March 16, 2012

Textiles-Synthetic and Bio-based Fibers, Types and Sources*

Modern Textile engineering introduced us to man-made fibers and novel fabric structures; remember those vinyl-covers on the grandparents’ quaint sofa! All trades were transformed by the Industrial Revolution: Textile industry (erected its first factory, a Cotton Mill), the Iron Industry (used coke as a reducing agent in smelting iron ores, revolutionizing the circuit), and the Chemicals Sector (started large scale production of Sodium Carbonate, used in future production of synthetic fibers) (*6), An expanding circuit went in motion where new concepts produced machines which enhanced the process, which in turn, fed new enhanced ideas into the manufacturing system and most were enhanced by usage of steam engines. Advancements brought by mechanization catapulted mass production, fed the economy and changed the general quality of life. Industrialization promoted machinery such as Samuel Compton’s Spinning Mule (1769, Britain) and Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin (1793, USA) and development of chemicals and engineered fibers from early Synthetics, to engineered modern Non-Wovens (*7), to the quasi-accidental invention of the ultra-modern Kevlar in 1965, by Stephanie Kwolek (DuPont Labs, USA). Let’s take a look at the other side of textiles fibers. These are not always obvious, yet, their use and appearance is equally diverse (*8).

Synthetic and Bio-Based Fibers (*9) are engineered to meet desired specifications; their sources are categorized as follows:

  1. Cellulose

                                                              i.      Acetate (Acetate fibers are used in satins, brocades and taffetas because of their luster, soft hand and draping qualities; first developed in 1865, it went through various reformulations until 1919, when the first cellulose based yarn, Celanese, was engineered for mass production and introduced by the British Celanese plant; fabrics with acetate content usually require dry clean, as the fiber weakens when wet and has poor resistance to abrasion) (*10)

                                                            ii.      Rayon (at times called a semi-synthetic regenerated fiber is produced from plants and tree pulp through a chemically-concentrated procedure where cellulose compounds are dissolved into a viscous solution and passed through spinnerets into a chemical bath which reconstitutes the mixture into solid filaments or staples; surprisingly, rayon fibers decay more readily than cotton, making it more biodegradable; rayon fibers can emulate the aesthetic qualities of silk, wool, cotton and linen but its durability and aesthetic retention is lower, especially when wet). (*11)

  1. Mineral and Metallic

                                                              i.      Glass Fibers (formed when thin strands of silica-based or other formulation glass are extruded into many fibers with small diameters suitable for textile processing in plastic-reinforcing.)

                                                            ii.      Fiberglas (a genericized trademark invented in 1938 at Owens-Corning which is commonly used for insulation; it is resistant to mold, moisture and flame but causes skin irritations and respiratory problems.)

                                                          iii.      Metallic Fibers (Metallic yarns are woven for upholstery fabrics and textiles such as lamé and brocade, also, braided and knit as trims.)

  1. Polymers/Bio-based

                                                              i.      Kevlar (developed by DuPont in 1965, Kevlar is a registered trademark for a light, strong synthetic fiber, which went into commercial use in 1971. It is 5 times stronger than steel, yet at the same time lightweight, flexible and comfortable. Its resistance to chemicals, heat, flames, cuts and breakage, render it ideal for body armor.)

                                                            ii.      Polyester (A high-strength manufactured fiber that is washable, resistant to stretching and shrinking, and is naturally flame resistant; Trevira CS® is registered trademark of Trevira, a company of the Reliance Group, for flame-retardant polyester fibers) *12

                                                          iii.      Polyurethane fiber/Spandex ( lightweight, durable, elastomeric filament composed of at least 85% of a segmented polyurethane.) (*13)

In general, Textiles include woven fabrics made of yarn, continuous filaments of interlocked natural and/or synthetic fibers; also, textiles are the non-woven structures such as felt, vinyls and polyurethanes. They are typically surface oriented, a form of industrial design which at its best combines applied science and chemistry with the newest technologies and old methods for their engineering. The physical properties and performance, the strength and degree of durability of any fabric, all these, depend on composition and method of construction.

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