UT Gets Cutting-Edge Textile Equipment

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — First-of-its-kind textile equipment that will be used to make a new generation of filters, diapers and other nonwoven materials has been installed at the University of Tennessee.

Reifenhauser, of Cologne, Germany, has installed its Reicofil Melt Blown line equipment at UT-Knoxville’s Textiles and Nonwovens Development Center on White Avenue.

UT-Knoxville faculty and nonwoven textile manufacturers will use the technology for evaluating how different polymers can be paired to produce extremely fine filaments.

“The company has put serial number 1 on this machine,” said Dr. Larry Wadsworth, who is a professor and senior executive for technology and marketing in the College of Human Ecology.

UT is purchasing the line, which is valued at more than $2 million. Reifenhauser has donated the part of the equipment that brings together the two component polymers, a gift worth more than $200,000.

The new equipment produces polymer fibers that are between 1 and 3 microns in diameter with a ribbon-like cross-section. In contrast, cotton fibers range from 15 to 20 microns and a human hair measures about 60 microns. A micron is one one-millionth of a meter.

Known technically as bi-component melt-blown fiber, the product will be used for diapers, surgical masks, and other types of protective clothing which filter air or retain liquids. Fibers made of two materials twist and have a larger surface area to trap liquids or gases.

Researchers from UT and from private firms will test various polymers to see what types of fibers can be manufactured with the new equipment.

“The development of this technology gives manufacturers the ability to produce unique fabrics with characteristics of two different resins,” said Darin Emberton, who manages activities for Exxon Chemical at TANDEC.

The center is a partnership between Exxon Chemical and UT-Knoxville’s College of Human Ecology which, with additional support from about 20 corporate members, serves the research and development needs of the nonwovens industry.