events have broadened the role of protective garments in recent years.
Once worn in select hazardous situations, some industrial environments
and in the medical operating room, protective garments are heading
mainstream as more folks are faced with hazardous situations in their
This increased awareness has created a need for new products that
respond to a variety of situations. Eager to meet this need, protective
apparel manufacturers are coming up with new products regularly. Hoping
that a diverse product range will not only add new customers but also
save lives, companies are focusing on two core areascomfort
and protectionand are achieving this by incorporating more nonwoven
materials into their lines.
While industry statistics show slow tonnage growth in protective apparel
in North America, it has emerged as a segment ripe with opportunity
for innovation. Valued at approximately $360 million in North America,
protective apparel continues to be a smaller part of the nonwovens
industry. Also, this segment has been long dominated by roll goods
producer DuPont Nonwovens, Wilmington, DE. Currently, about 75% of
all nonwoven-based protective apparel products use DuPonts Tyvek
flashspun nonwovens, and personal protection has long been an area
of keen interest to DuPont. Last winter, DuPont reported that it had
stepped up supply efforts to China and Hong Kong to help healthcare
responders ward off the threat of SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome),
and executives have reported that they are prepared to do the same
this year if the threat of SARS escalates. The structure of Tyvek
reportedly provides a strong barrier against a range of microscopic
substances, including fine dust particles and fibers.
One of our focus areas going forward will be to identify the
emerging threat and markets for protective apparel and what we can
do to meet the needs of those markets, said Debbie McNeil, marketing
communication for DuPont Personal Protection.
To facilitate this effort, in November 2002, DuPont formed its Personal
Protection division which combines most of its protection business
across its many technology platforms. DuPonts other protective
offerings include Tychem haz mat garments and Nomex and Kevlar protective
The big drivers for this effort were to help end users have
one place for all of their needs and allow DuPont to further integrate
our safety and protection resources to meet those needs, Ms. McNeil
added. We have a 30-year history in this area and we are committed
to continue to provide the trusted, proven solutions our customers
Outside of Tyvek, other nonwovens used in protective applications
include spunbond polypropylene and some SMS composite fabrics. Spunlaced
nonwovens are also popular in medical protective apparel. These nonwovens,
as well as more resistant microporous film products, are giving Tyvek
a run for its money. Whether the manufacturing is offering increased
cost effectiveness, comfort, durability, barrier resistance or breathability,
this trend is creating a protective apparel market that is more diverse
than ever before.
R&D has been and continues to be critical to our participation
in the protective apparel market, said Charlie Roberson, market
manager of Precision Fabric Groups, Greensboro, NC. The market
continues to become more stratified as industrial end users seek the
optimal combination of protection, comfort and cost. Without significant
R&D resources we would not be able to supply the highly engineered
fabrics end users are demanding.
Not only are products broad in protective apparel, the tasks for which
they are intended are also diverse. INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven
Fabrics Industry, Cary, NC, estimated that there are between 15 and
20 key markets for protective apparel including nuclear, cleanroom,
food preparation, paint manufacturing, fire and chemical protection
and other industrial situations. Not only do these garments protect
the workers from the environment, they sometimes protect the environment
from the workeras is the case in many cleanroom and other pharmaceutical
environments. Therefore, many factors must be considered when deciding
which product to use.
A key goal of protective apparel manufacturers is not to just sell
the products but to make sure their customers are wearing them correctly.
While safety is a concern of manufacturing companies, their employees
often forsake their own safety in the interest of comfort. This
is where nonwovens come in. The inherent flexibility and breathability
of many types of nonwovens have made them top choices of manufacturers
interested in achieving comfort. Furthermore, in recent years technology
has improved the barrier resistance of nonwovens materials such
as SMS or flashspun to broaden their range in protective apparel.
We believe that comfort drives compliance when it comes to
worker protection, explained Beth Hohl, marketing manager
for Kimberly-Clarks Safety Division. If a worker is
comfortable, he is more likely to keep the protective apparel or
protective equipment on.
K-C offers SMS and film laminated materials to the protective apparel
market under two core brands: Kleenguard for general applications
and Hazard-Gard for chemical protection. In recent years, the companys
approach has largely been market driven, as world events have opened
up new consumer demands, according to Ms. Hohl. In North America,
our growth has outpaced growth in industrial segments she
said. The goal is to help employers keep their workers protected
from the environment or processes they work near while keeping the
worker as comfortable as possible. Research efforts of Kimberly-Clark
have been focused on these two aspects, protection at the highest
comfort level possible.
Also driving compliance is the government. Since September 11, the
U.S. government has expanded its Domestic Preparedness Act, which
provides major U.S. centers with emergency readiness funds. This
funding has grown from millions of dollars to billions in the past
several years. For Lakeland Industries, Ronkonkoma, NY, concerns
over personal safety have increased profits nearly 75% in the last
five years. We have doubled our capacity in protective clothing
and our sales have matched these increases, explained Carl
Brown, senior technical product specialist.
