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29/02/2016 — auf Deutsch lesen

Covestro: And then came polyurethane

Until the early 1940s, the fashion and footwear industries were reliant on leather when producing high-quality products. Availability was limited, however, and quality depended on how the animals had been reared and kept. Polyurethane as a coating for textiles changed a lot of this.

Polyurethane-coated textiles are widely used as imitation leather. Photo: SAK

Polyurethane-coated textiles are widely used as imitation leather. Photo: SAK

On its unique pilot plant, Covestro can adapt its water-based coatings to its customers' processes Photo: Covestro

On its unique pilot plant, Covestro can adapt its water-based coatings to its customers' processes Photo: Covestro


Nowadays, 90% of all polyurethane-coated fabrics are produced in China. In the regions of Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangsu and Guangdong, the figures add up to four billion metres of synthetic leather and functional fabrics a year, manufactured by some 500 producers. One such coating producer is Kunshan Xiefu New Material. Founded in 1989, the company, which is based in the region of Kunshan in Jiangsu province, is one of the most important brands in China and a leading exporter of synthetic leather products. The materials are subsequently processed into clothing, gloves, handbags and travel luggage, as well as upholstery and seating covers, by well-known making-up companies.

The first of fifteen coating lines was recently converted to water-based polyurethane systems and rewarded with admission to the INSQIN Manufacturer Partner Program, making Kunshan Xiefu New Material the first Chinese producer to be able to offer synthetic leather manufactured according to ecological principles as a result of INSQIN technology. According to Sun Guo Hao, General Manager of the business, this is in line not only with company philosophy but also with the demands of the governments of Jiangsu Province and the Kunshan Region, who have committed themselves to sustainable development and are supporting green producers and their use of renewables. In addition, Kunshan Xiefu New Material is aiming to meet the increasing demands of its customers for sustainability by offering solvent-free products.

After three years of development work with the intensive involvement of Covestro, the conversion has been successfully completed. The production equipment using water-based polyurethane systems has been strictly separated from the DMF systems in order to prevent cross-contamination.

A subsequent finishing process for altering the material’s handle, has also been adapted to the new concept, processing certain synthetic leathers in a high-volume tumbler. The company says that it is no longer possible to tell the difference between the old, solvent based polyurethane coating and the new water-based coating. The management of the company has therefore set itself the goal of gradually converting its other production lines to water-based polyurethane coating. Thanks to its partnership with Covestro, the company feels it has the ideal support for this pioneering task.

Sabine Anton-Katzenbach


On accreditation, partners gain access to extra services that Covestro offers under the programme. These include, for example, comprehensive technical support provided by Covestro at its technical centre. This centre is the only one of its kind, being equipped with a EUR 3m pilot coating system on which all processes can be simulated under realistic conditions. In the adjoining laboratory, samples are then run through various testing devices to assess their mechanical stability.