Dr.-Ing. Tim Höhnemann (Source: DITF)
In April 2023, the nonwovens community met once again for one week in Geneva for the Index23, which is now back in its usual 3-year event cycle. According to the organizers, 12,000 attendees were present, as well as 610 exhibitors from 43 countries; the exhibition space was almost fully booked. Overall, a significantly increased frequency of discussions was noticeable compared to the pandemic-related postponed Index20 in autumn 2021.
Face-to-face exchanges with existing contacts were as welcome as the potential initiation of new business relationships; both for industry and research. Edana's General Manager, Murat Dogru, summed it up aptly: “We are here to do business, but the nonwovens industry has shown me that our supply chain is also one big family.
The exhibition was accompanied by a comprehensive supporting program: Product presentations by a large number of exhibitors, a series of informative seminars, the Index Lab, and also the naming of the winners of the Index Innovation Awards in 5 categories. The main topics both in the supporting program and on the exhibition stands were, as usual, wide-ranging. Face masks were no longer the dominant topic, but a focus on hygiene coupled with a commonly noticeable trend towards sustainability was favored. The latter was not only highlighted with different, often green-brown stand colors, but was also reflected in a large number of new developments/highlights presented by the exhibitors, as well as in the visitors' inquiries. These included topics such as development of sustainable raw materials (polymer manufacturers), reduced need for process energy (machine builders), improved product properties with the same raw material input or, possibly, substitution of raw materials with sustainable alternatives (product manufacturers).
With the frequently used buzzwords bio-based, biodegradable, and recycling, questions of actual sustainability remained:
• Kelheim Fibres, Sandler and Pelz Group are jointly bringing a
plastic-free viscose-based panty liner onto the market, and
TWE is launching a viscose-based super-soft backsheet.
• Sandler is presenting a 1-polymer molded nonwoven (100% polyester, of which 80% is recycled) that is said to be not only particularly easy to recycle, but also features high dimensional stability and adaptable acoustic properties.
• With its "In The Loop" initiative, Thrace presents a closed-loop model that involves all participants in the value chain to recycle raw materials in a controlled manner.
• Polymateria and Indorama claim the bio-transformation route of a polyolefin that degrades to a bioavailable wax within 3-5 months.
• Another example of raw material advancement comes from polymer manufacturer NatureWorks, which introduced the new PLA Type 6500D, demonstrating noticeably increased softness in the product.
• Making haptics quantitatively accessible through measurement of roughness, elasticity and hardness is on the agenda of the measurement instrument developers Emtec Electronics. Its Tissue Softness Analyzer has been expanded to include a crumble test head.
• In the area of measurement technology, Palas achieves access to low(est) concentrations of 200 particles/cm³ in filtration efficiency testing with the developed "full flow sensor".
• Various innovations were also presented in the auxiliaries-finishing-application technology area. Among other things, Herrmann Ultraschall showed 2 interesting developments for dispensing with additional components, which provide solutions in hygiene applications: the fixing of elastic threads without adhesives and the direct forming of the material into a complete hook closure (hook-forming).
• The plant manufacturer Oerlikon Nonwoven also focused its innovations on the hygiene sector, although the so-called Phantom technology – an innovative co-form technology for the production of wipes, such as wet wipes made of pulp and polymer fibers – primarily advertises ecological as well as performance and cost advantages. In addition, Oerlikon also promoted its hycuTec hydro-charging solution under the aspect of potential savings.
• The topic of softness was the focus of attention at the plant manufacturer Reicofil. The company presented its new RF5XHL production platform. The suffix XHL stands for Extra High Loft and is aimed at super-soft and perfectly drapable nonwovens for the hygiene industry.
• Dilo announced the possibility of needling fine fibers with its Micro-Punch technology and high resource efficiency while avoiding the use of water compared to the usual water jet process.
With regard to innovations and highlights on the part of the mechanical engineering sector, it became clear that the ITMA, the world's largest textile machinery trade fair, is just around the corner in Milan/Italy in June 2023. This is where the major novelties and innovations in technologies will be presented. "For us, the Index is a preparatory platform for the ITMA, where we will finally present our new highlights for the first time," sums up Johann-Phillip Dilo, Managing Director of the DiloGroup:
Dr.-Ing. Tim Höhnemann
Chemical Fibers and Nonwovens
German Institutes for Textile and Fiber Research Denkendorf (DITF)