A distributor for DuPont, the bulk of Lakelands protective
business centers around Tyvek, which Mr. Brown, called the
standard against which all other products are judged. While
there are many grades of Tyvek, however, there are situations where
Tyvek is not necessarily the right choice. For one thing, Tyvek
is a premium product that can sometimes be cost prohibitive; for
another there are areas where microporous film or SMS might be better
suited to handle a job. In the end, there are four factors
that need to be weighed when making a fabric choicecomfort,
barrier, breathability and price, Mr. Brown added. When
you alter one aspect of this equation, all are affected. Unfortunately,
all too often, cost becomes a primary concern.
75% of nonwoven-based protective suits are made from DuPonts
Tyvek flashspun materials.
Old habits can be hard to break. Getting workers to break the habit
of unprotection can be difficult. Across the board, from medical
personnel to industrial workers, efforts are underway to educate
those at risk on the danger of noncompliance. This trend is particularly
apparent in Asian countries where knowledge of infectious diseases
and biological threats are not as well known as they are in developed
To reverse this situation a team of executives from Kappler Protective
Products, Guntersville, AL, recently traveled to Vietnam where they
educated local healthcare officials on the importance of stopping
the spread of disease. Education needs to be important because
manufacturers have a dutiful responsibility to go out and learn
about standards, said Laura Kappler Roberts, business development
manager of Kappler. Our customers cant afford to do
all of the legwork. Its our responsibility to do it for them.
Kappler has taken the same approach to educated emergency medical
technicians on the importance of personal protective equipment.
EMTs tend to not be as leery of infection as hospital workers even
though they are exposed to blood and other fluids in an environment
that is less controlled than other medical situations.
Taking similar strides to limit the spread of disease among healthcare
workers is Cardinal Healthcare. This fall the company launched its
Respiratory Etiquette Initiative for caregivers worldwide.
Under this program, Cardinal Health is making available posters
and wall-mounted dispensers with medical face masks that advise
patients to don a mask if they have a cough and a fever. Dozens
of hospitals have reportedly hung the posters in waiting rooms,
lobbies and emergency rooms. It is also offering educational materials
aimed at reinforcing basic infection control practices, such as
covering ones mouth when coughing or sneezing, washing hands
with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and using personal handwash
products such as alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, areas with the most
extensive SARS outbreaks saw the virus spread most rapidly among
healthcare workers caring for SARS patients and within healthcare
fatalities. In Toronto, 77% of patients infected in the initial
SARS outbreak contracted the disease in the hospital and more than
half of all SARS cases in Toronto were healthcare workers.
Until recently, most protective apparelused mainly to ward
off infectious diseasewas worn in hospitals, more specifically
in hospital operating rooms. In the past several years, however,
increased awareness over infectious diseases has made the threat
of their spread more realistic to average citizens. This in turn
has broadened the role of protective medical apparel around the
world. Last year, in Asia, for example, sales of nonwoven-based
protective face masks hit record highs when everybody started wearing
them to protect themselves from (SARS). This practice was particularly
apparent on airplanes thanks to worries that the the disease was
largely spread in the sky. Another area where disease spread was
identified as hospital and other healthcare facilities where workers
began wearing highly protective suits to ward off the illness.
Where once medical protective gear was largely limited to the operating
room and other areas with high liquid levels, now airborne pathogens
recognized as disease carriers, making the wearing of these materials
prevalent among all types of healthcare workers from emergency medical
technicians to nurses to doctors. While the threat of SARS has subsided,
the spread of other infectious illnesses such as pneumonia and influenza
is being prevented by increased use of protective apparel among
Both SARS and the flu are respiratory diseases that can be deadly.
The flu is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks,
sending the flu virus into the air where others can inhale it and
contract it. This illness can also be spread through hand-to-hand
contact or when a person touches a surface with the virus on it.
SARS, which first emerged in Asia last year, is believed to be spread
in a similar way but might require closer physical contact.
Further proof of the technological richness and opportunity for
innovation in protective apparel can be seen in the amount of university
dollars being dedicated to advancing this market. University research
and papers abound on this topic as researchers look for ways of
adding barrier resistance to nonwoven fabrics.
At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, efforts have been
made to add an absorbent layer to protective garments to increase
comfort and add to the strength of microbial finishes. This technique,
along with an electrostatic charge, has significantly increased
the percentage of germs being killed. The approach has been
a combination of antimicrobial materials with membrane protection
and treatment and finishes, explained UT researcher Larry
Wadsworth. Its not too extreme or too expensive and
we are able to provide multiple levels of protection for a variety
Meanwhile, Texas Tech researchers have been looking at the role
of multilayer composites to increase comfort while boosting effectiveness
in garments. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Army, this project
uses needled composite materials, rather than traditional activated
carbon, to enhance protection, comfort and increase versatility.
We have significant proof that these three-layer composites
can absorb costs despite what fiber is used, said university
researcher Seshadri Ramkumar. What is particularly good for
the army is the ability to use natural fibers in this technology.
Polyurethane-based products are suffocating the troops. This greatly
improves their comfort and allows them to do their jobs better.
Research, both on the university and corporate level, will continue
to respond to the needs of and threats to the wearers of protective
apparel. Certainly, this will broaden the scope of this market into
new frontiers. R&D has been and continues to be critical
to our participation in the protective apparel market, PFGs
Mr. Roberson said. The market continues to become more stratified
as industrial end users seek the optimal combination of protection,
comfort and cost. Without significant R&D resources we would
not be able to supply the highly engineered fabrics end users are