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Title:
ABSORBENT STACK OF SHEETS HAVING COMPRESSED AND SEWN BINDING
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/088995
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
The invention relates to a stack of absorbent sheets, such as paper towels, toilet tissue, napkins, facial tissue, and the like. The stack has a binding element that is compressed and sewn with a first line of stitching disposed adjacent to the first edge of the bound stack, such as the top edge. The binding element may be free from adhesives. The line of stitches facilitate separation and removal of individual sheets and may alleviate the need for perforations or a line of weakness.

Inventors:
PAVELETZKE, Julie, Ann (Kimberly-Clark Worldwide, Inc.2300 Winchester Roa, Neenah Wisconsin, 54956, US)
OLSON, Christopher, Peter (1012 Pendelton Road, Neenah, Wisconsin, 54956, US)
Application Number:
US2017/059222
Publication Date:
May 09, 2019
Filing Date:
October 31, 2017
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
KIMBERLY-CLARK WORLDWIDE, INC. (2300 Winchester Road, Neenah, Wisconsin, 54956, US)
International Classes:
A47K10/20; A47K10/42; B31F5/00; B32B5/06; B32B7/08
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
SULLIVAN, Michael J. et al. (KIMBERLY-CLARK WORLDWIDE, INC.2300 Winchester Roa, Neenah Wisconsin, 54956, US)
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Claims:
WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:

1. A stack of absorbent sheets, the stack having a top edge, a bottom edge and a pair of opposed side edges, the stack comprising: a plurality of absorbent sheets having a machine direction and a cross-machine direction stacked in facing arrangement; a binding element comprising a compressed region and a first line of stitches, and an uncompressed region, wherein the compressed region has a first thickness (Ti) and the uncompressed region has a second thickness (T2) and wherein Ti is less than T2.

2. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 1 wherein the first line of stitches is disposed along the compressed region. 3. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 1 wherein the first thickness (Ti) is from about

5.0 to about 20 percent of the second thickness (T2).

4. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 1 wherein the first thickness (Ti) is from about 10 to about 15 percent of the second thickness (T2).

5. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 1 where in the stack comprises from 20 to 40 sheets and wherein the first thickness (Ti) is from about 1.0 to about 3.0 mm and the second thickness

(T2) is from about 10 to about 20 mm.

6. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 1 wherein the stack has a width (W) and the binding element has a width substantially equal to the width (W) of the stack.

7. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 1 wherein the length of the binding element is from about 5.0 to about 15.0 percent of the length of the stack.

8. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 1 wherein the area of the binding element is from about 7.0 to about 12 percent of the surface area of the stack.

9. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 1 wherein the absorbent sheets have a basis weight greater than about 10 grams per square meter (gsm), a geometric mean tensile strength (GMT) from about 500 to about 3,500 g/3" and a vertical absorbent capacity greater than about 4.0 g/g.

10. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 1 wherein the plurality of absorbent sheets comprises half-folded or quarter-folded absorbent sheets.

11. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 1 wherein the plurality of absorbent sheets are free from perforations and lines of weakness.

12. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 1 wherein the stack is substantially free from adhesive.

13. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 1 further comprising a backing sheet or strip, wherein the backing sheet or strip has a Taber Stiffness greater than the plurality of absorbent sheets. 14. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 13 further comprising an attachment mechanism disposed on the backing sheet or strip, the attachment mechanism selected from the group consisting of a hook, a hook and loop fastener, a magnet, a pressure sensitive adhesive, a tab, a wire and a string.

15. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 1 wherein the first line of stitches comprises a plurality of lockstitches. 16. A stack of absorbent sheets having a top surface and an opposed bottom surface, the stack comprising: a plurality of absorbent sheets having a machine direction and a cross-machine direction stacked in facing arrangement to form a stack of absorbent sheets, the stack having a top edge and a bottom edge; the stack having a compressed region and an uncompressed region, wherein the compressed region has a first line of stitches disposed thereon to form a binding element, wherein the compressed region has a minimum thickness (Ti) that is less than the thickness of the uncompressed region (T2) and wherein the binding element is substantially free from adhesive and forms at least a portion of the top edge of the stack.

17. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 16 wherein the stack has a width (W) and the binding element is continuous and has a width substantially equal to the width (W) of the stack and wherein the first thickness (Ti) is from about 5.0 to about 20 percent of the second thickness (T2).

18. The stack of absorbent sheets of claim 16 wherein the binding element and the stack have a rectilinear shape.

19. A method of manufacturing a stack of absorbent sheets bound without the use of adhesives or mechanical fasteners comprising the steps of: a. providing a plurality of absorbent sheets;

b. stacking the plurality of absorbent sheets in facing arrangement with one another such that the facings of adjacent sheets in the stack are in direct contact with one another; c. passing a portion of the stack through a nip having a loading force of at least about 10,000 pounds per square inch (psi) to compress a portion of the stack and form a binding element and an adjacent uncompressed region, wherein the binding element has a thickness (Ti) that is less than the thickness of the uncompressed region (T2); and

d. sewing a first line of stitches along the binding element.

20. The method of claim 18 wherein the nip loading force ranges from about 10,000 to about 40,000 psi.

21. The method of claim 18 wherein the nip has a temperature from about 200 to about

300°C. 22. The method of claim 18 wherein Ti is from about 5.0 to about 15.0 percent of T2.

23. The method of claim 18 wherein the stack has a width (W) and the binding element is continuous and has a width substantially equal to the width (W) of the stack and forms at least a portion of the top edge of the stack.

24. The method of claim 18 further comprising the step of cutting the plurality of sheets to size prior to step (b).

25. The method of claim 18 wherein the plurality of sheets are stacked in alignment with one another such that the machine directions of the sheets are aligned with one another.

