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Title:
WASHABLE AND REUSABLE NONWOVEN MATERIAL
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/112522
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
Disclosed herein is an elastomeric polyurethane fiber nonwoven fabric that has an average of from 5 to 35% of the fibers within said fabric fused to another fiber in the fabric. This results in a fabric that is soft and can be machine washed multiple times. Also disclosed herein is a method to obtain the fabric, which involves meltblowing the fibers and then subjecting them to flat roll calendering.

Inventors:
WINDSCHIEGL, Ingo (Plattenhardter Straße 32, Filderstadt, 70794, DE)
DAYARATHNE, Thiline (10th Floor Aitken Spence Tower II, 315, Vauxhall Street, Colombo 02, 02, LK)
Application Number:
SG2018/050597
Publication Date:
June 13, 2019
Filing Date:
December 07, 2018
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
MAS INTIMATES (PRIVATE) LIMITED (10th floor, Aitken Spence Tower II 315 Vauxhall Street, Colombo 02, 02, LK)
MATTEUCCI, Gianfranco (Marks & Clerk Singapore LLP, Tanjong Pagar,,P O Box 636, Singapore 6, 910816, SG)
International Classes:
D04H1/4358; D04H1/558
Domestic Patent References:
WO2001012896A12001-02-22
WO2010090923A22010-08-12
Foreign References:
US6784127B12004-08-31
EP1167606A12002-01-02
EP0564784A11993-10-13
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
KINNAIRD, James Welsh (Marks & Clerk Singapore LLP, Tanjong Pagar,,P O Box 636, Singapore 6, 910816, SG)
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Claims:
Claims

1. A process to produce a washable and reusable nonwoven fabric for apparel comprising fibres of an elastomeric polyurethane, which process comprises:

(a) providing an elastomeric polyurethane having a shore hardness [A] of from 80 to 97;

(b) meltblowing the elastomeric polymer to provide meltblown fibers that are deposited and randomly fused to provide a nonwoven sheet; and

(c) subjecting the nonwoven sheet to flat roll calendaring to provide the nonwoven fabric, wherein:

the fibers that comprise the nonwoven fabric have a median diameter of from 2 to 8 pm and, in a sample of the fabric, an average of from 5 to 35% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are fused to at least one other fibre at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 65 to 95% of the fibres in the sample are unfused; and

the average percentage fusion value is generated from fusion percentage values obtained from the examination of from 5 to 100 sections of the fabric.

2. The process according to Claim 1 , wherein the meltblowing is conducted using:

a die hole diameter of from 0.1 mm to 0.5 mm;

a die hole to die hole distance of from 0.3 to 1.5 mm; and

an air temperature of from 200 to 300°C.

3. The process according to Claim 2, wherein the meltblowing is conducted using:

a die hole diameter of from 0.2 mm to 0.4 mm, such as 0.3 mm;

a die hole to die hole distance of from 0.5 to 1.1 mm, such as 0.9 mm; and an air temperature of from 220 to 260°C, such as 250°C.

4. The process according to Claim 2 or Claim 3, wherein the meltblowing step uses an airstream of from 50 to 150 NL/(cm*min) and/or a relation airstream volume to polymer throughput of from 70 to 110 NL/g, optionally wherein the meltblowing step uses an airstream of from 60 to 100 NL/(cm*min) (e.g. 80 NL/(cm*min)) and/or a relation airstream volume to polymer throughput of from 85 to 95 NL/g (e.g. 89.1 NL/g).

5. The process according to any one of Claims 2 to 4, wherein the meltblowing step has a die collector distance of from 10 to 50 cm, optionally wherein the meltblowing step has a die collector distance of from 12 to 25 cm, such as 15 cm.

6. The process according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the meltblowing process has a temperature of from 180 to 270°C, optionally wherein the meltblowing process has a temperature of from 200 to 250°C, such as 230°C.

7. The process according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the flat roll calendaring step is conducted using at least one roller that is in contact with at least one surface of the nonwoven sheet.

8. The process according to Claim 7, wherein the flat roll calendaring step is conducted using a first and a second roller that are in contact, respectively, with a first and a second surface of the nonwoven sheet.

9. The process according to Claim 8, wherein a gap between the rollers is from 0.05 to 0.3 mm.

10. The process according to Claim 8 or Claim 9, wherein the rollers provide a pressing force of from 40 to 100 kN/m onto the nonwoven sheet.

11. The process according to any one of Claims 7 to 10, wherein the roller speed is from 0.5 to 50 m/min.

12. The process according to any one of the Claims 7 to 1 1 , wherein the temperature of the at least one roller is from 100 to 180°C, optionally wherein there are two or more rollers, each roller has a different temperature setting operate.

13. The process according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein after meltblowing, the nonwoven sheet is cooled before it is subjected to flat roll calendaring.

14. The process according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein an average of from 5 to 25% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are randomly fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 75 to 95% of the fibres in the sample are unfused.

15. The process according to Claim 14, wherein from an average of 7 to 20% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are randomly fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 80 to 93% of the fibres are unfused.

16. The process according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein an average of from 8 to 15% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are randomly fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 85 to 92% of the fibres in the sample are unfused.

17. The process according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the examination of the sections of the fabric is conducted by scanning electron microscope, optionally wherein:

(a) the magnification is around 1000 (1k) magnification; and/or

(b) each section examined has a size of 188 X 141 pm; and/or

(c) the number of sections examined is from 5 to 20, such as 10; and/or

(d) in each section examined the total number of fibers selected for use in establishing the percentage value of fusion is from 15 to 100, such as from 25 to 50, such as 30, where the fibers considered are selected using the following criteria:

(i) first, all fibers having a clear and visible fusion point are counted;

(ii) second, the fabric comprises layers of fibers having an upper surface closest to the scanning electron microscope and a lower surface furthest away from the scanning electron microscope, fibers in the uppermost layers of the fabric are counted; and

(iii) if required to obtain the selected total number of fibers, fibers in lower layers having the longest visible length are counted to provide the selected total number of fibers.

18. A washable and reusable nonwoven fabric comprising fibres of an elastomeric polyurethane, wherein:

in a sample of the fabric, an average of from 5 to 35% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are randomly fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 65 to 95% of the fibres in the sample are unfused; the fibres have a median diameter of from 2 to 8 pm; and

the average percentage fusion value is generated from the fusion percentage values obtained from the examination of from 5 to 100 sections of the fabric.

19. The nonwoven fabric according to Claim 18, wherein the fibres of elastomeric polyurethane have a shore A hardness of from 80 to 97, optionally wherein the fibres of elastomeric polyurethane has a shore A hardness of 92 (e.g. the elastomeric polyurethane is Desmopan 3491 A).

