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Nonwovens Innovator Ernst Fehrer Dies At Age 81

Nonwovens Innovator Ernst Fehrer Dies At Age 81 

Dr. Ernst Fehrer, noted innovator in the nonwovens sector and founder of Austria-based Fehrer AG, died Dec. 1, 2000. He was 81.Fehrer demonstrated a prodigious talent for invention from a very early age. By the age of 14, he possessed his own home laboratory, and at 18 had already received the first of his some 1,200 national and international patents. Fehrer completed four semesters in technical physics at the Technical University of Vienna before being called up for military service during World War II. He graduated from the University of Graz with a doctorate in theoretical physics in 1947.Faced with little prospect of employment as a scientist at home or abroad, but with a budding family to feed, Fehrer started work at his fathers horsehair spinning mill in Linz. The largely manual production process and the 19th-century machinery in use there challenged his inventive talents, and he immediately commenced the design of a range of machines for the cleaning and processing of animal hair on the basis of physical principles. International Attention At the end of the 1940s and beginning of the 1950s, interest in the young Austrian inventor became global. Fehrer machines were used throughout the Australasian wool industry and enjoyed an especially triumphal success in the United States. Up to 1953, Fehrer had his machinery manufactured by contractors, but in the May of that year he opened his own small factory in Linz with five fitters and a single lathe. This gave him total freedom and more scope for design. The distinctive Fehrer trademark was soon to be found on equipment for the processing of coir fiber and the rubberising of coir and hair for use in mattresses and car seats.In 1962, Fehrer switched his attention to the emerging nonwovens market and began the design of a new mechanical bonding concept. The result of these deliberations was a modular design system, which, at the time, literally made all other types of needle punching machines obsolete through its ability to provide high-speed production by means of oil lubrication. In 1965, the first Fehrer needle loom had a speed of 500 strokes per minute. By 1967, this figure had doubled. Moreover, such was the flexibility of the modular design concept that Fehrer quickly applied it to the paper maker felt sector, achieving further breakthroughs with working widths of up to 14.5 meters, a new pivotal needling table and far higher product quality. Expanded Creativity Fehrers creativity was not limited to the needling sector. In 1968, he launched his K12 random carding machine, which combined classic carding with aerodynamic web forming and opened the way for the isotropic strength distribution and extreme softness now familiar in lightweight web products. This was followed in the 1970s by the DREF friction spinning system, which overcomes by means of air flow fiber transport the physico-mechanical limitations on capacity and production speeds characteristic of conventional ring and rotor spinning.This system remains unique, with its versatility providing the key to both the current production of engineered yarns for high-tech products and the recycling of waste and regenerated fibers. At the end of the 1980s, Fehrer invented the DREF ring-spinning process, which, as a result of its market potential with regard to the production of fine weaves for clothing, is now being manufactured under licence by a leading Swiss machinery producer as the COMFOR machine system. Pursuit Of Perfection Throughout his life, Fehrer was never without pencil and paper in order to jot down his ideas. This was even the case when he was out hunting, which along with music, was another of his great passions. He was a firm believer in achieving success through the vigorous examination of basics, determination and the pursuit of absolute perfection. These principles still apply to the family-owned Fehrer AG, which is one of the worlds leading textile machinery manufacturers, exporting virtually its entire production to more than 80 countries. Fehrer held an honorary doctorate from the Vienna University of Technology, the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and the Arts (first class), the title of Baurat h.c., the Wilhelm Exner Medal and numerous American and British awards. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Rosemarie Fehrer, to whom he was married for 57 years, and four daughters. February 2001