Growing Demand for Polyester Webbing
Many manufacturers, including Bally Ribbon Mills (BRM), are reporting expanding production of 100 per cent Berry-compliant polyester webbing for critical safety applications. The material, used for seat belts, tie-downs, retractors, and medical supplies, meets many of the current safety specifications and can be engineered for specific applications. What’s more, positive engineering and manufacturing changes made to adapt to the COVID-19 emergency hold great promise in streamlining and improving future polyester webbing projects.
Key specialty polyester webbings applications
Polyester webbings are manufactured from polyester yarn, which is dimensionally stable and has low moisture regain. The fiber also has a low elongation under load property that sets it apart from other standard fibers of its class, like nylon (PA6 and -PA6.6) and polypropylene. It is tough, hydrophobic, and resistant to degradation, giving it a longer useful shelf life.
Polyester webbings are used in hundreds of applications. Seatbelts in automotive, commercial aviation, and military vehicles and aircraft applications is the largest market sector. This is a generally commoditized market where large volumes, limited color options, and very low prices dominate.
Another key application is for retractors used in military and safety/rescue applications to secure on-aircraft personnel. The retractors are generally inertia reels that allow for mobility under normal conditions; the webbing connects the user to the aircraft. When an abrupt force is applied, the reel locks the personnel into place. These webbing materials are highly engineered for the application. Consistent construction to rigid standards is required for consistent performance in end-item use. Materials that vary widely from specifications cause the reel to malfunction, exposing the user to an unsafe condition.
Other specialty webbing applications include tie-downs, e-textiles, wearable electronics, flight suits, pet products, cargo webbing, and life rafts, as well as hoses, bags and harnesses. The overall market trend towards enhanced passengers and crew safety is increasing demand for safety-related webbings applications. Another growing market is medical devices, where the polyester webbing material is prized for its biocompatibility.
Manufacturers step up to produce domestic supplies of polyester woven webbing
Under the United States' Berry Amendment, all textile components for Department of Defense (DOD) contracts of a certain size must be manufactured in the United States. The closures of domestic manufacturers of polyester yarn had many manufacturers scrambling to find a US source for customers with government contracts requiring Berry-compliant materials. Lead-times lengthened and some yarn manufacturers told panicking customers that a US source was unavailable. Several polyester webbing manufacturers applied for a Domestic Not Available Deviation (DNAD) designation.
The idea that the U.S. would have to rely on China, which maintains 70 percent of the world’s polyester capacity, did not sit well amongst many domestic manufacturers. This concern encouraged US manufacturers to add polyester to their lines. There is always a development lag time before production can begin, but several have now entered the market.
After identifying newly established domestic polyester yarn suppliers, Bally Ribbon Mills committed to establishing itself as a 100 percent Berry-compliant manufacturer of polyester webbings. The company has always placed a high importance on utilizing domestic yarn sources. Since the quality of the domestic raw material is higher than imported counterparts, it stands to reason that the webbing manufactured is of a higher quality. This enables more efficient manufacturing processes and provides superior products.
In addition to being Berry-compliant, the polyester webbings and tapes are tested and certified for compliance with a range of commercial and military specifications, including Mil/PIA-W-25361, AA55242, SAE AS8043, and British Standards (BS). Performance to these specifications and standards is critical to the end use application. Not meeting specifications can cause performance failure that could cost lives.
Several of these standards have extremely stringent elongation requirements for dyed material that can be difficult to meet. In some cases, BRM began entering these markets after others dropped out and military requirements called out for Berry-compliant yarn. For example, the SAE AS8043 specification calls for 20 per cent elongation at 2,500 lbs. for polyester seat belt webbing. After working with customers, BRM succeeded in meeting the elongation requirement.
Color matching is an important part of the process, with the ability to color match to a customer supplied sample. BRM scans the sample and duplicates the color by creating a master batch formula and new standard sample that is sent to the customer for approval. The standards are maintained in a controlled file and used to match subsequent lots. All samples and dye lots are measured using a spectrophotometer to ensure that the dye lots match the standard numerical to within 1(delta) of a 3-plane graphical model of yellow, blue, green, and light/dark. Color shades are also checked using the naked eye but with a controlled light source. Full testing with documentation is supplied, with a variety of available treatment offerings.
Helping to make the process even more rigorous is a proprietary polyester matrix, a searchable internal database tool with information on thousands of textiles collected and organized for comparative study. Every material that comes through the plant is measured and tested using ASTM testing methods. Records are kept of physical parameters like width, fiber content, tensile strength, thickness, weight, elongation, resistance to abrasion, and resistance to weathering.
In the pre-Covid world, many manufacturers operated paper-based PPCF design review processes which were routed through R&D, manufacturing, purchasing, quality, and costing, with each department responsible for identifying risks and project acceptability. Six routing paths could be used, based on the varying requirement of core customers, medical products or aerospace applications under a process could take up to two weeks to complete.
Under the new normal, many have transitioned to a completely electronic routing system completed with sequential review. At BRM the new system has shortened lead times from 10-14 days to 3-5 days. Furthermore, the system allows the salesperson initiating the process to view the routing status at any time and enables others to intercede at any point to solve any immediate problems.
The new system also contributed to BRM being awarded the polyester business for two major shelter contracts for two key reasons. First, the customer wanted to “reshore” the supply chain, and BRM provided a "Made in the USA" solution. Secondly, the quick, automated professional response to the inquiry during the height of a national crisis provided comfort to the new customer. After the customer satisfied its immediate demand requirements, they added on blanket order requirements that extend into 2021.
 No more ‘flight suits,’ the Integrated Aircrew Ensemble makes debut, By Senior Airman John Linzmeier, 154th Wing Public Affairs / Published August 12, 2019.