20. The nonwoven fabric according to Claim 18 or Claim 19, wherein the fibres have a median diameter of from 3.0 to 7.0 pm, such as a median diameter of from 3.5 to 5.5 pm.

21. The nonwoven fabric according to any one of Claims 18 to 20, wherein an average of from 5 to 25% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 65 to 95% of the fibres in the sample are unfused

22. The nonwoven fabric according to Claim 21 , wherein an average of from 7 to 20% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 80 to 93% of the fibres are unfused.

23. The nonwoven fabric according to Claim 22,

wherein the fabric has an average of from 5 to 5% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 75 to 95% of the fibres in the sample are unfused, optionally wherein:

(a) an average of from 8 to 15% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are randomly fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 85 to 92% of the fibres in the sample are unfused; or

(b) an average of 10% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are randomly fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of 90% of the fibres are unfused.

24. The nonwoven fabric according to any one of Claims 18 to 23, wherein the fabric has a tensile strength of from 24.5 N (5.5 lbs) to 133.4 N (29.9 lbs) in a main direction and from 53.9 N (12.1 lbs) to 133.4 N (29.9 lbs) in a crosswise direction

25. The nonwoven fabric according to Claim 24, wherein the fabric has a tensile strength of from 29.4 N (6.6 lbs) to 49.0 N (1 1.0 lbs) in a main direction and from 58.8 N (13.2 lbs) to 98.0 N (22.0 lbs) in a crosswise direction, optionally from 31.4 N (7.0 lbs) to 44.1 N (19.8 lbs) in a main direction and from 61.8 N (13.8 lbs) to 88.2 N (19.8 lbs) in a crosswise direction.

26. The nonwoven fabric according to any one of Claims 18 to 25, wherein the fabric has an elongation of from 150 to 600% in a main direction and an elongation of from 400 to 800% in a cross direction, optionally wherein the fabric has an elongation of from 300 - 600% in a main direction and an elongation of from 550 - 650% in a cross direction.

27. The nonwoven fabric according to any one of Claims 18 to 26, wherein the fabric has a recovery of from 50 to 90% in a main direction and from 90 to 100% in a cross direction after 1 minute of relaxation, optionally wherein the fabric has a recovery of from 65 to 80% in a main direction and from 95 to 99% in a cross direction after 1 minute of relaxation.

28. The nonwoven fabric according to any one of Claims 18 to 27, wherein the fabric has an air permeability of from 40 to 100 cubic meters per hour, optionally wherein the fabric has an air permeability from 45 to 60 cubic meters per hour.

29. The nonwoven fabric according to any one of Claims 18 to 28, wherein the fabric has a tear strength of from 8 to 20 N when transversely torn and from 5 to 15 N when longitudinally torn, optionally wherein the fabric has a tear strength of from 10 to 12 N when transversely torn and from 7 to 9 N when longitudinally torn.

30. The nonwoven fabric according to any one of Claims 18 to 29, wherein each fibre has a diameter of from 1 pm to 15 pm, such as from 2 pm to 10 pm.

31. The nonwoven fabric according to any one of Claims 18 to 30, wherein the fabric is suitable for use in apparel, outdoor gear, protective applications or for medical use.

32. The nonwoven fabric according to any one of Claims 18 to 31 , wherein the examination of the sections of the fabric is conducted by scanning electron microscope, optionally wherein:

(a) the magnification is around 1000 (1 k) magnification; and/or

(b) each section examined has a size of 188 X 141 pm; and/or

(c) the number of sections examined is from 5 to 20, such as 10; and/or

(d) in each section examined the total number of fibers selected for use in establishing the percentage value of fusion is from 15 to 100, such as from 25 to 50, such as 30, where the fibers considered are selected using the following criteria:

(i) first, all fibers having a clear and visible fusion point are counted;

(ii) second, the fabric comprises layers of fibers having an upper surface closest to the scanning electron microscope and a lower surface furthest away from the scanning electron microscope, fibers in the uppermost layers of the fabric are counted; and

(iii) if required to obtain the selected total number of fibers, fibers in lower layers having the longest visible length are counted to provide the selected total number of fibers.

33. A product formed using the nonwoven fabric according to any one of Claims 18 to 32.

34. The product according to Claim 33, wherein the product is seamless or has a seam.

35. The product having a seam according to Claim 34, wherein the seam is an ultrasonic weld seam or a stitched seam.

36. The product having a seam according to Claim 35, wherein when the seam is a stitched seam, the seam further comprises a polyurethane adhesive tape.

Description:
Washable and Reusable Nonwoven Material

Field of Invention

The present invention relates to a washable, reusable and stretchable polyurethane melt- blown nonwoven material, which can conform to the body and is conducive to human movements. These features are achieved by the properties of the material, which includes a high stretch and recovery and a relatively high tensile strength, where the material also retains its dimensional integrity after multiple laundry cycles and on repeated stretching. The material has relatively good air permeability and inherent liquid repellence.

Background

Nonwoven fabrics are broadly defined as sheet or web structures bonded together by entangling fiber or filaments (and by perforating films) mechanically, thermally or chemically. They are flat or tufted porous sheets that are made directly from separate fibers, molten plastic or plastic film. They are not made by weaving or knitting and do not require converting the fibers to yarn.

Nonwoven fabrics can be used in a variety of different roles, depending on the physical properties imparted to the fabric from the material(s) and the method of formation used to manufacture the fabric. For example, some nonwoven fabrics have very good absorbency and so can be used in the formation of the absorbable portion of a sanitary product, while other nonwoven fabrics can act as a barrier to water, making them suitable for use in the outer parts of such a sanitary product.

When using nonwoven, commercially available products to create products for form-fitting applications the resulting products often exhibit undesirable features like low drapeability, low stretch recovery, low tensile and tear strength and problems in retaining dimensional stability after single or multiple laundry cycle(s). Hence, materials that show an improvement over the currently available materials are needed to make nonwoven materials with better properties that are more appropriate for re-wearable form-fitting applications. In addition, for nonwoven materials used in apparel (especially next-to-skin clothing), it is imperative that the material provides comfort in the form of a soft hand-feel and haptic feel to the consumer, as this will ensure that the consumer views the product favourably because their comfort will be assured. Meltblowing is a method to form micro- and/or nanofibers, where a polymer melt is extruded through small nozzles surrounded by a high speed blowing gas. As such, meltblowing can be used to make a nonwoven material in the form of a web, film or fabric. Any thermoplastic material can be used in the meltblowing process, but typical examples of suitable materials include polyethylene, polypropylene and the polyurethanes.

