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Nonwoven Fabric Binders
98.1 Introduction ......................................................................98-1 98.2 Binders ...............................................................................98-1

Albert G. Hoyle
Hoyle Associates

Latex • Fiber • Powder • Netting • Film • Hot Melt • Solution

Bibliography .................................................................................98-4

98.1 Introduction
A nonwoven fabric is precisely what the name implies, a fibrous structure or fabric that is made without weaving. In a woven or knit fabric, warp and/or filling yarns are made and intertwined in various patterns (weaving or knitting) to interlock them and to give the manufactured fabrics integrity, strength, and aesthetic value. By contrast, in manufacturing a nonwoven fabric, the yarn formation and yarn intertwining steps (weaving or knitting) are bypassed, and a web (fibrous structure) is formed using dry-lay or wet-lay formation techniques. This web is bonded together by mechanical entanglement or by the addition of a binder to create a nonwoven fabric. This chapter describes the various binders available for nonwoven bonding with their applications, and provides a listing of resource contacts for latex, binder solutions, fiber, powder, netting, film, and hot melt binder suppliers.

98.2 Binders
The degree of bonding achieved, using any of several binders, is enhanced when the carrier fiber and binder are of the same polymeric family. Increasing the amount of binder in relation to the carrier fiber increases product tensile strength and also overall bonding. Binders used in nonwovens are of the following types: latex, fiber, powder, netting, film, hot-melt, and solution. At present, the binders most frequently used are latex, fiber, and powder, with fiber having the greatest growth potential for the future.

98.2.1 Latex
Latex binders are based mainly on acrylic, styrene-butadiene, vinyl acetate, ethylene-vinyl acetate, or vinyl/vinylidene chloride polymers and copolymers. Within any one series or group, very soft to very firm hands can be achieved by varying the glass transition temperature of the polymer. The lower the Tg, the softer the resultant nonwoven. These temperatures range from –42° to +100°C in latex available today. Most latex are either anionic or nonionic. Some have high salt tolerances, allowing for addition of salts to achieve flame retardancy. Some are self-cross-linkable, and others are cross-linkable by the addition of melamine- or urea- formaldehyde resins and catalysts to achieve greater wash resistance and

© 2006 by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC


Coatings Technology Handbook, Third Edition

high wet strength in cellulose-based nonwovens. Other latex, by means of special surfactants, can impart either hydrophobic or hydrophilic properties to the nonwoven. Still others, by means of certain surfactants, can be foamed easily to allow for foam application of the latex, resulting in greater economies in processing because of much lower energy demands for drying. Addition of thickeners to increase viscosity of the latex formulation makes for a much neater and cleaner application when print bonding is used. Addition of special heat-sensitive coagulants to the latex makes it possible to apply the latex to the fibrous web in a foamed state, and to gel or coagulate the foam in situ before it collapses while drying, resulting in permanently foamed, open cell nonwoven structure that is very water-absorptive and water-retentive. By and large, the acrylic-based latex are the most versatile ones in use, and they are also the most expensive to use.

98.2.2 Fiber
The main fiber binder types are morphologically classified as follows: amorphous homopolymer, amorphous copolymer, crystalline copolymer, and bicomponent fiber. Classifying these by chemical origin, the ones most used today are polyester, polypropylene, polyethylene, polyamide, and vinyl chloride, vinyl acetate copolymer. While latex binders are applied and processed by saturation, spray, foam, and print techniques, fiber binders are activated by thermal bonding methods. Thermal bonding, when first introduced, was used mainly in durable nonwovens and not used at all in disposables such as diaper top sheets and sanitary product covers — both exceedingly high volume items — for two reasons: (a) the higher prices of binder fibers when compared to latex, and (b) the properties needed in disposable nonwovens — softness, strength, porosity, capability of transferring liquids to an inner absorptive medium, and no adverse reactions upon skin contact. As energy cost increased in the late 1960s and early 1970s, thermal bonding became a viable option for disposable as well as durable nonwovens. Amorphous Homopolymer The predominant amorphous homopolymer binder fibers were and still are polyester and polypropylene. The polyester binder fiber is blended with a polyester carrier fiber into a web by carding or air-lay methods and hot calendered to achieve a 100% bonded product. This gives a thin strong, low extensibility, papery product, which is being used successfully as a coating substrate and in electrical insulation. The 100% machine direction orientation from carding and relatively high binder content result in relatively low extensibility and high tensile strength, properties that are important, specifically, in coating substrates for tapes and for electrical insulation. Amorphous homopolymer polyester binder fiber is used exclusively in area bonding for industrial products. Polypropylene carrier fiber can be self-bonded by making a blend of coarse and fine denier fibers and using the fine denier fiber as the binder for the coarse one. This procedure is practical because polypropylene has a sharp bonding temperature and an almost simultaneous melting point, in the vicinity of 165°C, when the blend is hot calendered, the fine denier fiber is melted while the coarse one is relatively untouched. A practical blend is one containing fibers of 6, 3, and 1.8 deniers per filament (d/f), and running the calender at 163 to 165°C. A highly compacted, fairly stiff nonwoven results, which is used in water filtration. A polypropylene fiber with a slightly lower melting point than regular polypropylene has been developed for use as a binder fiber. This fiber is capable of being used a binder for regular polypropylene fibers of any denier and, with the sharp melting range characteristic of polypropylene, is usable in point bonding of disposables containing fibers other than polyester, as well as in area-bonded products. Amorphous Copolymer With the advent of point bonding by hot calendaring and the development of amorphous copolymers, mainly polyesters, work was reinitiated in adapting thermal bonding to disposable product needs. Overall area bonding is not acceptable in most disposables because open areas are needed for porosity and for the passing of liquids.

