OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, defines personal protective equipment, commonly known as PPE, as equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses, which could result from contact with chemical, radiological, physical and other workplace hazards. Nonwovens help manufacturers of protective apparel meet these needs.
According to a recent report from market researcher MarketsandMarkets, the global market size of the protective clothing market was $7.33 billion last year, and it’s expected to register a CAGR of 6.3% through 2021. During the forecast period, the researcher projects that the healthcare/medical market will be the fastest-growing end-use industry for protective apparel. Growth drivers in this market include increased personal safety awareness and government regulations to increase worker safety.
Serkan Gogus, CEO of Turkish nonwovens producer Mogul, agrees that new environmental regulations are driving growth and says that new requirements for PPE are also driving the market.
For protective apparel, Mogul’s latest launch, Madaline, can be used for medical gowns. Gogus says the substrate inherently provides good barrier properties against microbes and has blood and alcohol repellency, in addition to offering wearing comfort. It can also be a good protective garment for use in industrial environments.
Madaline is a hybrid mixed microfilament media that features patented bicomponent technology to extrude unique filament designs which are then subject to high pressure water jets which fibrillate, entangle and consolidate the microfilaments into a nonwoven fabric. Similar to a meltblown with the strength of a spunbond, Madaline’s microfilaments are up to 100 times thinner than a human hair and the fabric offers good moisture management, absorbency, breathability and complementary properties of thermal insulation, wind resistance and UV protection.
“Pore structure and barrier properties that nonwovens offer make them ideal for this application,” Gogus says.
Norafin, a manufacturer of specialty nonwovens for protective equipment, filter media and composites, supplies its materials to manufacturers of firefighter uniforms and workwear for dangerous environments.
Most recently the German producer developed a range of durable spunlace nonwovens that answer the market’s needs for a lightweight, reusable, strong and breathable fabric offering improved insulation properties. The proprietary spunlace technology offers advantages such as lower weight variations, superior uniformity of the web, and a structured appearance.
According to Kerstin Knorr, marketing manager at Norafin Industries, in addition to these attributes, the company’s latest range also offers better wash shrinkage and gives an optimal ratio between thermal performance, weight, and comfort. Further, specific materials have been developed to withstand high abrasion, as well as 100 washes, and still deliver the expected protection.
Andy Schuffenhauer, R&D project manager, Norafin, says spunlace is often used as a thermal liner or moisture barrier in a firefighter’s uniform. This moisture barrier and thermal liner account for up to 70-75% of the protective gear’s thermal protection performance. “Thanks to the proprietary texture and surface of the spunlaced nonwoven adopted within the fabric, the product provides a 10-12% higher TPP rating compared to other competitive materials in the market,” he explains. “It’s thanks to the superior uniformity of the web as well as its proprietary surface and texture that the overall weight of the final garment can be reduced leading to improved comfort.”
In support of this market, Norafin recently confirmed expansion plans to build its first North American manufacturing facility. Located in Henderson County, NC, Norafin (Americas) Inc. began construction on a 75,000 square foot building in Mills River, representing an $18 million investment. The new facility will serve the North American protective apparel market, Knorr says, and it will allow the company to better serve existing clients, penetrate new markets, and provide a solid platform for continued future growth. Operations are expected to begin by the end of the year.
For years, Freudenberg Performance Materials (FPM) has been developing comfortemp thermal insulation, a wadding range of advanced technology insulation layers that combine comfort with high thermal insulation properties.
“They provide excellent protection against cold conditions and offer maximum comfort and easy processing at the same time,” says Dr. Frank Heislitz, CTO, Freudenberg Performance Materials.
FPM’s comfortemp AIR fabrics are voluminous nonwoven thermal insulation materials designed for high durability, superior warmth retention and excellent wearing comfort. In 2013, Heislitz says the company tested comfortemp AIR successfully for a Russian customer at temperatures of -40°C. “The test proved that the material perfectly copes with the demands of such extreme conditions, thanks to its multi-layer construction,” he continues.
Made with 90% rPET fibers, the material upholds its durability after repeated laundering—machine washable at 60°C—with no clumping.
Meanwhile, FPM’s comfortemp PROTECT line is a voluminous fire-retardant thermal insulating nonwoven made for increased protection against heat and flames in cold conditions for workwear applications. According to Heislitz, benefits include limited flame spread without emissions and flaming debris thanks to a low-burning fiber blend, excellent thermal insulation, soft hand-feel and processing, and also excellent durability after repeated washing.
