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John Rose
John Rose
Director of Product Development

Interview with John Rose

SAF fabrics are now capturing the imagination of product designers

Technical Absorbents Ltd (TAL) manufactures a wide range of disposable and washable super absorbent nonwoven fabrics, all containing the company’s unique SAF technology. The absorbent fabrics, supplied in roll format, are suitable for a range of consumer, industrial and environmental applications. TechnicalTextile.Net speaks to TAL’s Director of Product Development John Rose about the technology, recent innovations, and the future.

TT: Please tell us about the history and background of Technical Absorbents and how you have become a leader in superabsorbent technology?

For over 20 years, Technical Absorbents Ltd (TAL) has been a key player in the superabsorbent industry with its unique Super Absorbent Fibre (SAF) technology. The chemistry of SAF is similar to that of super absorbent powders, which are found in commodity products such as baby diapers. However, SAF was developed for use in more niche applications in which its benefits over the powder technology could be realised.
SAF can rapidly absorb up to 200 times its own weight in water and 60 times its own weight in saline extremely quickly and is used globally in a wide range of applications, e.g., medical, cable, food packaging, hygiene, apparel and filtration.
Our manufacturing facility has undergone timely capacity expansions to continue to meet growing global demand for SAF technology. We have also become heavily engaged in the design and manufacture of SAF fabrics and yarns. These are manufactured in-house or via a network of global converters and predominantly designed to meet the exact requirements of our customers.

TT: How does Technical Absorbents prioritise innovation and the development of new technologies?

Research and Development (R&D) has been fundamental to our growth. We are proud to continue to innovate and bring unique SAF fibre, fabric and yarn technologies to market that provide our customers with the exact superabsorbent solutions they require.

TT: Can you walk us through the process of collaborating with customers to design and manufacture custom products using SAF technology?

We have a wide range of ‘off-the-shelf’ SAF fibres, fabrics, and yarns – this is usually the starting point of the customer journey or development process. In some instances, these solutions meet the customer’s needs. If not, they are used as a benchmark, considering attributes such as absorbency and retention rates, gsm, thickness, functional layers etc.
Where commercially viable, we can run full-scale development programmes over many months to engineer a specific bespoke solution. In such cases, collaboration with the customer is key and can often involve multiple trial stages before a final product is realised.

TT: How do you ensure the quality and consistency of your SAF products across different applications and industries?

We supply to customers who operate in a diverse range of markets, including hygiene, food packaging and medical. Ensuring the appropriate levels of product safety and quality is essential, allowing us to consistently deliver innovative absorbent solutions. We ensure compliance where required in relation to our products. This is supported by appropriate product testing, ongoing compliance and maintaining our ISO 9001 certification.

TT: What are some of the specific applications for SAF technology in the healthcare industry, and how your products are used in medical and hygiene industry?

Our fabrics are used within the medical market, predominantly as the absorbent layer in highly absorbent wound care dressings. The absorbent material in such medical consumables is there to manage exudates and can have a huge impact on final product performance, patient comfort and ultimate healing. Our fabrics can also be used in spill capture/management to aid transportation and/or infection control.
Within period/sanitary and incontinence products, our reusable and disposable absorbent fabrics provide a discrete solution that is soft, conformable and highly absorbent. This single absorbent nonwoven layer can have a huge impact on final product performance and ultimately wearer/user comfort and confidence.

TT: How do SAF fabrics and yarns compare to traditional absorbent materials in terms of absorbency, comfort, and overall performance?

SAF and related fabrics and yarns are truly superabsorbent. They are soft, conformable and provide extremely high absorbency and retention levels, which is crucial for user comfort in certain applications.

TT: Can you discuss some of the challenges that arise in developing and manufacturing superabsorbent products, and how Technical Absorbents addresses those challenges?

We often stumble across challenges but that is all part of the innovation and development process. In fact, these are opportunities for us to learn and improve our offering. We have a great team and work together with customers to find a solution. We are also honest, if we feel our technology isn’t suitable for a product or application, we aren’t afraid to say so. As the saying goes, there is no point in trying to push water up a hill – unless of course, you absorb it with one of our fabrics and carry it up!

TT: How has Technical Absorbents responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, and what role have your products played in helping to address the crisis?

Our priority during the pandemic was everyone’s safety and well-being, while ensuring we continued to deliver an exceptional level of service to keep our customers’ operations running. Our ability to continue delivering to customers in critical markets such as food packaging, healthcare and medical companies was crucial as they were required to maintain highly dependable supply chains throughout these challenging times.

TT: What are the recent innovations or product developments in SAF technology?

Although SAF remains at the heart of our business, it is our wide range of SAF fabrics that are now capturing the imagination of product designers. This includes our range of washable superabsorbent fabrics that have been designed for the reusable hygiene market. Our development team worked tirelessly to develop a fabric that would not only absorb but withstand the wash/dry process without losing its absorption function. This was quite a challenge.
Since then, the period and incontinence absorbent products’ sectors have continued to experience significant growth. Numerous companies are striving to create products that provide consumers with high levels of absorbency, protection from leaks, and comfort, while also ensuring they can be laundered multiple times without negatively impacting upon performance.
As consumers have become more interested in reusable alternatives, the overall performance of such products has been more widely challenged. As a result of these learnings and our own customer/development feedback, the next generation of our washable fabrics have now been designed to further enhance product functionality, while acknowledging that increased levels of absorption and retention is going to be countered by longer drying times.
As well as looking at speed to dry, the latest innovations have focused on fabric construction, fibre blends and potential additional layers to remove production steps for customers. These fabrics are going through the final stages of testing/validation and will be launched later this year.

TT: Looking ahead, what do you see as the future of superabsorbent technology and the role that Technical Absorbents will play in shaping that future?

The valuable feedback we get from our customers and charity partners continue to give us inspiration for our next developments. An example here is our washable range. The more we can enhance these fabrics, the more reusable products will become accepted as a valid alternative to disposables that end up in landfill. Our technology might currently be man-made, but that does not mean that we cannot focus on creating solutions that will help improve the world we live in. We are also embarking on our ESG journey to further demonstrate our commitment to a better future.

Interviewer:  Shilpi Panjabi
Published on: 15/03/2023

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of technicaltextile.net.


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