26. The method of claim 18 wherein the first line of stitches is aligned substantially perpendicular to the machine direction of the sheets. 27. The method of claim 18 further comprising the steps of providing a backing sheet or strip and folding the backing sheet or strip over a first end of the stack.

Description:
ABSORBENT STACK OF SHEETS HAVING COMPRESSED AND SEWN BINDING

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Consumers want easy, convenient and quick access to absorbent sheet products, such as paper towels, toilet tissue, napkins, facial tissue, and the like, for use in their home or work areas. Particularly, consumers want the products available where spills or messes occur, which are often in areas of the home where such products are traditionally kept, such as the kitchen or bathroom. When spills or messes occur in these areas consumers want quick and convenient access to absorbent sheets to clean up messes quickly to avoid damage to surfaces throughout the home. Therefore, there is a need for absorbent sheets, and particularly stacks of absorbent sheets, that may be easily located throughout the home and provide a convenient dispensing format to ensure easy, convenient and quick access to sheets where and when consumers need them.

Not only do consumers desire sheet formats that are easy and convenient to use, they also want formats that are aesthetically pleasing and compliment their home decor. Often to provide the ease and convenience consumer's desire, the sheet products are designed to be left in plain view in the home rather than stored away in cabinets. As such the products must be aesthetically pleasing and function as a home accessory.

Therefore, there is a need in the art for an absorbent sheet product that provides consumers with convenient and easily accessible dispensing when and where the consumer needs such products. Furthermore, there is a need for a dispensing format that functions as a home accessory and compliments the consumer's home decor.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention addresses the consumer's need for a convenient and easily accessible dispenser for absorbent sheets. The present stack is compact, sleek and convenient. Further, the use of compression and sewing to form the binding results in stacks that are easy to manufacture and allows for sheets to be readily dispensed. Moreover, the stack may be mounted in a number of different places, providing the consumer with easy access to absorbent sheets throughout the home. For example, the stack may be laid flat on a horizontal surface, such as a countertop or table, or may be mounted to a vertical surface, such as a wall or cupboard using conventional and readily available mounting hardware such as adhesives or mechanical fasteners. Accordingly, in one embodiment the present invention provides a plurality of absorbent sheets stacked in facing arrangement with one another to form a stack having a bottom edge and a top edge, the stack having a compressed portion adjacent to the top edge, the compressed portion having a thickness that is less than the thickness of the bottom edge of the stack and a first line of stitches disposed along at least a portion of the compressed portion. In particularly preferred embodiments the compressed portion does not comprise an adhesive, but rather the compression of the sheets and the line of stitches act to bind the sheets to one another and form the stack. Thus, in certain preferred embodiments the stack comprises individual sheets stacked in facing arrangement with one another without an adhesive disposed between them.

In other embodiments the line of stitches provides a means of separating individual sheets from the stack. Accordingly, in certain embodiments individual sheets do not need to be provided with a line of perforations or weakness to separate individual sheets from the stack, which simplifies the manufacture of the stack. Further, forming a stack where the sheets are bound to one another by compression and a line of stitches allows a user to use a simple peeling action to dispense a sheet from the stack.

In other embodiments the present invention provides a stack of absorbent sheets having a machine direction and a cross-machine direction stacked in facing arrangement, the stack having a top edge and a bottom edge; a binding element for binding the sheets together disposed adjacent to the top edge of the stack, the binding element having a first thickness and consisting essentially of a compressed portion of the plurality of absorbent sheets and a first line of stitches, wherein the first thickness is less than the thickness of the stack at the bottom edge. In certain instances the first thickness (Ti) may be about 50 percent of the second thickness (T2), such as from about 5.0 to about 50 percent of the second thickness (T2) and more preferably from about 7.0 to about 20 percent of the second thickness (T2), and still more preferably from about 10 to about 15 percent of the second thickness (T2)

In another embodiment the present invention provides a plurality of absorbent sheets having a machine direction and a cross-machine direction stacked in facing arrangement without an adhesive disposed there between to form a stack of absorbent sheets, the stack having a top edge and a bottom edge; the stack having a compressed region and an uncompressed region, wherein the compressed region forms a continuous binding element having a thickness that is less than the thickness of the uncompressed region and a first line of stitches disposed along the continuous binding element.

In yet other embodiments the present invention provides a method of manufacturing a stack of absorbent sheets bound without the use of adhesives comprising the steps of providing a plurality of absorbent sheets; stacking the plurality of absorbent sheets in facing arrangement with one another such that the facings of adjacent sheets in the stack are in direct contact with one another; passing a portion of the stack through a nip loaded with a force of at least about 5,000 pounds per square inch (psi, where 1 psi equals 0.069 bars), such as from about 5,000 to about 40,000 psi and more preferably from about 10,000 to about 30,000 psi, such as from about 15,000 to about 25,000 psi, to compress a portion of the stack and form a binding element and an adjacent uncompressed region, wherein the binding element has a thickness that is less than the thickness of the uncompressed region; and sewing a first line of stitches substantially along the binding element.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a stack of absorbent sheets according to one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a cross-sectional view of the stack of FIG. 1 through line 2-2; FIG. 3 is a cross-sectional view of the stack of FIG. 1 through line 3-3; and

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a stack of absorbent sheets according to another embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PARTICULAR EMBODIMENTS

The invention relates to a stack of absorbent sheets, such as paper towels, toilet tissue, napkins, facial tissue, and the like. The stack generally comprises a plurality of absorbent sheets bound by compressing and sewing the plurality of sheets adjacent to a first edge, such as the top edge. In certain preferred embodiments the compressed portion does not comprise an adhesive, but rather the compression of the sheets and the line of stitches bind the sheets to one another and form the stack. In such embodiments the individual sheets in the stack are generally arranged in facing arrangement with one another without an adhesive disposed between them.

