By Janice Kleinschmidt
According to Deano Perlatti, vice president of Seattle Tarp Company, one of the biggest developments in tarp materials occurred between 1985 and 1995. “We used to sell hundreds of cotton tarps a month,” he says. “Now we might sell five of them in a year. Synthetic fabrics are stronger and more efficient. Now I see this new wave. What’s going to happen is there are companies trying to become greener. The next big thing is recycled products. I am seeing a lot of companies experimenting with fabrics, trying to come up with greener products.”
Seattle Tarp now uses a variety of cotton-based fabrics, polypropylene, polyethylene, polyurethane, vinyl-coated polyester, and a copolymer mix of polyurethane and coated vinyl.
“Larger-format applications seem to be the evolution,” says Mark Mascotto of Norseman Inc. Portable buildings were not common 10 to 20 years ago. “Frame and fabric technology has really expanded the use of fabrics into nontraditional applications,” he says, “and I expect this segment to continue to be our largest area of growth for some time.
“The materials are moving upscale as well,” he continues. “I think right now from an environmental standpoint, there’s a growing consciousness of the impact of construction and human activity. A lot of geotextiles are being used in areas where they are worried about leaching into soils and water tables. Fabrics are even being used as sound barriers. We are being asked to bid on supplying structures to cover machinery that is making too much noise.”
Norseman uses anything from proprietary materials to woven polyethylene and vinyls. Polyethylene offers both strength and economy, and vinyl offers an even longer life, as well as fire resistance and thermal properties.
Edwards Canvas Inc. primarily uses 18- and 22-ounce PVC, but also uses a 40-ounce weight for dock seals and other heavy-duty uses. President Clayton Edwards says that PVC is the fabric of choice because of its ready availability. One of the big changes he’s noticed in the last 10 years is the growing accessibility of different widths. “It used to be 60 or 61 inches. Now we are bringing in 126-inch material and even wider,” he says. Because they require fewer seams, he notes, wider widths are extremely good labor savers.
“I believe, as time goes on, we are going to see lighter and lighter weights of fabrics with better quality and better strength,” Edwards adds. “We will see lighter [materials] just because the market demands it for ease of handling.”
Carolina CoverTech also relies on tried-and-true PVC, usually in an 18-ounce weight. But for its DuraTarps moving and storage covers, the company uses Seaman Corp.’s XR®-3 and XR®-5 reinforced geomembrane. “We do use some laminates for more stationary covers, because they offer more variety of colors, or there are weight considerations or handling considerations,” says president Rian True.
“A lot of times, customers will specify materials they are interested in; but primarily, we tend to select from the materials we are familiar with and are available and ready to go,” he continues. “Most of our jobs are shorter term from first contact to the time the products are needed. We are reading and hearing more about fully recycled materials. There’s always something in development.”
As for product lines, Perlatti expects to see increasing emphasis on water containment. His company recently provided portable systems with filtration for safe drinking water in Peru. He also sees flexible solar panels coming on strong and is testing fabrics with an eye toward making solar energy extremely portable.
“The environmental product lines are always developing,” Perlatti says. “What we need to do is monitor the different fabrics that are available. We are a small family business, and we have to be focused. We have to stay abreast of all the developments in the fabric world and what the various problems are out there for potential clients—and make sure we have a plan for helping solve that problem.”