© 2006 by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

Nonwoven Fabric Binders


The development of amorphous copolymers with activation temperatures lower than amorphous homopolymers was an important development, allowing the making of a soft, absorbent, thin cover stock on a heated spot bonding calender at speeds high enough to make the process and product competitive. Amorphous copolymer fibers are available with working temperatures in the calender from 227°C down to 163°C, allowing a full range of light- to medium-weight products, either 100% area bonded or else point bonded to be made at efficient processing speeds. Crystalline Copolymer Crystalline copolymer binder fibers are available in both polyamide and polyester types. These fibers are characterized by very sharp melting points, where the fiber is converted almost instantly to liquid when heat is applied. Microscopic studies show that the binder fiber, once molten, tends to congregate in droplets at carrier fiber interstices throughout the nonwoven. Thermal bonding with this type of fiber can be effected in two ways: spot bonding with a heated spot bonding calender, and bonding with a through air oven with or without a consequent cold calendaring step, using an overall bonding calender. Through air oven heating is the preferred method of bonding because greater control and consistency can be achieved by using it. A crystalline copolymer binder fiber can be used to produce a spot-bonded product with open unbonded areas, a spot-bonded product with open bonded areas, an overall bonded bulky product, and an overall bonded compacted but not papery product. Bicomponent Fiber A bicomponent is a fiber formed by coextrusion of two different polymers. It is available commercially in polyamide, polyester, and polyolefin (polypropylene–polyethylene) combinations. The polyamides and polyesters are of the core sheath type, with the matrix fiber as the core and the binder fiber as the sheath. In the polyamide bicomponent, the core fiber is nylon 66 and the sheath fiber is nylon 6. In the polyester bicomponent, both the carrier and the binder fibers generically are polyesters; the main difference is a lower melting or softening point in the binder fiber portion. The polyolefin bicomponent is of the side-to-side type. Polypropylene, the carrier fiber, is one side, and polyethylene, the binder fiber, is the other side. In all three instances — polyamide, polyester, and polyolefin — the melting or processing temperature of the binder fiber is sufficiently lower than that of the carrier fiber that the carrier fiber is not affected by the heat used in the bonding step. Nonwovens containing bicomponent fibers are processed similarly to those containing crystalline copolymers, and the resulting nonwovens have properties similar to those made using crystalline copolymers. Overall economics tend to favor use of crystalline copolymers, but achieving the best quality product favors use of bicomponent fibers.

98.2.3 Powder
Because of refinements in powder application techniques and an increase in polymers available in powder form, use of powder as a thermal binder is now a viable process. Polyester, polyamide, polypropylene, and polyethylene are available in a variety of mesh sizes. The preferred method of bonding is radiant heat followed by cold calendering. Products made with powder binders contain 10 to 20% binder. They have a soft hand and are porous. Possible markets are diaper top sheets, sanitary napkins, mattress pads, wipes, and medical-surgical products. Powder binders give characteristics and properties similar to crystalline copolymer fibers. Advantages of using powder over crystalline copolymer fibers are economies of powder versus fiber and versatility of binder selection. Disadvantages are less efficient application methods of powder versus fiber and permanence of location of powder once applied.

98.2.4 Netting
The netting type of binder is applied to a lightly prebonded web using a hot calender. The effect achieved is similar to that of spot or pattern bonding and is one-sided. Low or high amounts of binder

© 2006 by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC


Coatings Technology Handbook, Third Edition

can be deposited at the patterned bond points, depending on the netting pattern. The main advantage of this process is that it can be off machine; it is relatively simple and requires no large outlay for processing equipment.

98.2.5 Film
The film is combined with a web containing, a carrier fiber and an amorphous binder fiber in a hot calendaring operation. The end-product nonwoven is quite tough, very strong, very smooth on one side, and usually impermeable to vapor or liquid.

98.2.6 Hot Melt
Hot-melt thermal bonding is accomplished by applying a hot melt to a lightly prebonded web. The hot melt can be applied to the web directly from a patterned hot melt applicator roll or else cast on release paper and applied in a separate step in transfer printing or bonding equipment. Characteristics and properties of a nonwoven made in this manner resemble those of one made using a crystalline copolymer binder fiber or plastic netting as the binder. Advantages of using this binder are the capability of applying special binder formulations in unique binding patterns.

98.2.7 Solution
Solution binders and coating adhesives are available in both aqueous and organic solvent mediums. In nonwoven bonding the only solutions used are aqueous based, and these are selected only for very specific applications. Polyvinyl alcohol and some acrylics are used as prebinders or temporary binders for cellulose-based or fiberglass-based nonwovens when final bonding cannot or should not be preformed at that particular stage of processing or when regular binders are needed but only in very small amounts. Water resistance can be imparted by adding a cross-linking agent such as melamine- or urea-formaldehyde resin to the polyvinyl alcohol formulation or using a cross-linking acrylic followed by curing after the product is dried.

Hoyle, A. G., “Properties and characteristics of thermally bonded nonwovens,” in TAPPI Nonwoven Division Workshop on Synthetic Fibers for Wet Systems and Thermal Bonding Applications, Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry, 1986, pp. 51–54. Nonwovens Industry. Rodman Publications Inc., 26 Lake Street, P. O. Box 555, Ramsey, NJ 07446; phone (201) 825–2552. Nonwovens World. 2700 Cumberland Parkway N.W., Suite 530, Atlanta, GA 30339; phone (404) 432–3186. Textile World. McGraw-Hill Publications Company, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020; phone (212) 391–4570.

© 2006 by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

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