Designing new nonwoven fabrics: The creation of NIRI Ltd and the commercialisation of products for the industrial, healthcare and consumer sectors.
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Leeds
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeEconomic
Research Subject Area(s)
Chemical Sciences: Macromolecular and Materials Chemistry
Engineering: Biomedical Engineering, Manufacturing Engineering
Summary of the impact
Professor Stephen Russell's fundamental and applied research on the
formation, structure and properties of nonwoven fabrics has directly led
to the creation and continued success of the Nonwovens Innovation and
Research Institute (NIRI) Ltd a University of Leeds spin-out company.
Formed in 2005 to exploit Russell's research, NIRI has grown annual sales
revenue to ~£1 million supplying products and services that have enabled
many medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and global public limited companies
(PLCs) to launch improved or new products, growing their market share and
positively impacting consumers. Additionally, the research has enabled
NIRI to independently establish and co-fund new commercial joint ventures
that have resulted in the development of new IP (intellectual
property)-protected products for improving global health and security.
NIRI has grown its workforce to twenty (mainly University graduates) and
has been profitable from the first year of trading.
Research by Professor Russell (Professor of Textile Materials &
Technology, University of Leeds) between 2003 to 2012 has focused on the
manufacturing and process-structure-property relationships of engineered
technical textiles and nonwoven assemblies. Four areas of Russell's
research are summarised below as key underpinning research:
(i) A University of Leeds research team directed by Russell with PDRAs
(Dr Mao, Dr Ahmed and Dr Pourmohammadi) and technician (Mr Rathod) found
that high velocity water jets could be used to simultaneously mechanically
bond, displace and interconnect fibres in two adjacent webs around tubular
templates such that well-defined cavities could be introduced in the
cross- section. These cavities within the material, formed into a
predefined shape and size can be filled with solids, waxes or gels to
functionalise the fabric. Hydrospace™ technology was subsequently patented
in 2010 (Nonwoven spacer fabrics, US Patent 7,814,625). In research led by
Russell with Elaine Durham (PhD student) [completed 2009] and Professor
Eileen Ingham, Institute of Molecular and Biological Engineering (iMBE) it
has also been shown that the cavities in the fabric improve cell
penetration and distribution in scaffolds for tissue engineering .
(ii) From 2003, research by Russell and Dr Ningtao Mao (senior lecturer
in School of Design, University of Leeds) examined the relationship
between fabric structure and directional permeability, capillarity and
absorption. It revealed how fibre arrangement, fibre dimensions and
porosity can be manipulated to control fabric properties [2,3].
This was important in the context of controlling liquid transport
characteristics, which affects the way in which many nonwoven products
behave in use. In 2006 such understanding was further developed by Russell
in collaboration with engineers in Zelo Creative Ltd and NIRI Ltd to
manufacture new fabric composites capable of retaining and internally
distributing large volumes of antibacterial fluids for the development of
SurfaceSkins [Surface Mountable Delivery Device, World Patent Application
2007135424(A1), 29 Nov 2007], a range of patent-pending disposable hygiene
devices that delivers clinical disinfectant/solution on contact, such as
the EN1500 alcohol gel currently used in hospitals.
(iii) A Leeds research team led by Russell involving Dr Pourmohammadi
(PDRA) and Mr I Ezra (UG dissertation student) using Dyneema fibre
supplied by industry (Dr Jacobs, DSM), [2003 - 2005]
determined the impact resistance properties of hydroentangled fabrics
containing high modulus polyethylene fibres, leading to the development of
flexible fabrics with good protection characteristics when tested under
ballistic and lower velocity conditions . Such understanding
was further refined and developed by Russell in 2008 for the design of
Rollastop™ [Reinforced Material, World Patent Application,
WO2009104003(A1), 27 Aug 2009]. The protective fabric met stringent
independent slash resistance test standards, and different performance
qualities also enabled ultra violet light resistance, flame retardancy and
(iv) Securing funding in 2006 from the Bill & Melinda Gates'
Foundation [Grant Number 38519] , and working in
collaboration with Dr Bruce Alexander (MD of Xeroshield Ltd at the Roslin
BioCentre) and Dr Mao (PDRA), Russell led research at the University of
Leeds into new insecticidal fabric constructions enabling development of a
revolutionary mosquito net, the world's first to have a non-neurotoxic
chemical insecticidal surface . The new technology involving
mechanical disruption of the insect cuticle using non-toxic materials was
showcased by invitation at the Bill & Melinda Gates Malaria Forum,
Seattle, USA (October 16-18, 2007). Using the material's structure to
induce mosquito mortality, the net avoids the problems posed by
insecticide-resistant insects and the need for chemical re-treatment,
whilst still maintaining inherent breathability, strength and durability.
