Online Exclusives

Nonwovens Institute Steers Innovation

By Sean Moloughney, Managing Editor | May 31, 2012

New meltblown pilot line opens doors to filtration, medical, hygiene and specialty markets.

Rooted in research and focused on product development and technological advancement, the Nonwovens Institute (NWI) at North Carolina State University recently unveiled a new one-meter-wide Reifenhauser-REICOFIL meltblown pilot line during its research center’s biannual Industrial Advisory Board meeting on May 23.

Showcasing Reifenhauser-REICOFIL’s latest meltblown technology, this line will produce products that allow NWI to provide industry with commercial quality materials that can be used for prototyping and pre-market launch test marketing. 

This unique, state-of-the-art technology extends the research and development capabilities of NWI into various critical markets such as aerosol filtration, water filtration, bio-separation, medical and hygiene, barrier materials, adsorbents, acoustics and many others. This pilot facility is capable of producing materials from a wide range of polymers such as polyolefins, polyamides, polyesters, elastomers, PLA and more.

“We are increasing our ability to produce nonwovens that are more in line with current commercial manufacturing lines in terms of width and quality,” says Genevieve Garland, director of partnership and innovation. “We are strategically focusing on research in developing areas like filtration, medical, hygiene and specialty products.”

NC State University is the only university in North America with the latest technology from Reifenhauser-REICOFIL, the German machinery manufacturer that supplies nonwoven, meltblown and composite lines. The new line enhances NWI’s ability to support industry research and development, new innovations and start-up companies.

During the grand opening, NWI hosted about 200 industry representatives on Centennial Campus in Raleigh, NC, from companies that included 3M, BASF, Cardinal Health, Exxon Mobil, Johnson and Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, Mann+Hummel, Procter and Gamble and Reifenhauser-REICOFIL.

Founded to support the nonwovens and related industries in fundamental research, product development and technology transfer, NWI was launched in 2007 as the world’s first accredited academic program for the interdisciplinary field of engineered fabrics.

According to the institute’s website, facilities include laboratories dedicated to polymer characterization, fiber extrusion and lab scale meltblown. The pilot facilities include bicomponent spunbond and meltblown; staple line; needle punching; hydroentangling; thermal bonding and web composite capability. Analytical facilities offer the ability to analyze and evaluate material performance according to many industry-specific, standard test methods.

The institute’s history dates to 1991, when the Nonwovens Cooperative Research Center (NCRC) was established as a State-Industry-University Cooperative Research Center with matching grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the State of North Carolina and several industry partners. In 1998, upon the conclusion of NSF grant funding, the NCRC continued to enhance its technology and research capabilities while growing its membership to become North America’s largest State-Industry-University Cooperative Research Center. The NCRC now serves as the NWI’s core research and discovery arm.

NWI combines the expertise of North Carolina State University’s leading colleges of Textiles, Engineering, and Natural Resources with the research and development capabilities of its more than 65 member companies. The institute supports more than 30 graduate students and is a global leader in nonwovens research.

During the NCRC meeting, numerous presentations exemplified the breadth of research being conducted on campus. Topics included, among many others, the use of functional nanofibers for wound healing, composite nonwoven materials in heat insulation, fabrication and modeling of conductive nonwovens, mixed media and ultrasonics. 

Behnam Pourdeyhimi, NWI’s executive director, also offered a special presentation on the development of nonwovens products from renewable materials, saying natural fibers have been at the forefront of recent research. For example, soybeans offer several advantages, he says, citing research sponsored by the United Soybean Board, as they are inexpensive, readily available, biodegradable and renewable/sustainable.