The stack is generally formed from a plurality of absorbent sheets stacked one on top of the other in face-to-face relation with a binding element comprising a compressed portion and a first line of stitches joining a portion of the sheets together. In particularly preferred embodiments the binding element does not comprise an adhesive such that the inwardly oriented face of each sheet in the stack directly contacts the outwardly oriented face of the next adjacent sheet in the stack. The sheets are joined to one another such that the attachment strength is at least about 15 grams, more preferably at least about 25 g, and still more preferably at least about 40 g, such as from about 15 to about 100 g and more preferably from about 40 to about 60 g. In this manner the stacks of absorbent sheets have attachment strengths comparable or greater stacks joined using adhesive. As used herein, the term "attachment strength" refers to the peak force, typically having units of grams (g), necessary to separate an absorbent sheet from the stack. Attachment strength is measured according to Standard Test Method (STM) 00317, which measures the Kinetic peak force required to separate a sheet from the stack.

The absorbent sheets are preferably fibrous sheet material. In a particularly preferred embodiment the sheets comprise a cellulosic fibrous material, such as wood pulp, cotton linters, or the like. However in other embodiments the sheets may comprise synthetic fibers, such as polyolefin or polyester fibers. In still other embodiments the sheets may comprise a mixture of cellulosic and synthetic fibers. In certain instances the absorbent sheets may comprise wet laid tissue products such as bath tissue, facial tissue, paper towels, napkins, or the like. In other instances the absorbent sheets may comprise nonwoven materials formed from synthetic fibers or blends of synthetic and cellulosic fibers with similar properties to those of wet laid tissue products formed from cellulosic fibers. In certain embodiments the absorbent sheets may comprise nonwoven airlaid sheets comprising synthetic fibers, binders, wet strength agents, and the like.

Further, while in certain instances, such as those illustrated in the present figures, the stack may be formed from absorbent sheets comprising a single ply, it is to be understood that the present disclosure is not so limited and the absorbent sheet may comprise two or more plies, such as two, three or four plies. The plies may consist substantially of the same fibrous material, or they may be different. For example, in one embodiment all of the plies comprise wood pulp fibers. In another embodiment one ply comprises synthetic fibers and another ply comprises wood pulp fibers.

The absorbent sheet material may be folded or unfolded. In certain embodiments the individual sheets within the stack may be folded to form a folded sheet having multi-layers. Upon removal of an individual sheet from the stack it may be unfolded to yield a single absorbent sheet having a surface area greater than the surface area of the stack. Accordingly, individual absorbent sheets within a stack, in an embodiment, may be in a folded configuration such as half-folds or quarter-folds of the sheets. For example, a sheet having a half-fold configuration may have four different edges, a first end and a second end, opposite the first end. A binding element is disposed along the first end to enable the sheets to be removed individually from the stack. Other folding configurations may also be useful herein, for example, Z-foids, or C-folds.

Further, it should be understood that the sheets and the resulting stack may fake any number of different shapes and that while it may be desirable for two or more edges of sheets to be parallel with one another, the invention is not so limited. Additionally the size of individual sheets and the number of sheets in the stack corresponds to the number of usable units desired in the finished tissue product.

In particularly preferred embodiments the stacks comprise absorbent sheet material having a basis weight greater than about 10 grams per square meter (gsm, measured using TAPPI test method T-220) such as from about 10 to about 100 gsm and more preferably from about 15 to about 70 gsm. in other embodiments the sheets may have a caliper (measured in accordance with TAPPI test method T402 using an EMVECO 200-A Microgage automated micrometer (EMVECO, Inc., Newberg, OR)) greater than about 200 pm, such as from about 200 to about 2,000 pm. Further, the absorbent sheet material may have a specific absorbency greater than about 2.0 g/g, such as from about 2.0 to about 15.0 g/g and more preferably from about 5.0 to about 10.0 g/g. As used herein, the term "specific absorbency" generally refers to the amount of water absorbed by a paper product (single ply or multiply) or a sheet, expressed as grams of water absorbed per gram of fiber (dry weight) and is measured as described in US Patent No. 8,753,751 , the contents of which are incorporated by reference in a manner consistent with the present disclosure.

In other embodiments the absorbent sheets have a dry geometric mean tensile strength (measured in accordance with TAPPI test method T-494 om-01) greater than about 500 g/3", and more preferably greater than about 750 g/3" and still more preferably greater than about 1 ,000 g/3", such as from about 500 to about 3,500 g/3" and more preferably from about 1 ,000 to about 2,500 g/3". In this manner the absorbent sheets have sufficient tensile strength to withstand the force necessary to detach individual sheets from the stack.

In certain preferred embodiments the absorbent sheets comprise a wet laid tissue product that has been manufactured by through-air drying, such as tissue products disclosed in US Patent No. 4,529,480. In other embodiments the absorbent sheets comprise a wet laid tissue product that has been manufactured by through-air drying and without creping, such as tissue products disclosed in US Patent No. 8,753,751. The through-air dried absorbent sheets may be embossed and may comprise, one or more plies, such as one, two or three plies.

