Coming Home

March 16, 2011

Impending flammability rules for upholstered furniture and top of bed may fire up opportunities for nonwovens suppliers.

Coming Home

Impending flammability rules for upholstered furniture and top of bed may fire up opportunities for nonwovens suppliers.

The long-awaited flammability regulations for upholstered furniture and top of the bed materials are still on the back burner. Expanded regulation is not expected until 2012. This means that nonwovens suppliers have some time to prepare themselves for the day when legislation finally comes home.

Leigh Fibers’ SafeLeigh line is inherently fire retardant and made from recycled materials.
Furniture manufacturers who have been clobbered by the epic recession will likely lose sleep over expanded legislation, but the new regulations could boost the bottom line for nonwovens suppliers who provide cost efficient flame retardant solutions to these manufacturers.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are still conducting research aimed at expanding the mattress flammability regulations.

Dale Ray, project manager, Upholstered Furniture Flammability Direc­torate for Economic Analysis, U.S.Consumer Product Safety Commission said, “The Commission also proposed an amendment to the existing mattress standard (16 CFR Part 1632) to incorporate the new Standard Reference Material cigarette developed in cooperation with NIST (SRM 1196) as the ignition source in the tests. NIST’s research on the SRM cigarette could also be incorporated into the proposed upholstered furniture rule. NIST’s research toward a possible SRM test foam is also progressing, as is our other continuing testing at the CPSC laboratory.There is nothing specific to report on those activities yet.Our research will continue throughfiscal year 2011.I expect it will be after that before any briefing packages will be available.”

Steve Ogle, INDA’s director of technical affairs said,“It is my understanding that NIST is developing a bench mock-up flammability test for furniture. Some current standards require you test an entire piece of furniture. But with the bench scale you can do a mock-up and if it passes you may not have to burn a full piece of assembled furniture. It allows companies to start doing a lot more testing of combinations. One of the approaches that NIST is working with is a ‘layer-upon-layer’ approach. If the upholstery fabric is flame resistant and the first layer below it is flame resistant, and so on, you may be able to pass a more severe test than if only one layer has some fire protection in it.”

Noting that CPSC issued an advance notice of proposed rule making for bed clothing flammability, Mr. Ogle said, “The standard may be years away before it actually comes to fruition.”

In the meantime, Mr. Ogle advised the nonwovens industry to invest in research. “We have to be ready for the issues. NIST’s website has a list of requirements a barrier product has to be able to meet. Eventually this furniture flammability thing is going to take hold and when it does it is going to preempt the California TB117 and California will have to bring its standards up to the CPSC standard. The furniture flammability standard could pass by 2012 and we’re going to have to be ready with FR barriers to help satisfy that need.”
Mr. Ogle advised companies to strengthen their products. “They need to make them more robust because they are trying to protect a lot more polyurethane foam in the furniture than they had to protect in mattresses.There’s a lot more dynamics that happen between the multiple layers within a piece of furniture. Even though the mattress is very complicated, the furniture is exponentially more complicated,” he said.

FR Innovations

Kovenex engineered fabrics make outstanding products for home and workplace safety.

One experienced nonwovens player concentrating in the FR bedding market is Freudenberg Nonwovens. The company offers a needlepunch product for quilted designs and thin “invisible” products for manufacturers who don’t want to change cushioning in bed panels.These thin products are also used for specialty beds like visco and latex foam core designs with zipper covers. Freudenberg also offers laminated products and filler cloth.
James Frasch, Freudenberg’s general manager of mattress FR, said the mattress FR market is still an area of growth for Freudenberg, but the company doesn’t expect significant growth until the housing market picks up.

“The company is seeing the most growth in the specialty segment of the market. We see many customers moving towards latex foam core designs and our thin products work very well for these designs. There’s a trend towards more specialty designs at the spring based manufacturers,” said Mr. Frasch.
Leigh Fibers is also focusing on the FR market with its SafeLeigh product line. The line, which is inherently fire retardant and made from recycled materials can be used in heat and flame barriers and insulation products.

“Inherent fire retardancy means that our customers don't need to use chemical treatments, eliminating drying and processing time. Because SafeLeigh is made from recycled materials it helps our customers meet their buyers’ green requirements and reduces landfill waste,” said Parris Hicks-Chernez, marketing and advertising manager.

Ms. Hicks-Chernez said Leigh Fibers has seen an increased interest in SafeLeigh as a result of new legislation as well as a push from the final customer for green and chemical-free materials and a need for high performance materials in the market.

