How Nonwovenn helped one European company overcome the challenge of producing an activated carbon fabric amid changing specification requirements to produce a consistently safe, high performing, protective, disposable face mask.

We were asked by a leading European face mask manufacturing company to create an activated carbon protective face mask fabric for industrial use. Initially, the brief seemed
relatively straightforward: produce an activated carbon fabric from nonwoven construction; the finished fabric would need to adhere to industrial-standard protection classification (FFP1 and FFP2) in order to protect the wearer from inhalation of dust, smoke and dangerous aerosol chemicals. In addition the fabric had to be easy to work with on existing manufacturing processes and machinery, printable with branding and cosmetically appealing.

However, neither company could have predicted the collaborative journey they were about to embark on.

The Project

The exposure of industrial workers to the airborne particulates produced by various industrial process is a serious health concern. It is therefore, important that workers wear face masks that are effective in preventing the inhalation of dangerous substances.

The performance effectiveness of activated carbon in absorbing chemical fumes from atmospheric air has long been established, yet some so-called activated carbon products have a low absorption classification of 10% or lower that renders them ineffective. Nonwovenn’s activated carbon fabric performs at a classification of at least 85%.

Having delivered on the project – to deliver an activated carbon fabric for use in cold climates – we had to address an unforeseen technical challenge. Reports were coming back from users that there was an ‘ammonia like’ smell coming from the masks. On further investigation it was discovered that a number of masks had been exported to the Far East where a combination of environmental high temperatures and humidity had increased heat stress in the protective face masks resulting in an ammonia-like odour. The odour itself was not unsafe but made it unpleasant for the wearer. The customer then asked us to develop a product that would not only work well in a cold or temperate Northern European climate, but in hot, humid conditions such as those found in Asia and Africa.

Solution

Nonwovenn’s Research and Development team solved the issue by developing an activated carbon fabric using ultra-fine granules rather than a chemical additive – another product-first for the industry.

We developed and tested several different options from which the customer was able to do their own independent testing and make their initial choice. The chosen fabric was successfully put into full production for the next 12 months.

The customer then asked Nonwovenn to help make their protective face masks flame retardant. We achieved this by applying a patented chemical flame retardancy agent, while maintaining the fabric’s filtration capability to remove dangerous airborne particles, gases and vapours.

Result

Flame Retardancy With No Odour

In its second iteration, the fabric was made with a mixture of an adhesive and a flame retardant chemical used to bond several layers together (this is known as lamination). In combination, the layers provided the overall filtration properties required.

Improving Customer Manufacturing Processes

Nonwovenn’s market awareness and expertise makes us well-positioned to help our customers enhance their manufacturing processes and remain competitive in the global marketplace. Our Research and Development team and Project Lead began consulting with the customer to see if we could help understand their expectations for the product’s life-cycle. We concentrated on improving product features, optimising manufacturing techniques to increase productivity, taking costs out of operations and extending the time the product could profitably remain in the market.

In parallel to this project, Nonwovenn had been conducting a study to examine the interaction between a new non-odorous flame retardant chemical additive, as a replacement for ultra-fine granules, and the possibility of increasing the lifespan of manufacturing machinery. Results were so promising that it was agreed to transition into the new chemical thus, lengthening the lifespan of the customer’s cutting equipment.