in the industry. Nonwovens are increasingly being seen as engineered fabrics and a technology platform with many opportunities for solving the problems of industry today. However, the manufacture of roll-goods requires high levels of capital investment and usually high volumes of output. At NIRI we’re witnessing a current trend of adding value to nonwoven products, not through major changes to the nonwoven roll-good process but through enhancing function after fabric formation. Adjusting function at the end of the manufacturing process leads to greater flexibility through processes such as coating, plasma treatment, laminating, molecular imprinting, adding functional particles or applying topical finishes.

PW: What is the most exciting technical innovation on the horizon for you?

MT: We’re currently developing a new technology for incorporating particles and powders into nonwovens. Particles can often impart performance that isn’t available from fibres so including them within the fabric structure can help to enhance the fabric properties. If conducted using conventional processes the particles may fall out of the fabric during use or their function is reduced because of the binding chemistry that needs to be applied. The new process has been developed to mechanically entrap the particles within the fabric structure, removing the need for any adhesive chemistry, maximising the function of the nonwoven. Nonwoven performance which can be improved include gas and liquid absorption, VOC capture, thermal and acoustic insulation as well as filtration.

PW: And, conversely, the biggest coming challenge for nonwoven producers?

MT: I think the stratification and personalisation of nonwoven products is becoming the greatest challenge for nonwoven companies. In developed markets where the consumers basic needs have largely been provided for by mass-produced products, the greatest profits will be derived from increasingly customised products and services. This trend towards increasingly tailored products and services to the individual customer needs means that the offering from nonwoven companies needs to be designed around flexibility and should include the end-user in the development process. It’s really about getting the right product to the right person at the right time. Late-stage functionalisation is one of the tools that can help nonwoven producers to meet this challenge.

PW: Do you think the nonwovens landscape is changing at a quicker pace now – and what’s driving it if so? How much is the environmental impact of products guiding business practises and strategy?

MT: Change is occurring much more rapidly today than it did say 10 or 15 years ago. The main drivers for this include increasing demand for nonwovens in existing markets and the new applications and opportunities that are opening up every day. The environmental impact of products has re-emerged as an important challenge for the nonwovens industry as the global economy has recovered. The concern over single-use and microplastics is a strong consumer trend which is leading to nonwoven businesses re-evaluating their products. Rapid innovation in raw material research is driving the market away from oil-based synthetics and into biopolymers and natural products. The automotive industry is now using more nonwovens as they seek to reduce overall vehicle weight and increase fuel efficiency. Nonwoven product design is also changing with producers now considering what happens at the end of life and how products can be designed for a second or even third end use.

PW: What other sessions on the agenda in Rome are you most interested in catching?

MT: I’m particularly interested in the session on the Circular Economy and Renewable Resources . There’s some very interesting innovations in raw materials being presented including poly saccharides made by enzymatic polymerisation. I’m also keen to understand the developments in manufacturing and material developments, including details of printing with reactive metals inks.

Matthew Tipper is Business Director at the Nonwovens Innovation & Research Institute (NIRI)  who have a proven track record of helping companies improve their nonwoven product offering, successfully completing over 400 projects for more than 200 clients.

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