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Title:
COMPOSITE MATERIAL AND METHOD FOR MAKING SAME
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2017/214522
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A composite material includes a nonwoven layer having a plurality of fibers and a polymer film layer with a plurality of extended cells. Each of the extended cells are contemplated to include continuous sidewalls extending away from the nonwoven layer. At least one of the fibers extends into one or more of the extended cells.

Inventors:
MASCHINO, Andrew D. (3224 N 2025th St, Paris, Illinois, 61944, US)
FISHER, Michael Estel (4240 W. 900 S. Rd, Rosedale, Indiana, 47874, US)
RENNER, John Richard (815 Chestnut Street, Marshall, Illinois, 62441, US)
SKOCHDOPOLE, Todd R. (4501 Starlee Drive, Moseley, Virginia, 23120, US)
Application Number:
US2017/036784
Publication Date:
December 14, 2017
Filing Date:
June 09, 2017
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
TREDEGAR FILM PRODUCTS CORPORATION (1100 Boulders Parkway, Suite 200Richmond, Virginia, 23225, US)
International Classes:
D04H3/016; B82Y30/00
Domestic Patent References:
WO2009112956A22009-09-17
Foreign References:
US20110223388A12011-09-15
US6514889B12003-02-04
US4609518A1986-09-02
US6242074B12001-06-05
US4629643A1986-12-16
US4758297A1988-07-19
Other References:
See also references of EP 3469127A4
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
KARCESKI, Jeffrey D. (Karceski IP Law, PLLC1717 K Street, NW, Suite 90, Washington District of Columbia, 20006, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:

1 . A composite material comprising:

a nonwoven layer comprising a plurality of fibers; and

a polymer film layer comprising a plurality of extended cells, each of the extended cells having continuous sidewalls extending away from the nonwoven layer, wherein at least one of the fibers extends into one or more of the extended cells.

2. The composite material according to claim 1 , wherein at least one of the extended cells comprises an aperture at a distal end thereof.

3. The composite material of claim 2, wherein a portion of the at least one of the fibers extends through the aperture.

4. The composite material according to claim 1 , wherein the extended cells have a mesh count of between about 3 cells per linear inch and about 120 cells per linear inch.

5. The composite material according to claim 1 , wherein the extended cells are micro-cells having a mesh count of between about 40 cells per linear inch and about 120 cells per linear inch.

6. The composite material according to claim 5, further comprising a plurality of apertures having a mesh count of less than about 40 cells per linear inch.

7. The composite material according to claim 6, wherein the apertures have a mesh count of between about 3 cells per linear inch and about 25 cells per linear inch.

8. The composite material according to claim 1 , further comprising a plurality of apertures extending through the composite material.

9. The composite material according to claim 1 , further comprising an embossed three-dimensional pattern.

10. The composite material according to claim 1 , wherein the nonwoven layer comprises a surfactant.

1 1 . The composite material according to claim 10, wherein the fibers comprise the surfactant.

12. A method for manufacturing a composite material, the method comprising: forming a composite precursor material comprising a nonwoven layer comprising a plurality of fibers, and a polymer film layer;

forming a plurality of extended cells in the polymer film layer, each of the extended cells having a continuous sidewall extending away from the nonwoven layer; and

pushing at least one of the fibers into at least one of the extended cells, while forming the extended cells, with a fluid.

13. The method according to claim 12, wherein forming the composite precursor material comprises passing a nonwoven web through low pressure nip rolls while a molten polymer film is simultaneously extruded into the nip to form the polymer film layer on the nonwoven web.

14. The method according to claim 12, wherein the fluid is a liquid.

15. The method according to claim 14, wherein forming the extended cells in the polymer film layer and pushing the at least one of the fibers into the at least one of the extended cells comprises contacting the polymer film layer with a forming structure comprising a pattern of apertures as a plurality of pressurized liquid jets are applied onto the nonwoven layer while the composite precursor material passes over the forming structure and a vacuum slot area located beneath the forming structure.

16. The method according to claim 12, further comprising forming a plurality of apertures in a pattern having a mesh count of less than 40 cells per linear inch, after pushing the at least one of the fibers into the at least one of the apertures.

17. The method according to claim 12, further comprising aperturing the composite material.

18. The method according to claim 17, wherein the apertures are formed by passing the composite material through a nip between a pin roll having a pattern of pins protruding from a surface thereof and a counter roll having a matching pattern of cavities recessed in a surface thereof while the pin roll and the counter roll rotate in opposite directions.

19. The method according to claim 12, further comprising passing the

composite material through a nip between an embossing roll having a three-dimensional pattern on an outer surface thereof and a counter roll while the embossing roll and the counter roll rotate in opposite directions to form the three-dimensional pattern in the composite material.

20. The method according to claim 12, further comprising aperturing the composite material by contacting the composite material with a forming structure comprising a pattern of apertures as a plurality of pressurized liquid jets are applied onto the composite material while the composite precursor material passes over the forming structure and a vacuum slot area located beneath the forming structure.

Description:
COMPOSITE MATERIAL AND METHOD FOR MAKING SAME

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[001] This application claims the benefit of priority from United States Provisional Patent Application No. 62/348,343, which was filed on June 10, 2016, the entire content of which is incorporated herein by reference.

FIELD

[002] The present invention is directed to a composite material for absorptive devices and method for making a composite material.

BACKGROUND

[003] Nonwoven materials are commonly used in absorptive devices, such as diapers and feminine napkins. Nonwoven materials are often used as topsheet components of such absorptive devices where it is desirable to achieve softness due to the contact of the topsheet with the skin of the wearer of the absorptive device. A ratio of high loft to total thickness of the nonwoven material often indicates softness, because the nonwoven material is compressible, which in turn renders a softness sensation to the wearer of the absorptive device that includes the nonwoven material. While relatively high loft nonwovens are perceived to be soft and cool when used against the skin, special processing is typically needed to achieve such characteristics, which may increase the cost of the product.

[004] Fiber entanglement by injecting and withdrawing barbed needles is one known method for creating relatively high loft nonwoven materials, but the process is relatively slow and costly. A faster production method for generating high loft nonwoven materials is a spunlacing process for hydro-entanglement of loose fibers. The spunlacing process may create relatively high lofted soft nonwoven materials that are soft and cool to the touch by using high pressure water jets that are essentially in the shape and diameter of needles to hydro-entangle the fibers.

[005] Spunlacing is a process of entangling a web of loose fibers on a porous belt or a moving perforated or patterned screen to form a sheet structure by subjecting the fibers to multiple rows of fine high-pressure jets of water. The spunlacing process uses an array of very fine high velocity water jets, essentially the diameters of needles, instead of barbed needles, to entangle the fibers in order gain web integrity while yielding a relatively high loft nonwoven material. The needle-like water jets are applied by a high pressure header, and the pressure may range from 2000 psi to over 8000 psi. The water needle jet holes are typically about 0.005 inch in diameter and a single header may include between about 30 and about 80 holes per inch in a row. Three to eight headers may be placed in a row that is aligned in the machine direction, and the web of untangled fibers may move in the machine direction on a perforated belt or screen-like material. A vacuum zone exists underneath the belt to extract the water. After the fibers are hydro-entangled into a web, the web may be dried and wound into a roll that can then be unwound when converted and used as a layer in an absorptive device. The spunlacing process generally does not lend itself to produce laminates with a film layer while the lofting is occurring because the high pressure and needle-like shape of the water jets may damage the film layer, and may possibly remove most or all of the film from the nonwoven layer.