In other embodiments the absorbent sheets may comprise wet laid tissue products having at least one surface that has been treated with a binder, such as tissue products disclosed in US Patent No. 7,462,258. Suitable binders include, without limitation, latex binder materials such as acrylates, vinyl acetates, vinyl chlorides and methacrylates, and the like. The binders may be created or blended with any suitable cross-linker, such as N-Methylolacrylamide (NMA), or may be free of cross-linkers. Particular examples of latex binder materials that can be used in the present invention include AIRFLEX® EN1165 available from Air Products Inc. or ELITE® PE BINDER available from National Starch. Other suitable binders include, without limitation, carboxylated ethylene vinyl acetate terpolymer; acrylics; polyvinyl chloride; styrene-butadiene; polyurethanes; silicone materials, such as curable silicone resins, organoreactive polysiloxanes and other derivatives of polydimethylsiloxane; fluoropolymers, such as tetrafluoroethylene; hydrophobic coacervates or complexes of anionic and cationic polymers, such as complexes of polyvinylamines and polycarboxylic acids; polyolefins and emulsions or compounds thereof; and many other film-forming compounds known in the art, as well as modified versions of the foregoing materials. The binder materials can be substantially latex-free or substantially natural latex-free in some embodiments. In those embodiments where the absorbent sheets comprise a binder it may be preferable that the binder is discontinuous in the sense that it is not a solid film in order to allow liquid or moisture to penetrate into the sheet. It can be present in the form of a regularly or irregularly spaced-apart pattern of uniform or non-uniform deposits, such as provided by printing or a thinly-applied spray, for example. In one particular embodiment, the deposits can have a diameter of about 0.02 inch (0.51 mm) and can be present in the pattern so that deposits extend in both the machine direction and the cross-machine direction.

For each of the two outer surfaces of the absorbent sheet, the percent surface area coverage of the binder, as projected in a plan view of the surface, can be from about 10 to about 70 percent, more specifically from about 10 to about 60 percent, more specifically from about 15 to about 60 percent, more specifically from about 20 to about 60 percent, and still more specifically from about 25 to about 50 percent. The surface area coverage of each outer surface can be the same or different. As used herein, "surface area coverage" refers to the percent of the total area covered by the binder when measuring at least 6 square inches (38.7 square centimeters) of the sheet surface.

Regardless of the percent surface area coverage of the binder, the binder is not preferentially disposed on any single surface region of the sheet. Rather, the binder is generally disposed throughout the surface area of the sheet such that when the sheets are bound to one another the portion of the sheet in the compressed region and the portion of the sheet in the uncompressed region both comprise binder and more preferably comprise substantially the same amount of binder. For example, the binder may be disposed on the sheet surface in a continuous or semi-continuous pattern such that the percent surface area coverage of the binder, as projected in a plan view of the surface, can be from about 10 to about 70 percent, in both the sheet surface area that is compressed and uncompressed.

The total add-on amount of the binder, based on the weight of the product, can be about 2 weight percent or more, more specifically from about 2 to about 20 dry weight percent, more specifically from about 4 to about 9 dry weight percent, still more specifically from about 5 to about 8 dry weight percent. The add-on amount can be affected by the desired surface area coverage and the penetration depth of the deposits. The add-on amount applied to each outer surface of the product can be the same or different. Regardless of the particular construction of the absorbent sheet materials, in certain preferred embodiments the stack is formed without the addition of adhesives. As such, in a preferred embodiment, each sheet in the stack has a front and back surface having a substantially similar composition from its top edge to its bottom edge and from its first side edge to its second side edge. In this manner there is no material selectively disposed on only a portion of the sheet surface such that when two facing surfaces of sheets are stacked and arranged they are attached to one another. Rather than rely upon adhesives to bind the sheets, the intrinsic properties of the absorbent sheet are combined with pressure to form the compressed region, which is stitched to form the binding element. For example, in one embodiment a plurality of absorbent sheets comprising a wet laid cellulosic tissue product having a specific absorbency greater than about 2.0 g/g, and more preferably greater than about 4.0 g/g, and a basis weight from about 10 to about 60 gsm are cut to size, stacked in facing arrangement and bound together by applying pressure to a portion of the stacked sheets to form a binding element and attach the sheets to one another and then the compressed stack is sewn to provide a first line of stitches. The binding element, which is preferably free from adhesives, has a thickness less than the unbound portion of the stack, but is otherwise substantially similar in composition. These and other embodiments will now be discussed in more detail with reference to the figures.

Generally, in one embodiment of the present invention, such as that illustrated in FIG. 1 , the stack 10 comprises a plurality of individual absorbent sheets 12 with a top most sheet 14 and a back sheet 16 forming the front 26 and back 28 of the stack respectively. The stack 10 has a top edge 20, a bottom edge 22 and a pair of opposed side edges 23, 25. The distance between the top and bottom edges 20, 22 generally defines the stack length (L) and the distance between the pair of opposed side edges 23, 25 defines a stack width (W). The stack 10 further comprises a compressed portion 30 and a first line of stitches 33 forming a binding element 31 , which is disposed adjacent to the top edge 20. The binding element 31 has a width that is substantially equal to the width (W) of the stack and a length (h) that is a fraction of the stack length (L). In addition to the compressed portion 30, the stack 10 comprises an uncompressed portion 32, a width that is substantially equal to the width (W) of the stack and length (I2) that is a fraction of the stack length (L).

The individual sheets 12 are bound together by compression to form a compressed portion 30 having a thickness (Ti) that is generally less than the thickness (T2) of the uncompressed portion 32, as shown in FIGS. 2 and 3. In this manner the stack 10 comprises compressed portion 30 that binds the sheets together and with the first line of stitches 33 forms a binding element 31. The binding element 31 binds the sheets 12 together and maintains the integrity of the stack 10. In certain embodiments, the binding element is substantially free from adhesives and is sufficiently strong to bind and retain the sheets. As such, in a preferred embodiment, individual sheets within the stack are stacked in facing arrangement without an adhesive disposed there between. Further, it is generally preferred that no adhesive is applied to any edge of the stack, such as the top edge or one or more side edges. In still other embodiments, the attachments of sheets created by compression and stitching is sufficiently strong so as not to require any other form of mechanical attachment, such as rivets, staples, pins, screws, wire, and the like.

