Polymer-coated Fabrics – A Myriad of Possibilities
It is flexible, extremely durable and has a host of applications. Polymer-coated fabrics are used in such diverse products as automobile airbags and protective clothing.
“What one gets with a polymer-coated fabric is an exceptionally hard-wearing material that resists cold, heat and other stressful conditions, while being flexible and elastic,” says Mats Blacker, the product area director responsible for the Engineered Fabrics product division at Trelleborg Engineered Systems.
As the name suggests, polymercoated fabric is not really a single material but a combination of fabric and polymer. And combination possibilities are infinite. A military tent can be made of a material that combines nylon fabric with neoprene, while a urethane-coated polyester cloth can be used, for example, in making the inflatable chutes installed at the emergency exits on aircrafts.
Trelleborg Engineered Fabrics not only supplies a number of external clients with material but also serves as an internal supplier to other parts of the Trelleborg Group, like the business area Industrial Hose, which manufactures different kinds of hoses, and Trelleborg Rubore, with most of its customers in the automotive-industry. “We’re involved all along the chain and this makes us even better at assisting our customers,” says Mats Blacker.
Polymer-coated fabrics are used in such diverse products as automobile airbags and protective clothing.
He adds that product development is almost exclusively geared to customer needs. “For example, there might be new environmental or safety standards that are somewhat complex,” he says. “But our customers can depend on our having the knowledge and technology needed to hit upon the right solution.”
With the acquisition of the American company Reeves Brothers Inc., Trelleborg became the world’s largest supplier of polymer-coated fabrics. As a result, Trelleborg’s product portfolio was broadened and the company established a presence and manufacturing facilities in the US, Asia and parts of Europe where it had not previously been represented. “The market is getting more and more global and many companies expect their suppliers to have a local presence,” says Mats Blacker. “We are both global and local and that gives us a unique position.”
Safety in the air and on the roads Engineered fabrics are used in protective suits for space applications, as well as in a range of aircraft-safety products, including evacuation slides, life rafts, life vests and fuel cells. Trelleborg Engineered Systems’ unit for engineered fabrics is the leading supplier of coated airbag fabrics to the North American market.
Engineered fabrics have their widest application in industrial markets. They are used in the manufacture of flexible tanks and transformer air cells, among other applications. Trelleborg Printing Blankets (formerly Reeves) is a leading global manufacturer of offset printing blankets.
In autumn 2006, Trelleborg, through the Trelleborg Engineered Systems business area, acquired US company Reeves Brothers Inc. Founded in 1920, Reeves subsequently became a leading international player in engineered fabrics, developing and manufacturing polymer-coated materials. The company has about 1,000 employees. “Reeves fills a need in Trelleborg’s strategy to seal, damp and protect in the US market. We have a positive impact for Trelleborg in the areas in which we already have a strong position. At the same time, being a part of the Trelleborg Group opens opportunities for us to penetrate new markets such as oil containment and protective clothing,” says Mark Hemphill, director, Sales and Marketing North America.
Engineered fabrics have the physical requirements necessary to deliver performance and safety under extreme weather conditions: high abrasion resistance, superior tear strength, and light weight. Applications include inflatable boats, folding kayaks, gloves and snowshoes. Clothing bags, tents and fuel tanks are among the sorts of products that have both civilian and military uses.
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