[006] Spun bonded nonwovens are less costly than spunlace nonwovens, but typically have much less loft and are often not as soft as other nonwoven materials. The spun bonded process for making a nonwoven web is known. In a so-called Reicofil system, polymer pellets are fed into an extruder that extrudes continuous fibers through a die with a plurality of small openings. The fibers are thinned or stretched and cooled as the polymer exits the die. The fibers are then spun to random positions by air currents provided by manifolds or other devices. After the fibers are spun, the fibers are randomly positioned on a moving belt made of open screen material to create a matt of spun fibers. Suction may be applied to ensure the entangled fibers lay flat in a substantially horizontal orientation and are essentially pinned on the moving screen.

[007] The matt of entangled fibers may then be fed into a calendar roll nip, with one roll having a smooth surface and one roll having raised points in a pattern. Both rolls may be heated to a point above the melting point of the polymer in the fibers. The matt is compressed as the raised points compress the matt against the smooth roll. The heat and pressure applied to the matt creates bonded points that hold the fibers in place to create a spun bonded nonwoven web.

[008] Nonwoven materials, whether created by spun bonded, air laid, carded, spun laced, hydro-entangled, or other processes, have a basis weight that defines the mass of the fibers contained therein (typically measured in grams) within a square area (typically measured in a square meter) so that the basis weight is measured in grams per square meter ("gsm"). In addition, all fibers have a thickness or diameter that is referred to as denier. A nonwoven material having fibers with a heavier denier and fewer fibers can have the same basis weight as a nonwoven material having fibers with a lighter, or thinner denier and many more fibers. Features such as loft (thickness), which is a distance measured from the top of the nonwoven web to the bottom of the nonwoven web, for a given mass of fibers may be manipulated by choosing a fiber denier and process technique for creating loft, while entangling or bonding the fiber web so the web will have tensile strength and web integrity. Unfortunately, the spun bonded process does not lend itself to producing higher lofted nonwovens due its tendency to have horizontal fibers.

[009] The properties of spun bonded nonwovens may be manipulated by changing the denier and basis weight of the fibers, as well as changing the polymer(s) used to create the fibers. Some polymers are stiffer, such as polyesters, and some polymers are more flexible, such as polypropylene and polyethylene. Only recently have polyethylene polymers been created with enough draw down to be made into a fiber. Polypropylene is a common polymer used in spun bonded nonwovens and a spun bonded polypropylene nonwoven web is typically referred to as "SBPP".

[010] It is also desirable for the fibers in the nonwovens to be used in topsheets for absorptive devices be hydrophilic. Natural cellulose fibers are hydrophilic and have historically been used in topsheets. For example, United States Patent No. 6,548,731 to Mizutani, et al. teaches that relatively short hydrophilic fibers may be interspersed with longer hydrophobic fibers to form a topsheet material, and that hydrophobic synthetic fibers may be used if coated with a surfactant to make them hydrophilic. However, the surfactant will generally wash away when subjected to a large amount of liquid, thereby making the synthetic fibers hydrophobic again.

[011] Although synthetic hydrophilic fibers such as rayon, viscose, acetate and spun nylon exist, these polymer types are generally relatively rigid and stiff, and many are difficult to extrude into thin fibers. Therefore, if such materials are used in fibers for a topsheet, the resulting topsheet would tend to be harsh and uncomfortable to the wearer of the absorptive device.

[012] It is desirable to use less costly spun bonded nonwoven materials in absorptive devices and still deliver the softness of a typical spunlace nonwoven material.

SUMMARY

[013] According to an aspect of the invention, there is provided a composite material that includes a nonwoven layer having a plurality of fibers and a polymer film layer with a plurality of extended cells. Each of the extended cells are contemplated to include continuous sidewalls extending away from the nonwoven layer. At least one of the fibers extends into one or more of the extended cells.

[014] In one embodiment, at least one of the extended cells includes an aperture at a distal end thereof.

[015] In another embodiment, a portion of the at least one of the fibers extends through the aperture.

[016] Still further, it is contemplated that the extended cells may have a mesh count of between about 3 cells per linear inch and about 120 cells per linear inch.

[017] In another embodiment, the extended cells may be micro-cells having a mesh count of between about 40 cells per linear inch and about 120 cells per linear inch.

[018] The composite material of the present invention also may include a plurality of apertures having a mesh count of less than about 40 cells per linear inch.

[019] If included, the apertures may have a mesh count of between about 3 cells per linear inch and about 25 cells per linear inch. [020] The composite material may include a plurality of apertures extending through the composite material.

[021] The composite material may have an embossed three-dimensional pattern.

[022] The nonwoven layer may include a surfactant.

[023] Alternatively, the fibers may include the surfactant.

[024] The present invention also encompasses a method for manufacturing a composite material. The method includes forming a composite precursor material with a nonwoven layer having a plurality of fibers and a polymer film layer. The method includes forming a plurality of extended cells in the polymer film layer, each of the extended cells having a continuous sidewall extending away from the nonwoven layer. The method also includes pushing at least one of the fibers into at least one of the extended cells, while forming the extended cells, with a fluid.

[025] In one embodiment, when forming the composite precursor material, a nonwoven web may be passed through low pressure nip rolls while a molten polymer film is simultaneously extruded into the nip to form the polymer film layer on the nonwoven web.

[026] The fluid may be a liquid.

[027] In another contemplated embodiment, when forming the extended cells in the polymer film layer and pushing the at least one of the fibers into the at least one of the extended cells, the polymer film layer may be contacted with a forming structure having a pattern of apertures as a plurality of pressurized liquid jets are applied onto the nonwoven layer while the composite precursor material passes over the forming structure and a vacuum slot area located beneath the forming structure. [028] The method also may include forming a plurality of apertures in a pattern having a mesh count of less than 40 cells per linear inch, after pushing the at least one of the fibers into the at least one of the extended cells.

[029] It is also contemplated that the method may include aperturing the composite material.

[030] Apertures may be formed by passing the composite material through a nip between a pin roll having a pattern of pins protruding from a surface thereof and a counter roll having a matching pattern of cavities recessed in a surface thereof while the pin roll and the counter roll rotate in opposite directions.

[031] Still further, the method may include passing the composite material through a nip between an embossing roll having a three-dimensional pattern on an outer surface thereof and a counter roll while the embossing roll and the counter roll rotate in opposite directions to form the three-dimensional pattern in the composite material.

[032] It is contemplated that the method also may include aperturing the composite material by contacting the composite material with a forming structure having a pattern of apertures as a plurality of pressurized liquid jets are applied onto the composite material while the composite precursor material passes over the forming structure and a vacuum slot area located beneath the forming structure.

[033] These and other aspects, features, and characteristics of the present invention, as well as the methods of operation and functions of the related elements of structure and the combination of parts and economies of manufacture, will become more apparent upon consideration of the following description and the appended claims with reference to the accompanying drawings, all of which form a part of this specification. It is to be expressly understood, however, that the drawings are for the purpose of illustration and description only and are not intended as a definition of the limits of the invention.

[034] As used in the specification and in the claims, the singular form of "a", "an", and "the" include plural referents unless the context clearly dictates otherwise.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[035] The components of the following figures are illustrated to emphasize the general principles of the present disclosure and are not necessarily drawn to scale. Reference characters designating corresponding components are repeated as necessary throughout the figures for the sake of consistency and clarity.