With continued reference to FIG. 1 , the stack 10 generally has a compressed portion 30 and an uncompressed portion 32, where the compressed portion 30 and the first line of stitches 33 forms the binding element 31 having a first thickness (Ti) that is less than the second thickness (T 2 ) of the unbound portion 32 (shown in detail in FIGS. 2 and 3). In certain instances the first thickness (Ti) may be about 50 percent of the second thickness (T2), such as from about 5.0 to about 50 percent of the second thickness (T2) and more preferably from about 7.0 to about 20 percent of the second thickness (T2), and still more preferably from about 10 to about 15 percent of the second thickness (T2). For example, in certain embodiments the stack may comprise about 30 absorbent sheets stacked in facing arrangement with one another and the first thickness (Ti) may be from about 1.0 to about 3.0 mm, such as from about 1.50 to about 2.00 mm and more preferably from about 1.70 to about 1.90 mm and the second thickness (T2) may be from about 10.0 to about 30.0 mm, such as from about 12.0 to about 25.0 mm and more preferably from about 14.0 to about 20.0 mm.

It is generally preferred that at least one edge of the stack is unbound and more preferably at least two edges and still more preferably at least three edges are unbound. In this manner the user may readily grasp an unbound edge and dispense the upper most sheet from the stack. For example, with reference to FIG. 1 , the bottom edge 22 and portion of the opposed side edges 23, 25 are unbound and have a relatively uniform thickness (T2) that is less than the thickness (Ti) of the bound portion 30.

As illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 2 the compressed portion 30 extends across the width (W) of the stack 10 and has a relatively uniform thickness (Ti) across its width. Further, the compressed portion 30 is continuous and oriented substantially parallel to the first and second ends 20, 22. In this manner the width of the binding element 31 is substantially equal to the width (W) of the stack 10. While the binding element is illustrated as being oriented longitudinally and parallel to the top and bottom edges of the stack, the element itself may comprise any desired geometry and may be either continuous or discontinuous.

As used herein "continuous," when referring to a binding element, generally means that along the binding element's width dimension its thickness is less than the thickness of the uncompressed portion of the stack. A binding element or compressed portion may be continuous despite slight variations in thickness so long as the thickness of the element does not equal or exceed the thickness of the uncompressed portion of the stack along its width. For example, as illustrated in FIG. 4, the binding element 31 may be referred to as being continuous as the thickness along its width dimension is less than the thickness (T 2 ) of the unbound portion 32 throughout the width (W) dimension of the stack 10. In other embodiments the binding element may be discontinuous. As used herein the term

"discontinuous," when referring to a binding element, generally means that along the width dimension of the binding element its thickness equals or exceeds the thickness of the uncompressed portion of the stack. In certain embodiments a discontinuous binding element may comprise a plurality of discrete compressed areas having a first thickness separated from one another by uncompressed areas having a thickness which is generally equally to the thickness of the uncompressed region of the stack.

With continued reference to FIG. 1, the compressed portion 30 forming the binding element 31 is disposed immediately adjacent to the top edge 20 of the stack 10 and its length (h) is only a small fraction, such as from 5 to about 15 percent, and more preferably from about 7 to about 12 percent, of the length (l 2 ) of the uncompressed portion 32. The dimensions and placement of the compressed portion and the resulting binding element however, may vary. Further, the binding element may be continuous or discontinuous. For example, in certain embodiments, the binding element may be formed from a continuous compressed portion having a substantially uniform thickness across the width dimension the stack and be disposed a distance away from the top edge of the stack so as to provide an unbound portion both above and below the binding element. In other embodiments the binding element may be continuous, but may comprise discrete, discontinuous compressed portions so as to provide the binding element with two or more thicknesses. In still other embodiments the binding element may be discontinuous.

The thickness of the stack, whether in the compressed or uncompressed regions, may be measured using a conventional digital caliper, such as a Mitutoyo Absolute Digimatic Caliper Series 500 (commercially available from Mitutoyo America Corporation, Aurora, I L). The thickness of the stack may be measured according to the caliper manufacturer's instructions taking care to measure the thickness of the uncompressed region at least 20 mm away from any edge of the stack and at least 10 cm away from the compressed region. Generally the thickness is the average of five measurements and each measurement is taken at regular intervals across the entire width of the stack, preferably in a line that is at a right angle to the machine-direction of the absorbent sheets in the stack.

In addition to a compressed portion, the binding element also comprises at least one line of stitches, where the single line of stitches may employ one thread, two threads or three or more threads. Various stitches useful in binding the stack of absorbent sheets will be discussed in more detail below. The stitches may be construed using well known sewing techniques which typically employ a needle and thread to form a line of needle holes through which thread or yarn is threaded to bind the stack of sheet material.

Binding the stack by sewing typically results in the stack having at least one line of stitches comprising a continuous series of holes with thread disposed there between. For example, with reference to FIG. 1 , the stack of absorbent sheet material 10 comprises a plurality of individual sheets 12 stacked in facing arrangement with one another. The stack 10 has a top edge 20 and a bottom edge 22. The stack is bound proximate to the top edge 20 by a binding element 31 that includes a compressed portion 30 and a first line of stitches 33. The first line of stitching 33 comprises a continuous line of spaced apart stitch holes 35 with a first thread 38a disposed there between. Generally the first line of stitching 33 comprises a portion of the binding element 31 and is disposed along the compressed portion 30 of the stack 10.

In addition to binding the stack of sheets together, the line of stitches may also provide a means for separating individual sheets from the stack and as such, in certain embodiments, the binding element may be substantially free from perforations or lines of weakness. In other embodiments the stack may be substantially free from perforations or lines of weakness disposed adjacent to, and parallel to, the binding element.

While in certain embodiments it may not be necessary to provide individual sheets with perforations or lines of weakness to allow a user to remove a sheet from the stack, in other embodiments it may be desirable to provide the sheets with perforations or lines of weakness so that a user may only remove a portion of the sheet from the stack. For example, in one embodiment, the stack of absorbent sheets may comprise a binding element having a compressed portion and a first line of stitches wherein individual sheets comprise a line of perforations wherein the perforations bisect the sheet in either the machine or cross-machine direction. In such embodiments it may be preferable to place the line of perforations away from the binding element and in a position such that the sheet is divided in two substantially equal halves by the line of perforations.