Calendaring is a finishing process that can be used to level and/or segment a textile substrate. In calendaring, the textile fabric is passed between one or more rollers, which independently operate at defined temperatures, speeds, and pressures to provide the finished product. As will be appreciated, when there is more than one roller, the calendaring process may also involve selecting specific combinations of rollers. For example, where there are three rollers, two may operate in tandem (one on top and one on the bottom of the substrate material), while the other may operate independently, either before or after the paired rollers. Calendaring can be used to obtain or to produce special surface treatments and textures, such as flattening, enhancing durability, lustre, compacting, smoothing, texturing, and other embossed patterns. The type of calendaring applied will determine the finished product’s appearance and properties. Examples of the many different types of calendaring include flat roll calendaring and spot, or point, calendaring.

In flat roll calendaring, a surface treatment is applied throughout the exposed area of the material. Flat roll calendaring may include patterns and textures embedded in the flat roll and the pattern may be inward or outward relative to the surface of the roll, thereby creating embossed or debossed patterns, respectively, on the fabric. Thus, when applied to a nonwoven the durability, hand-feel and breathability are enhanced (e.g. the hand-feel is softer).

In contrast, spot or point calendaring involves the use of a heated male patterned metal roll or a nip and a secondary surface on which the material lies. This secondary surface can be heated or not and patterned or not depending on the application. When a material is introduced, the fiber segments are caught between the tips of the male metal roll or nip’s engraved points and the secondary surface, thus obtaining the intended texture which is compressed and densely compacted. Unlike flat roll calendaring, only the area directly caught between the metal roll tip/nip point and the secondary surface is texturized (known as the bonded area), while the remainder of the material is not texturized. Thus, when applied to a nonwoven material, the bonded areas are compressed and densely compacted, but the other areas (i.e. non-bonded areas) of the nonwoven material are left very open, breathable and porous. The use of stretchable polyurethane melt-blow nonwoven materials is disclosed in United States patent No. 6784127B1. This patent discloses a polyurethane elastic fiber nonwoven fabric made by meltblowing, where the polyurethane elastic filaments are mutually fused and bonded to one another. This nonwoven product exhibits excellent stretchability and high tear strength, but there is no disclosure of how the fabric behaves after enduring one or more laundry cycle(s), or if the material has a soft hand-feel or otherwise before (or after) washing. GB Patent Number 1 ,453,447 discloses a nonwoven material in the form of a laminate of a web of substantially continuous and randomly deposited filaments of a thermoplastic polymer and a mat of generally discontinuous thermoplastic microfibers having an average diameter of up to 10 microns, the web and mat being bonded together at a number of discrete areas. After formation of the two materials, they are brought together and bonded using spot or point calendaring to form specifically-bonded sections, which have different properties to the rest of the material. Similarly, international patent application publication No. WO 2010/090923 discloses the use of spot (or point) calendaring on a nonwoven material to create specific regions of fabric having different properties from those that surround it (or vice versa). However, there’s no disclosure of the fabric’s durability over single or multiple laundry cycles.

While it has been possible to impart a variety of properties into a single nonwoven fabric, it has so far proved difficult to provide a material that provides the comfort and drapeability of a woven or knitted textile, while also being suitable for reuse following multiple laundry cycles. As such, there remains a need for new nonwoven fabric materials with improved properties.

Summary of Invention

A purpose of the current invention is to provide an improved nonwoven material that provides a balance between its physical properties (e.g. rewashability, stretchability and tear strength) and consumer appeal (e.g. softness of hand-feel).

In a first aspect of the invention, there is provided a washable and reusable nonwoven fabric for apparel comprising fibres of an elastomeric polyurethane, wherein:

in a sample of the fabric, an average of from 5 to 35% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are randomly fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 65 to 95% of the fibres in the sample are unfused;

the fibres have a median diameter of from 2 to 8 pm; and

the average percentage fusion value is generated from the fusion percentage values obtained from the examination of from 5 to 100 sections of the fabric. Embodiments of the first aspect of the invention include those in which:

(a) the fibres of elastomeric polyurethane may have a shore [A] hardness of from 80 to 97, optionally wherein the fibres of elastomeric polyurethane may have a shore A hardness of 92 (e.g. the elastomeric polyurethane may be Desmopan 3491A);

(b) the fibres may have a median diameter of from 3.0 to 7.0 pm, such as a median diameter of from 3.5 to 5.5 pm;

(c) an average of from 5 to 25% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric may be fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 75 to 95% of the fibres in the sample are unfused (e.g. an average of from 7 to 20% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric may be fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 80 to 93% of the fibres are unfused; or an average of from 8 to 15% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric may be fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 85 to 92% of the fibres are unfused, optionally wherein an average of 10% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that 90% of the fibres are unfused);

(d) the fabric may have a tensile strength of from 24.5 N (5.5 lbs) to 133.4 N (29.9 lbs) in a main direction and from 53.9 N (12.1 lbs) to 133.4 N (29.9lbs) in a crosswise direction (e.g. a tensile strength of from 29.4 N (6.6lbs) to 49.0 N (11.0lbs) in a main direction and from 58.8 N (13.2lbs) to 98.0 N (22.0 lbs) in a crosswise direction, or from 31.4N (7.0 lbs) to 44.1 N (9.9 lbs) in a main direction and from 61.8N (13.8 lbs) to 88.2N (19.8lbs) in a crosswise direction) - such as when measured using ASTM D 5034 method;

(e) the fabric may have an elongation of from 150 to 600% in a main direction, for example the fabric may have an elongation of from 300 to 600% in a main direction and/or an elongation of from 400 to 800% in a cross direction, for example the fabric may have an elongation of from 550 to 650% in a cross direction;

(f) the fabric may have a recovery of from 50 to 90% in a main direction and from 90 to 100% in a cross direction after 1 minute of relaxation, for example the fabric may have a recovery of from 65 to 80% in a main direction and from 95 to 99% in a cross direction after 1 minute of relaxation;

(g) the fabric may have an air permeability of from 40 to 100 cubic meters per hour, for example the fabric may have an air permeability from 45 to 60 cubic meters per hour; (h) the fabric may have a tear strength of from 8 to 20 N when transversely torn and from 5 to 15 N when longitudinally torn, for example the fabric may have a tear strength of from 10 to 12 N when transversely torn and from 7 to 9 N when longitudinally torn;

(i) each fibre may have a diameter of from 1 pm to 15 pm, such as from 2 pm to 10 pm;

(j) the fabric may be suitable for use in apparel, outdoor gear, protective applications or for medical use.