[036] Figure 1 is a microphotograph of an unexpanded spun bonded nonwoven of the prior art;

[037] Figure 2 is a microphotograph of a cross-section of the unexpanded spun bonded nonwoven of Figure 1 ;

[038] Figure 3 is a microphotograph of a cross-section of a hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven according to an embodiment of the invention;

[039] Figure 4 is a schematic diagram of a hydroforming apparatus for carrying out methods according to embodiments of the invention;

[040] Figure 5 is a schematic diagram of a pressurized jet of the hydroforming apparatus of Figure 4;

[041] Figure 6 is a schematic diagram of a plurality of pressurized jets of the hydroforming apparatus of Figure 4; [042] Figure 7 A is a microphotograph of a side view of a portion of one surface of a hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven according to an embodiment of the invention;

[043] Figure 7B is a microphotograph of a side view of a portion of another surface of the hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven of Figure 7A;

[044] Figure 8 is a microphotograph of a hydroformed composite material that includes an expanded spun bonded nonwoven layer and a polymer film layer according to an embodiment of the invention;

[045] Figure 9 is a schematic diagram of a lamination and hydroforming apparatus for carrying out methods according to embodiments of the invention;

[046] Figure 10 is a schematic diagram of a lamination and hydroforming apparatus for carrying out methods according to embodiments of the invention;

[047] Figure 1 1 is a schematic diagram of a lamination and hydroforming apparatus for carrying out methods according to embodiments of the invention;

[048] Figure 12 is a schematic diagram of an apparatus for carrying out methods according to embodiments of the invention;

[049] Figure 13 is a schematic diagram of an apparatus for carrying out methods according to embodiments of the invention; and

[050] Figure 14 is a partial, graphical, cross-sectional side view of the embodiment of the invention depicted, for example, in Figure 8.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[051] Various embodiments of the present invention will now be highlighted. The discussion of any one embodiment is not intended to limit the scope of the present invention. To the contrary, aspects of the embodiments are intended to emphasize the breadth of the invention, whether encompassed by the claims or not. Furthermore, any and all variations of the embodiments, now known or developed in the future, also are intended to fall within the scope of the invention.

GLOSSARY

[052] Throughout this description, the term "web" refers to a material capable of being wound into a roll. Webs can be film webs, nonwoven webs, laminate webs, apertured laminate webs, etc. The face of a web refers to one of its two dimensional surfaces, as opposed to its edge. The term "composite web" or "composite material" refers to a web that comprises two or more separate webs that are attached to each other in a face to face relationship. The attachment can be through the edges of the component webs, although the component webs lie in a face to face relationship with each other, or the attachment can be at particular spot locations across the component webs.

[053] The term "film" in this description refers to a web made by extruding a molten sheet of thermoplastic polymeric material by a cast or blown extrusion process and then cooling said sheet to form a solid polymeric web. Films can be monolayer films, coextruded films, coated films, and composite films. Coated films are films comprising a monolayer or coextruded film that are subsequently coated (for example, extrusion coated, impression coated, printed, or the like) with a thin layer of the same or different material to which it is bonded. Composite films are films comprising more than one film where the at least two films are combined in a bonding process. Bonding processes may incorporate adhesive layers between the film layers. [054] Throughout this description, the expression "apertured films" denotes films in which there exist a plurality of holes that extend from one surface to a second surface. A two dimensional apertured film is a film in which no three-dimensional structure exists in the holes, which then connect the second surface of a flat film to the first surface of the film. A "formed film" is a three-dimensional film is a film with protuberances or extended cells, and a three dimensional apertured film is a film in which a three dimensional structure exists in the apertures (e.g., the apertures have a depth that is thicker than the thickness of the film) or the extended cells have apertures therethrough.

[055] The term "nonwoven web" means a web comprising a plurality of fibers. The fibers may be bonded to each other or may be unbonded. The fibers may be staple fibers or continuous fibers. The fibers may comprise a single material or may comprise a multitude of materials, either as a combination of different fibers or as a combination of similar fibers each comprised of different materials. As used herein, "nonwoven web" is used in its generic sense to define a generally planar structure that is relatively flat, flexible and porous, and includes staple fibers or continuous filaments. The nonwoven web may be the product of any process for forming the same, such as nonwoven spunbond and melt blown nonwoven webs. The nonwoven web may include a composite or combination of webs. In an embodiment, the nonwoven web is a spunbond material, made of polypropylene fiber. The nonwoven web may, however, comprise any polymeric material from which a fiber can be produced. For example, the nonwoven web may comprise fibers of polyethylene, polypropylene, elastomers, polyesters, rayon, cellulose, nylon, and blends of such polymers fibers. Fibers that comprise different polymers may also be blended. [056] The term "screen" as used herein refers to a three-dimensional molding apparatus comprising indentations used to form extended cells, protuberances or apertures in films, or protuberances in nonwoven webs. In an embodiment, screens comprise tubular members, having a width and a diameter. In alternative embodiments screens comprise belts having a width and a length. The transverse direction is the direction parallel to the width of the screen. The machine direction is the direction parallel to the direction of rotation of the screen, and is perpendicular to the transverse direction.

[057] The term "extended cell" as used herein refers to a three-dimensional member or protuberance comprising an apertured base portion located in the plane of the first surface of the web and a sidewall portion extending generally in the direction of the second surface of the web. Each base portion has a sidewall portion. Sidewall portions terminate in "ends" or "apexes" located in the plane of the second surface of the web. The ends of the extended cells may be apertured or unapertured. "Apertured extended cell" as used herein refers to an extended cell that has an aperture at its distal end in the plane of the second surface. The apertures in the base portions of the extended cells, also called "primary apertures," may be in the shape of polygons, for example squares, hexagons, pentagons, ellipses, circles, ovals, or slots, in a regulated or random pattern. In an embodiment, the apertures may be in the shape of a boat, as described in, for example, U.S. Patent No. 7,198,836, which is incorporated herein by reference. The protubered ends, if apertured, are called "secondary apertures," and may be in the shape of polygons, e.g., squares, hexagons, pentagons, ellipses, circles, ovals, slots, or boats.

[058] As used herein, the expression "absorbent articles" and "absorptive devices" denote articles that absorb and contain body fluids and other body exudates. More specifically, an absorbent article/absorptive device includes garments that are placed against or in proximity to the body of a wearer to absorb and contain the various exudates discharged from a body.

[059] As used herein the term "elastic" is used to describe a material which upon application of a tensile force is extensible to a stretched length preferably at least 2x its initial, unstretched length, and that will retract to at most 1 .75x of its initial, unstretched length upon release of the elongating force.

[060] Figure 1 is a top view of a portion of a spun bonded nonwoven web 10 having a basis weight of about 10 gsm. The nonwoven web 10 includes a plurality of fibers 12, and a plurality of compressed bond sites 14 that were created by a spun bonding process, as described above.

[061] Figure 2 illustrates a cross-section of the nonwoven web 10 of Figure 1 . As illustrated, the plurality of fibers 12 are generally oriented horizontally when the nonwoven web 10 is placed on a generally horizontal surface, i.e. each fiber lies in a plane that is generally horizontal and the fibers 12 are generally parallel to each other. The compressed bond sites 14 are also visible in Figure 2. The fibers 12 are closely packed and therefore generally lack vertical spacing therebetween. The illustrated nonwoven web 10 has an average loft or thickness 22 of about 0.010 cm (0.0039 inch). Although a nominal 10 gsm spun bonded nonwoven web 10 is illustrated, embodiments of the invention are not so limited. The term "nominal" as used herein refers to an approximate value. For example, a nominal 10 gsm spun bonded nonwoven web may actually have an average basis weight of up to about 10.25 gsm. Spun bonded nonwoven webs having basis weights as low as nominal 8 gsm may be used in accordance with embodiments of the invention.

