TAPPI meeting showcases innovation and collaboration

May 22nd, 2017 / By: / Featured

Filtration products are expected to experience exponential growth, particularly in Africa and Asia, with increased demands for higher quality products and standards.

The Technical Association of the Paper and Pulp Industry (TAPPI) hosted the PaperCon International Conference in April with about 1600 attendees and 75 exhibitors gathered in the Minneapolis Convention Center. The unique feature of this event has been the co-location of the nonwovens conference of TAPPI, referred to as NET Inc.

TAPPI has been gaining prominence for hosting a focused technical conference that highlights recent developments and innovations in the nonwovens arena. Co-locating with the largest gathering of papermakers and R&D scientists in paper and allied disciplines enabled the nonwovens and technical textiles industry personnel to gather knowledge on new developments in sister disciplines, such as nanocellulosics, tissue and paper science.

Larry Montague, president of TAPPI, emphasized the importance of collaboration among paper, nonwoven and allied disciplines. Montague said, “I feel that the combination of the nonwovens conference and PaperCon is a good idea as it exposes audiences in different disciplines to the advancements in areas that will be beneficial to their individual industry segments.”

Professor  Haoqing Hou of  Jiangxi Normal University, China, showcased his nanofiber yarn to the audience at the 2017 TAPPI Nonwovens Conference. Photo: Akshay Jain, Texas Tech University.

The nonwovens conference opened with two keynote lectures. Andrew Willis, technology director at Massachusetts-based advanced materials manufacturer Hollingsworth & Vose, presented an overview of new trends in filtration. According to Willis, the filtration sector is a young industry and is expected to have exponential growth. Some of the mega trends that drive the sector include population growth, urbanization, growth in prosperity and energy use. These factors definitely put stress on the environment, which necessitates cleaner air and water for the growing population. Surely, filtration products fit in this equation well, providing opportunities for growth in developed and developing economies.

The filtration sector is nascent in some regions of the world such as Africa and Asia, where there seems to be a direct correlation between population growth and the use of technical textile products such as filters, hygiene and medical textiles. Willis predicted that the filtration industry will emerge as a global industry demanding higher quality products and standards. Active players in the filtration sector should be cognizant of the global policies and values, emerging markets and increased competition for products at competitive prices. A take-away from Willis’ presentation was that there cannot be a single-layer filter product that could satisfy the demands of the sector. Additionally, the sector should effectively utilize the right people, processes and materials to develop next-generation filtration products.

David Allan, editor of Nonwovens Market at RISI, an information provider for the global forest products industry, presented an overview of the nonwovens industry. In terms of growth in the nonwovens sector, Asia will lead with 10 percent, followed by North America at 6–7 percent. South America and Europe are expected to have a growth rate of 5 percent each. The nonwovens sector is heavily dependent on innovation and development of new products. The emerging trends in this sector include softer and lighter materials for hygiene, smaller and more compact machines, natural and biodegradable raw materials, and flushable hygiene products.

In answer to my question, Allan pointed out that the growth potential of nonwovens in apparel markets might not be as high in sectors such as hygiene, wipes, geo-textiles and others. Allan’s main point was that the nonwoven industry is basically a product development industry and the industry’s success depends on the effective utilization of the machinery and technical know-how.

New materials

An overview of the status of cellulosic nanomaterials was provided by Junyong Zhu of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wis., and Prof. Haoqing Hou of Jiangxi Normal University, China, presented his new technology on the mass production of polyimide nanofibers. Still, toxicity and productivity issues occupy center stage in the commercial success of nanofibers.

Janet O’Regan of Cotton Inc. presented a study on the life cycle analysis of cotton. Brian George of Philadelphia University discussed the use of alternative fibers, such as hemp, in developing nonwoven wipes. Akshay Jain of Texas Tech University presented his latest research on using fibrous substrates as an effective oil sorbent. His work focused on mimicking a sea-water/ oil mixture to model the actual oil spill scenarios in marine environments. Topics such as wearable textiles and use of environmentally benign processes, such as atmospheric pressure plasma treatment onto nonwovens, were also discussed.

Tutorials focusing on technical textiles and the testing of nonwoven materials highlighted the conference, but many topics such as nanocellulose, development in nanofiber products and sustainability were featured. In addition to the platform presentations, professionals in the nonwovens sector had the opportunity to discuss their technical needs and new developments in focused committee activities dealing with fibers, processing and characterization, filtration, binders and additives, which are used in the nonwovens industry.

Seshadri Ramkumar, Ph.D., is a professor in the Nonwovens & Advanced Materials Laboratory, Texas Tech University.