INVENTIVE GENIUS SYNTHETIC FIBRES
FOR MILLENNIA, mankind created textiles from natural fibres found in the wild. Many of these natural fibres were cultivated or spun, such as cotton, wool, and silk. Each of these natural fibres have their limitations. For instance, cotton and linen tend to wear out after multiple washings. Wool shrinks easily and attracts moths. Synthetic fibres were invented in the early 1880s. Sir Joseph Swan, a prominent chemist and innovator, invented the first synthetic fibre by modifying the fibre in tree bark. The fibre produced by Swan closely resembled the carbon filament used in his development of the incandescent light bulb. Swan realised the potential for this fibre to revolutionise the textile industry. Hilaire de Chardonnet took synthetic fibre production in a new direction. This French engineer and industrialist invented the first artificial silk, which presented a solution to the silk shortage that resulted from the destruction of French silk worms. Chardonnet’s contribution led to the discovery of nitrocellulose, a viable replacement for real silk. C Charles Frederick Cross developed the first successful process in 1894 that led to the discovery of the fibre called “viscose.” He named this fibre after the viscous solution of xanthate. The first commercial viscose rayan resin came into existence in 1924. Today, manufactured fibres account for nearly half of all fabric production. Synthetic fibres can be found in modern apparel, home furnishings, medicine, and even aeronautics. Synthetic fibres are created from small molecules called synthesised polymers. These are created through a process known as extrusion. The manufacture of synthetic fibres occurs by forcing synthesised polymers through spinnerets and into the air. This creates a thread, which can be used to produce any number of textiles. The compounds used to create synthesised polymers come from raw materials such as petrochemicals. These chemicals are polymerised into a long and linear chemical that bonds two carbon atoms. Different fibres are produced from various chemical compounds. While there are numerous synthetic fibres available, four remain dominant on the market: acrylic, nylon, polyester, and polyolefin. These four account for nearly 98 per cent of synthetic fibre production. The manufacturing of synthetic fibres occurs when using one of several methods. The most common method is called melt-spinning, a process that involves heating strands of fibre until they start to melt. From there, the melt must be drawn out using tweezers and aligned in a parallel fashion. This allows the fibres to crystallise and orient. Another method is called heat-setting, a method that requires heat to permeate heat-sensitive fabric. Synthetic fibres possess several advantages over their natural counterparts. For starters, synthetic fibres do not depend on agricultural output. Synthetic fibre is also cheaper than natural fibre. Fabric made from synthetic fibre is easier to wash and dries more quickly. Lastly, synthetic fabric is generally stain-resistant. Bugs, fungi, and other rot do not affect synthetic fibre the same way as natural fibre. The disadvantages of synthetic fibres revolve around their low melting temperature. For instance, they tend to burn more readily than natural fibres. They are prone to heat damage and melt relatively easily. Synthetic fibres are prone to damage when washed in hot water. Lastly, they tend to produce more electrostatic charge than natural fibres. Common synthetic fibres include acrylic, nylon, olefin, polyester, carbon fibre, and modacrylic.