[062] Although there may be no upper limit to the basis weight that may be used in embodiments of the invention, spun bonded nonwoven webs having a relatively high basis weight (and higher cost) may also have a higher loft and therefore may not be as desirable to use in embodiments of the invention. The illustrated embodiment is not intended to be limiting in any way. It is an aspect of embodiments of the invention to start with a light, inexpensive spun bonded nonwoven web and expand the web to simulate and function like a higher cost, lofty nonwoven web made with other processes, such as the spunlacing process described above.

[063] The fibers 12 are made from polymer, which may be a polyolefin, such as polypropylene. In an embodiment, the nonwoven web 10 may be an SBPP, as described above. In an embodiment, the nonwoven web 10 may be coated with a surfactant so that the fibers 12 are hydrophilic on outer surfaces thereof. In an embodiment, a surfactant may be incorporated into the polymer of the fibers 12 in the form of a semi-viscous fluid that is located inside the polymer's amorphous regions so that the fibers 12 are hydrophilic and remain hydrophilic, even after the fibers 12 are subjected to liquids, as discussed in further detail below.

[064] Figure 3 illustrates a cross-section of a portion of a hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 30 that was hydroformed and expanded from the nonwoven web 10 illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 according to embodiments of the invention, described below. As illustrated, many of the fibers 12 of the original spun bonded nonwoven web 10 have been expanded to a greater vertical spacing therebetween, as indicated by arrows 31 . During expansion of the nonwoven web 10, some of the fibers 12 may curve upward from their original generally horizontal orientations to become curved fibers 32. In addition, some of the fibers 12, which were previously continuous along the length of the nonwoven web 10, may break into shortened fibrils 34 during the expansion process, and at least some of the shortened fibrils 34 may be reoriented to a more vertical alignment and become substantially vertical fibrils 36, as illustrated.

[065] The hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 30 has an average expanded loft or thickness 38 of 0.050 cm (0.0197 inch), which is about 5.0 times greater than the original loft 22 of the original spun bonded nonwoven web 10. Embodiments of the invention provide an expanded spun bonded nonwoven web with a loft expanded to at least about 1 .3 times the original spun bonded nonwoven web loft, which is sufficient for enhancing softness, for enhancing surface dryness, and for enhancing coolness as perceived by the wearer of an absorptive device that includes the hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 30. In addition, the air permeability of the hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 30 may be increased by at least about 1 .2 times, as compared to the air permeability of the original spun bonded nonwoven web 10, as described in further detail below.

[066] Figure 4 is a schematic side view of an embodiment of a hydroforming apparatus 40 for manufacturing a hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven web, such as the hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 30 described above and/or a hydroformed composite material described below, in accordance with embodiments of the invention. Specifically, the apparatus 40 of Figure 4 provides a process of hydroforming a spun bonded nonwoven web, such as the spun bonded nonwoven web 10 illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 to expand its loft and produce a hydroforming expanded spun bonded nonwoven, such as the hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 30 illustrated in Figure 3.

[067] As illustrated in Figure 4, a roll 42 of an original unexpanded spun bonded nonwoven web 10 having an original loft as a result of the spun bonding process described above may be loaded on a spindle 43 of the apparatus 40 in an orientation and position that allows the nonwoven web 10 to be unwound from the roll 42 and further processed. The apparatus 40 includes a forming structure 44, which may be in the form of a rotatable forming screen, and the nonwoven web 10 may be advanced in a continuous motion over the forming structure 44. In embodiments in which the forming structure 44 is a rotatable forming screen, the nonwoven web 10 may be moved and the screen may be rotated at a synchronized speed across a long and narrow-width vacuum slot area 45 that extends into the paper containing the Figure. The forming structure 44 may have a plurality of apertures 44a having a mesh count of between about 3 apertures per linear inch (i.e. "3 mesh") and about 120 apertures per linear inch (i.e. "120 mesh"). In an embodiment, the mesh count may be about 25 apertures per linear inch (i.e. "25 mesh").

[068] A plurality of pressurized liquid jets 46 is arranged in a long and narrow-width zone that extends into the paper containing Figure 4, and is generally aligned with the long and narrow-width vacuum slot area 45 under the forming structure 44. The liquid jets 46 are configured to provide overlapping streams of a liquid 47, such as water, at a pressure of from about 200 psi to about 800 psi onto an outer surface of the nonwoven web 10 while the web 10 is passing over the vacuum slot area 45. In an embodiment, the liquid in the liquid jets 46 may have a pressure of from about 400 psi to about 800 psi. The streams of liquid 47 have sufficient pressure to push and reorient a majority of the spun bonded fibers 12 from a close packed horizontal orientation (illustrated in Figure 2) to a greater vertical spacing (illustrated in Figure 3).

[069] Many of the fibers of the spun bonded nonwoven 10 may be pushed to curve upward and at least some of the formerly continuous fibers may be broken into shortened fibrils, as illustrated in Figure 3. Such disruption of the original spun bonded nonwoven web 10 results in the expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 30 having an expanded loft of at least about 1 .3 times greater than the loft of the original spun bonded nonwoven web 10, and an increased air permeability of at least about 1 .2 times greater than the air permeability of the original spun bonded web. In addition, the liquid jets 46 have sufficient pressure to push portions of the nonwoven web 10 into the plurality of apertures 44a in the forming structure 44 and form a plurality of protuberances that extend from one surface of the expanded nonwoven web, as described in further detail below.

[070] Figure 5 illustrates an individual liquid jet 46 in accordance with embodiments of the invention that may be used in the apparatus 40 of Figure 4. As illustrated, the liquid jet 46 includes a nozzle 54 that is configured to project the stream of liquid 47 (such as water) that has a cross section in the shape of a fan. The stream of liquid 47 is generally shaped as an elongated ellipse having a width 'w' and a length T. The stream of liquid 47 exiting an individual nozzle 54 may have an elongated ellipse shape having a length to width ratio (l/w) of between about 3:1 and about 10:1 . In an embodiment, the stream of liquid 47 may have an elongated ellipse shape having a length to width ratio of about 7:1 , with a length measuring about 1 .75 inches and a width measuring about 0.25 inch at the location that impacts the nonwoven web 10.

[071] The plurality of liquid jets 46 is illustrated in further detail in in Figure 6. As illustrated, the individual nozzles 54 are aligned and affixed to a manifold 60 that is supplied with a pressurized liquid at an inlet 62. In an embodiment, the individual nozzles are spaced apart along the manifold 60 about every 1 - 2 inches. In an embodiment, the individual nozzles are spaced apart along the manifold about every 1 .5 inches. The streams of liquid 47 each slightly overlap an adjacent stream at their respective edges 56. Together, the plurality of streams of liquid 47 produce a long and narrow-width zone of pressurized liquid 68 that is formed by the individual spray nozzles 54 that each shape the liquid into a respective elongated ellipse illustrated in Figure 5. Edges 56 of the streams of liquid 47 overlap such that the pressurized liquid may be provided to the spun bonded nonwoven web 10 across the full width of the spun bonded nonwoven web 10, while maintaining a narrow width ('w' in Figure 5), even as a collective.