References to the research
 Durham ER, Ingham E., Russell S.J., (2012) Technique for
internal channelling of hydroentangled nonwoven scaffolds to enhance cell
penetration, Journal of Biomaterials Applications, 28(2),
214-249. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0885328212445077 The Journal of
Biomaterials Applications is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to new
and emerging biomaterials technologies. The Journal emphasizes the
development, manufacture and clinical applications of biomaterials and new
developments in biomaterials R&D.
 Mao N., Russell S.J., (2003) Anisotropic Liquid Absorption in
Homogeneous Two-Dimensional Nonwoven Structures, Journal of Applied
Physics, 94(6), 4135-4138.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.1598627 The Journal of Applied Physics
is the American Institute of Physics' journal that publishes significant
new experimental and theoretical results of applied physics research. It
is subject to normal academic peer review protocols.
 Mao N.; Russell S.J. (2003) Modeling Permeability in
Homogeneous Three-Dimensional Nonwoven Fabrics, Textile Research
Journal, 73, 11: 939-944.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/004051750307301101 The Textile Research
Journal publishes peer- reviewed papers on new concepts, innovative
technologies, and improved understanding of textile materials, processes,
chemistry and systems.
 Russell S.J., Pourmohammadi A., Ezra I., Jacobs M. (2005),
Formation and Properties of Fluid Jet Entangled HMPE Impact Resistant
Fabrics, Journal of Composites Science and Technology, 65
(6), 899-907 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compscitech.2004.10.015 Composites
Science and Technology publishes refereed original articles on the
fundamental and applied science of engineering composites.
Details of the impact
Economic and commercial impact - creation of a new business
NIRI Ltd was set up as a University of Leeds spin-out company in 2005 to
directly exploit the research by Russell and develop nonwoven materials
that were found to have major applications in industrial, healthcare and
consumer markets. NIRI's external impact is reflected by the rapid growth
in its global client base and following initial business angel investment
of £80K annual sales revenue has increased to ~ £1 million (2013) [A]
with an operating profit of around 10% of turnover. The company has grown
its workforce to 20 staff (mainly textile graduates). NIRI's economic
impact has been achieved via three modes of operation: commercial product
development for SMEs and international PLCs; licensing of NIRI's
proprietary technology developed from Russell's research; and co-funding
product development joint ventures. From the outset, Russell has been
retained by NIRI Ltd as Technical Director and is seconded 50% FTE by the
University to drive the Company's innovation portfolio.
NIRI's work is conducted under strict confidentiality and the
international client base (>100) that directly benefits from the
company's products and services include the defence industry, major
healthcare, food and beverage, hygiene and industrial manufacturing
companies [B]. Examples of improved commercial products developed
by NIRI working with industry clients include a more efficacious blood
filter, low adherent wound dressings and tea bags with enhanced
permeability. For reasons of commercial confidentiality a full list of
companies is not included, but involves large organisations (public
limited companies) as well as small-medium size enterprises operating
nationally and internationally.
Further evidence of impact - new and improved commercialised products
for the industrial, healthcare and consumer sectors
In addition to establishing NIRI Ltd as a successful business, with
Russell's research informing product development, proprietary technology
and process improvements, NIRI has co-funded joint ventures with other
companies to initiate new commercial technologies, all of which have been
developed from Russell's underpinning research. These commercial
developments can be used as further evidence of impact, through
identifying the new and improved nonwoven and textile products in the
market and their contribution to improved global health and security.
Below, new products are directly linked to Russell's underpinning
research (i), (ii), (iii) and (iv), as referenced in Section 2.
