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ELBEUF - Over the coming years the market for nonwoven materials is set to grow significantly, and because of its ability to produce strong, durable end-use products, needlepunch technology will become one of the most important bonding processes in nonwoven production. Technology supplier Andritz outlines its capabilities in this sector.

Based on many years of experience in this field, Andritz says it has the expert knowledge, technical capability and flexibility to create reliable needlepunch lines to meet the specific needs of its customers.

Needlepunch technology can be used with nearly all fibres and can be customized to produce fabrics of varying tensile strength and weight distribution, making it extremely versatile for use in many applications. One of the most dynamic markets for this technology is in the automotive industry where there is an increasing need for lightweight and heavyweight applications to insulate against external noises made more noticeable with the trend towards electric powered vehicles.

There is also a growing market for materials produced with needlepunch technology in the areas of geotextiles, filtration products, roofing and flooring materials and furniture.

Andritz Asselin-Thibeau, located in the town of Elbeuf in Normandy, France, is the Centre of Competence for the manufacture of needlepunch, thermo bonding and chemical bonding technology for the global nonwoven business.

Jean-Philippe Dumon, Sales Director, Nonwoven Division explains: “We have quite a history of manufacturing nonwovens equipment on this site, the Asselin company originally started creating and manufacturing crosslappers, pre-needlers and needlers as long ago as 1950 and could be considered as real pioneers in the creation of the nonwoven industry.”

Fast forward to the present and the company in Elbeuf is one of Andritz’s leading production sites in the area of nonwovens. Dumon continues: “The pioneering attitude of the past continues here, and every year we increase our repeat business, but we are also growing in terms of market share for our needlepunch lines and technology.

“We are proud of the fact that we are always investing at this site, every year we are commissioning new tools for our machine tool plant, we have implemented all the latest management principals, and despite continuous growth, we have managed to increase production with the same footprint.”

The needlelooms manufactured at Andritz Asselin-Thibeau go out to nonwoven producers all over the world, with 40% going to countries in Europe, including Russia and Turkey, 25% to the US and another 25% to Asia.

“In an industry which is currently moving in many new directions, Andritz also works with independent mid-size nonwoven producers, offering knowledge and expertise to enable the creation and running of an optimal needlepunch line,” says Dumon. “This can be supplied entirely by ANDRITZ, where it can control everything and guarantee the final results, or, with its capability to mix technology, can supply individual machines into an existing line.”

Needlelooms

The design of the needleloom, a key piece of machinery in the needlepunch line, takes a large part of Andritz’s innovative work at Elbeuf. The company focus is to offer high reliability, high performance and the lowest cost of ownership as possible. Andritz needlelooms are highly durable and offer a variety of punching speeds and working width sizes. The needling density can be adjusted to accommodate any thickness of material and can be made capable of needling from one side or both, making them extremely versatile for a wide range of applications.

An important feature of the Andritz needleloom is the way in which it is designed for ease of cleaning. Some fibres create a lot of dust during the loom process which can contaminate the product, especially where the line is used for creating different types of materials. “Andritz needlelooms are designed so that all the areas that come in contact with the product are visible and a space over the plate gives clear accessibility for suction to remove dust from the plate and needles,” explains Dumon. “This greatly increases the efficiency of the loom by producing consistent products and reducing the time required for cleaning and maintenance as well as being safer for the operator.”

A further key contribution to the efficiency of Andritz needlelooms is the use of the largest, toughest available bearings, resulting in a much more robust machine with a much longer life expectancy. These bearings can last for years - in many known cases they were only replaced after 12 years of constant use as a precaution, even though they were found to still be in good condition. This extended life requires the bearings to be kept at an optimum working temperature which is why Andritz needlelooms use oil as a lubricant, applied constantly to ensure the lifespan of the bearings. The combination of using large bearings and oil lubrication results in less downtime for maintenance bringing a far greater return on investment for the customer.

Within bespoke designs, Andritz can adapt the needleloom according to the need of the customer. For example, in lighter weight nonwoven fabrics where the surface aspect is of high importance, the parts of the needleloom that interact with the fabric are optimized to minimize uncontrolled draft and create the ideal needle distribution pattern, enabling the production line to run faster. For fabrics that require a heavy punching load, Andritz has introduced the Dynamic Harmonic Shifter (DHS), technology which eliminates the vibrations generated from the tougher needling requirements which would otherwise damage the machinery.

Flexibility

The use of the needlepunch process is growing steadily across Europe and globally where in today’s nonwoven market, customers are looking for flexibility, low operating costs and consistent quality of the finished product. Andritz works directly with customers to discuss specific requirements according to their end products and available resources.

In this way a thorough understanding of how best the needlepunch line and needleloom can be designed is gained, to bring high added value to the customer by creating stable products and getting long-lasting results, bringing them the best return on investment. Where required needlelooms can be customized for specialist use, one example of which is the double velour machine which incorporates two frames with the same brush, resulting in doubling the process speed while reducing handling which increases the quality and consistency and brings production costs down.

As part of the design procedure Andritz uses its neXmatrix simulator tool to compare different possible line set ups to find the best possible solution to identify and meet the customer’s requirements. Customers can also make use of the state-of-the-art trial center facility in Elbeuf, which combines all the latest ANDRITZ technology in its complete needlepunch pilot line, including the SCADA monitoring system.

Performance may vary from one fibre to another so the trial centre enables the design team to record the machine performance and adjust it according to the customer’s needs to create the optimal conditions for the most efficient line and best product quality. Having this facility helps to reassure the customer and give them a real feel for nonwoven lines and equipment working at an operational level.

“We really like to get close to our customer,” says Dumon. “We listen intently to what their situation is, what their products are, and what they are used for. We engineer a simulation in our pilot line here in Elbeuf and give them a real-time first-hand demonstration of their products being made. Customers are always impressed with our ability to not only simulate their needs, but also show them what other possibilities for new products there could be in the future.”

By using this approach, Andritz says it can create a proposal that meets the customer’s business plan. New, innovative and proven equipment can then be installed, up and running in a short space of time offering greater potential for high productivity from the outset. This method ensures that Andritz provides the appropriate range of equipment with the innovations needed to optimize the customer’s investment by producing the most viable volume of a consistent, high-quality product in a cost effective and efficient way.

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