[072] Returning to Figure 4, the vacuum slot area 45 may have sufficient suction to remove any residual liquid from the surface of the spun bonded nonwoven web that may reduce the force of the streams of liquid 47 striking the spun bonded nonwoven web 10. The expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 30 may then be subsequently dried in one or more dryers 48 and slit to preferred widths with at least one slitting blade 49. The expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 30 may be wound by a winder 50 into at least one roll 52. In an embodiment, the expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 30 may also be coated with a surfactant or otherwise treated to further enhance the properties of the expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 30. [073] As discussed above, in an embodiment, the fibers 12 may include a surfactant that may migrate to the outer surfaces of the fibers over time. Not to be bound by theory, the pressure differential between the pressure applied to surfactant fluid within the internal structure of the polymer of the fibers and the ambient atmosphere on the outside of the fibers will cause the surfactant to migrate toward the outside surfaces of the fibers until an equilibrium is achieved. It is suspected that only a small amount of the surfactant, which is incorporated in the polymer, migrates to the surface when achieving an equilibrium condition. If the surfactant is washed off of the surface of the fibers, either by the initial hydroforming process described above or by a liquid insult while being worn be a user, the equilibrium with be lost, and more surfactant will migrate towards the outer surfaces of the fibers to achieve a new equilibrium. The amount of surfactant to incorporate into the fibers may be determined in view of the amount expected to be lost during the hydroforming process, as well as during use of the absorptive device into which the fibers will be incorporated. If the hydroformed expanded nonwoven web 30 has a surfactant incorporated into the fibers thereof is used as, for example, a topsheet or an acquisition distribution layer ("ADL") in an absorptive device, the functional fluid acquisition rate value of the topsheet may continue to perform even after the absorptive device exceeds its fluid containment capacity.

[074] Figures 7A and 7B are side views of a portion of a hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 70 produced on a hydroforming apparatus, such as the apparatus 40 of Figure 4. The hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 70 was produced from an original spun bonded nonwoven web having a nominal basis weight of 10 gsm and an average loft or thickness of about 0.0040 inches (about 102 microns), as measured with an Ames 412.5 thickness gauge using a 4.8 ounce weight. Figure 7 A illustrates a first surface 72 of a first side of the hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 70 that was subjected to the liquid jets 46 of the hydroforming apparatus 40, and Figure 7B illustrates a second surface 74 of a second side of the hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 70 that is opposite the first surface 72 and was in contact with the forming structure 44 of the hydroforming apparatus 40. As illustrated, the first surface 72 is substantially planar, while the second surface 74 has a pattern of protuberances 76 extending therefrom. The protuberances 76 are in substantially the same pattern as the pattern of apertures 44a in the forming structure 44, which has a mesh count of about 25 cells per linear inch (i.e. 25 mesh). The hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven web 70 has an average loft or thickness of about 0.0076 inches (about 193 microns), as measured with an Ames 412.5 thickness gauge using a 4.8 ounce weight, or about 1 .9 times (90%) greater than the loft of the original unexpanded spun bond nonwoven web.

[075] Figure 8 illustrates a cross-section of a portion of a hydroformed composite material 80 that includes an expanded spun bonded nonwoven layer 82 and a polymer film layer 84. The film layer 84 includes a plurality of extended cells 86 that extend away from the expanded spun bonded nonwoven layer 82. In the illustrated embodiment, the extended cells 86 of the film layer 84 are each apertured at their respective apex 87, and the extended cells 86 are macro extended cells having a mesh count of about 25 cells per linear inch (i.e. "25 mesh"), which is substantially the same as the mesh count of the apertures 44a of the forming structure 44. The macro extended cells have sidewalls comprising a continually thinning portion of the polymer film layer of the hydroformed composite material extending away from what was an original plane of a composite precursor material (described below), and each of the plurality of extended cells is spaced apart from an adjacent extended cell by a land 85 having a width comprised of an undisturbed substantially planar surface of the hydroformed composite material. At least one of the extended cells of the polymer film layer may have an aperture at a distal end thereof. In the hydroformed composite material 80, portions of fibers and fibrils from the expanded spun bonded nonwoven layer 82 have been pushed into the extended cells 86 of the film layer 84, and some of the fibrils 88 extend through the apertures and beyond a plane that contains the apexes 87 of the extended cells 86 of the film layer 84.

[076] A composite precursor material that is subjected to the hydroforming process may be created by different methods, as illustrated in Figures 9-1 1 , for example. In an apparatus 90 illustrated in Figure 9, the roll 42 of the original unexpanded nonwoven web 10 may be placed on a spindle 91 , and a roll 92 of a polymer film 94 may be placed on a separate spindle 93. The polymer of the polymer film 94 may include one or more polyolefins, including but not limited to polyethylene, ultra-low density polyethylene, polypropylene, ethylene-vinyl acetates, metallocene, linear low density and linear medium density polyethylene, as well as other polymers, including but not limited to elastomeric polymers, including but not limited to polypropylene based elastomers, ethylene based elastomers, copolyester based elastomers, olefin block copolymers, styrenic block copolymers and the like, or combinations thereof. The polymer film 94 may be a solid polymer film or may be apertured. In an embodiment, the polymer film 94 may have a pattern of micro-cells or micro-apertures that were created using a vacuum forming, hydroforming, mechanical aperturing and/or embossing process. [077] Each of the original unexpanded nonwoven web 10 and the polymer film 94 may be fed into a nip 95 between two calendar rolls 96, 97, at least one of which may be heated to a temperature that allows the nonwoven web 10 and/or the polymer film 94 to soften. In an embodiment, at least one of the calendar rolls 96, 97 may have a three- dimensional pattern on its surface so that the polymer 94 film and the nonwoven web 10 are subjected to a point bonding process, as is known in the art. The pressure applied to the nonwoven web 10 and the polymer film 94 in the nip 95 allow the nonwoven web 10 and the polymer film 94 to adhere to each other to create a composite precursor material 98 prior to being subjected to the liquid jets 46 as the composite precursor material 98 comprising the nonwoven web 10 and the polymer film 94 passes over the forming structure 44. The combination of the liquid jets 46, the forming structure 44, and the vacuum slot 45 create a hydroformed composite material 99 that includes an expanded spun bonded nonwoven layer and a polymer film layer having extended cells in a pattern corresponding the pattern of apertures 44a in the forming structure, as described above with respect to the embodiment illustrated in Figure 8. For example, if the forming structure 44 has a mesh count from about 40 apertures per linear inch (i.e. "40 mesh") to about 120 apertures per linear inch (i.e. "120 mesh"), then the hydroformed film cells will be extended micro-cells having a mesh count from about 40 mesh to about 120 mesh. If the forming structure has a mesh count of less than about 40 mesh, then the hydroformed film cells will be extended macro extended cells having a mesh count of less than about 40 mesh.

[078] After passing through the dryer(s) 48, the hydroformed composite material 98 may be slit and rolled into a roll 99a with the winder 50. In an embodiment, at least the expanded spun bonded nonwoven layer of the hydroformed composite material 99 may also be coated with a surfactant or otherwise treated to further enhance the properties of the hydroformed composite material 99. In an embodiment, the fibers of the hydroformed composite material 99 may already contain a surfactant, as described above.

[079] In an embodiment, the parts of the apparatus 90 located upstream of the liquid jets 46 and the forming structure 44 may be located off-line to form the composite precursor material 98, and a roll of the composite precursor material may be placed on the spindle 43 of the apparatus 40 of Figure 4 and processed as described above.