(i) The trialled method of injecting high performance materials within
the fabric cross-section to functionalise the structure is evidence of
research adding value and functionality to a fabric at the point of
manufacture. Hydrospace™ technology has led to the development of a unique
nonwoven material that has multiple commercial uses enabling the storage,
release or controlled delivery of the contents of the cavities [C],[D].
It is being commercialised in blood filtration [E] and in
absorbent hygiene products as part of license and development agreements
that have been established with market leading European product
(ii) SurfaceSkins technology was commercialised in partnership with
industrial design consultants, Zelo Creative Ltd. Underpinned by Russell's
research on nonwoven composites capable of retaining and internally
distributing large volumes of fluid such as antibacterial formulations, a
range of innovative hygiene devices have been developed to reduce the
transmission of Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs) in critical areas
such as hospitals. The products are compression-activated hygiene devices
that clip-fit directly to existing door handles and push plates,
delivering either antibacterial or viricidal liquids immediately on
contact. According to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) over four million
people in the EU acquire a healthcare-associated infection (HAI) every
year, of whom approximately 37 000 die as a direct result of the
infection. About 20-30% of these cases are preventable by better infection
and control procedures [F]. Trials by the NHS have successfully
demonstrated the effectiveness of SurfaceSkins in killing pathogens found
in hospitals and a commercial development and license agreement is under
negotiation with a major global healthcare company for launch in 2013/14.
The clinical significance of SurfaceSkins has been highlighted by The
Clinical Director of Microbiology/Pathology at The Leeds Teaching
Hospitals NHS Trust [G].
(iii)Rollastop Secure was developed and commercialised in partnership
with Rollatherm International Group based upon the hydroentangled
metal-polymer fibrous composite technology developed by Russell. Rollastop
Secure provided the first lightweight cut-resistant security roller blind,
offering a similar performance to heavy metal shutter protection systems.
A supple material that offers greater flexibility, the protective fabric
also provided a printable surface leading to wider marketing capabilities,
benefitting retailers in particular. Also aimed at protecting domestic
properties, the product "is undergoing commercial trials in three major
supermarkets and other retailers" [H] [text removed for
(iv) Developed with a medical entomologist from Xeroshield Ltd at the
Roslin Biocentre, the revolutionary mosquito net is effective against
resistant mosquitoes offering a longer-term solution to preventing
transmission of malaria. With about 219 million cases of malaria and
660,000 deaths annually (2010), the reach and significance was summarised
by the Director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Infectious
Diseases program before the product was developed: "Entrenched global
health problems, such as malaria, require innovative solutions...if
successful, this research could produce an important new tool to fight
malaria in the world's poorest countries" [I]. Professor Russell's
expertise on insecticidal net properties has been acknowledged by his
appointment as a World Health Organisation (WHO) advisor [J].
Sources to corroborate the impact
[A] Annual Accounts of the Nonwovens Innovation and Research
Institute Ltd. available from the Managing Director and Finance Director.
[B] Letter from the Managing Director of the Nonwovens Innovation
and Research Institute Ltd.
[C] "An introduction to Hydrospace fabrics", product video can be
(accessed 15-08- 2013)
[D] "New Hydrospace fabric to open the door for new markets",
article about expansion of Hydrospace product range:
[E] "Taking it to the Blood Bank", article published prior to the
world's largest nonwovens exhibition in Geneva (INDEX):
[F] English National Point Prevalence Survey on
Healthcare-associated Infections and Antimicrobial Use, 2011: preliminary
data. Health Protection Agency, May 23 2012 the full report can be viewed
at http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1317134305239 (accessed
[G] Supporting statement from The Head of Microbiology &
Clinical Director of Pathology, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
[H] Letter from The Managing Director of the Rollatherm
International Group, UK and product sales website:
http://www.rollatherm.com/services (accessed 20-09-2013)
[I] "Leeds receives Gates Foundation grant for material approach
to malaria prevention", Reporter Article:
[J] World Health Organisation (WHO) letter regarding invitation to
act as temporary advisor in a consultation to determine and compare fabric
strength and flammability of 10 brands of WHOPES recommended long-lasting