In a second aspect of the invention, there is provided a process to produce a washable and reusable nonwoven fabric for apparel comprising fibres of an elastomeric polyurethane, which process comprises:

(a) providing an elastomeric polyurethane having a shore hardness [A] of from 80 to 97;

(b) meltblowing the elastomeric polymer to provide meltblown fibers that are deposited to provide a nonwoven sheet; and

(c) subjecting the nonwoven sheet to flat roll calendaring to provide the nonwoven fabric, wherein:

the fibers that comprise the nonwoven fabric have a median diameter of from 2 to 8 pm and, in a sample of the fabric, an average of from 5 to 35% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are fused to at least one other fibre at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 65 to 95% of the fibres in the sample are unfused; and

the average percentage fusion value is generated from fusion percentage values obtained from the examination of from 5 to 100 sections of the fabric.

Embodiments of the second aspect of the invention include those in which:

(a) the meltblowing may be conducted using: a die hole diameter of from 0.1 mm to 0.5 mm; a die hole to die hole distance of from 0.3 to 1.5 mm; and an air temperature of from 200 to 300°C (e.g. the meltblowing may be conducted using: a die hole diameter of from 0.2 mm to 0.4 mm, such as 0.3 mm; a die hole to die hole distance of from 0.5 to 1.1 mm, such as 0.9 mm; and an air temperature of from 220 to 260°C, such as 250°C);

(b) the meltblowing step may use an airstream of from 50 to 150 NL/(cm*min) and/or a relation airstream volume to polymer throughput of from 70 to 1 10 NL/g, (e.g. the meltblowing step may use an airstream of from 60 to 100 NL/(cm*min) (e.g. 80 NL/(cm*min)) and/or a relation airstream volume to polymer throughput of from 85 to 95 NL/g (e.g. 89.1 NL/g));

(c) the meltblowing step may have a die collector distance of from 10 to 50 cm, for example, the meltblowing step may have a die collector distance of from 12 to 25 cm, such as (d) the meltblowing process may be conducted at a temperature of from 180 to 270°C (e.g. from 200 to 250°C, such as 230°C);

(e) the flat roll calendaring step may be conducted using at least one roller that is in contact with at least one surface of the nonwoven sheet, optionally where

(i) the flat roll calendaring step may be conducted using a first and a second roller that are in contact, respectively, with a first and a second surface of the nonwoven sheet, optionally there is gap between the rollers that may be from 0.05 to 0.3 mm and/or the rollers provide a pressing force of from 40 to 100 kN/m onto the nonwoven sheet;

(ii) the roller speed may be from 0.5 to 50 m/min;

(iii) the temperature of the at least one roller may be from 100 to 180°C, optionally wherein there are two or more rollers, each roller has a different temperature setting operate;

(f) after meltblowing, the nonwoven sheet may be cooled before it is subjected to flat roll calendaring;

(g) an average of from 5 to 35% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric may be fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 65 to 95% of the fibres in the sample are unfused (e.g. an average of from 7 to 20% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric may be fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 80 to 93% of the fibres are unfused, such as an average of from 8 to 15% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric may be fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 85 to 92% of the fibres are unfused (e.g. an average of 10% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric may be fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of 90% of the fibres are unfused)).

In the first and second aspects of the invention, the examination of the sections of the fabric may be conducted by scanning electron microscope, optionally wherein:

(a) the magnification may be around 1000 (1 k) magnification; and/or

(b) each section examined may have a size of 188 X 141 pm; and/or

(c) the number of sections examined may be from 5 to 20, such as 10; and/or

(d) in each section examined the total number of fibers selected for use in establishing the percentage value of fusion may be from 15 to 100, such as from 25 to 50, such as 30, where the fibers considered may be selected using the following criteria: (i) first, all fibers having a clear and visible fusion point are counted;

(ii) second, the fabric comprises layers of fibers having an upper surface closest to the scanning electron microscope and a lower surface furthest away from the scanning electron microscope, fibers in the uppermost layers of the fabric are counted; and

(iii) if required to obtain the selected total number of fibers, fibers in lower layers having the longest visible length are counted to provide the selected total number of fibers.

In a third aspect of the invention, there is provided a product formed using the nonwoven fabric according to the first aspect of the invention and any technically sensible combination of its embodiments.

In embodiments of the third aspect of the invention, the product (e.g. an item of apparel) may be seamless or it may have a seam. In embodiments where the product has a seam, the seam may be an ultrasonic weld seam or a stitched seam. In embodiments where the seam is a stitched seam, the seam may further comprise a polyurethane adhesive tape.

Drawings

Figure 1A - 1J depicts a scanning electron micrograph of a fibre of the current invention, showing points of fusion.

Figure 2 is a graph depicting the median fiber diameter of a nonwoven material of the current invention.

Figure 3 depicts dB V RMS and provides a graph illustrating the relative softness of a commercial product against the softness of a product according to the current invention.

Description

It has been surprisingly found that subjecting a thermoplastic polyurethane material to meltblowing and flat roll calendaring results in a product with improved properties regarding its perceived consumer hand feel and its mechanical properties. Thus, there is provided a washable and reusable nonwoven fabric for apparel comprising fibres of an elastomeric polyurethane, wherein:

in a sample of the fabric, an average of from 5 to 35% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are fused to at least one other fibre of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 65 to 95% of the fibres in the sample are unfused;

the fibres have a median diameter of from 2 to 8 pm; and

the average percentage fusion value is generated from fusion percentage values obtained from the examination of from 5 to 100 sections of the fabric.

When used herein, the term“washable” relates to simple handwashing and/or to the machine washing of a material under standard testing conditions that are described herein (e.g. under one or more of AATCC 135, CPSD SL 31055 MTHD, AATCC 150). Surprisingly it has been found that though only less than 35% of the fibers are fused together the nonwoven fabrics (and garments made therefrom) are reusable for up to 20, such as up to 25 or 30 (e.g. up to 50 or up to 100) wash and dry cycles. The unique construction of the nonwoven fabric ensures that the fabric and garments made therefrom washable without compromising on the wearability, colour fastness or functionality of the material. Furthermore the integrity of the nonwoven material disclosed herein is maintained for up to 20, such as up to 25 or 30 (e.g. up to 50 or up to 100) wash and dry cycles. As such, the nonwoven fabrics mentioned herein remain chemically, thermally and mechanically stable throughout the intended lifetime of the product. That is, while undergoing a minimum of 30 (e.g. up to 50 or up to 100) wash and dry cycles.

Without wishing to be bound by theory, it is believed that the extraordinary soft touch feel and washability of this nonwoven fabric are obtained as a result of the fusion of only some of the fibers in the fabric. The low fusion percentage between fibers in the nonwoven fabric discussed herein is obtained by the combination of flat roll calendaring in combination with the meltblowing process parameters described in further detail below.

The thermoplastic polyurethane used herein may be an elastomeric polyurethane having a shore [A] hardness of from 80 to 97, such as 92. The thermoplastic polyurethane may come from any source, which may include bio-based feedstocks. Particular thermoplastic polyurethanes that may be mentioned herein include Desmopan 3491A.

The nonwoven products disclosed herein may have a median diameter of from 3.0 to 7.0 pm, such as a median diameter of from 3.5 to 5.5 pm. Details of how to measure the median diameter of the fibres is presented in the experimental section below. The median diameter size denotes a fibre diameter lying at the midpoint of a frequency distribution of observed values or quantities, such that there is an equal probability of falling above or below it. As such, it will be appreciated that the diameter of the fibres may be significantly smaller or larger than this median size and thus each fibre may have a diameter of from 1 pm to 15 pm (e.g. from such as from 2 pm to 10 pm).

When referred to herein, the term“fused” refers to the attachment of one fiber to another at least one point along its length. Examples of such fusions are demonstrated in Figures 1 A to 1 J, where each circle highlights a fusion point between two (or more) fibers). As noted above, one of the surprising features of the nonwoven products disclosed herein is that although the fibers do not appear to be entirely mutually fused to one another, the nonwoven materials disclosed herein display improved properties both mechanically and in their softness. As noted above, the average percentage fusion in a nonwoven fabric described herein may be from 5 to 35%. For example, an average of from 5 to 25% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric may be fused to at least one other fibre at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 75 to 95% of the fibres in the sample are unfused. The procedure to conduct this analysis is provided in the experimental section below. The level of fusion may vary between products of the current invention and ranges from an average of from 7 to 20% fused (i.e. an average of from 80 to 93% unfused) or an average of from 8 to 15% fused (i.e. an average of from 85 to 92% unfused) may also be mentioned herein in embodiments of the invention. In particular embodiments of the invention, the level of fusing found in samples of the product may be one where an average of around 10% of the fibres are mutually fused to one another, such that an average of around 90% of the fibres are unfused.

The nonwoven fabrics disclosed herein appear to have superior properties for their weight, which may be from 65 to 85g/m 2 , such as from 67 to 79 g/m 2 . For example, the nonwoven fabrics disclosed herein may have a tensile strength of from 24.5 N (5.5 lbs) to 133.4 N (29.9 lbs) in a main direction and from 53.9 N (12.1 lbs) to 133.4 N (29.9lbs) in a crosswise direction (e.g. a tensile strength of from 29.4 N (6.6lbs) to 49.0 N (1 1.Olbs) in a main direction and from 58.8 N (13.2lbs) to 98.0 N (22.0 lbs) in a crosswise direction, or from 31.4N (7.0 lbs) to 44.1 N (9.9 lbs) in a main direction and from 61.8N (13.8 lbs) to 88.2N (19.8lbs) in a crosswise direction) as measured using ASTM D 5034. The fabric may also have an elongation of from 150 to 600% in a main direction (e.g. from 300 - 600% in a main direction) and/or an elongation of from 400 to 800% in a cross direction (e.g. from 550 - 650%) as measured using DIN EN 29073-3 and/or a recovery of from 50 to 90% in a main direction and from 90 to 100% in a cross direction after 1 minute of relaxation, for example the fabric may have a recovery of from 65 to 80% in a main direction and from 95 to 99% in a cross direction after 1 minute of relaxation as measured using BS EN 14704-1. Additionally or alternatively, the fabric may have an air permeability of from 40 to 100 cubic meters per hour (e.g. from 45 to 60 cubic meters per hour) as measured using ASTMD737 and/or a tear strength of from 8 to 20 N when transversely torn and from 5 to 15 N when longitudinally torn (e.g. from 10 to 12 N when transversely torn and from 7 to 9 N when longitudinally torn) as measured by ASTM D 2261- 13.

The nonwoven fabric of the current invention also displays softness to touch, while providing the useful mechanical properties mentioned herein. This includes retaining the softness/comfort even after washing. In addition, the fabrics disclosed herein display satisfactory dye fastness and chemical resistances, meaning that they may be used across a wide range of garment/apparel applications. Examples of suitable garments/apparel include, but are not limited to, innerwear (e.g. panties, briefs, boxers); outerwear (e.g. tanks, camis, shorts); sporting clothing (e.g. sports bra, bralette), swimwear (e.g. a bikini), and footwear. Other applications include but are not limited to outdoor gear, breathable but water impermeable membranes, elastic pouches or gloves lining.

As will be appreciated, the new nonwoven materials discussed above are obtained from a thermoplastic polyurethane using a new process, which imparts the properties discussed hereinbefore onto the resulting nonwoven material. Thus, there is also disclosed a process to produce a washable and reusable nonwoven fabric for apparel comprising fibres of an elastomeric polyurethane, which process comprises:

(a) providing an elastomeric polyurethane having a shore hardness [A] of from 80 to 97;

(b) meltblowing the elastomeric polymer to provide meltblown fibers that are deposited to provide a nonwoven sheet; and

(c) subjecting the nonwoven sheet to flat roll calendaring to provide the nonwoven fabric, wherein:

the fibers that comprise the nonwoven fabric have a median diameter of from 2 to 8 pm and, in a sample of the fabric, an average of from 5 to 35% of the fibres that comprise the nonwoven fabric are fused to at least one other fibre at an intersection between said fibers, such that an average of from 65 to 95% of the fibres in the sample are unfused; and

the average percentage fusion value is generated from fusion percentage values obtained from the examination of from 5 to 100 sections of the fabric.

In other words, the nonwoven materials disclosed herein are obtained by subjecting a thermoplastic polyurethane to meltblowing followed by flat roll calendaring. Meltblowing is characterised by feeding a molten polymer to holes in a die arranged in a line to produce extruded filaments of the polymer that are then blown by a high-temperature gas (e.g. air) in an air manifold that directs the filaments onto a conveyor belt. The subsequent flat roll calendaring step involves taking the nonwoven material immediately after deposition or after it has been cooled and subjecting it to a pressure from at least one roller. The meltblowing apparatus may be a standard apparatus and therefore makes use of a die having die holes and an air/gas manifold. As used herein, the die may have a die hole diameter of from 0.1 to 0.5 mm (e.g. from 0.2 mm to 0.4 mm, such as 0.3 mm) and a die hole to die hole distance of from 0.3 to 1.5 mm (e.g. from 0.5 to 1.1 mm, such as 0.9 mm). The air/gas blown through the manifolds may have a temperature of from 200 to 300°C (e.g. from 220 to 260°C, such as 250°C).