[080] Figure 10 illustrates an embodiment of an apparatus 100 that is configured to create a laminated composite precursor material 101 by extruding a layer of molten polymer 102 from a film extrusion die 103 directly onto the original unexpanded spun bonded nonwoven web 10 at a nip 104 created by a metal roll 105 and a rubber roll 106 as the original unexpanded spun bonded nonwoven web 10 passes through the nip 104. The layer of molten polymer 102 may include one or more polyolefins, including but not limited to polyethylene, ultra-low density polyethylene, polypropylene, ethylene-vinyl acetates, metallocene, linear low density and linear medium density polyethylene, as well as other polymers, including but not limited to elastomeric polymers, including but not limited to polypropylene based elastomers, ethylene based elastomers, copolyester based elastomers, olefin block copolymers, styrenic block copolymers and the like, or combinations thereof.

[081] A conveying roll 107 may be used to reorient the laminated composite precursor material 101 so that the polymer film layer of the laminated composite precursor material 101 contacts the forming structure 44 and the liquid jets 46 provide streams of liquid 47 directly onto the original spun bonded nonwoven web 10. It should be understood that additional rolls may be used in the apparatus 100 and the illustrated embodiment is not intended to be limiting in any way. The combination of the liquid jets 46, the forming structure 44, and the vacuum slot 45 create a hydroformed composite material 108 that includes an expanded spun bonded nonwoven layer and a polymer film layer having extended cells in a pattern corresponding the pattern of apertures 44a in the forming structure 44, as described above.

[082] In the embodiment illustrated in Figure 10, a conveying roll 109 is used to align the hydroformed composite material 108 with the dryer(s) 48, and after passing through the dryer(s) 48, the hydroformed composite material 108 may be slit and rolled into a roll 108a with the winder 50. In an embodiment, at least the expanded spun bonded nonwoven layer of the hydroformed composite material 108 may also be coated with a surfactant or otherwise treated to further enhance the properties of the hydroformed composite material 108. In an embodiment, the fibers of the hydroformed composite material 108 may already contain a surfactant, as described above.

[083] It should be understood that additional rolls may be used to convey the hydroformed composite material 108 and the illustrated embodiment is not intended to be limiting in any way. In an embodiment, the parts of the apparatus 100 located upstream of the liquid jets 46 and the forming structure 44 may be located off-line to form the laminated composite precursor material 101 , and a roll of the laminated composite precursor material may be placed on the spindle 43 of the apparatus 40 of Figure 4 and hydroformed as described above. [084] Figure 1 1 illustrates an embodiment of an apparatus 1 10 that is configured to create a laminated composite precursor material 1 12 by extruding the layer of molten polymer 102 from the film extrusion die 103 directly onto the original unexpanded spun bonded nonwoven web 10 as the original unexpanded spun bonded nonwoven web 10 moves over a second forming structure 1 14 at a synchronized speed so that the spun bonded nonwoven web 10 passes over a second vacuum slot area 1 15 as the molten polymer 102 contacts the nonwoven web 10. The second forming structure 1 14 has a pattern of apertures that are configured to allow the vacuum created in the second vacuum slot area 1 15 to pull the spun bonded nonwoven web 10 against the forming structure 1 14, and due to the permeability of the spun bonded nonwoven web 10, the polymer film layer will conform to the nonwoven web 10 as the polymer cools. Conveying rolls 1 16, 1 17 may be used to provide further cooling to the polymer layer and/or reorient the laminated composite precursor material 1 12 so that the polymer film layer of the laminated composite precursor material 1 12 contacts the forming structure 44 and the liquid jets 46 provide streams of liquid 47 directly onto the original spun bonded nonwoven web 10. It should be understood that additional rolls may be used to convey the composite precursor material 1 12 and the illustrated embodiment is not intended to be limiting in any way. The combination of the liquid jets 46, the forming structure 44, and the vacuum slot 45 create a hydroformed composite material 1 18 that includes an expanded spun bonded nonwoven layer and a polymer film layer having extended cells in a pattern corresponding the pattern of apertures 44a in the forming structure, as described above. [085] In the embodiment illustrated in Figure 1 1 , an additional conveying roll 1 19 is used to align the hydroformed composite material 1 18 with the dryer(s) 48, and after passing through the dryer(s) 48, the hydroformed composite material 1 18 may be slit and rolled into a roll 1 18a with the winder 50. In an embodiment, at least the expanded spun bonded nonwoven layer of the hydroformed composite material 1 18 may also be coated with a surfactant or otherwise treated to further enhance the properties of the hydroformed composite material 1 18. In an embodiment, the fibers of the hydroformed composite material 1 18 may already contain a surfactant, as described above.

[086] It should be understood that additional rolls may be used to convey the hydroformed composite material 1 18 and the illustrated embodiment is not intended to be limiting in any way. In an embodiment, the parts of the apparatus 1 10 located upstream of the liquid jets 46 and the forming structure 44 may be located off-line to form the laminated composite precursor material 1 12, and a roll of the laminated composite precursor material 1 12 may be placed on the spindle 43 of the apparatus 40 of Figure 4 and hydroformed as described above.

[087] Other conventional processes may be used to create the composite precursor material and the processes described herein should not be considered to be limiting in any way. For example, in an embodiment, an adhesive material may be used to bond the polymer film and the original unexpanded spun bonded nonwoven web together. In an embodiment, an ultrasonic bonding device may be used to create bonds between the polymer film and the original unexpanded spun bonded nonwoven web.

[088] A potential advantage of creating a laminated composite precursor material using a thermo-bonding process that includes extruding a layer of molten polymer directly onto the spun bonded nonwoven web, as described above with respect to Figures 10 and 1 1 , is that the resulting polymer film layer may be thinner than processes that use an already-formed polymer film. For example, direct extrusion methods may allow for a very thin polymer film having a nominal basis weight of about 8-12 gsm.

[089] The hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven material having protuberances or the hydroformed composite material having extended cells (with or without apertures) may then be run a second time through the hydroforming process using the hydroforming apparatus 40 of Figure 4 that includes a different forming structure 44 having a different mesh count of less than about 40 apertures per linear inch so that a pattern of macro protuberances or extended cells (with or without apertures) may be produced. The macro extended cells may have sidewalls that include a continually thinning portion of the hydroformed composite material extending away from an original plane of the hydroformed composite material. In an embodiment, the hydroforming apparatus 40 of Figure 4 may be used to create a more three-dimensional surface by embossing the hydroformed composite material and not creating apertures.

[090] In an embodiment, a pattern of macro extended cells may be formed in the hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven material or the hydroformed composite material already having protuberances or micro extended cells, respectively, via a method of mechanically perforating the material by passing the material through an apparatus configured to form large-scale apertures, such as an apparatus 120 illustrated Figure 12. As illustrated, the apparatus 120 includes a pin roll 123 having a pattern of pins 124 and a counter roll 125 having a matching pattern of cavities 126 configured to receive the pins 124. The pin roll 123 and the counter roll 125 may be rotated in opposite directions to form a nip 127 through which a hydroformed composite material 128 may be fed. The pins 124 protrude from the surface of pin roll 123 and the cavities 126 are recessed into the surface of the counter roll 125. The pin roll 123 and the counter roll 125 may be aligned so that the pins 124 mate with the cavities 126 such that when the rolls 123, 125 are rotating, the pins 124 are inserted into the cavities 126 at the nip 127 and the hydroformed composite material 128 between the rolls 123, 125 is perforated by the pins 124, thereby forming a pattern of macro extended cells with apertures.