The sewing or stitching thread used to bind stacks of absorbent sheet material may comprise monofilament thread, or multi-filament thread. The thread weight may be based on the material properties of the sheets being bound, such as caliper, fiber compositions, tensile strength or the like. The thread weight may range from about 20 to about 120 weight. The thread may comprise a denier of from about 1 to about 2000 denier, such as from about 10 to about 1500 denier, and more preferably from about 100 to about 1000 denier and still more preferably from about 150 to about 500 denier. The thread may comprise plied or twisted threads (e.g., z twist or s twist). The thread material may comprise a natural fiber, such as cotton, wool, silk, or other natural material, or may comprise a synthetic fiber such as polyester, nylon, polypropylene, rayon, or other synthetic material. The thread may comprise a continuous filament. The thread may comprise a monofilament. The thread may comprise a staple filament. The thread material may comprise a metal. The thread may comprise a wire, for example, a polymeric wire, or composite wire. The thread material preferably is biocompatible and, in some aspects, is resorbable. The thread material may comprise a polydioxanone, polycarbonate, polyurethane, poly(alpha-ester), polyglycolide, polylactide (e.g., poly(L-lactic acid), poly(D-lactic acid), and poly(D,L-lactic acid), poly (4-hydroxybutyric acid)— which is a homopolymer of 4-hydroxybutyrate (4HB), and belongs to a diverse class of materials called polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs)— and poly(lactide-co-glycolide)), polycaprolactone, polypropylene, polyester, polypropylene fumarate), polyanhydride, polyacetal, polycarbonate (e.g., poly(trimethylene carbonate)), poly(ortho ester), polyphosphazene, polyphosphoester, polytetrafluoroethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, or any combination or co-polymer thereof. Polypropylene, polyester, and polyethylene are preferred, with monofilament polyethylene more preferred. In those embodiments where more than one thread is used to bind the stack, the threads preferably have similar properties.

The number of stitches per unit length, that is, the number of the surface thread parts of the first and/or the second stitching thread parts per unit length in each of the lines, can optionally be selected depending on the kind and the material of the absorbent sheets to be stacked and dispensed, the density and the thickness of the sheets or the resulting stack, the material and the diameter of the stitching thread, as well as the diameter of the stitching needle. Similarly the number of stitches per unit surface area, that is, the number of the surface thread parts of the first and/or the second stitching thread parts per unit surface area of the bound sheet, may be varied. For example, the number of stitches per unit length may range from about 10 to about 30 stitches per 10 cm, such as from about 15 to about 20 stitches per 10 cm. In certain embodiments the stiches may have a length from about 2.0 to about 8.0 mm, and more preferably from about 4.0 to about 6.0 mm. In other instances the bound area of the stack may range from about 20 to about 60 cm 2 , such as from about 30 to about 40 cm 2 and the area may comprise from about 10 to about 40 stitches, such as from about 15 to about 25.

The sewn binding may be carried out by any means usually employed for the stitching of cloths such as single lockstitch, chain stitch, loop stitch, or the like, in a preferred embodiment, the stitching is carried out by a single line lockstitch. An exemplary line of lockstitches 33 is illustrated in FIG. 2 and generally comprises two separate threads - an upper thread 38a and lower thread 38b - that are intertwined by the coordination of the sewing needle, which delivers the upper thread 38a into the stack of sheets 12 being sewn, and a secondary mechanism, typically a bobbin and bobbin driver, which provides the lower thread 38b. The sewing needle forms the stitch holes 35a-35c and threads the upper thread 38a there through. The coordinated movement of the sewing needle and bobbin driver intertwines the upper 38a and lower 38b threads to form the lockstitch 33. In those embodiments where the binding comprises a lockstitch, the lockstitch may fake any of the well-known geometries such as straight zigzag, blind, or the like. Formation of such geometries is well known in the art and may be controlled by the presence or absence of sideways movements of the machine's needle, and backwards movements of the machine's feed dogs.

In other embodiments the stack of absorbent sheets may be bound by a chain stitch or a loop stitch. Where the stack is bound using a loop stitch the method may also comprise a further step of securing adjacent stitching thread parts produced at the stitching step by means of binding or by adhesives so that at least one stitch formed by stitching may form an independent closed loop.

With reference now to FIG. 4, in addition to a compressed portion 30 and a first line of stitches 33 the binding element 31 may further comprise a backing sheet 40 having a portion that is bent over the top edge 20 of the stack 10 to form a top end 42 and facing 43. The backing sheet may be formed from a material having a stiffness greater than that of the absorbent sheets, such as cardboard or the like. The stiffness of a material may be measured using a Taber stiffness test described in ASTM standard D5650-97. As used herein Taber Stiffness and Taber Stiffness Units are generally reported as the MD measurement of a sample and are reported without reference to units. For example, the Taber Stiffness of the backing sheet or strip may be about 2 times greater, such as from about 2 to about 20 times greater, than the Taber Stiffness of the absorbent sheet material. In particularly preferred embodiments the backing sheet or strip and the absorbent sheet material not only differ in Taber Stiffness, but are formed from different materials. For example, in one embodiment the backing sheet or strip is formed from paperboard and has a machine-direction (MD) stiffness (measured as Taber Stiffness Units) greater than about 200 cm*gf and more preferably greater than about 250 cm*gf and the absorbent sheet is a cellulosic towel having a machine-direction (MD) stiffness (measured as Taber Stiffness Units) less than about 5.0 and more preferably less than about 3.0.

