Guess who’s sitting on their couch, happy as a pig in slop, watching How It’s Made? What, you too? Though I enjoy pliers and clogs as much as the next person, it’s the textiles I love. Complements of the Science Channel I bring you: synthetic leather production.
Photo from the FIFA factory
The majority of pleather is comprised of a petroleum based plasticizer and powdered vinyl, also included in the mix is a flame retardant solution. This polymer pancake batter is then piped into a tub full of coloring agents. Where did you think hot pink pleather came from? The legging stork? In order to apply texture to the surface the now brilliantly (or modestly, no judgment) colored goo is spread onto a roll of textured paper, this creates a thin top layer and provides stability to the liquid mix for further processing. After being heat set the now dry polymer mix is covered with another layer called the “foam” and heads back into the oven. With the application of heat the second layer expands, adding body. A fabric backing (which looked like a fine jersey knit) is adhered to the back, further increaseing the durability of the leather. Print treatments and a protective coating finish the production.
Cool stuff about pleather: It you light it on fire (don’t do this at home) it will self extinguish in 2 seconds! Also, even after processing it retains its thermoplastic properties, so it can be vacuum formed, wow.
Remember a paragraph ago when I mentioned that a hefty amount of pleather is comprised of plasticizer? Plasticizers are used to lower the glass transition temperature of a polymer, keeping it soft and pliable. The vacuum forming that is possible with pleather make it the perfect choice for automotive interiors, dash boards, door panels and so on. As a car gets older you often see cracks begin to appear in the dash, after long enough the plasticizers evaporate, and the brittle nature of the main polymer is revealed. What about when a car is new, and the dash is shiny and beautiful? The parts are still full of plasticizer, and that’s the source of that “new car” smell.