In December 2014 Aurizon Ultrasonics announced an exclusive license agreement with CERA France to manufacture and sell CERA’s patented rotary ultrasonic bonding technology for entrapping elastic strands into nonwoven structures. This technology is best suited for contour-fit hygiene products such as baby diapers, adult briefs, and child and adult pull-on pants, as well as medical garments and textiles.
A recent conversation with Aurizon’s Tom Ehlert, vice president of research and development, Dan Sorensen, senior research scientist, and Greg Benrud, president, showcases the technology, and provides insight into how it’s impacting the marketplace.
Q: How did Aurizon and CERA France get together to sign this agreement?
Tom: We approached CERA. This is a technology that we had some experience with before CERA patented it. We knew we could create a significant product and process improvement opportunity for the industry when we used it in conjunction with our rotary ultrasonics.
Greg: When we met with CERA to discuss licensing, it was obvious they had done their homework on us and understood that the equipment we were bringing to market was robust and effective. This was a key consideration in their evaluation of potential licensees. They had established some criteria and determined that Aurizon effectively met those criteria.
Q: What is the technology?
Tom: There are two approaches to integrating elastic strands into nonwovens. Adhesive application has been the primary method for years. Adhesives are used to secure the elastic onto the substrate using a variety of application methods. Ultrasonics, on the other hand, captures elastics between two substrates by securing them when elongated between narrow bond points designed in a tunnel-like fashion. These bond points secure the elastics within the substrate such that once they return to their larger, relaxed diameter they become immobilized.
Q: What expertise does Aurizon bring to this technology?
Dan: We are uniquely able to leverage our core competencies in ultrasonics and high speed converting within the hygiene/personal care industry to deliver robust process solutions. Our extensive experience with nonwoven bonding and tooling design has accelerated the development of this entrapment technology. Utilizing our pilot line, we have defined the appropriate process and tooling requirements for virtually any combination of fiber decitex, tension and substrates. And we’re now able to use this knowledge to create customized solutions that can effectively entrap the elastics across a broad range of materials and product executions.
Q: What have customers and prospects been saying about this technology and its outcomes?
Greg: While the comments have been very good, I think actions definitely speak louder than words. One of the biggest end users in this industry moved on this very quickly. We’re working with them on two product forms – both adult incontinence and baby diapers.
Tom: We’ve also had several European customers who have come here to see it in operation. Both OEMs and end users have shown strong interest.
Dan: There’s definitely a level of excitement – even a level of surprise that’s associated with it. And I think that speaks to the fact that when you stretch the ultrasonically entrapped composite you feel a lower amount of tension per unit of elongation than one that is adhesively attached. This improved tension profile can create a more comfortable fit and potentially lead to fewer customer complaints.
Q: How does ultrasonics produce a superior product?
Dan: When you compare it to an adhesive execution, ultrasonics only affects a very small portion of the elastic strand. The result is that we are essentially providing the consumer with a fabric that is as close to just a raw elastic strand as you can make. The problem with the adhesive coating methods is that they are not always easily controlled or consistent. The beauty of ultrasonic entrapment is that the bond points are discrete, precise and very reproducible.
Tom: Our process gives the product developer the ability to fine-tune what they want that ruffle to be. Its controllable because you’re defining specifically where those lock down points are. You can’t do that with adhesives. Plus with the adhesive, especially the spray-coat adhesive where you’re just flooding it, you can feel that it’s tacky. Adhesives can also stiffen the fabric when you spray it on and fold it over. When this happens you create a laminate that’s less soft and not nearly as comfortable for the person wearing it. The other area where ultrasonics creates a superior fabric and fit is creep.
Q: What is creep?
Dan: Creep occurs when products with adhesively attached elastics are warmed by body heat from the wearer, causing the adhesive to soften and allow the elastics to “slip” through those adhesive bonds. When this happens you can lose the effectiveness of the “gasket” created by the elastic due to a loss of tension. Products a mother may put on her baby, such as lotions or oils, can also affect how elastics are secured in adhesives, as they can break down the adhesive and cause creep. With an ultrasonic system, there is no creep. There is nothing to break down. We have melted polymers so body temperature or any type of lotion or oil doesn’t affect the bond zones.
Q: I’ve heard you talk about intermittency and zoned tension – how do these play into the quality of the finished product?
Dan: With ultrasonics we can specifically define where the entrapment starts and ends. We can control this within less than a millimeter, so it’s very precise. With a glue system, you typically have some delay associated with the application valve, so it is very difficult to control to the level of consistency of ultrasonics. This is important to a product developer and to a manufacturer of disposable products because they’re able to produce more products to specification. And it’s important to the end-user because we’re able to provide them with a better feel and more comfort.
Tom: Zoned tension is definitely another benefit that is very difficult to achieve with adhesives. By zoned we mean you have differential tension as the elastic progresses through the product – either tighter or looser. Or alternatively, you create different tensions on two different elastic strands that are running next to each other.
Q: How does ultrasonics save on material or operating costs?
Tom: Ultrasonic entrapment doesn’t require additional raw materials, like glue, in order to secure the elastic strands. So immediately those costs go away. And we don’t have any of the on-going costs associated with glue storage, handling and preparation. The costs of operating and maintaining the glue applicator equipment are also eliminated. Those types of ongoing costs can actually add up to millions of dollars per year for a production facility making products like this.
Dan: Another savings comes from the potential of utilizing lower basis weight materials because you don’t need to worry about adhesive bleed through.
Q: How does it make the process more efficient, and thus save on production time?
Dan: Adhesive application processes are inherently messy. When you apply adhesives to these substrates, it doesn’t just go where you want it. It goes everywhere. And then you have to stop and clean it off, and that causes downtime. Each time a machine goes down and you have to clean it up, you’re losing production time and creating waste. That doesn’t happen with ultrasonics.
Greg: Ultrasonics gives you higher up time and more operational efficiency – both of which can result in significant savings in high speed converting operations like those making hygiene products.
Q: You mentioned you’ve been testing different nonwoven weights and elastic strands with different anvils. That’s great, but how can someone be sure their materials are right for ultrasonics?
Greg: We have a pilot line with elastic fiber capabilities, so if I’m a customer who says, ‘These tests that you’ve done are great, but I want to see it with my nonwoven and my elastic,” then we can run their materials on our pilot line at their production speeds and demonstrate the capability.
To learn more about Aurizon Ultrasonics and its process for entrapping elastics into nonwoven materials, visit www.noglueneeded.com or call 877.321.3718.