With continued reference to FIG. 4, the backing sheet 40 comprises a folded over portion 43 that extends around and over the top edge 20 to form a bound top edge 42 and a facing 43 that contacts the top most sheet 14 of the stack 10. In this manner the binding element 31 comprises the compressed portion 30, the line of stitches 33 and the folded over back sheet 40. As illustrated in FIG. 4, the line of stitches 25 are disposed such that the stitch holes 35 and thread 38a, 38b do not contact the folded over portion 43 of the back sheet 40, however the invention is not so limited. In other embodiments the line of stitches may be disposed on the folded over portion. In still other embodiments the stitches are not disposed on the folded over portion, but extend through the back sheet.

While in certain embodiments it may be preferred to bind the sheets with only compression and stitching, and not use other forms of attachment such as adhesive or mechanical attachment. In those embodiments where a backing sheet is folded over to partially envelop the sheets, an adhesive may be provided between the folded over backing sheet or strip and the absorbent sheets. Alternately, a backing sheet may be provided, but not folded over the sheets so as to provide rigidity to the stack. In such embodiments the backing sheet may be adhesively attached to the bottom most sheet in the stack or may be bound along with the stack using stitching as described herein. In still other embodiments the binding may comprise a strip rather than a back sheet. The strip generally does not extend along the back portion of the stack, but rather is disposed along the top edge and may be folded over to extend along a portion of the front of the stack.

In certain embodiments the backing sheet or strip may comprise a means for mounting the stack of absorbent sheets to a surface, in other embodiments a holder may be provided which may be made of metal, plastic or other suitable material and shaped to receive the bound edge of the stack to retain and hold the stack. The shape of the holder may be in the form of a flattened slotted tube or channel member open at least on one end to receive the bound edge of the stack. The holder may provide a means for fastening the holder to a vertical surface. When mounting the stack, the holder is fastened on a wall, or the like, and the pad is engaged therewith by inserting one end of the bound edge into the channel.

To manufacture a bound stack of absorbent sheets according to the present invention, a plurality of sheets are cut to size and stacked in facing arrangement. In a particularly preferred embodiment the sheets are stacked in alignment with one another, that is that the machine directions of the sheets are aligned with one another and more preferably are aligned such that subsequent stitching is substantially perpendicular to the machine direction of the sheet. The bonding of the sheets to one another to form the binding element and join the sheets into a stack may be carried out using thermal fusion bonding. The bonding may be done in a continuous fashion throughout one dimension of the stack of sheets or may be discrete so as to create discrete bonded areas. Regardless of whether the binding element is continuous or discontinuous or comprises continuous or discontinuous compressed areas, if may be advantageous to maintain the bound area as low as possible to provide adequate stack stability and sheet joining, but permit a user to easily remove single sheets from the stack. For example, it may be preferable that the area of the binding element be less than about 15 percent of the total surface area of the stack, and more preferably less than about 10 percent of the total surface area of the stack, in certain embodiments the sheets may have a width of about 18 to about 24 cm and the binding element may have an area from about 20 to about 60 cm 2 , such as from about 30 to about 40 cm 2 .

The pressure applied to the nip and form the binding element is generally greater than about 5,000 pounds per square inch (about 345 bars), such as from about 5,000 to about 40,000 psi (about 345 to about 2750 bars) and more preferably from about 10,000 to about 30,000 psi, such as from about 15,000 to about 25,000 psi. The pressure generally refers to the pressure applied to the nip. The actual pressure per unit area in the nip will depend upon the force applied to the nip elements, such as the rolls forming a nip, the surface area of the nip, which may be affected by the diameter of the rolls forming a nip, and the properties, particularly hardness, of the materials forming the nip elements. In addition to pressure, heat may be used to facilitate formation of the binding area. The nip used to apply pressure and form the binding element may be heated or the stack of sheets themselves may be heated. For example, the nip can be heated to a temperature greater than about 200°C, such as from about 200 to about 300°G and more preferably from about 220 to about 260°C. In other embodiments the sheets can be preheated prior to entering the nip. In such an embodiment, the sheet can be guided around a heated roll to heat the sheets to a temperature of between about 180 to about 250 S C.

In certain embodiments the process of forming the stack may comprise passing the stack of sheets between a rotating patterned element having a single pattern roll or a series of patterns disposed thereon and an anvil. The anvil element may be a smooth anvil roll. Desirably, the pattern roil(s) and the anvil roil are hardened-metal roils. The rotating elements have a substantially continuous uniform area of localized surface contact which produces a compressed area on the stack of absorbent sheets that may range from about 5 to about 20 percent of the total surface area stack and more preferably from about 8 to about 12 percent.

According to one aspect of the process a pressure load is applied against the rotating elements so that the load on the plies of fibrous ceilulosic material between the elements. The amount of pressure applied to the rotating elements may be greater than about 5,000 psi, and more preferably greater than about 10,000 psi, such as from about 5,000 to about 40,000 psi and more preferably from about 10,000 to about 25,000 psi. Further, the one or more of the rotating elements may be heated such that they surface temperature is greater than about 200°C and more preferably greater than about 220 S C, such as from about 200 to about 300°C. Under the pressure, and optionally heat, developed by the binding apparatus the fibers in the compressed areas may become entangled, hydrogen bonded or glassined to join facing sheets to one another. Any desired pattern may be used to enhance the appearance of the binding element and to achieve the desire sheet adhesion. In certain embodiments a portion of the sheets or the stack may be wetted, such as by the addition of water, to facilitate the formation of the binding element. Accordingly, in another aspect of the process, the sheets may be wetted so as to have a moisture content of at least about 2.0 percent, by weight. For example, at least a portion of the sheet within the stack may have a moisture content of from about 2.0 to about 10 percent, by weight.

