Textiles finding new niche in the N.C. economy

NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY
This filter, produced at NCSU’s College of Textiles, uses nonwoven fabric technology. The filters have industrial and medical applications.
BY G.S. DAVIS – Correspondent

RALEIGH — At the College of Textiles at N.C. State University, researchers are spinning corn, oyster shells and crude oil into new materials that bear little resemblance to the traditional fabrics produced by generations of mill workers throughout the South.

Textile researchers, using advanced technology and new processes, are creating synthetic fabrics for cars, medical devices, heavy industry and other applications. Unlike woven fabrics used to churn out denim or towels, the new materials are engineered at high speeds from fibers or plastics.

“One of the shining stars of nonwovens is filtration, which consists of high-efficiency air filters in surgical rooms, and face masks and even blood filters,” said Behnam Pourdeyhimi, associate dean for Industry, Research and Extension in the College of Textiles on the university’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh.

Such advances in textile science have created an economic and technological bright spot, even as old-style textile mill jobs have largely disappeared or moved overseas.

Since 2003, 226 companies have moved to or expanded in North Carolina in industries associated with the new fabrics, including BSN Medical, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Johnson & Johnson and 3M.

Products made from nonwoven fabrics include washers for nuts and bolts; filters for air, water and blood; tape, bandages and clothing; car parts, and a wireless Web system. Some of the biggest uses are in health care – particularly disposable, sterile products such as face masks and gowns for surgeons and nurses, as well as filters and sophisticated medical devices.

“The recipe of our success is creating an environment to allow us to collaborate with the industry rather than to compete with them,” Pourdeyhimi said.

“The strategic and modern plan is to look at critical areas for improving new product development, including medical and hygiene products, wipes, transportation and filtration dealing with clean air, clean water, and safe blood.”

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