[091] The resulting material includes micro extended cells (or protuberances) and macro extended cells with apertures and may be wound into a roll 129 for later conversion into a topsheet or other layer, such as an ADL, in an absorptive device. The macro extended cells may have a mesh count of less than about 40 cells per linear inch (i.e. "40 mesh"). The macro extended cells may extend away from the original plane of the hydroformed composite material, be spaced apart by lands that each has a width and comprised of a plane of the hydroformed composite material having micro extended cells. Such a mechanical perforation method is described in further detail in co-assigned United States Patent No. 7,204,907 to Cree et al., the entire contents of which is incorporated herein by reference.

[092] In an embodiment, a pattern of macro protuberances or macro extended cells may be formed in the hydroformed expanded nonwoven web and/or the hydroformed composite material using an apparatus 130 illustrated in Figure 13. As illustrated, the pin roll 123 and the counter roll 125 of the apparatus 120 of Figure 12 are replaced by matching embossing rolls 132, 134 so that a three-dimensional surface (without apertures) may be created on the hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven material or the hydroformed composite material, represented by 131 in Figure 13. After the material 131 passes between the embossing rolls 132, 134, the material may be rolled into a roll 136 for further processing.

[093] Figure 14 provides a graphical, cross-sectional view of a portion of the hydroformed composite material illustrated, for example, in Figure 8. This graphical illustration is provided to clarify the various structures that are combined to form the invention.

[094] Figure 14 illustrates the expanded spun bonded nonwoven layer 82 and the polymer film layer 84 that, together, form the composite material 80. The film layer 84 includes a plurality of extended cells 86 that extend away from the expanded spun bonded nonwoven layer 82. One of the extended cells 86 is shown in Figure 14.

[095] As should be apparent, Figure 14 also illustrates the protuberances 76 that are formed in register with the extended cells 86. As discussed above, the protuberances 76 and the extended cells 86 are contemplated to be formed via a hydroforming process. However, as also made apparent from the foregoing, processes other than hydroforming may be employed without departing from the scope of the invention.

[096] The extended cell 86 is contemplated to be representative of all of the extended cells 86 included in the composite material 80, except that not all of the extended cells 86 are contemplated to include fibers and/or fibrils 88. Specifically, it is contemplated that one or more of the extended cells 86 may exclude fibers or fibrils 88. The absence of fibers or fibrils 88 from one or more extended cells 86 is contemplated to fall within the scope of the invention. [097] To assist with the discussion that follows, the first surface 84a and the second surface 84b of the film layer 84 are designated.

[098] In the illustrated embodiment, the extended cell 86 extends away from the nonwoven layer 82 in the direction of the second surface 84b. The extended cell 86 is designated by the dotted line circle in the illustration.

[099] The extended cell 86 encompasses at least the portion of the film layer 84 that forms the sidewalls 83. As illustrated, the extended cell 86 defines a three-dimensional aperture AP that extends from the portion of the film layer 84 at the lands 85 to the apex 87. As discussed above, the sidewalls 83 of the extended cell 86 are contemplated to thin from the portion of the film layer 84 adjacent to the lands 85 to the apex 87. As also noted, some of the fibers and/or fibrils 88 extend into the aperture AP, through the plane defined by the lands 85, and even beyond a plane that contains the apex 87 of the extended cell 86 of the film layer 84. In other words, as made apparent from the discussion of the invention, the fibers or fibrils 88 extend into one or more of the extended cells 86 such that the fibers 88 are out of plane with the nonwoven web 82. As such, the fibers and fibrils 88 form what are defined herein as the protuberances 76.

[100] The aperture AP defined by the extended cell 86 is illustrated as a "cone" or "volcano" extending away from the lands 85 of the film layer 84 in the direction of the second surface 84b. Thus, the aperture AP defines a first aperture AP1 (a proximal aperture) consistent with the plane of the lands 85 and a second aperture AP2 (a distal aperture) that is defined by the apex 87. Without limiting the present invention, the aperture AP may have any shape, as required or as desired. For example, the aperture AP may have the conical shape depicted, where the sidewalls 83 are disposed such that the first aperture AP1 defines an area greater than the area of the second aperture AP2. Still further, the aperture AP may have a cylindrical shape. If so, the sidewalls 83 are contemplated to be substantially perpendicular to a plane defined by the lands 85. Here the areas of the first aperture AP1 and the second aperture AP2 are contemplated to be equal or substantially equal. In yet another embodiment, the aperture AP may have a flared cross-section or funnel shape, where the sidewalls 83 extend outwardly such that the first aperture AP1 defines an are smaller than the area of the second aperture AP2.

[101] As shown in Figure 14, some of the fibers 88 that extend through the aperture AP extend through the first aperture AP1 but not the second aperture AP2. Those fibers or fibrils 88 are entrained within the aperture AP. Others of the fibers or fibrils 88 extend through both the first aperture AP1 and the second aperture AP2, thereby extending through the aperture AP in its entirety.

[102] In any of the methods described above for integrating macro extended cells (with or without apertures) into a hydroformed composite material with micro extended cells, if the hydroformed composite material is introduced to the process with the nonwoven layer oriented downward, the micro extended cells will be oriented upward and the macro extended cells will be oriented downward. Conversely, if the hydroformed composite material is introduced with the nonwoven layer oriented upward, the micro extended cells will be oriented downward and the macro extended cells will also be oriented downward. In an embodiment, a hydroformed composite material having macro extended cells of mesh counts of less than about 40 cells per linear inch may be further processed by one of the methods described above to add a second pattern of macro extended cells, although the smaller micro extended cells are desired for the land widths, because the micro extended cells may provide enhanced softness and/or offer capillary suction for enhanced surface dryness. Different combinations of micro extended cells (with or without apertures) and macro extended cells (with or without apertures), including the orientation of such extended cells may be created in accordance with embodiments of the invention. For example, using the apparatus described above, the size of the extended cells may be changed by changing the mesh pattern of the forming structure 44, and the orientation of the extended cells may be changed by changed by changing the orientation of the composite precursor material being fed onto the forming structure and/or the hydroformed composite material being fed into an apparatus for additional processing.

[103] Example 1

[104] A spun bonded nonwoven web having a basis weight of 10.25 gsm (nominal 10 gsm) was processed using methods in accordance with embodiments of the invention over a variety of forming screens having mesh counts of greater than 40 apertures per linear inch, as well as mesh counts of less than 40 apertures per linear inch. The original loft of the spun bonded nonwoven averaged about 0.012 cm from a top surface to a bottom surface when measured in cross-section by a magnifying optical device that included a Navitar video imaging microscope with Image-Pro PlusĀ® image analysis software. In an embodiment, the magnifying optical device may include a scanning electron microscope ("SEM"). Samples were each cut into about a 1 .0 inch (2.54 cm) wide strip and then carefully shear cut across its width to minimize any compressive damage to the cross-section. The sample was then mounted with its edge upward toward the lens of the microscope. The image was focused and measured with line measurement provided by the software. Five spots were measured across the edge of the sample to determine an average loft for the sample. Multiple samples were tested from the same web. After processing the spun bonded nonwoven web using the method according to embodiments of the invention, the web expanded to an average of loft of 0.0267 cm with a standard deviation of 0.0053 cm, which was at least about 1 .7 times the loft of the original spun bonded nonwoven web.