“Currently there is a great legislative push to make consumers safer by increasing flame retardancy in home furnishings and automobiles, which has been beneficial to the use of our materials and to the market as a whole.We are constantly developing new blends of performance fibers to meet our customers’ varied needs,” said Ms. Hicks-Chernez, adding, “There is concern in our industry that recycled material is not always the best option when dealing with fire retardancy, but using a recycled material can increase the halo effect that a manufacturer sees from end buyers as well as being cost efficient, while helping manufacturers meet existing laws and regulations.”

Another company making headway in the FR materials market is Precision Textiles with its Satin FR line.
Noting that Precision offers FR barriers that address the regulations as well as polyester quilting materials and laminated components, Keith Martin, industrial business manager said, “The polyester quilting materials are fill components. Some people use all foam in the bed to create fill and make the bed very three dimensional after it’s quilted. Others use polyester. Our polyester quilting components are very high quality components. It’s typically a cost effective substitution for the foam itself.”

No doubt about it. The use of smooth, unquilted borders on the sides of the bed is a trend that is becoming dominant in the U.S. “We’re capitalizing on that with our laminated offering called EnVision.

Waubridge Specialty Fabrics’ fire blanket is safeguarded by Kovenex.
We are combining very smooth ticking like suede microfibers to the FR barrier and selling them as a package to mattress companies,” Mr. Martin added. “It’s a very clean, European look. We sell that in rolls and we also slit it down to the specific border widths they require so they have no requirement to quilt the product.”

What’s Ahead?
So where are nonwovens in the FR market headed in the future?

Mr. Frasch envisions that needled and oven bonded products will continue to dominate the volumes in quilted bed designs until new fiber technology is developed.”

Offering cost effective solutions in the future is how Mr. Martin reads the tea leaves. “It’s difficult for a new manufacturer to enter the market unless they have something extremely unique, in the sense that it addresses the regulations and it’s more cost effective. A lot of bedding manufacturers look at addressing this requirement as only a necessity and it’s strictly a commodity that they need. They don’t look to improve upon it or make it a more robust solution. They want the least expensive solution that will address their needs,” he said.

Pointing out that the industry has added antimicrobials, antifungal agents and exotic fibers into FR barriers, Mr. Martin said manufacturers regard these initiatives as marketing tactics. “Consumers are more influenced in purchasing a bed because of the way it feels and the way it looks,” he said.
Precision made concerted R&D efforts in 2007-2008 to prepare for expanded legislation in upholstered furniture and top of bed but when the regulation kept getting delayed, the company shelved these efforts. Still, Mr. Martin is optimistic about the impact that the impending expanded legislation will have. “Most of the same machinery that we already have is capable of addressing those needs and it also means additional customer base that we were not privy to in the past. With additional customers always comes the possibility of auxiliary products,” concluded Mr. Martin.

Fighting Fire

Kovenex is used as a thermal liner in firefighters’ gloves.

Another company concentrating on FR materials is Waubridge Specialty Fabrics, which offers Kovenex fabrics to the fire fighting and industrial safety markets.

Waubridge launched a family of fabrics and products under the Kovenex brand with patents supporting the inherent heat and flame resistant (FR)
properties. In 2010, the company released Pavenex, a stitch-bonded, nonwoven performance fabric that provides direct contact protection from spark, weld spatter, arc flash and extreme heat and flame.

Pointing out that the company has NFPA certifications, Matt Smith, business director said, “Our Kovenex fabrics are designed to offer the best protection possible for those in the fire fighting industry. Kovenex is used as a liner in fire fighters’ gloves. A personal protection company in Europe is using Kovenex as a liner in first responder jackets. It’s breathable, flame resistant and provides protection that a first responder would require. As an apparel liner, a nonwoven has the benefit of being a lighter weight fabric for an equivalent amount of protection and it is typically a less expensive option for the manufacturer. The bar continues to be raised with respect to, can you provide lighter weight personal protection for all types of hazards at the lowest possible cost?”

Mr. Smith foresees opportunities for nonwovens players in the FR market. The company already offers a Kovenex Home Safety blanket, a kitchen blanket for containing and extinguishing small grease fires, and is working with some aircraft manufacturers on seat barriers to protect the foam cushions from igniting.

“We have branded a product that has been around for 30 years. It is a Panox fiber in a nonwoven needlefelt structure.We continue to move this product in welding and spark protection applications and we’ve stitchbonded that material to add strength and durability to pursue apparel and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) applications. The Pavenex fabric is outstanding protection against direct flame and spark, not just as an insulating or thermal protection. More and more furnishings in both the workplace and the home are moving toward FR solutions. There will absolutely be more opportunities.A lot of regulatory trends move east from California and they are leading the way in protecting the office and industrial workplace,” said Mr. Smith.

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