This summer Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), an independent public company owned by Australian woolgrowers, and Macquarie Textiles, Australia's largest wool-based manufacturer, commissioned Australia's first commercial nonwoven wool plant in Albury.
"While the R&D project undertaken by Canesis, formerly WRONZ (Wool Research Organization of New Zealand), showed us how the nonwoven approach could be applied to wool, the involvement of Macquarie Textiles has taken the concept from the laboratory to the shopfront," says Ian McLachlan, chairman, Australian Wool Innovation.
The new plant will produce nonwoven wool fabrics using the needlepunch process. Needlepunched fabrics are formed by forcing barbed needles through a web of fibers and entangling them in a matrix. Repeated needling forms a nonwoven fabric. Felt is the best-known example.
These needlepunch fabrics should provide a 30 percent cost saving over traditional wool fabrics by eliminating conventional spinning and weaving stages.
This is the latest step in AWI's three-year nonwoven wool research and development project focused on exploring new nonwoven wool fabrics. This nonwoven R&D project, funded with $2 million (Australian) per year, is now in its second year. Its goal is to develop new nonwoven wool fabrics and commercialize two of them each year.
"We have received considerable interest in the fabric from many companies who are considering its uses in non-traditional areas for wool," says John Lewis, managing director, Macquarie Textiles. "The defense and protective clothing areas are very excited about some products we are currently developing."
So far commercialized fabrics include a nonwoven, wool-lined Driza-Bone oilskin vest and a disposable humanitarian blanket (nonwoven wool fabric laminated with foil polymer). Driza-Bone and its signature coats are Australian icons much like U.S. based-L.L. Bean.
Products under development as part of the project include a nonwoven stretch fabric, wool/cotton and wool/viscose blends, wool laminated to a breathable membrane for wet weather garments, footwear and protective clothing. AWI is also working to develop some hydroentangled nonwoven fabrics for medical applications in partnership with Smith & Nephew, a well-known medical devices company based in the United Kingdom.
By the end of the year, AWI expects to have a nonwoven wool facility up and running in Europe.
"We do realize that Australia as a wool consuming nation isn't going to create consumption benefit for our shareholders, the wool growers, (by itself) so we really need to commercialize this in the northern hemisphere," says Stuart McCullough, manager, product commercialization for AWI. "That is certainly an aim of ours, and something that we are working on in Europe, also focusing on Asia and the Americas."
ALFRED DOCKERY is a free-lance writer based in North Carolina. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI)