What's New With Nonwovens in the Medical Industry?
The utilization of nonwoven fabrics in the medical field has outpaced woven materials in recent years. Even when traced back to their rapid adoption during WWII, nonwovens were proven to be superior products in terms of adaptability, disposability, cost, and effectiveness. Manufacturing technology improved in the following decades until current-day use of nonwovens has placed them in a position to dominate the medical textile industry.
What are Nonwovens Fabrics?
Nonwovens are defined as sheets or web structures bonded together by the process of entangling fibers or filaments (and sometimes by perforating films) mechanically, chemically, or thermally. The fibers may be oriented randomly throughout the fabric or only following one direction.
Multiple layers may be combined to achieve the desired elongation, strength, and other mechanical properties. Porosity is controlled by varying fiber density, diameter, orientation, and the use of additional mechanical processing.
Key characteristics of nonwovens that justify their use and popularity:
- dimensional stability
- low elongation
- specific processing to control porosity
Benefits of Nonwovens Driving this Market
With very deliberate care being taken to lower the incidence of hospital-acquired infection, nonwoven medical textiles are the clear winner in this category, thanks to their unique qualities. Medical textile technology is subject to intense monitoring since human lives are at stake. The intense scrutiny has resulted in better quality products and the development and implementation of innovative new uses in the medical field.
Nonwovens are preferred and poised to dominate the industry because they:
- are effective barriers against bacteria
- outperform linens for reducing airborne contaminants
- can be tailored to changing specifications
- help mitigate the risks of today's medical environments due to drug-resistant bacteria, worsening viral threats, polluted indoor and outdoor air, and increases in the numbers of blood-borne diseases
In 2014, nonwovens dominated the global medical textiles market. They accounted for over 55% of global volume, and are projected to gain market share through 2024 consistently.
Nonwovens Used Outside the Body
The market for nonwovens used outside the body is broad and large, encompassing wound care, barriers, and compression products. Most consumers are familiar with these types of materials, which include mass market branded products as well as generics.
The goal of wound care is to promote healing and prevent infection. Some nonwoven dressings and bandages come into direct contact with the skin, while others are used to wrap and secure the dressing.
Specific products and flexible materials used in wound care include bandages and dressings, wraps and plasters for making casts, gauze, wadding, medical tapes, and absorbent pads.
The primary function of barrier products is preventing exposure to bodily fluids or gases. They are used largely in healthcare facilities, hospitals, and operating rooms in order to reduce any possibility of infection, contamination or other related concerns.
Products in this category include surgical gloves, gowns, masks, and aprons; sheets, blankets, pillow covers, and furniture covers; any other fabrics found in the health care setting.
They function to stabilize, contain, and aid (or restrict) movement in specific areas or parts of the body. Mostly manufactured by incorporating elastic yarns with knit or woven geometries, they are created to exert direct compressive forces where desired.
These products include tights, socks, sleeves, wraps, and support hosiery.
What's New in Nonwovens?
Research in nonwovens is driven by the problems faced by an aging population, increased global demand for advanced medical care, and rising numbers of chronically ill patients. Efforts are divided among:
- Environmental concerns - one of the largest areas of focus involves improving disposability, sustainability, and environmental sensitivity of hygiene products.
- Sustainability concerns - ongoing research directed at reusability, decontamination, sterilization, and antimicrobial treatments for barrier products.
- Improved product design and comfort
- Advanced, super-absorbable fiber technologies
- More cost-effective manufacturing technologies
Some of the potential advanced nonwoven technologies include:
- Drug delivery systems capable of administering drugs in controlled doses and to targeted sites
- Biomedical implantable devices with less obtrusive delivery systems
- Incorporation of electronics within implantables to monitor functionality and improve muscular and nerve integrations
- Even more exotic fiber types
- Tissue engineering
- Growth scaffolds
This is also a highly competitive market where ongoing spending is being directed at developing cutting-edge technologies that fill a consumer-driven need and also turn a profit for the companies bringing them to market. The winners may be decided by who can overcome the regulatory hurdles and technological challenges to produce high-quality yet cost-effective medical textiles on a large scale.