Comfortemp PROTECT materials are used for workwear in utilities, electrical maintenance, oil and gas and other industries where workers are exposed to accidental fire risk.
“Customers are looking for workwear that provides a high level of protection for their employees and excellent comfort at the same time,” Heislitz says. “Superior-quality materials and new solutions in garment design are also increasing freedom of movement in protective apparel. This added functionality and ease of use is a significant factor in the growth of the protective apparel market.”
Leading the Way
DuPont is a leader in the protective apparel market, producing its own nonwoven—its flashspun Tyvek—as well as the finished protective apparel product.
Engineered for protection, durability and comfort, Tyvek protective apparel protects workers against small size hazardous particles—even as little as one micron in size—such as lead, asbestos and mold. Made without films or laminates, Tyvek suits are use in industrial environments including manufacturing and automotives, as well as for paint applications, where its ultra-smooth surface can repel low concentrated inorganic liquids and aerosols and discourages solid particles from adhering.
A recent development from the Wilmington, DE-based company is the Tyvek 800 J, a new Type 3 liquid-tight garment for personal protective apparel. Designed for use in industrial cleaning applications, such as pressure washing and tank cleaning, petrochemical installations and environmental remediation, Tyvek 800 J is a limited-se chemical protective coverall offering the combination of durability and lightweight comfort in environments that require chemical, liquid and/or oil protection. The garment also offers resistance to pressurized jets of low-concentration, water-based, inorganic chemicals.
“Tyvek 800 J was developed to offer superior protection with the freedom of movement and durability wearers of Tyvek expect,” says Dave Kee, North America marketing manager, DuPont Protection Solutions. “The garment is further enhanced by a streamlined fit with an integrated hood and closures at the wrists and legs for ease of donning and doffing. The garment design also features distinct orange taped seams to provide color contrast.”
Another major manufacturer in the market is Kimberly-Clark Professional, which makes comfortable and durable protective clothing, from cleanrooms to chemicals plants. Recent new product introductions include various components of protective apparel.
The new Kimtech Pure A5 Sterile Elasticized Hood helps prevent gaps in respirator coverage by offering an uninterrupted seal and customized fit for anyone wearing a full-face respirator. It works with many respirator styles and brands and is ideal for small faces, according to the company. Features include a stretch fit elastic hood and opening, tunneled overseams to prevent particle shedding and Clean-Don technology ties for easy donning and a more secure fit.
New Kimtech Pure A7 Ankle High Shoe Covers protect the shoelace area, closing a potential contamination gap that is not addressed by traditional shoe covers. More than a shoe cover but less than a boot, Kimtech Pure A7 Ankle High Shoe Covers deliver a higher barrier of liquid protection and superior grip. Benefits include: two elastic bands for enhanced fit and coverage, easy donning and doffing and bulk packaging availability.
Another new innovation is the Kimtech Pure A4 Sleeve Protector, which provides an additional layer of protection between gloves and lab coat sleeves to help keep workers and the workplace safe through advanced barrier protection and shields that person and the garment from hazardous chemicals and biologics. This reduces the risk of exposure and contamination. The product is ideal for situations where full coverage isn’t required, but full protection is. Features include reinforced seams, advanced battier fabric protection, ease of use, range of sizes, thumb loops for full wrist coverage and bulk packaging.
On the medical side, Halyard Health, the former Kimberly-Clark Healthcare, which spun-off from Kimberly-Clark in 2014, manufactures nonwoven surgical gowns, drapes, masks and apparel. Halyard’s Mike Tuck, vice president, Global Product Supply, says nonwovens provide protection from liquids while remaining breathable. “These fabrics are ideal for use in hospitals because they provide a higher level of protection and enhanced sterility over cotton, linen, and paper-based products.”
Halyard’s new Aero Chrome Performance Surgical Gown uses the company’s proprietary Cool Shield Core technology fabric that’s light, protective and tear resistant, providing a full range of motion without ripping or tearing to ensure clinicians have the necessary level of perioperative protection for the toughest procedures. Further, a unique, breathable back panel maximizes airflow through the surgical gown, and the Aero Chrome fabric allows moisture vapor to escape while providing a high performance barrier.