Synthetic leather is manmade fabric made from PVC or PU (polyurethane), which is dried and heated to resemble real leather. Also known as faux leather, it is less expensive and more easily adaptable than real leather made from animal skin such as cattle, goats, pigs, crocodiles, and horses. Millions of square meters of textile material are usually coated with polyurethane every year, so as to lend it a leather-like character.
The first step in the formation of PU synthetic leather is the coagulation process in which woven or non-woven fabric is coated with polyurethane polymerized paste or dissolved in DMF, then passed through water baths with reduced DMF concentrations, and finally through pure water. In this process, the water converts the PU-based paste into a very thin layer of micro porous sponge. The precipitation occurs slowly, with water penetrating into the layer and displacing the DMF solvent. Toxic DMF from the processed water is recovered via distillation. The product obtained via coagulation gains volume and a pleasant handle. To obtain a leather-like appearance, the coagulated layer is coated with two or more additional layers of solvent-borne PU raw material. The requirements for artificial leather are that the material should be highly durable, exhibit good mechanical properties, elasticity, stitch tear resistance, and be easily cut, sewn, and glued together. Advantages of artificial leather include resistance to color fading, wash ability, easy care, absence of odor, low price, and a crease-free and uniform surface.
Artificial leathers can be broadly classified into four types: poromeric imitation leather, koskin, leatherette, and vegan leather. Poromeric imitation leather, also known as poromerics, is a variety of artificial leather made from plastic coating. It displays higher durability and gloss finish (which can be easily cleaned with a damp cloth) than natural leather. One of its major disadvantages is stiffness. Koskin is commonly used in computer laptop cases, CD wallets, and other consumer goods and resembles authentic leather in appearance. Leatherette is made by covering a fabric base with plastic. This fabric can be composed of artificial or natural leather which is then covered with a layer of soft polyvinyl chloride. It is generally used for clothing and car seat coverings as it requires less maintenance than artificial leather does and does not fade or crack easily. However, it is non-porous and does not allow air to pass through, thereby accumulating sweat. Vegan leather is an alternative to traditional leather which can be used for ethical reasons and may have the appearance of natural material.
Artificial leather can be formulated via the direct coating process, transfer coating process, wet process, or coagulation. The direct coating process is used to manufacture artificial cloth. The transfer coating process could be employed in industries such as shoes and bags. The wet process or coagulation can be used for products requiring high stress tolerance such as shoes and luggage bags. Artificial leather finds applications in various industries such as bags, home furnishing & upholstery fabrics, jackets & garments, shoe uppers, shoe linings, purses, wallets, car seat covers, automotive decorations, accessories, and commercial vehicle interiors.
Asia Pacific is anticipated to be a prominent and rapidly expanding market for synthetic leather because of the burgeoning automotive and construction industries. North America and Europe are also witnessing moderate growth due to the increasing concern about killing animals which has reduced the need for pure leather. The rest of the world is also projected to develop at a high rate due to the flourishing automotive, footwear, and furnishing industries.
Key players include Mayur Uniquoters Ltd, Filwel Co. Ltd., San Frang Chemical Industry Co. Ltd, Teijin Limited, and Kuraray Co. Ltd.
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