In Example 1 below, the die hole to die hole distance is around 0.9 mm (28.5 holes per inch), while in commercial set-ups, the die hole to die hole distance may be from 0.6 to 0.9 mm, such as from 0.63 to 0.85 mm (i.e. 30 to 40 holes per inch). It will be appreciated that these die hole to die hole distances may be used in combination with the other processing parameters referred to hereinbefore.

The throughput of the meltblowing device disclosed in Example 1 is around 0.08 g per hole per minute. In commercial set ups (e.g. such as in the set ups used to produce the materials of Example 4), the throughput may be from 0.8 to 1.5 g per hole per minute and the other parameters disclosed in Example 1 may be adjusted accordingly to ensure the desired throughput is obtained. Therefore, it will be appreciated that the throughput of the meltblowing apparatus may be from 0.05 to 5 g per hole per minute, such as from 0.08 to 1.75 g per hole per minute, such as from 0.5 to 1.6 g per hole per minute, such as from 0.8 to 1.5 g per hole per minute in the processes disclosed herein.

The air manifolds are used to provide a stream of a hot gas to the extruded molten materials exiting the die holes. This gas may be any suitable gas, such as nitrogen, argon or, more particularly, air. The gas may be delivered in an amount of from 50 to 150 NL/(cm*min) and/or a relation airstream volume to polymer throughput of from 70 to 110 NL/g (e.g. the meltblowing step may use an airstream of from 60 to 100 NL/(cm*min) (e.g. 80 NL/(cm*min)) and/or a relation airstream volume to polymer throughput of from 85 to 95 NL/g (e.g. 89.1 NL/g)).

The material extruded from the die holes into the air manifold is deposited on a collecting conveyor belt that typically applies a negative pressure on its surface to ensure that the molten fibres are held to this collection surface, this distance is known as the die collector distance and/or die to collector distance. Any suitable die collector distance may be used in the processes described herein. Suitable die collector distances that may be referred to herein include, but are not limited to, those in which the die collector distance may be from 10 to 50 cm, for example from 12 to 25 cm, such as 15 cm. The meltblowing process described herein may be conducted at any suitable temperature. Examples of suitable temperature ranges that may be used in the meltblowing process include, but are not limited to, a temperature of from 180 to 270°C (e.g. from 200 to 250°C, such as 230°C).

The flat roll calendaring step may be conducted using at least one roller that is in contact with at least one surface of the nonwoven sheet and apply a suitable pressure to the surface of the nonwoven sheet (e.g. from 40 to 100 kN/m). In certain processes that may be mentioned herein, the flat roll calendaring step may be conducted using a first and a second roller that are in contact, respectively, with a first and a second surface of the nonwoven sheet. There may be a suitable gap between the rollers and the rollers may apply a suitable pressure to the nonwoven sheet. For example, a suitable gap between the two rollers may be from 0.05 to 0.3 mm and/or a suitable pressure applied by the rollers may be a pressure of from 40 to 100 kN/m onto the nonwoven sheet. The roller speed of the flat roll calendaring apparatus used herein may be from 0.5 to 50 m/min and the temperature of the at least one roller may be from 100 to 180°C. It will be appreciated that, when there are two or more rollers, each roller may a different temperature setting and so may provide a different temperature.

It will be appreciated that the above-mentioned process (and the variants of it described above) are able to provide a material having the properties of the nonwoven materials described above. In particular, the average number of fibers fused is as described above for the nonwoven fabric, which is the product of the described process.

As noted hereinbefore, the nonwoven fabric disclosed herein is particularly suitable for use in the manufacture of clothing, as the material displays particularly good mechanical stability while also being soft to the touch, as demonstrated in more detail in the experimental section below. It is noted that the mechanical stability of the nonwoven materials disclosed herein allows them to be washed and reused, which is not an ability normally associated with nonwoven fabrics in the form of garments, which are normally used once and then disposed of because they are not suitable for washing and reuse.

As such, there is also disclosed herein a product (e.g. an item of apparel) formed using the nonwoven fabrics disclosed herein. Such products may be constructed in any suitable manner with respect to nonwoven materials and may contain a seam or be seamless. When the nonwoven fabric is formed into a garment that has a seam, any suitable method of forming the seam may be used, which methods may include, but are not limited to, the use of ultrasonic welding. In addition, it has been surprisingly found that it is possible to form a stitched seam in a nonwoven garment by the application of a polyurethane adhesive tape to one or both sections of fabric that will form the seam, such that the adhesive tape is sandwiched between the sections upon formation of the seam. Without wishing to be bound by theory, it is believed that the use of the adhesive tape enables stitches to be applied to a nonwoven fabric in a manner that not only provides an aesthetically pleasing seam upon initial formation, but also the resulting seam is sufficiently mechanically stable to undergo multiple rounds of washing. The application of a polymeric adhesive tape in this manner as part of a seam may be broadly applicable to other nonwoven materials. Examples

Test Methods

The test methods using particular standards are summarised in Table 1.

Table 1

Figures 1A to 1 J relate to Example 1 below and are used herein as an illustration of how the percentage fusion calculation is obtained.

In order to establish the overall percentage of fusion points related to the number of fibers in a material described herein, 10 micrographs were taken using SEM at a magnification of 1 ,000 (1 k), with each micrograph having an image size of 188 X 141 pm. The micrographs were taken at random locations across the fabric. The size of 188 X 141 pm is exemplary and other convenient image sizes may be chosen depending on the available equipment.

As will be appreciated, it is difficult to count the total number of fusion points throughout a nonwoven material, as it is not possible to accurately view fibres further away from the surface of the material viewed by SEM. Therefore, in order to obtain a representative view of the number of fusions in each micrographed section of material, in each micrograph 30 fibers were selected according to the following criteria:

• first, all fibers having a clear and visible fusion point are counted;

• secondly, the fibers of the uppermost layers are counted; and

• finally, if the first two points do not provide 30 fibers, then the fibers in lower layers having the longest visible length are also counted to provide a total of 30 fibers.

