Engineers continue to find new uses for nonwoven fabrics because of their extreme versatility, the flexibility and environmental sustainability of the nonwoven manufacturing process itself, and the ability to create new product from recycled or renewable resources. Nonwoven products are extremely versatile because relatively simple changes in the process or the product composition can make major changes in the end-product characteristics. As a result, nonwoven products appeal to engineers who are attracted by the seemingly endless possibilities to improve products while lessening the environmental impact of their designs.
These characteristics have led experts to predict that the nonwoven products market will grow to 4.95 million tons by 2017, up from 3.3 million tons in 2012, according to a new Smithers Apex research report entitled “The Future of Nonwovens for Industrial Applications: Market Forecasts to 2018.” There are three major areas influencing the rapid growth of nonwoven products:
Efficient manufacturing and low cost
Many of the processes in use in the nonwoven products industry are relatively recent innovations. As a result, the equipment and processes are new and efficient, resulting in high-volume and predictable throughput with consistent quality characteristics.
While the efficiency of the process helps keep costs low, the ability to use recycled materials such as wood pulp or gray water helps keep the cost low, as does the process reliability, which results in high quality. The combination keeps the cost of nonwoven products lower than traditional woven textiles.
Use of sustainable resources
Natural fibers use a great deal of water, deplete nutrients from the soil where they are grown and often require the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides to ensure adequate yields, making them expensive and a source of environmental concern. On the other hand, nonwoven products use sustainable materials such as wood pulp and produce little or no waste. In some processes, water can be reused, ensuring that this most precious commodity is neither wasted nor a source of pollution.
Material characteristics and performance
Simple variations in the manufacturing process create changes in the product’s characteristics. In some cases, no other product can duplicate the necessary performance characteristics, making nonwoven products a mandatory component in many industrial, consumer and automotive uses.
Converters will continue to find new uses for nonwoven fabrics as long as these characteristics continue to define the manufacturing process.