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Report | May 2019

Innovative nonwovens from recycled wastes

The recycling line can handle both industrial and post-consumer by products including garments and carpets.

Laroche is a speciality manufacturer of textile recycling, airlay web forming and bast fibre processing equipment. Robert Laroche, the CEO, is both an engineer and a frequent traveller. His associates have a strong commitment to the company which allows to go well beyond purely “commercial” relationships. Know-how from over 100 years in the same business, dedication to innovations and long-term service and customer relationships are the DNA of the company.

Turnkey plants for recycling and airlaid nonwovens

“Ten years ago, states Robert Laroche, we had already a long history in recycling and nonwoven processes, but at that time we were mostly selling and servicing individual machines. Now, we design, manufacture and service complete lines. We offer turnkey plants to our customers. In fact, we are going much further as we take part in the R&D process of our customers. They come to us with various questions, like:

  • how can I recycle the wastes I produce or collect and transform them into a product which has its own market?
  • Or, how can I design a product the market needs, using recycled materials? “A 6 million Euros technical centre To have a good understanding of Laroche technical know-how, the easiest way is to look at the technical centre layout. Marc Moncorgé, head of the technical center, describes the more than 6 million Euros ($7 million) investment in machinery including, from Laroche’s machinery partners, a double belt thermobonding oven from Schott & Meisner and a needle loom from Andritz.
  • The recycling line can handle both industrial and post-consumer by products including garments, carpets… tear them apart into fibers and, if needed, separate non fibrous materials such as buttons, zippers…
  • The bast fibre line can decorticate and then further refine/cottonise fibres from flax, hemp, kenaf, straw…
  • The above fibres and/or other fibres can then be blended, airlaid and bonded on one of the three airlay lines: thermobonded, needle punched or resin bonded.

Marc states “We run approximately 200 trials every year, from 20 to 2,000 kg of material sent by our customers, often across the oceans. Many of them send a team of experts to witness the trials and guide us towards achieving the results they seek. As for us, confidentiality agreements, signed with our customers, define exactly our commitments. This kind of team work often leads to innovative products and technical solutions.”

R&D and industry 4.0

R&D is also strong at Laroche. Benoit Rombaut head of the R&D department is working to develop solutions for the future. Common sense tells us that we need to recycle not only industrial waste but also post-consumer wastes. The current challenge is to develop industrially and economically viable solutions to recycle post consumer products such as garments, carpets, car seats, airbags, mattress,… into usable fibres.

These fibres can be used to make insulation felts for the automotive, furniture and building insulation industries. Active research is also underway to turn these fibres back into yarns.

Another major focus is on customer service. Current technologies allow Laroche to help the customers by designing smart and user-friendly control systems which can be connected to the service department. Benoît explains that “in a full line, there are now more than 200 sensors and a router allowing the connection between the line and our engineers in Cours-la-Ville. This can be used for fine tuning, trouble shooting, remote assistance, and software upgrading anywhere in the world. In fact, he says, that nearly every day his team receives an inquiry from a customer and that this service is growing fast as there are more and more lines equipped with these features. It is a great step in the industry 4.0 revolution.”

For Asia, a very active market, Laroche has set up technical support in Kuala Lumpur with 2 full time engineers who travel intensively. Spare parts and consumables are sent from headquarters twice a day through express, multinationals package delivery services and can be all over the world within 48 hours.

An example: Laroche in Guatemala

Laroche has recently developed a tailor-made solution for NovaFibers, part of Grupo de Todos, in Guatemala. “NovaFibers established a logistics operation in the USA for collecting second hand clothes and transporting them to Guatemala to be resold,” explains Charles Junker, Laroche Sales Manager. “A substantial amount of what is collected, however, can’t be sold again, even at very low prices, and has to be disposed of. We worked together to find a sustainable alternative.”

To test the market acceptance, NovaFibers sent batches of the unsold clothing to Laroche’s technical centre, where they were recycled back into fibres and then into various felts. NovaFibers was then able to build up a market for these felts and subsequently, Laroche designed a complete line for the company. This flexible airlay line with both needle loom and thermobonding oven is now very successfully manufacturing nonwovens for the furniture industry in Central and South America.

Everyday, a new story

Robert Laroche concludes, “everyday, we write a new story with our customers, we help them open new markets, improve their production processes, reduce their cost. From us, they expect the best and thanks to them we can deliver even more.”

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