Nonwoven fabrics are useful in a wide variety of different industries. In the medical profession they're used to create isolation gowns, surgical scrubs, cabs, medical packaging and more. In geotextiles they're used for soil stabilizers, in canal construction and even in erosion control. A large number of primary and secondary carpet backing materials are really made from nonwoven fabric. Though the fabrics themselves are interesting, the history of nonwoven manufacturing is perhaps just as fascinating.
There are many legends regarding the forerunners of nonwoven fabrics. An engineering book prologue called “Introduction to Nonwovens Technology” by Dr. Subkash Batra and Dr. Behnam Pourdeyhimi states that some examples can be found in nature in the nests of birds, cocoons spun by silk worms, and spider webs, to name a few. Other stories place the origin of making felt using wool by the Sumerians as early as the fourth millennium BC. Still others say that either a camel driver or a monk (or perhaps both!) placed wool in the their sandals to ease tired feet and, by the end of their long journey, the moisture and pressure had created a soft fabric.
But, while the antecedents of modern nonwovens can be contested, Batra and Pourdeyhimi agree that the nonwovens industry truly began in the 1920’s or 1930’s with industrial manufacturing in commercial quantities beginning around 1942. The first disposable diaper using nonwoven fabric was produced by George Schroder in 1947.
Though the manufacturing process for these types of materials has gotten significantly easier and less costly over the years, the basic gist of the process has remained the same. Separately loosened fibers are laid on a metal mesh for the purposes of bonding after being laid into the airstream. These long fibers are then bonded together through a series of treatments that are chemical, solvent, mechanical or heat-based in nature. They are neither woven nor knitted, which is where they got their name.
In the last few years, nonwoven fabrics and materials have become a viable alternative to the use of polyurethane foam. This is due in large part to benefits that are inherent in nonwoven fabrics, like the fact that they can be manufactured easily and without a lot of waste. Nonwoven fabrics are also cheaper and more environmentally friendly than polyurethane foam, both of which are qualities that make them ideal for a large number of situations.
There you have it in a nutshell: the history of nonwovens. How can you use nonwoven fabrics to make your products better?