Without wishing to be bound by theory, it is believed that selecting around 30 fibers per micrograph having a size of 188 X 141 pm provides a reasonable representation of the amount of fusions in each micrographed section (whether said fusions are visible or not by proximity to the micrographed surface). As will be appreciated, the number of fibers counted may be varied depending on the size of the micrograph area, with a higher number of threads being selected for a larger area. For example, if the micrographed area is half the size of that used in this example, then the number of fibers counted per micrograph may be 15, while if the area is double that used in this example, then the number of fibers counted per micrograph may be 60. As such, the number of fibers counted per micrograph may be proportional to the area of the micrograph size selected, where the baseline value is 30 counted fibers in a micrograph having a size of 188 X 141 pm.

When used herein, a fusion point refers to a visible thermal bond at an intersection between said fibers. It is noted that the visible fibers may contain piled fibers. When used herein, piled fibers are two (or more) fibers that lie in constant contact over their visible lengths. Such piled fibers may lie in any direction and may even be curved, but always remain in contact with each other based on the visible SEM image. Examples of piled fibers include fibers 1-2 and 26-27 in Fig. 1A, while fibers 3 and 4 in this figure are not considered to be piled fibers. Additional examples of piled fibers include fibers 18-19 and 22-23 in Fig. 1 B, fibers 4-5, 18-19, and 21- 22 in Fig. 1C. As will be appreciated, it is not possible in most cases to establish whether the piled fibers are fused together along their entire length in the micrograph or are only in close physical proximity to one another. As piled fibers influence the stiffness, but not the strength and flexibility of the material web, they are not counted towards the total number of fusion points in the material.

For each micrograph in this example, the percentage of fusion points was calculated relative to the 30 counted fibers. Following this, an average, or mean, percentage value was calculated using the percentages obtained from the 10 micrographs.

An example of this method is provided in Figures 1A to 1J and Table 2, where each fiber has a diameter of from 2 to 8 pm. In the figures, the fusion points are circled, while each counted fiber has been assigned a number. In this example (see Table 2) an average percentage of fusion points (3.9 fusion points /300 fibers) between fibers is 13%, meaning that around 87% of the fibers in the fabric had no fusion points. For the avoidance of doubt, the material displayed in Figures 1 A to 1 J was manufactured by analogy to the methods described herein.

The median of the fiber diameter means 50% of the fibers are smaller, 50% are larger than the given median value. The fiber diameters were measured using SEM with a magnification of 1 ,000 (1 k) for fibers in the range of 2 to 8 pm. An automated volumetric software analyses system (like FiberRadiusDist of Fh-ITWM, Kaiserslautern, Germany) should be used to calculate the fiber diameter. Further details of how this process may be conducted are contained in H. Altendorf, et al.,“Automatische Bestimmung von Faserradienverteilungen"; KIT Scientific Publishing 2010, S. 59-70, (ISBN 978-3-86644-578-9) and H. Altendorf and D. Jeulin“3D directional mathematical morphology for analysis of fiber orientations”; Image Anal Stereo I 2009;28: 143-153.

Table 2

Further aspects and embodiments of the invention will now be described with respect to the following non-limiting examples.

Example 1

A thermoplastic polyurethane (Desmopan 3491) was initially subjected to meltblowing using a meltblowing machine designed for the development of medical nonwoven products to provide a meltblown nonwoven fibre.

The polyurethane was added to an extruder (Extrudex Type FZ 40.2 (1991 model)), resulting in a molten mass of polymer exiting the extruder that was then filtered by a filter having 25 pm mesh size and a V-shaped form before passing into a gear pump operating at 60 RPM to drive the molten mass into a die at a pressure of 18 Bar and a delivery volume of 0.6 cm 3 /r, where the die has a capillary portion and an air manifold portion. The capillary portion of the die had 1122 holes per meter (the die being 0.5 m in length, and so having 561 holes), each hole having a diameter of 0.3 mm and a length to diameter ratio of 0.8. The die portion also had seven heating zones and the temperature of each zone was 180 °C (zone 1), 190 °C (zone 2), 200 °C (zone 3), and 230 °C (zones 4 to 7), a temperature of 235 °C at the exit of the holes. Upon exiting the capillary portion, the molten mass is blown by hot air onto a belt conveyor (collector) by air from the air manifold portion, which had two separate air chambers that each provides hot air at a pressure of 1.08 Bar and at a volume flow of 120 scmh. While both chambers were set to provide hot air having a temperature of 250 °C, the actual air provided from each chamber was 253 °C and 264 °C, respectively. The belt conveyor was set at a distance of 120 mm from the die, which belt provides some negative pressure on its surface (through suction) to secure the nonwoven fibre to its surface.

The meltblown nonwoven material was subsequently subjected to flat roll calendaring using a smoothing calendar (Wumag texroll) operating with an upper and lower drum, both having a drum speed of 0.5 m/min and a drum diameter of 360 mm. The rolling direction of the upper and lower drums was left to right, with both drums having a gap of 0.15 mm and a pressing force of 30 kN. Both drums were operated having a left and right pressing corrective factor of 1 %. The upper drum was operated at a uniform temperature of 1 10°C across the left, middle and right portions of the drum, while the lower drum was operated at 100°C across the left and right portions and at 103°C across the middle portion of the drum. The coiling mechanism was operated for 48 minutes and collected 24 linear feet per meter (Ifm) of material. After flat roll calendaring, an average of around 13% of the fibers in the fabric were fused to one another, based on the averaged value of 10 micrographed sections of the fabric, which were analysed in line with the methodology described above (see Figs. 1A to 1 J).

Details of various properties of the resulting product are presented in Table 3.

As shown in Table 3 above, the product has useful properties across a range of physical and chemical stability tests, which make it useful as a re-usable (and washable, e.g. machine washable) nonwoven fabric. Particularly suitable applications for the fabric may include swimwear, resort wear, underwear and the like, which may incorporate various fashion prints.

Example 2

Form-fitting next-to-skin products were made using only the material of Example 1 and subjected to 25 laundry cycles under the test method of AATCC 135 (summarised in the test method section). The products were printed with a digital print and conventional rotary/screen printing.

The products were evaluated after every 5th laundry cycle and evaluated principally for their visual appearance, colour fastness level of the print, and pilling and fuzzing hair level compared to the original under the AATCC grey scale and under the D65 light source by two trained observers. The results are such that class 4.0 was obtained for all, which denotes a moderate pilling and slight colour change, which is comparable to products made using a knitted or woven textile fabric. This confirms that the materials of the present invention can withstand multiple laundry cycles.

Similar products were subjected to the laundry cycle test of AATCC 150. The dimensions of the tested samples were measured against the original dimensions of the samples before testing and the results showed no visible dimensional changes in each of the tested products. This also shows that the products of the present invention are able to undergo multiple laundry cycles while keeping dimensional integrity.