[105] For at least one sample, a forming screen having a mesh count of 25 apertures per linear inch (i.e. "25 mesh") was used. More specifically, the forming screen had a pattern of nested pentagons that had an aperture measured from one flat side of the pentagon to its pointed top side of about 0.050 inch, and the apertures were spaced apart by lands having widths of about 0.007 inch. This expanded spun bonded nonwoven sample had a measured loft as high as 0.036 cm, which is an expansion of about 3.0 times the original loft of the spun bonded nonwoven web.

[106] The 10.25 gsm spun bonded nonwoven web also had an original air permeability average of about 1080 cubic feet per square foot per minute (ft 3 /ft 2 /min), or about 329 cubic meters per square meter per minute (m 3 /m 2 /min), when measured in a device such as a Textest FX3300 Air Permeability Tester, which is the testing device used by the applicant for the data herein. After processing the spun bonded nonwoven web in accordance with embodiments of the invention on the same array of forming screens as described above, the air permeability increased to an average of about 1420 ft 3 /ft 2 /min, or 433 m 3 /m 2 /min, with a standard deviation of 120 ft 3 /ft 2 /min, or 37m 3 /m 2 /min, which translates to an increased air permeability of at least about 1 .2 times the air permeability of the original spun bonded web. When processed upon the aforementioned 25 mesh screen (i.e. a forming screen having a mesh count of 25 apertures per linear inch), the air permeability increased to as high as 1620 ft 3 /ft 2 /min, or 494 m 3 /m 2 /min, which translates to an increased air permeability of about 1 .5 times the air permeability of the original spun bonded web.

[107] Example 2

[108] The spun bonded nonwoven web was also hydroformed as part of a laminate (composite material) according to embodiments of the invention over an array of forming screens as described above. Such a hydroformed composite material should have enough integrity such that the layers will not peel apart and become separated, which may create converting issues when the hydroformed composite material is being constructed into an absorptive device. Even a very small amount of delamination force, i.e. the force that resists delamination of the two layers peeling apart, should be sufficient for most conversion processes. The hydroformed composite material according to embodiments of the invention exhibited a layer delamination force of at least about 3.0 grams when tested by a Peel Force Test Method that involves applying a piece of 2 inch wide masking tape of any brand to the nonwoven side of the composite material for a length of 8-10 inches, pulling the tape away from the film side for a distance of about 2-3 inches by hand, and placing the film and the tape in the jaws of any tensile test device common in the film industry. A jaw separation speed of 5 inches per minute may then activated, and the tensile testing device then calculates the average force experienced by the force gauge when the two layers are peeled apart. In some embodiments of the invention, the delamination force was measured to be as high as almost 20 grams. [109] By manipulating melt temperature and nip pressure in the aforementioned nip lamination process illustrated in Figures 10 and 1 1 , the delamination force can be increased, but the laminating conditions should be balanced so that all the fibers of the nonwoven are not completely compressed into the polymer side of the composite precursor material. The vacuum lamination process illustrated in Figure 1 1 may create a weaker bond (i.e. small delamination force), but still within the limits expressed herein and sufficient for most conversion processes. The materials according to embodiments of the invention are useful as layers in absorptive devices.

[110] Examples 3-10

[111] A nominal 10 gsm spun bonded nonwoven web having an average thickness of about 133 microns (0.0052 inch) and an average air permeability of about 31 1 m 3 /m 2 /min was hydroformed at different water pressures using a 43.5 mesh (43.5 apertures per linear inch) screen and a 60 mesh (60 apertures per linear inch) screen. Table I lists the resulting thicknesses and air permeabilities of the hydroformed nonwoven web using the 43.5 mesh screen at water pressures of 400 psi - 550 psi, and Table II lists the resulting thicknesses and air permeabilities of the hydroformed nonwoven web using the 60 mesh screen at water pressures of 315 psi - 500 psi.

TABLE I: Nonwoven Webs Hydroformed with 43.5 Mesh Screen

[113] Using the 43.5 mesh screen, the average thickness of the spun bonded nonwoven web was expanded to a thickness from about 1 .44 times to about 1 .64 times (i.e. about 44% - about 64%) greater than its original thickness, while the average air permeability increased from about 1 .26 times to about 1 .53 times (i.e. about 26% - 53%) greater than its original air permeability, with the greatest increase in thickness and air permeability being obtained at the highest water pressure.

TABLE II: Nonwoven Webs Hydroformed with 60 Mesh Screen

[115] At each pressure, the average thickness of the spun bonded nonwoven web was expanded to a thickness from about 1 .34 times to about 1 .62 times (i.e. about 34% - about 62%) greater than its original thickness, while the average air permeability increased from about 1 .24 times to about 1 .42 times (i.e. about 24% - about 42%) greater than its original air permeability, with the greatest increase in thickness and air permeability being obtained at the highest water pressure.

[116] Embodiments of the invention provide a hydroformed expanded spun bond nonwoven material with high loft for softness, and high air permeability for coolness and rapid fluid acquisition that may be suitable for a topsheet, i.e. a top layer that will contact the skin of the wearer of the absorptive device. Absorptive devices such as panty liners and feminine napkins may benefit from a cooler, softer topsheet. Embodiments of the invention also provide a hydroformed composite material with micro extended cells with apertures in the film layer that may be best suited for low fluid applications, such as panty liners. The film layer may add strength to the nonwoven material, as well as provide rewet performance enhancement, but without macro extended cells with apertures, the hydroformed composite material may not rapidly acquire high volumes of fluids. Therefore, using the hydroformed composites materials comprised of mesh counts higher than 40 cells per linear inch, i.e. micro extended cells, may be best suited for a precursor web to be introduced into processes described above that add macro extended cells, in accordance with embodiments of the invention.

[117] After the macro extended cells have been integrated, the hydroformed composite material according to embodiments of the invention is especially soft and comfortable due the micro extended cells on the lands between the macro extended cells. The hydroformed composite material also has rapid fluid acquisition, which is desirable for use as a topsheet or an ADL in an absorptive device. The expanded spun bonded nonwoven material by itself may also be used as a topsheet in an absorptive device or in other applications that do not need a fluid barrier. If the hydroformed composite material has extended cells in the film layer that are not apertured, the hydroformed composite material may function as backsheet, because the un-opened cells would provide a fluid barrier while still providing the benefit of softness.

[118] There are many applications in absorptive devices for hydroformed expanded spun bonded nonwoven materials and hydroformed composite materials in accordance with embodiments of the invention, as well as other types of devices that may benefit from the properties and performance provided by embodiments of the invention described herein. For example, embodiments of the invention may provide materials that are suitable for other absorptive devices, such as baby diapers or adult incontinence products, as well as wipes, cleansing devices, disposable clothing, and any other application that needs air and/or liquid permeability and high loft. [119] In an embodiment, the polymer film of the hydroformed composite material may be an elastomeric film and the hydroformed composite material that includes the elastomeric film and the expanded spun bonded nonwoven web may be used as a side panel, ear, leg cuff, waistband or the like in an absorptive device or any other product in which softness and stretch are desired.

[120] The embodiments described herein represent a number of possible implementations and examples and are not intended to necessarily limit the present disclosure to any specific embodiments. Instead, various modifications can be made to these embodiments, and different combinations of various embodiments described herein may be used as part of the invention, even if not expressly described, as would be understood by one of ordinary skill in the art. Any such modifications are intended to be included within the spirit and scope of the present disclosure and protected by the following claims.