Emerson’s Branson ultrasonic welding technology has been used by face mask manufacturers. Nonwovens Industry spoke to Chris Hartlage, director, Global Business Development for Branson Welding and Assembly at Emerson, about how face masks demand—and the Coronavirus pandemic—have changed the business.
NWI: Can you describe how Emerson’s technology is used for face masks?
CH: Emerson’s Branson ultrasonic plastic welding technology rapidly transforms large, wide rolls of nonwoven fabric into high-quality respirators (e.g., N95, FFP2) or medical-grade surgical masks. First, it cuts and seams wide bands of fabric into narrow strips. Next, the narrow strips are stacked, with an activated filter layer of nonwoven fabric sandwiched between protective inner and outer layers of spun-bond fabric. Then, the sandwiched layers are cut to size, pleated and rapidly “quilted” together with sturdy ultrasonic welds. Ultrasonic spot welds are also used to attach elastic straps or fabric ties to the finished product.
NWI: How has Emerson adjusted its business to respond to rising demand for face masks?
CH: Emerson personnel responded to the pandemic by helping existing nonwoven product manufacturers rapidly expand local personal protective equipment (PPE) production, while collaborating with new-to-the-market players to create and implement innovative PPE production solutions. Behind the scenes, Emerson’s Branson ultrasonic welding business, part of Emerson Assembly Technologies, ramped up production of plastic welding equipment, including standardized products and assemblies, to ensure continuous supply and the shortest possible delivery times. This incremental production enabled Emerson to supply hundreds of additional Branson welding units to customers worldwide. We knew that we could rely on Emerson’s large global sales, service and support organization to support customers with the local expertise, application-specific tooling and technical support they required.
NWI: Has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your business? Are you seeing higher demand for ultrasonic technology for face masks due to the pandemic?
CH: Absolutely, yes! Before the pandemic, a major share of nonwoven PPE and face masks were produced in Asian countries, particularly China, and low cost was the primary market driver. However, with the global spread of Covid-19, demand for all forms of PPE rose sharply, and quality and availability became the primary market drivers. Many countries and businesses saw the strategic importance of creating or dramatically expanding regional production of nonwoven PPE, especially medical-grade respirators and face masks, to meet urgent demand from local medical professionals and the general public. Because ultrasonic welding is a critical technology for high-speed, high-quality mask and respirator production, and because Branson is a known and trusted brand among equipment builders and PPE manufacturers, Emerson representatives took a lot of phone calls. And, because we had the global manufacturing capacity to meet demand, we supplied a lot of ultrasonic welders for new or expanded PPE production lines.
NWI: Does Emerson have any news to report regarding new technologies, capabilities, investments, etc., in terms of face mask production?
CH: Emerson’s Branson ultrasonic technology for nonwovens continues to evolve and improve, often leveraging new features and capabilities developed for other industries. For example, the latest Branson ultrasonic equipment for nonwovens production—the Branson DCX-F system—incorporates Fieldbus communication capabilities that allow multiple individual systems to link together. This allows the user not only to control the weld parameters for an individual system but also to monitor the status of a production process across multiple welders. Quality control is a top concern, and equipment like Emerson’s Branson DCX-F, with its real-time data output and Fieldbus communications capabilities, gathers and preserves the production data needed to support quality assurance efforts.
NWI: How is ultrasonic welding technology beneficial to face mask design? How is Emerson specifically well suited for this market?
CH: Ultrasonic welds on nonwovens are exceptionally fast, producing strong and repeatable bonds equal to the strength of the parent material. Because the bonds are produced so quickly with minimal energy consumption, they offer optimum quality at minimum cost. Compared to conventional sewing, ultrasonic bonding offers infection-control benefits because seams are produced without thread and mechanical holes in the fabric, which can hold and conceal microorganisms or contaminants. Ultrasonic weld processes also offer benefits relative to adhesive assembly: They eliminate the added expense of consumables, the added effort of application, the added time required for setup and drying, and the added risk of exposure to chemical contaminants. Ultrasonic seams and constructions are ready for use as soon as they are produced.