Optionally, a wetting agent, such as a surfactant, may be added to the water to improve wetting of the sheet and formation of the binding element. The surfactant may be an ionic surfactant, i.e. a cationic or anionic surfactant or a mixture of both, or a nonionic surfactant or a mixture thereof with either a cationic or anionic surfactant In a particularly preferred embodiment the surfactant is an alkyi ethoxylates comprising from about 9 to about 12 carbon atoms in the hydrophobic tail, and from about 4 to about 9 ethylene oxide units in the hydrophilic head group.

After the stack is compressed to form a compressed portion a line of stitching is provided along the compressed portion. The stitches may be applied using any of the well-known sewing techniques. For example, a sewing needle may be provided with a first thread and displaced in the vertical direction by a drive means. After engaging the thread on the top end, the needle is moved towards and through the stack of sheets creating a stitching hole and threading the thread through the hole. The shape and size of the stitch hole generally corresponds to the shape and size of the needle. As the needle and top thread are lowered through the stack they enter the bobbin area where a rotating hook catches the top thread at the point just after it goes through the needle. The hook mechanism carries the top thread entirely around the bobbin, so that it has made one wrap of the lower thread (also referred to as the bobbin thread). Then the fake-up arm pulls the excess top thread (from the bobbin area) back towards the top surface, forming the lockstitch. The stack is then advanced one stitch length, and the cycle repeats. Care may be taken to form a balanced lockstitch when forming the first line of stitches such that the top and bottom threads cross one another at a point that is approximately at the midpoint (M) of the z-directional height (H) of the stack of absorbent sheets.

While the inventive stacks of absorbent sheets have been described in detail with respect to the specific embodiments thereof, it will be appreciated that those skilled in the art, upon attaining an understanding of the foregoing, may readily conceive of alterations to, variations of, and equivalents to these embodiments. Accordingly, the scope of the present invention should be assessed as that of the appended claims and any equivalents thereto and the foregoing embodiments:

In a first embodiment the present invention provides a stack of absorbent sheets comprising a plurality of absorbent sheets having a machine direction and a cross-machine direction stacked in facing arrangement to form a stack of absorbent sheets, the stack having a top edge and a bottom edge; the stack having a binding element comprising a compressed region having a first thickness (Ti) and a first line of stitches, and an uncompressed region having a second thickness (T2), wherein Ti is less than T2.

In a second embodiment the present invention provides the stack of absorbent sheets of the first embodiment wherein the absorbent sheets have a basis weight greater than about 10 grams per square meter (gsm), a geometric mean tensile strength (GMT) from about 500 to about 3,500 g/3" and a vertical absorbent capacity greater than about 4.0 g/g.

In a third embodiment the present invention provides the stack of absorbent sheets of the first or the second embodiments wherein the plurality of absorbent sheets comprises half-folded or quarter- folded absorbent sheets. In a fourth embodiment the present invention provides the stack of absorbent sheets of any one of the first through the third embodiments wherein the binding element is disposed immediately adjacent to the top edge of the stack.

In a fifth embodiment the present invention provides the stack of absorbent sheets of any one of the first through fourth embodiments wherein the width of the binding element and the width of the stack are substantially equal.

In a sixth embodiment the present invention provides the stack of absorbent sheets of the fifth embodiment wherein the length of the binding element is from about 5.0 to about 15.0 percent of the length of the stack.

In a seventh embodiment the present invention provides the stack of absorbent sheets of any one of the first through the sixth embodiments further comprising a backing sheet or strip, wherein the backing sheet or strip has a Taber Stiffness greater than the plurality of absorbent sheets.

In an eighth embodiment the present invention provides the stack of absorbent sheets of any one of the first through the seventh embodiments wherein the stack is substantially free from adhesive.

In a ninth embodiment the present invention provides the stack of absorbent sheets of any one of the first through the eighth embodiments wherein the area of the binding element is from about 5.0 to about 10.0 percent of the surface area of the stack.

In a tenth embodiment the present invention provides the stack of absorbent sheets of any one of the first through the ninth embodiments wherein the first line of stitches comprises a chain stitch, a loop stitch, a lock stitch, an overlock stitch, or a lockstitch. In an eleventh embodiment the present invention provides the stack of absorbent sheets of any one of the first through the tenth embodiments wherein the plurality of absorbent sheets are free from perforations and lines of weakness.

In a twelfth embodiment the present invention provides the stack of absorbent sheets of any one of the first through the eleventh embodiments wherein the first thickness (Ti) is from about 5 to about 20 percent of the second thickness (T2).

In a thirteenth embodiment the present invention provides the stack of absorbent sheets of any one of the first through the twelfth embodiments wherein the stack comprises about 30 absorbent sheets and the first thickness (Ti) is from about 1 .0 to about 3.0 mm and the second thickness (T 2 ) is from about 10.0 to about 25.0 mm.

In a fourteenth embodiment the present invention provides a method of manufacturing a stack of absorbent sheets bound without the use of adhesives or mechanical fasteners comprising the steps of providing a plurality of absorbent sheets; stacking the plurality of absorbent sheets in facing arrangement with one another such the facings of adjacent sheets in the stack are in direct contact with one another; passing a portion of the stack through a nip loaded with a pressure of at least about 10,000 psi to compress a portion of the stack and form a binding element and an adjacent uncompressed region, wherein the binding element has a thickness (T1 ) that is less than the thickness of the uncompressed region (T2); and sewing a first line of stitches along the binding element.

In a fifteenth embodiment the present invention provides the method of the fourteenth embodiment wherein the plurality of absorbent sheets comprise a wet-laid tissue web that has been printed with a binder and then creped.

In a sixteenth embodiment the present invention provides the method of the fourteenth or fifteenth embodiments wherein the plurality of absorbent sheets have a basis weight greater than about 10 grams per square meter (gsm), a geometric mean tensile strength (GMT) from about 500 to about 3,500 g/3" and a vertical absorbent capacity greater than about 4.0 g/g.