As discussed hereinbefore (e.g. in Example 1), the nonwoven materials of the current invention only contain a small proportion of fibers that are fused to each other (in Example 1 around 10% of the fibres are fused to one another). In contrast, the nonwoven materials disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,784, 127 are entirely mutually fused to one another. This results in significant differences between the current invention and that of US 6,784, 127, which are listed in Table 4 below.

Table 4

a) sample dimension was 100cm 2 , an average value of 5 specimens were taken.

b) sample width = 20 mm; Gauge Length = 50 mm; Rate of Extension (v) = 200 mm/min; n = 5 per direction

c) Gauge Length = 50; mm; Rate of Extension (v) = 100 mm/min; n = 5per directions d) Gauge Length = 75; mm; Rate of Extension (v) = 300 mm/min; pre-load force = 0.5 N; n = 5per direction e) width of sample 2.5 cm, distance between chucks 5 cm, testing speed 10 cm/min f) Gauge Length = 50 mm; Rate of Extension (v) = 100 mm/min; n = 5 per direction

In order to provide a reasonable comparison, the material of Example 1 was tested using different testing protocols and then (where necessary), the units were converted to enable comparison with the results obtained in US 6,784, 127 as far as possible. For example, in this example, the tensile strength was obtained using DIN EN 29073-3, which uses a sample width of 2.5 cm, a distance between chucks of 5 cm and a testing speed of 10 cm/min. In contrast US 6,784, 127 used the protocol of JIS L 1096 6.12.1 B for measuring tensile strength, using a sample width 2 cm, a distance between chucks 5 cm, and a testing speed 20 cm/min. The differing testing speed and sample widths will produce a slight difference in the measured values, but not significantly so for the purposes of comparison.

Based on Table 4, it is apparent that the present invention provides better tensile strength per basis weight in the main direction while also allowing a tensile elongation of greater than 600% in comparison to US 6,784, 127, which only exhibits a tensile elongation of 100%. In addition, the recovery at 50% elongation of Example 1 is significantly higher than that of the product mentioned in US 6,784, 127. Without wishing to be bound by theory, it is believed that these desirable properties are obtained due to the fusion of only part of the fibers to each other in the current invention, rather than all of the fibers as in US 6,784, 127.

Thus, the materials of the present invention have excellent stretchability, flexibility and tear strength per basis weight than that disclosed in US 6,784, 127.

Example 3

Bulk Materials

Bulk materials were prepared using Desmopan 3491A and commercial machines in accordance with the processing parameters described above in Example 1. Four samples were obtained having the properties described in Table 5A and B.

Table 5A

Table 5B 4

Softness of Example 1 Material - Tissue Softness Analyzer (TSA) Method

TS7 and TS750 values were measured using an EMTEC Tissue Softness Analyzer ("EmtecTSA") (Emtec Electronic GmbH, Leipzig, Germany) interfaced with a computer running Emtec TSA software (version 3.19 or equivalent). The Emtec TSA comprises a rotor with vertical blades which rotate on the test sample at a defined and calibrated rotational speed (set by manufacturer) and contact force of 100 mN. Contact between the vertical blades and the test piece creates vibrations, which create sound that was recorded by a microphone within the instrument. The recorded sound file was then analyzed by the Emtec TSA software. The sample preparation, instrument operation and testing procedures were performed according the instrument manufacture's specifications.

Sample Preparation

Test samples were prepared by cutting square or circular samples from a finished product - made using the material of Commercial Example 1.

Test samples were cut to a length and width (or diameter if circular) of no less than about 90 mm, and no greater than about 120 mm, in any of these dimensions, to ensure the sample can be clamped into the TSA instrument properly. Test samples are selected to avoid perforations, creases or folds within the testing region. Prepare 8 substantially similar replicate samples for testing. Equilibrate all samples at TAPPI standard temperature and relative humidity conditions (23 °C + 2 C° and 50 % + 2 %) for at least 1 hour prior to conducting the TSA testing, which is also conducted under TAPPI conditions.

Testing Procedure

The instrument was calibrated according to the manufacturer's instructions using the 1-point calibration method with Emtec reference standards ("ref.2 samples"). If these reference samples are no longer available, use the appropriate reference samples provided by the manufacturer. The instrument was calibrated according to the manufacturer's recommendations and instructions, so that the results are comparable to those obtained when using the 1 -point calibration method with Emtec reference standards ("ref.2 samples"). The test sample was mounted onto the instrument and the test performed according to the manufacturer's instructions. When complete, the software displays values for TS7 and TS750, which were recorded to the nearest 0.01 dB V2 rms. The test piece was then removed from the instrument and discarded. This testing was performed individually on the top surface (outer facing surface of a rolled product) of four replicate samples, and on the bottom surface (inner facing surface of a rolled product) of four other replicate samples.

Additionally, stiffness (D) was determined by the measurement of the sample deformation under the defined force (constant 600 mN). Five single measurements of the same sample were performed successively and the average of the measurements was taken as the final result.

TS7 is defined as the“real softness” of the material. The units of the TS7 value are in dB V RMS. However, TS7 values are often referred to herein without reference to units, where the lower the peak value obtained is, the higher the softness of the material tested. As used herein, the terms "TS750" and "TS750 value" are the same and are defined as the “felt smoothness/roughness” of the material. As used herein, the term“D value” is defined as the “stiffness” of the material. The unit of D value is mm/N, where the higher the value (number) the lower the stiffness.

The below discussed the values of softness of the present invention to commercially-available nonwoven material samples, which was selected on the basis of having a similar weight and a similar end application to the present invention (apparel). Both the upper and lower sides of the materials were tested for TS7, TS750 and D values and the results are displayed in Table 6 and Figure 3.

Table 6 As shown by Table 6 and Figure 3, the material of Example 1 has much softer hand-feel than the commercially available samples that it was tested against based on the TSA method.

Example 5

Higher Density Materials Fusion Characteristics

By analogy to the processes described hereinbefore, three further materials having differing gsm values were produced. These materials showed the partial fusion discussed herein -with values for the partial fusion provided in Table 7 below.

Table 7 The invention disclosed above, and its associated figures are with reference to a variety of configurations and embodiments. The disclosure provides an example of the various features and embodiments related to the invention. Numerous modifications and variations can be derived to the formation described above by changing its properties (for example, weight, breathability, surface, strength etc.), and obviously many further modifications and variations are possible in light of the above knowledge without departing from the spirit and scope of the current invention. It is intended that the scope of the invention be defined by the claims appended hereto.